Rigged elections better than no elections?

Pravit Rojanaphruk at Khaosod had an op-ed a couple of days ago that causes us to consider again the question of rigged elections being better than no elections at all.

Pravit essentially sees the formation of  “the ultra-conservative, ultra-royalist and ultra-nationalist Action Coalition for Thailand … [as] a sign that something is on the right track.” For him, ACT is “promoting its ideology to potential members and voters, and this is not a bad thing.”

He adds that this “is a positive development because Thai politics needs to be more ideology-driven and less dependent on outsized personalities and the notion of supporting the ‘lesser of two evils’.”

Although Pravit acknowledges that ACT is in fact led by “a very outsized personality. Suthep Thaugsuban,” he reckons other “key members took to the floor to espouse the party’s core doctrines of holding the monarchy above everything, ultra-nationalist oaths and aspirations for broad reforms.”

Pravit doesn’t say it, but the People’s Democratic Reform Committee also had plenty of other speakers on its stage.

So Pravit’s argument is not going so well… But, he does have a point: “… it is absolutely preferable to have fellow citizens trying to convince others to support them at a ballot box by peddling their ideas instead of mobilizing people to paralyze the capital…“. He adds: “… shifting that conflict and ideological struggle into electoral politics is a welcome development.”

It is difficult to disagree that an electoral system is better than dictatorship (not a point Pravit explicitly makes) or that electoral competition is not a better way to solve political disagreements than having the military murder protesters or protesters beating each other up or using gangs of thugs to disrupt protests by other groups.

Yet the idea that elections will simply resolve deep-rooted conflicts is naive. After all, it was elections that resulted in yellow-shirted street mobilizations. The reason was because the royalists, supported by elites, tycoons, palace and military, would not accept election results. They eventually rejected the notion of one-person, one-vote and majoritarian-based representative government.

That’s why the current, junta-developed constitution, its electoral rules and its so-called independent agencies and mechanisms have been put in place. The idea is that only one result can be permitted and that will be the victory of anti-democrats in a rigged election.

If they should happen to stumble and not get their preferred “election” outcome, what is to stop them rising again?

In cheering for a rigged election, Pravit goes too far in implicitly accepting that rigging and the anti-democrat agenda as the junta has enforced it. His hope may be that the anti-democrats do stumble and that a government more representative of those groups repeatedly beaten down may triumph is one most democrats would share. But, in the end, for the military dictatorship, in the short to medium term it looks like heads we win, tails you lose.

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