No matter what the results of today’s general election will be, there are at least three issues Thais will have to grapple with that will not be easily resolved.
First is the widening generation gap that’s accompanied by differing political views and animosities. It’s apparent in the months, if not years prior to the election, that the majority of young Thais are against the status quo – they want change, be it reform of the monarchy, an end or at least a reform of the controversial lese majeste law, equal marriage rights for LGBTQ people, elected governor for all provinces and not just Bangkok, an end to compulsory military conscription and more.
The arch conservative party, the United Thai Nation Party, which is fielding incumbent Gen. Prayut Chan-ocha as their PM candidate recognized this and released a damning short video clip asking Thais, probably older Thais, baby boomers and the like, whether they really want Thailand to change.
The video clip, released a week ago, painted a picture where Thai traditions and religions are being abandoned by young Thais, where the country has no soldiers to defend itself due to an end to compulsory military conscription, a country where a young Thai woman told with her mother it’s her right to post nude video for sale online and where a young man told his parents they need to vote before deciding on what dish to have for dinner – that democracy and voting rights starts at home. Farfetch as the video may be, it nevertheless underscore a sense of fear and growing schism between young and older Thais, between the past and the future, between political ideologies, expectation and aspiration of what Thailand should look like in the future.
The need to deliberate, compromise, and come up with a shared dream will be a challenge facing Thailand in the years ahead.
Second, the widespread proliferation of political fandom culture, including those in the so-called pro-democracy camp. Many citizens reduced themselves into mere “fans” of politicians and political parties. Instead of treating politicians as their public servants they end up becoming political fans and treating their favourite politicians like rockstar, or pop idols and have become intolerant of any criticism against their favourite politicians and political party.
This doesn’t bode well for democratic culture and Thailand as many of these political fans, including young Thais in the pro-democracy camp, have reduced themselves into mere consumers of political spectacles and idolized politicians while they should be holding them accountable and ready to scrutinize, criticize or even condemn them when things go wrong. To these people, their favourite political party and politicians are increasingly being treated with adoration and religious zeal. It can’t bode well for Thailand.
Last but not least, the military continues to pose a threat to the realization of true democracy. The week before the election saw it releasing a video clip of an anti-communist song. It was followed a few days later by Army Chief Gen. Narongpan Jitkaewthae, a de facto spokesman of the Thailand’s army, which is a state within a state, or part of the deep state, saying he can’t guarantee the army won’t intervene if there’s a political upheaval after the election.
“I can’t guarantee. That means [we must consider] whether the country is orderly or not. All sides must cooperate..,” was the army chief’s reply to a hypothetical question by a reporter on Thursday. In a truly democratic society, the army chief would probably have been fired on the spot for making such a statement but who’s going to fire him when the caretaker PM, Gen. Prayut, was himself a former coup leader?
In the end, no matter what today’s results, it’s clear that the election was never fair from the very beginning as 250 junta-appointed senators will take part, along with 500 elected MPs, to vote for the next prime minister. The Election Commissioners, the supposed referees, were all selected by a junta-appointed assembly.
Meanwhile, all nine members of the Constitutional Court, who can decide on future party dissolution cases, were also selected by a junta-appointed assembly. All these while former junta leader Gen Prayut and his former deputy junta leader Gen Prawit Wongsuwan are competing, among others, for the PM post.
Today’s election may be free but it’s definitely not fair for the former junta-camp has already bagged a third of the votes for the next PM in their pocket long before the first voter casted his or her vote this morning.