Opinion: The Illusion of Choice Under Thailand’s Fake Democracy

With a functioning opposition bloc in Parliament, it would be easy to say Thailand is transitioning back to semi-democracy. But there’s a case to be made that Thailand in 2019 remains a fake democracy.

Parliament’s upper house was selected by Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha, the former junta leader who is now both prime minister and defence minister. No true democracy would allow a dictator to appoint virtually the whole senate, which ended up endorsing the dictator’s bid for a second term as prime minister earlier this year.

Prayuth arguably had no chance of becoming prime minister without the coup. It was the 2014 coup that enabled Prayuth to install himself in power for five years, before paving a political, judicial and legal system that set him up to continue as prime minister after the March general “election”. The current system should be called a fake democracy.

The risk of a possible coup by hawkish Army Chief Gen. Apirat Kongsompong means that any exercise of democratic rights, particularly the right to protest, will risk further military intervention.

In a country where fake luxury handbags and fake Rolexes are common, a counterfeit democracy might not be all that alarming. As long as a majority are happy with the illusion that Thailand is a democracy, what’s the point of making a fuss?

Fake democracy gives us an illusion of choice. Thailand had elections, even though the chances of the opposition winning were severely curtailed by electoral rules designed by lawmakers directly and indirectly chosen by the junta leader.

Fake democracy may be shoddy yet we have something that resembles an elected government. Prayuth goes to work every day for the good of the Thai people, some say.

The problem is that we never exercised real, meaningful electoral choice. We do not have real freedom but a fake freedom – an illusion of being really free. We are free as long as we do not overstep the boundaries set by the society.

Thailand enjoys neither genuine freedom of speech nor press freedom due to a draconian lese majeste law. Those who want to speak their mind freely have to leave the Kingdom for good and some do not feel safe even abroad.

Kyoto-based monarchy critic Pavin Chachavalpongpun claimed this week that an unidentified man tried to assault him in his flat. He has since been inactive on Facebook, where he criticizes the institution of the monarchy to over 170,000 followers.

Although the attack was unsuccessful according to Pavin, who told the tale during a symposium in the US earlier this week, the story has left some other exiled dissidents shaken. After all, two bodies of Laos-based republicans floated up the Mekong river late last year, while five more are missing and presumed dead.

“There is really no refuge for those seeking refuge,” wrote Korea-based former student activist Chanoknan Ruamsap, who fled Thailand two years ago after being accused of lese majeste for sharing a critical biography of King Rama X published by BBC. On Friday, she announced that her Facebook had been temporarily hacked. She can’t help but feel paranoid and suffers from insomnia.

Perhaps it’s less painful to simply be convinced that we have real democracy and freedom. That way we can be content, if not happy, and go about our daily routines without constantly feeling cheated and disappointed.