Like it or not, either you are with it or against it. The People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD)’s latest round of protests since late May is an interesting occurrence, worthy of analysis.
As yet unable to write more systematically and comprehensively, I would like to take notes about certain aspects and trends of the PAD as follows:
1. The PAD’s marathon has been able to last for almost 100 days due to support, or at least tolerance, from the public who are conscious of the flaws and dysfunction of the electoral parliamentary democracy.
In a way of speaking, during the past 100 days, the Samak Sundaravej government and Parliament themselves seem to have ignited the flame—consciously or not—for the PAD to fan and arouse public discontent incessantly: i.e. the hurried attempt to amend the constitution, Jakrapob’s speech of last year, the Preah Vihear issue, transfers of bureaucrats involved in Thaksin and his family’s legal cases, some mega-projects, appointments of boards overseeing the Stock Exchange of Thailand and the Bank of Thailand, and the planned relocation of the Parliament compound that would displace schoolchildren and residents, etc.,
In other words, without any need to agree with the goals and means of the PAD, the public can sense the ‘centralism and monism’ of parliamentary democracy as has ever been, so they want some kind of force to provide a check and balance to it.
If the judiciary and constitutional independent bodies have the force of checks and balances within the system, the PAD has acted like a countervailing force from outside, in case the inside forces are overwhelmed or overdue.
In this regard, the PAD seems to play a particular systemic function in politics.
2. The PAD’s marathon rally seems to be the world’s first demonstration that has been broadcast live through satellite TV, radio and internet, 24 hours a day and 7 days a week, for 100 days. That creates a grotesque mix of a reality show and a political campaign, and widens the contemporary western-style ‘audience democracy’, in which people are mostly viewers who vote for professional politicians’ performances through rating polls, to include ‘off the protest site’ virtual participation via tuning to the Manager Group’s FM 97.75 or ASTV.
But, on the other hand, that should make the PAD’s rally the world’s most expensive. 500,000-1,000,000 baht a day are being paid for the rent of the stage and PA system, gasoline for generators, food and allowances for staff, speakers and artists, and salaries and expenses of live broadcasting, while donations and income from selling t-shirts and merchandise are 300,000-1,000,000 baht a day.
With only one day’s budget of the PAD, normal protests by other people or even the pro-government United Front of Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) would last a week.
During the first 25 days of the rally, the PAD received 26 million baht and paid 24 million, according to the PAD’s coordinator Suriyasai Katasila. During the three months, the PAD has sold 90,000 ‘Patriotic Chinese Descendants’ t-shirts for 25 million baht, according to political scientist and Sondhi Limthongkul’s close associate Chai-Anan Samudavanija. And after the Government House siege, the PAD has 6.6 million baht remaining in its bank accounts, plus gold worth 1,056,000 baht, according to one of the PAD’s leaders, Chamlong Srimuang.
The PAD-style rally needs huge financial resources, and the fact indicates the social and economic status of its support base.
3. In short, the PAD is currently the real opposition force in politics, with the Democrat Party just a sidekick. Who remembers this party still exists?
Significantly in contrast, the PAD is a force of resistance to the whole political system, while the Democrat Party is an opposition party within the political system.
Simply put, the PAD is the real royalist, nationalist extra-parliamentarian opposition ‘party’, which does not contest elections because it would lose to the People’s Power Party and other coalition parties that wield much larger financial resources and hold stronger rural support bases.
The PAD ‘party’ could only win and grab state power, not through elections, but some other means as have been seen time and again in the past 3 years—protests, coup d’état, or the latest ongoing ‘general uprising’ in the words of a Manager columnist Pramote Nakhonthap.
The existence of the PAD, which represents one of the conflicting bipolar political forces in Thailand nowadays, is a politically destabilizing factor per se.
Furthermore, the fact that the PAD proclaims itself as a mass political tool to achieve what it believes is the wish of the Royal Head of State, bypassing all , formal political institutions (see stage speeches by Sondhi Limthongkul, Pipob Thongchai, etc., before blowing the whistle to lay siege to Government House), is a cause for concern that democracy with the King as Head of State cannot function, and could collapse.
The situation in China during the Cultural Revolution might be an example in some aspects.
4. In my view, the PAD’s most worrying trend is its stance towards the ethics of means.
To achieve its ‘decent’ political goal, the PAD is not selective of the means, or anything goes, no matter how morally or politically decent it is or not. The end justifies the means.
The PAD always justifies its means with the following:
i.The enemies are so mean and vicious that any means will do to get rid of them (PAD speaker on stage Praphan Kunmee and PAD leaders’ explanations for its raid at the NBT station).
ii.What the PAD has been defending and upholding is of the utmost importance, so much so that all other principles pale in comparison (Sondhi Limthongkul).
The PAD has therefore readily used any weapons including lèse majesté allegations, the Preah Vihear dispute, etc., to arouse people to rise up against the government and Thaksin.
I disagree with this, seeing that this is risky and dangerous to awaken violent forces that can run out of control and turn disastrous, and human beings are manipulated, victimized and martyred for the sake of the goal and belief.
I agree with Chaiwat Satha-anand, Faculty of Political Science, Thammasat University, that ‘Means is the end in the process of becoming’. Therefore, if an abominable means is chosen, though in pursuit of a virtuous goal in future, ultimately the abominable means is the abominable end in the process of becoming.
The philosophical foundation of the ideas of non-violence and civil disobedience is the moral unity of the end and the means.
5. Now our country is on the brink of a sheer cliff, with the ‘general uprising’ of the anti-government crowd.
This is the same point where we reached on the eve of Oct 14, 1973, and May 17, 1992, and we are plunging further.
We have reached this point today because of all the minor and major mistakes, deliberately and accidentally, done by people on both sides.
Just a little further on, flames would erupt, and blood would be spilled once again.
To stop and step back from the abyss,
The government must urgently withdraw its security apparatus from encountering the PAD anywhere.
The 9 PAD leaders who have been issued arrest warrants must turn themselves in to the authorities to fight in the legal process at once.
This is so that the political and legal processes would take their course, instead of the country moving towards mayhem in which all are losers.