A post-Yingluck Shinawatra Thailand is not a reconciled Thailand, and nor will it be if her Pheu Thai Party ceases to exist.
The political arena will remain as polarised as it has been for the past decade. Yet this predicament can be overcome through a strategy laid out in the well-known Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Longzhong Plan. The plan was to divide China into three realms of roughly equal power. Adapting that plan can lead to positive change that will help move Thailand out of the current deadlock.
Zhuge Liang, the wise strategist in the Romance, explained: "When there are two realms, the natural course is constant warfare in which the two realms perennially try to overtake each other. With three realms, each one must be careful when it attempts to wage war because of the risk of being double-crossed."
This wisdom holds true today. Another state with effectively only two realms is contemporary America, where the Democratic and Republican Parties each try its best to vanquish the other. With the rise of Donald Trump, the constant warfare has worsened, with actual violence becoming more common and shady tactics more readily employed. This is as Zhuge Liang predicted.
The strategist also predicted that having three realms of equal power would result in a more stable situation. This is also true for modern times, though not due to fear of being double-crossed, but due to better representation of socio-political subcultures. As reflected in the political systems of many European countries, where there are many parties representing diverse subcultures, defeating everyone else is unlikely, and the best course of action becomes compromise.
Switzerland, for example, has four major parties representing people from across the political spectrum: left, centre-left, centre-right, and right. The result is that no one tries to beat everyone else, but instead the political culture is such that people dialogue with each other, learning to reconcile their differences and move the country forward.
If we look at Thailand, we can see that the situation is very similar to that of the US. There are only two major national parties: the Democrats and the relative newcomers, Pheu Thai. For a decade, they have been in a form of constant warfare. The two parties are oppositional, and some of their followers are readily polarised. This is again as Zhuge Liang predicted.
While there are other parties on the Thai political landscape, these are mostly local influencers and are not led by political ideologies. They do not serve to help people understand each other and reconcile their differences or benefit the wider society, but stand only to use their constituencies as bargaining chips to obtain ministries to acquire more power.
The result is that in recent Thai elections, most voters have been forced to pick between Pheu Thai or the Democrats or to abstain. This is problematic, and not only for the reasons given above. A second reason is that limited choice means that many citizens must vote for parties that only slightly represent their interests.
Imagine a moderate socialist who still believes that capitalism has a role in driving the country's economy. This person will most likely vote Pheu Thai because of its relatively progressive, left-leaning stance. A side effect of such a vote is that this person may be lumped together with the far-left, populism stance of the party, a position radically different from what the person actually believes.
Then imagine a capitalist who believes in monetary incentives to accelerate development but nevertheless believes in wealth transfers to the poor to reduce social injustice and stimulate the economy. This person will most likely vote Democrat because of its more conservative, right-leaning policies. That person may then be lumped together with far-right elements, like those who believe that Bangkok votes are more meaningful than rural votes. Again, this is far from what the person's conscience suggests.
The solution is to have another national party, one with clearly established political ideologies. Such a party would best be positioned between Pheu Thai and the Democrats, presenting itself as a centrist choice for those who feel the two existing parties are too far towards the extremes of the political spectrum. A social democratic party would be such solution; a centre-left ideology, social democracy would neatly situate itself between the Pheu Thai and Democrat Party.
Social democracy aims to preserve capitalism as the driving force of development while at the same time applying social compromise and wealth redistribution to provide a social safety net and equitable opportunity for everyone. Social democracy also represents community rights, cultural rights, and gender rights. Collectively, these ideals have some relation to both Pheu Thai and the Democrats, but neither party fully represents them.
A social democratic party will resolve, to some degree, the problem of limited choice in elections. The two voters imagined above could now see that this party better represents their aspirations and convictions than the other two. It will also solve the problem of irreconcilable differences as instead of having polarised antagonistic movements which have little hope of relating to each other, there would now be a median alternative serving as a bridge allowing everyone to more clearly see similarities and understand differences among them. Such clarity is an essential stepping stone in any path to reconciliation.
According to Zhuge Liang's wisdom, the way forward for Thailand is not a state of constant warfare between two polar opposites, but rather a stabilising wider distribution of power.
While a culture of political compromise involving more national parties may not result in radical political transformation, it ensures societal unity in the face of adversity and slow, steady progress conducive to preventing a crisis-coup-constitution cycle.
The Project for Social Democracy is working towards establishing a Foundation for Social Democracy in Thailand.
The foundation's goal will be to raise awareness and disseminate information about social democracy, with the ultimate aim of supporting a social democratic party as a solution to Thailand's current political impasse.
We urge you to join us in solidarity to move Thailand forward.
Atipong Pathanasethpong is a clinical instructor at the Faculty of Medicine at Khon Kaen University and the spokesman of the Project for a Social Democracy (firstname.lastname@example.org). John Draper is a PhD student at the College of Local Administration at Khon Kaen University and a member of the Project for a Social Democracy. This column was previously published in the Bangkok Post on October 9, 2017.