Since the junta leader coined the term “Thai-ism democracy,” various politicians have observed that it is just another attempt by the junta to justify its authoritarian politics by using beautiful words. But looking at Prayut’s further explanations, it might be worse than that.
“Thailand can no longer be in conflict. Therefore, we must have democracy, but it will be Thai-ism democracy -- Thai-style democracy -- without violating others’ rules,” stated Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha at a National Children’s Day event on 13 Jan.
At first glance, politicians and experts saw the term “Thai-style democracy” as another play of words by the junta in a desperate hope of regaining its popularity before the repeatedly-delayed election.
However, as Prayut further explained his idea, it becomes clearer that “Thai-style democracy” is actually a systemic election campaign.
According to a Thairath columnist
, the NCPO is trying to apply the Communist Party of China’s political strategy to Thailand -- to knock on everyone’s door and ask them about their livelihood. The NCPO on 9 January approved a new plan
, with a budget of 35,679 million baht, for the “welfare card” project, the junta’s substitute for Thaksin’s Gold Card scheme.
One part of the new plan is to “interview those who hold individual state welfare cards to analyze their problems and ask about their needs.” Government officials from the national to local level will be recruited to join the project, including those from the Interior Ministry, the Agriculture Ministry, the Labour Ministry and the Government Savings Bank.
The NCPO has also recruited over 7,000 staff
from local units of the military’s Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC)’. for the operation and Supreme Commander General Thanchaiyan Srisuwan has said that the military will be the government’s mechanism to educate people about the election and Thai-ism democracy.
If the NCPO achieves this, the military might become Thailand’s politburo, with nationwide units of ISOC as party branches.
Pitch Pongsawat, a political scientist from Chulalongkorn University told Prachatai that the meaning of “Thai-style democracy” is nothing different from the junta’s previous rhetoric that mainly promoted order, unity and obedience to the leader. But the social and political context in which it was released is more important.
“The government is trying to create many projects to ‘get out and explain’ to the people, even though it is close to the election. There will be a budget allocated to the Thai-ism project, which will become guidance for the people in the next election,” stated Pitch. “All this happened after the NCPO faced a political crisis and there will be a postponement of the election for sure”
“In simple terms, they want to go out and look for votes while silencing others so that politicians cannot do their jobs,” he added.
However, Pitch does not think that the term “Thai-ism democracy” is an oxymoron as many politicians and experts have observed. He argues that the two words can go together only if Thailand has an election.
“The point is that true Thai-ism is elections because it is the reflection of people’s preferences,” Pitch added. “But does the essence of Thai-ism [according to the NCPO] contain the essence of democracy? No, it only has elements that attack democracy.”
Prayut during a visit to Mae Hong Son (Photo from Thai Government website)