22 May 2024

When Thais go to the polls on Sunday, the challenge is how to help lay the groundwork for a system that can prevent the next election from being held under similar circumstances. It’s a tough ask, but every election presents a fresh hope, no matter how difficult the path remains.

The major paradox is there for all to see. It can’t be an election without heroes and villains, and it can’t be an election without everyone wanting to be a hero at the expense of others. It’s the way things are, but it’s not the way things are supposed to be.

Campaign posters and other pre-election developments underline an atmosphere that shouldchange after Sunday, or no-holds-barred advertisement by politicians and their supporters will turn democracy completely into a brutal game in which every player does everything necessary and at all costs in order to be the winner.

Unfortunately, the prevailing political norms are hardly conducive to less cut-throat elections. The onus, therefore, is on both the winners and losers to make the aftermath of Sunday genuinely democratic so the next election will be spared the cloak and dagger of this one.

Since 1932, Thailand has had 26 general elections, and Sunday will be the country’s 27th. Like every election, this one has featured battle cries promising reforms and changes. However, true changes and true reforms have been elusive, made virtually impossible by a national divide that allowed prejudices and mistrust to loom over principles, standards and potential cooperation.

Sunday’s challenge is somewhat ironic. Thailand is going to the polls to prove their worthiness amid mounting concern even in America that polarization with all its drawbacks is making people lose faith in elections, a foundation of democracy. It’s a responsibility far greater than determining who will lead the country in the next four years. Thais, living in a “small” country in the global scale, are tasked with protecting a widely-cherished international system by proving that it is capable of solving man on the street’s problems.

Prayut could see himself sidelined in the upcoming election

As to what Thailand really needs, few would say it better than Dr Prawase Wasi, one of Thailand’s most respected intellectuals, thinkers and humanists. By welcoming the drive of the country’s new generation and urging it to strive for something that he said even the United States still does not have _ true equality _ he practically called for constructive blending of old and new ideas and beliefs.

To the older generations, he urged open-mindedness when it comes to new ideas. To the new generation, he emphasized that emerging ideas must also prove their true worth in the form of better society.

He did not say it out loud, but Prawase certainly does not want to see elections so ferocious where each does nothing but demonising the other. This kind of political atmosphere misconstrues constructive advices from the other side; discourages capable human resources from helping if the perceived enemies are in power; and promotes turning a blind eye when someone on the same side does something wrong, hence making real justice impossible and anti-graft fight a losing battle.

The new generation can lead, Prawase said, but it should be in the form of front-leg-hind-leg synchronisation. He suggested that if elections and their aftermaths can make Thais move in sync with one another, it would be the greatest achievement the world will ever see.

“The new generation is the future,” he said. If they are fully alert, idealistic and highly capable, the future will be bright. That new thinking is necessary does not mean old thinking is bad. Even in business, what used to make profits will lead to losses if it’s not changed. Everyone needs reconceptualisation. I have been observing new thinking being shot down. Everyone needs to find a way for new thinking to notjust survive but also flourish.”

As Sunday’s election has been shaping up to be a case of old waves (who used to be new waves once) versus new waves (who one day will become old waves themselves), Prawase’s idea is worthy of consideration by all parties. The new generation is there, but so are the older generations. How they can co-exist peacefully and constructively will be Thailand’s utmost test.

One more step will be taken on Sunday although the road will still be long.

By Tulsathit Taptim