Protesters take slim lead in early rounds
At first, it looked like Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha would lose out quite easily. Then the tide turned and it appeared the anti-establishment protesters were facing a far tougher job than initially expected. Still, the latter seem to hold a small advantage at this stage of the fight, although they couldn’t send him to the canvas.
The showdown is far from over, however. Moreover, how the complexion of the game will change following a minor bomb explosion and capture of a suspect on Wednesday remains to be seen.
Many people have called it even for now, but they may have forgotten the fact that the proposed setting up of a charter-drafting assembly had been unimaginable a few months ago. That the controversial idea has been embraced by Parliament, albeit with a few more hurdles to overcome, is a major achievement, although the protesters themselves are not apparently satisfied with that. In other words, they have staggered Prayut, but failed to knock him down.
The protesters want the prime minister to go now, but the process of constitutional rewriting will buy him some time at least. In a way, it seems like a good deal for Prayut and his rivals, who have struggled lately to enlarge or even maintain their support base.
Whether or how the charter will be amended, or rewritten, constitutes a political route laced with landmines which can injure him, or his opponents, or both.
Opinions have been largely divided, and the much-maligned charter created after the 2014 coup may contain some good after all. The future process of amending it calls for all Thais _ the protesters and their rivals included _ to consider national problems carefully, drop prejudices, look at themselves and check out America, where drawbacks of the winner-takes-all principle are biting hard, even after Donald Trump has apparently given up.
For so long, democracy as we know it has all been about the winner, who gets everything while his or her rival loses everything. It’s an arguably good concept, particularly if the winning margin is overwhelming, which means a great legitimacy. It can also be a license to kill, however, and salt can be rubbed in the wound if the gap is ultra-slim. Thailand has learned it the hard way.
If what’s happening in the United States can teach the world anything, it must be that every vote should really count. Dismissing the importance of support for the “losers” can create a massive divide, make the winners misjudge or overstate their legitimacy and wrongly encourage everyone to win at all costs.
A highly-controversial part of the current Constitution seeks to address the issue, but it does so with the “winner-takes-all” concept still looming in the background. As a result, the every-vote-counts initiative was decried as yet another conspiratorial ploy to undercut the Pheu Thai Party.
But let’s take away the conspiracy theories and concentrate on the real merits of the every-vote-counts principle and what the country can do more constitutionally to improve it. A fair and watertight system of proportional representation can bring about political peace, as it can ensure the loser will not lose everything and the winner will be kept on his or her toes.
As for the voters, everyone wants his or her vote to mean something, and that “something” is not a decorative role (in case of a “losing” vote) in the winner’s victory lap. If people go to the polling booths knowing their votes will be meaningful no matter what, they will go in larger numbers and will find outcomes more acceptable.
Proportional representation is nothing new in Thailand, with the party-list system implemented before the 2014 coup a form of it. The post-coup Constitution takes it to a new level. Positives and negatives of those two ways of addressing popular votes have to be considered carefully, but not less the winner-takes-all concept that has been the crux of the country’s problems.
Those are some of the examples of what charter rewriters should tackle and advocates of changes should seriously consider. No matter how Thailand has come to this point, this should be taken as an opportunity to produce a Constitution that really counts, not one that favors ether side in the political conflict.
Credit to the protesters, without whom merits and shortcomings of political systems would not have been really pondered or addressed. But their “achievement” has come at a big price, as a system they prefer has undergone a tough scrutiny as well, not to mention doubts over whether the way they are fighting for their cause is demagogic rather than genuinely democratic.
For managing to kick-start charter rewriting, for bringing about unprecedented debate on sensitive subjects, and for being able to sustain a logistically and politically difficult campaign, the protesters have edged it at this stage of the national showdown. Whether Thailand will truly benefit from that, however, is not clear at the moment and will depend largely on them.
By Tulsathit Taptim