It was payback time. Thais called it “set zero” or reset. Starting afresh. Many were instantly gratified when the much-hated Election Commissioners were removed in a vote by the National Legislative Assembly last week.
However, there was something unsettling about the sense of schadenfreude exhibited on social media last Friday. Many people who rejoiced in the move claim to be pro-democracy, and yet they were happy that a junta-appointed rubber stamp parliament had just voted overwhelmingly to axe all five election commissioners – simply because they wanted to start afresh with new commission members, selected under regulations stipulated under the new charter. The reason is both simple and alarming. Many junta opposers blamed the commission for the failed general elections in early 2014 – which was eventually followed with a coup a few months later.
They hated the election commission, particularly the talkative commissioner Somchai Srisutthiyakorn, who was then directly responsible for holding the elections. There was also the commission’s role in organizing the controversial referendum on the junta-sponsored draft constitution last August. Again, Somchai and his colleagues made sure insane regulations imposed by the military junta – such as the prohibition on public campaigns opposing the draft charter – would be enforced. So when heads rolled last week as the assembly voted 161 to 15 for their disbandment – paving the way for new commissioners to be selected under new charter’s regulations – a large swath of the anti-junta population erupted into cheers on social media.
These people have been consumed by political hatred to the point where they rejoice seeing the illegitimate rubber stamp parliament meting out retroactive punishment and no longer care about how their political opponents are dispatched. Coup or rubber-stamp parliament are acceptable to them. The “set zero” or reset and restart mania is juvenile at best if people subscribe to it without considering the big picture and its repercussions.
There’s a striking resemblance between these junta opposers and those calling for a coup to oust the then Pheu Thai government back in 2014.
People cannot create a better and more democratic society by merely eliminating those they dislike. Creating a more democratic society depends on cherishing and upholding key principles – including that of legitimacy. There’s no legitimacy whatsoever in the vote made by the assembly last week. All assembly members were handpicked by junta leader Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha, who staged the May 2014 coup.
Supporting a rubber-stamp parliament is basically the same as supporting the military junta which appointed these people.
Three years on since the coup, the word “legitimacy” may sounds hollow and irrelevant to many, but if more and more people continue down the path where legitimacy is no longer an important principle, we risk embracing a society where might is right, and stolen goods and coups are acceptable.
Three years on, fewer people – even those claiming to be for democracy are fighting based on cherished principles. The more they subscribe to destroying their enemies at all cost, the more Thai society is dragged down a path of lawlessness and illegitimate power.
When their ephemeral joy subsided in the ensuing days, nobody could provide a convincing argument as to how the new election commissioners – to be selected under new junta-sponsored regulations – would be better or more independent from the military junta.
Time to “set zero” again?