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Weakness of electoral politics in dealing with the Thai military
Ugly Truth Thailand - August 26, 2018
On this site, I have warned that the military junta is busy designing a "Guided Democracy" system, which will entrench the power of the military for the next 20 years. This is also the view of other commentators. The Guided Democracy system is going to use the National Strategy and the military's constitution to shackle the policies of any future elected civilian government. The various military appointed bodies, such as the Senate and the courts, will police this system.
It is to their credit that the Future Forward Party have announced for some time now that it is committed to undoing the legacy of the military junta to ensure that military intervention in politics is ended.
However, electoral politics on its own is not enough to abolish the military's legacy. This is because of the fundamental contradiction between electoral politics and campaigning mass movements.
Political parties like the Future Forward Party, aim to win as many votes from the electorate as possible. The emphasis on electoral politics means that they will follow existing social trends rather than campaign to get people to change their views and become more radical. The emphasis is not on agitation and leadership but on appealing to a mass audience.
It is very likely that large numbers of Thai citizens are sick and tired of Prayut's dictatorship and the constant destruction of democracy by the military. Parties such as Pua Thai and Future Forward, who stand on the opposite side to the military, are therefore likely to win significant numbers of votes.
But winning votes does not guarantee the power to overthrow the National Strategy or the military constitution. Merely winning votes from the electorate implies a passive response from citizens, who are only required to put a cross in the correct box at election time. It does not mean mobilising huge numbers of people to come out and support a newly elected civilian government on the streets and in the workplaces. But such a mobilisation is exactly what is required in order to destroy the legacy of the military and to abolish the power of the army, the appointed Senate and the pro-dictatorship judiciary.
In order to build a mass pro-democracy social movement, the views of millions of citizens need to be challenged by a growing movement outside parliament. Such a challenge requires campaigning to encourage people to change their views. There are millions who want democracy, but how many of those have the confidence to believe that the legacy of the military can be destroyed? How many will be prepared to actively engage in struggle? How many are prepared to go beyond just the formal state of democracy towards a more equal society?
Electoral politics on its own does not mean putting such a challenge to the population. Electoral politics puts pressure on political parties to find common ground even with those who do not wish to totally get rid of the legacy of the military or to facedown the interests of the powerful elites. Electoral politics also means making compromises with prevailing ideas in society.
The prevailing ideas in society are influenced by the media, the conservative institutions and also by fear of those with power. Suggestions about drastically cutting the military budget, sacking and punishing all the high ranking officers responsible for destroying democracy, dismantling the main power structures in society or creating economic equality are usually branded as "extremist views" by mainstream commentators. So are suggestions about abolishing the lese majeste law, significantly increasing the wages of workers, raising tax levels on the millionaires and corporations by large amounts in order to fund a welfare state, or transforming the country into a republic. Yet none of these examples are in the least extreme and have been carried out in some other countries.
Electoral politics means down-playing any policies which might be classified as "extreme" and trying to find common ground with as large a number of the electorate as possible. It also usually means discouraging struggles by social movements, especially during election time.
What is needed in order to overcome the contradiction between electoral politics and campaigning mass movements, is for people to support progressive parties at elections, but to also build campaigning mass movements simultaneously.
[Read more about the good and bad policies of the Future Forward Party in previous articles on this site]