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The Use and Abuse of Propaganda: Men-o’-Straw

This article deals primarily with the sacrosanct relationship between the electoral process and democracy, and how the PDRC’s attempt to seize power without the electoral mandate that is required by democracy will lead the country into civil war.

When the PDRC claimed they were staging a “shutdown” in Bangkok, few anticipated this would also include a shutdown on any meaningful dialogue or conversation, but there you have it (and you can’t say they didn’t warn you in advance).

The PDRC refused Yingluck’s offer to put their proposal to the public via a referendum. Then their political arm chose to boycott the election. Then they decided it would be a particularly good idea to stop people from voting. Now they are refusing to engage in any sort of negotiations whatsoever with the elected government. Anyone who has spoken directly to PDRC supporters will also note they refuse to answer serious questions or acknowledge any alternative input of any kind (they just ignore the questions or change the subject to Thaksin).

So what do the PDRC really want?

The PDRC, a vastly outnumbered minority drawn mostly from the middle and upper classes, want to seize power illegally against the will of the majority of Thai. They want then to rule the country for over a year with no electoral mandate whatsoever. Whilst in power, they will rewrite the rules of the game (undeniably in their favour). They believe they have the right to do this because (as they say) they are morally superior and everyone else is either corrupt or too stupid to understand that this is for the greater good.

And the rest of Thailand is supposed to just sit quietly and swallow this? The element that is clearly missing is the sacrosanct relationship between the electoral process of voting and democracy.

There has been some debate recently that there is more to democracy than elections (substance of character over source of power). But there isn’t. Even a bloodthirsty murdering-pirate can lead a democratic government so long as he was elected in free and fair elections (but this is not a euphemism for Yingluck who is a proven pacifist and, as anyone who has read but a slither of Thai history will confirm, despite the existence of corruption in her government, she still remains possibly the least corrupt PM Thailand has yet to have – indeed, a staggering and hard-won improvement).

This misassumption stems from the black and white propaganda heavily used in Thailand that paints pictures of “good men” – selfless idols who exist only for the betterment of others – and also from the childishly naïve belief that democratic government is inherently good government. It is not. Democracy exists to facilitate change and adaption absent of violent conflict, and the electoral process is sacrosanct in this procedure. Contrary to popular PDRC belief, placing unelected “good men” in charge of the country (irrespective of their intentions) can never be democratic.

There is another word for the forced installation of an ultra-nationalist, right wing, minority-backed government (and thus inherently authoritarian in nature) and that is fascism.

Fascism, despite pop-culture portrayals, is not necessarily bad government. A kind-hearted fascist leader would likely be more appreciated than the aforementioned bloodthirsty murdering pirate who was solidly elected in freely contested elections. Instead, the bad rap of fascism stems from the lack of political inclusion it allows its citizens and thus its inability to facilitate popular change (which always leads to violence when denied).

 

To put it simply, society and the wants and aspirations of its citizens are constantly changing. A stagnant political scenario quickly becomes unpalatable due to this. The routine of elections provided by a democratic system capitalizes on the most unpalatable issues by lining up voters behind policies and politicians that will amend them. Through this, the risk of conflict is reduced by constantly appeasing the most threatening groups (the largest groups).

Fascism, on the other hand, is pursuing the ideals of a few bright (or not so bright) individuals. It does not really matter whether or not these “enlightened ones” really do know what is best for society. Maybe they do. It is simply not the point, because fascism cannot appease the masses and provide a stable society. Fascism always leads to conflict and thus does not work. Historically, fascist governments have had to rely heavily on ultra-nationalist propaganda to placate the masses, convincing them that hard work and obedience are romantic and heroic ideals that represent a rich and vibrant culture. In the last century, Thailand’s quasi-fascist leaders cultivated just such an image of a unified people eternally content under a righteous dhammaraja. Such illusions never last, however – sooner or later, people wake up from the daydream and hell breaks loose.

Democracy is not pursued to achieve some fantastic romance notion of “goodness.” It exists to avert violence and political stagnation – to keep a society moving forever forward on the road of progress, no matter how dry, dusty or thorny the trail may be.

Indeed, in practice, democracy often leaves large swaths of society seething with discontent after their representatives fail to win an election or secure any plurality of seats. But this is not a bad thing – it is the nature of the game. With commitment to the democratic process, they will continue to push their agenda to the electorate, increase their support base and, if their cause has relevant merit to enough sectors of society, they will win the next elections.

It is sad that the PDRC have abandoned these cardinal principles of democracy and resorted to fascist “we know better” arrogance. Who knows best was never the point – the idea that anyone knows better in Thailand was only invented in the first place to stop people from wanting something better to begin with so the ruling elites would not have to deal with the bother of doing anything about it – the real point of democracy is to respect the equality that all Thai citizens share so we can address the primary challenges of society one at a time in a peaceful manner by listening to the voices of the electorate.

By refusing a referendum, refusing to respect or contest elections, refusing to negotiate with political representatives of the largest current voting bloc and elected government, and by denying the right of other Thais to political participation by obstructing voting centres, the PDRC is attempting to install a fascist government that by default is immediately stagnant – the fact that their momentum to political power was not impelled by a majority and won through elections means that there is no reason to believe it represents the aspirations of the majority of Thai. Without addressing said aspirations, violence is inevitable.

The inability of the PDRC to win the hearts and minds of the Thai electorate (“buffaloes” is what I think they call them) means their cause is not relevant enough to a group large enough to dictate the direction the country must take. At least, not when there are bigger issues the Thai people face, such as poverty, lack of opportunity, lack of rural development and poor infrastructure (or access to these) – the issues that have festered far too long in Thailand and now will never be abandoned by the awakened Thai political consciousness of the 21st century until they are addressed. Ignoring these issues means ignoring the staleness and stagnation of the political scene and allowing it to fester until it becomes so intolerable that it must be washed away through bloody revolution – the very thing democracy is designed to prevent.

Straw man arguments are everywhere now, distractions from the real issues at stake. We are constantly reminded how corrupt Thaksin is (as if he isn’t already deposed). But how does the anti-corruption movement hold water when led by a notoriously corrupt politician such as Suthep Thaugsuban? Then we’re reminded of the human rights abuses that happened under Thaksin’s watch (as if Abhisit and Suthep never presided over a massacre, of course). But how do such arguments fare when we realize the PDRC is making no moves whatsoever to press charges against Thaksin and the other instigators for said crimes? We are also reminded how the rice pledging scheme fell flat on its face. But people do not forget it is only one failed scheme compared to many successful ones. We also know that the Democrats provide no serious alternative – in the next election (if the Democrats were actually running, that is), we would be choosing between Pheu Thai’s pro-poor policies or no popular policies at all – making the poor vote a foregone conclusion.

The truth is such things are all straw man arguments – they have nothing to do with the current conflict and are just distractions. If the PDRC assumes power, there is no reason to believe human rights abuses will stop or their efforts to contain corruption will go anywhere beyond teaching people that Thaksin is a very bad man and you should not vote for bad men (however, we can be certain they will scrap any programmes of serious wealth redistribution– they’re not lying about that one). The real agenda is the one they’re pushing for so brazenly and at such high a risk – regaining power and cementing it at all costs.

I implore people not to be duped by such distractions and to focus on the main issue – the sacrosanct importance of mass political participation to democracy and the fact that democracy is about social justice (and not simply installing “good men” to run the show by magically radiating goodness onto Thailand’s problems so they’ll just go away). Failure to do this will leave Thailand in an unpalatable political stagnation that misrepresents the true aspirations of the real Thai populace and guarantees violence and civil war.