Suppose you are running an elitist authoritarian political system with one of the highest levels of economic inequality in the world. You’ve managed to spin out your democracy-free administration for almost five years – longer than any democratically-elected government has ever lasted. But the pressure is mounting to acquire at least the appearance of democratic rule. Besides, you are getting a bit irritated at being called ‘the last military dictatorship in the world’.
So what can you do?
Forget the violations of human rights, the corruption, the incompetence, the broken promises. What really sticks out in the public mind as the most blatant failing of your time in power has been the absence of elections.
The simple-minded equation ‘elections = democracy’ is enough to fool most people. So the trick is to silence the critics by holding an election, but doing it in such a way that it doesn’t involve any real democracy and leaves intact the current elitist, authoritarian and economically iniquitous system and your control over it.
How do you do that? Well, it seems to go like this:
1. Write your own election rules.
Start with a new constitution, or better still a false start then a second new constitution, because that uses up more time. Then hold a referendum where it is effectively illegal to campaign against it. For voters this is good training for when the real vote takes place.
Dilute the power of the ballot box by giving yourself the right to handpick a totally undemocratic Senate. Appoint a committee, whose names are kept secret, to draw up a list of candidates, whose names are kept secret, from which you will pick most senators, whose names are kept secret. If anyone complains about this secrecy, confuse the issue by talking about the secrecy of the ballot, national security and any other irrelevance that you can think of.
Produce a raft of new election laws so detailed and self-contradictory that you can always fault someone for something. Don’t worry about writing in too many rights for the people or restrictions on your own actions. These rules are for other people, not you (see 2 below).
2. Choose your own referee.
You can’t just get rid of independent organizations. It looks too obvious. So make sure you have the right people in them. Any independent organisation that acts like it is, well, independent, like the National Human Rights Commission or the Election Commission, will have to have a mass clear-out.
You appoint your supporters to a National Legislative Assembly who then appoint the Election Commissioners, making sure that (a) they do not have enough time to learn the job; (b) they have no relevant experience; and (c) they have no calculators.
In cases like the Constitutional Court, which has all along acted dutifully like ‘good’ people should, you keep the incumbents on, even if this goes against the constitution you have just written (see 1 above).
Campaign relentlessly on the enduring Thai mantra that politics and politicians are dirty. All the time you have laws in place to prevent politicians from saying or doing anything that might prove the opposite.
Then, when it is finally time for an election, ignore everything you have said for four years and become politician yourself. And do try to smile.
4. Tilt the playing field.
Make up your own party and give it a name that is like one of your many government freebie programmes. Stuff it with as many old-style politicians (see 3 above) as you can afford.
Have serving cabinet members run the party for you. Hold a fund-raising event where government agencies allegedly donate tax-payers’ money to your party. Have your Election Commission investigate these claims and decide that since no money came from abroad, that’s all right then.
Meanwhile mount multiple prosecutions against the party that seems to be galvanizing an anti-military opposition on the social media that, despite your freshly drafted Computer Crimes Act and Cyber Security Act, you still can’t properly control.
5. Control the vote-counting.
Your handpicked incompetents in the EC will arrange this for you, by losing ballots, misleading voters, giving out contradictory results, explaining the contradictions with contradictory reasons, etc.
6. And if all this still doesn’t work.
Select as Army Commander-in-Chief someone who is ready and willing to save the country from democracy by staging the next coup. And who salutes really, really nicely.
About author: Bangkokians with long memories may remember his irreverent column in The Nation in the 1980's. During his period of enforced silence since then, he was variously reported as participating in a 999-day meditation retreat in a hill-top monastery in Mae Hong Son (he gave up after 998 days), as the Special Rapporteur for Satire of the UN High Commission for Human Rights, and as understudy for the male lead in the long-running ‘Pussies -not the Musical' at the Neasden International Palladium (formerly Park Lane Empire).