Elections 101

The Nation has an editorial worth a read. It is on the need to have an election, even if it is the junta’s “election.”

It begins with the acknowledgement that the “junta is likely to hold on to power at the polls, but its opponents must seize every opportunity for change and progress.”

That’s a bold argument for it acknowledges that the junta is bent and that the elections – whenever they are held – are rigged in the junta’s favor.

By arguing that the junta’s opponents should accept that they will lose and just work for change and progress as the junta allows it seems to us to offer little hope for anyone interested in people’s representation and sovereignty in Thailand.

The Nation argues that the “recent emergence of a raft of political parties is sending a clear signal to the ruling military junta – the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) [the junta] – and to society as a whole. It is that elections are essential if the country is to continue making progress.”

It may say that. Equally, though, it simply reflects the junta’s plans and its rigging of the electoral system.

The editorial continues by stating that anti-democrats “have come to realise the necessity of an election as a genuine instrument for negotiating power.” We see no evidence of this at all. The anti-democrats were often members of parties before the 2014 military coup and they will be again.

What is clear is that they participate in the belief that the junta will retain its power and that the election will not be free or fair. That’s hardly a vote of confidence in the party system. Devil parties are simply the military’s tools.

The best The Nation seems to offer “citizens” is a “share of the power.” Really? That’s it? Well, yes, that’s what the junta intends. Scraps thrown to parties – see Gen Prem Tinsulanonda in the 1980s.

To suggest that these scraps and a junta “election” will move the “military out of politics” is wishful thinking, unless there is a landslide against the junta. Somehow we don’t see the junta allowing that.

The Nation knows it is whistling in the wind:

The downside of the coming election is that, if junta-allied parties win, it could give the generals a measure of legitimacy and the chance to perpetuate their rule. Political elements that supported the NCPO are now forming parties to contest the race in the hope of claiming enough parliamentary seats to keep Prayut in power.

The military government has put in place legal instruments to extend its rule. It has the armed forces protecting it and dissuading opposition. Public money is being spent on the very kind of populist programmes the generals once derided as a politician’s trick, a bribe for votes. And it is now creating not one political party but many in a bid to ensure it receives a mandate to continue governing.

Remarkably, the editorial the dismisses political parties as grasping and evil. That will help things a lot – for the junta – for that is their lie. Parties can be for the people, but the people have to have a fair chance. Rigging the system from the start is a not a fair chance; it is no chance. Again, the editorial writer knows this:

Generally, the political equation hasn’t changed in four years. There are new parties offering alternatives, but it’s doubtful they’re strong enough to win at the polls. The present regime will see to that. It would be naïve to think the junta would heed calls for a free and fair election. Its need to win the election to gain legitimacy and remain in power is simply too great. But it is wise to call for close monitoring of Thailand’s political developments.

The government and its supporters would use any means necessary to win an election that has to come eventually, since further delays are impossible.

Heading towards it, the rules of the game are not particularly fair and the players are hardly equal. Plus, with the junta as a player in the game, there is no real regulator supervising the polling. Despite all of this, the election is still the best choice.

At present, it is the only choice on the horizon. But the junta will ensure there is little or no choice. If, and it is a huge if, anti-junta parties can cobble something together, they have to challenge all that the junta has done. The boys in green will not stand for that.

So Thailand is stuck unless the military can be disciplined. We leave that option to better strategists than us. It is the biggest challenge facing the Thai people for 80+ years.

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