Voranai: A Song of Rice and Fire

Voranai Vanijaka

About a week ago, CLSA Thailand organized a panel talk called ASEAN Forum 2018. On the panel were three smiling men in dark suits. They were Anuthin Charnvirakul of Bhumjaitai Party, Abhisit Vejjajiva of the Democrat Party and Chaturon Chaisang of Puea Thai Party. I wasn’t at the talk, but I saw the photo on a Facebook feed.

My reaction was, here is how democracy may defeat dictatorship in the coming general election (slated for February, at least until the junta leader changes his mind again). The three largest political parties banding together. Let’s say Pheu Thai throws down about 250 seats. The Democrats put in about 150. Bhumjaitai musters about 50. That’s 450 voices in the House of Parliament of 500 seats. Bickering, whining and conflicting voices though they may be but 450 voices nonetheless.

It will take a number like this to convincingly defeat the 250 voices of junta-appointed senators when the time comes to set up a government. That was my reaction, as I see the game as democracy versus dictatorship. But of course, others may see it differently.

I last interviewed Anuthin Charnvirakul a couple of months ago. He offered assurance that he and his party will stand by democracy and the democratic process. That the government must only come from the votes of the people. It’s also safe to say that Puea Thai, the elected government that was overthrown by a military coup d’etat, is on the side of the democratic process, and care not for junta appointed senators or the concept of a handpicked prime minister.

That leaves us with the Democrat Party, which still is on the fence, because Abhisit Vejjajiva sits on that fence. Suthep Thuagsuban may very well set up a new political party – and take the southern MPs in his patronage network with him – to support Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha in the coming election. The Democrat Party would be gutted, leaving Abhisit between a rock and a hard place. This is because from the Democrat leadership’s point of view, the game isn’t just democracy versus dictatorship, but also their political patronage network versus the Thaksin Shinawatra patronage network. As recent news confirmed, the Democrats aim to stand firm against what they called “the Thaksin system,” or Thaksinocracy.

And just like that, 150 voices leave the battlefield, with a chunk of it likely to follow Suthep and into the open arms of the junta leader. Thaksinocracy may be defeated, but so will democracy.

Let’s take a look at what is Thaksinocracy. According to Teerayut Bunmee of Thammasat University’s Faculty of Sociology and Anthropology,, it is the combination of the terms “Thaksin” and “democracy” and entails the following characteristics:

1)      Electoral democracy and “policy corruption”

2)      Cronyism and nepotism

3)      A double standard and biased judiciary

4)      Populism

5)      Conflicts of interests

6)      Tax evasion

As far as I’m concerned, these are more or less the characteristics of any Thai government or any Third World government or any government period. Only in the context of Thailand, Thaksin did it better than others, but perhaps, arguably, the current junta regime may be outdoing him.

But here’s the key to the game, to defeat the Night King and his horde of frozen zombies, Jon Snow (aka Aegon Targaryen) knew he had to form an alliance with the breaker of chains and mother of dragons, Daenerys Targaryen. This wasn’t a tough choice, as Daenerys is kind, good and courageous, not to mention sizzling hot. However, to truly make sacrifices for the greater good, Jon Snow had to also make an alliance with Cersei Lannister, cruel, hateful and destructive, but also sizzling hot. Now Cersei may have already betrayed the alliance, but last we saw, Jaime Lannister is leading his troops up north. So again, it takes the three largest Houses, Stark, Targaryen and Lannister to prevent a zombie apocalypse.

Allow me to offer these two scenarios:

1) The three big parties do not band together. Gen. Prayuth continues to reign following the general election. He will also have the full weight of the Kor Sor Chor (NCPO, National Council for Peace and Order) behind him. The 250 senators singing his songs. The elected members of parliament, cowed and submissive. World history tells us that once you elect a coup leader, he may continue winning every successive election until he dies of old age.

2) The three big parties band together. A Thaksin nominee might become prime minister. But the Democrats and their 150 voices can work fully in the democratic process as check & balance, with a real chance to change the government every four years.

Noted that even if Puea Thai takes 300 seats, that’s unlikely enough to combat 250 appointed senators, plus the MPs that would surely come over Gen. Prayuth. Don’t forget, a stalemate leads to a handpicked prime minister.

It’s one battle at a time, just a matter of which battle should be fought first.