Uncle Tuu’s Days May Be Numbered

Of late, the man who has been answering political questions is Army Chief General Apirat Kongsompong, nicknamed Big Dang. Meanwhile, Prime Minister General Prayuth Chan-ocha, nicknamed Uncle Tuu, has been roaming about the kingdom ingratiating himself to the people, in his usual audacious yellow raja-pattern shirt, representing his stance for traditions.

Uncle Tuu was seen holding a schoolgirl in his arms, a child who professed that the junta is the best prime minister, because he’s the only prime minister she has ever met. He was seen doing the limbo rock, also at a school, amidst cheers and laughter of students, teachers and his entourage. He was then seen climbing onto a rice wagon to salute and announce in front cameras, “I am agent 007.” If he has said anything with a hint of politic, it was to grumble about how the people aren’t appreciating all the wonderful things he has done for the country.

It is as if, for the past week, Big Dang is the national leader, while Uncle Tuu is the comedic sideshow.

Under the thick haze that’s choking the life out of Bangkok, there’s a real political struggle underneath. One scandal after another, the junta government might as well check into a home for battered women. Furthermore, the Thaksin Shinawatra political marketing machine has been relentless, and if there’s anything the Thaksin-istas are good at, it’s political marketing.

Elections are delayed for the fifth time, and the people are restless. There are demonstrations against the delay, small though they may be, still demonstrations nonetheless. If it wasn’t for the drama over the national football team and Thai K-pop star Lisa Blackpink, the good people of the Land of Smog may not have other outlets to express their outrage, and focus their anger on the junta.

At this point in time, whatever Uncle Tuu has to say to the people, he would only be mocked. Once upon of time, he commanded fear. However politically incorrect this may sound, fear commands respect. It’s basic human nature. It might be better to be respected out of love, but fear works too. Especially if you wear a uniform, hold a gun and ride a tank, fear might work even better than love.

The problem is, these days, outside of those who worship the Cult of Uncle Tuu, the people in general see him as comedic fodder. The credibility simply is not there.

Big Dang, on the other hand, is no comedic fodder. If there’s anyone to remind the people of “respect to the monarchy.” If there’s anyone to warn the people of “chaos in the streets”. If there’s anyone to suggest to the people “or else…” Big Dang has the credibility to remind everyone that “this is Thailand”.

Big Dang, who upon taking up the post of army chief in September of last year, told the country that he does not “…rule out another coup d’tat.”

But demonstrations aren’t the junta’s main concern. Fear of tanks, guns and dusty air are enough to keep most people at home. Elections are the main worry. Besides, most people really don’t want chaos in the streets, because then there would definitely be no elections.

Here’s the most important point: Uncle Tuu’s days are numbered. He has to win the elections. If he doesn’t, he’s out. Just like the Democrats.

A quick history: In 2008, the Democrats came to power in a parliamentary coup, where Thaksin’s MPs and coalition partners, namely the Friends of Newin Group, defected to form a coalition government with Abhsit Vejjajiva and Suthep Thuagsuban. After two years in government, if the Democrats had won the 2011 general elections, then history would have turned out differently. But the Democrats lost, and so Abhisit went on to write a book, while Suthep picked up a whistle.

If democracy doesn’t favor, then let the tanks roll in.

Come 2014, it was Uncle Tuu’s turn to battle the Thaksin-istas. The first battle was easy. Roll the tanks in, everyone gets a day off, and voila, from the general who used to walk behind a woman, Yingluck Shinawatra, Uncle Tuu became the general who shook hands with Donald Trump and Theresa May.

But as already stated, the first battle was child-play. The second battle, similar for the Democrats in 2011, is at the voting booths. Here’s the real test. If Uncle Tuu can’t win, even with 250 handpicked senators at his beck and call, then he’ll be relegated to playing with grandchildren and writing songs no one will ever be forced to listen to again. As such, Uncle Tuu needs to do everything he can to make sure of victory at the polls, including delaying elections for the fifth time. As more important anything, he wants to write more songs that everyone will be forced to listen to.

If Pheu Thai becomes government again, what would that mean? Will there be whistling in the streets again, conveniently prompting the tanks to roll in? A flashback of 2014? Not necessarily. It depends on the relationship between the army chief and the new prime minister. As I’ve written before, the Thai-style democracy is  where the civilian government is submissive to the generals. So if Big Dang can keep the civilian government on a leash, things should be fine. But if the civilian government refuses the leash, as happened prior to the coup of 2006, well then… round and round we go…History is often a tragic comedy on repeats.

This is why Big Dang is now doing the talking, while Uncle Tuu is doing the limbo rock and pretending to be James Bond. The former to establish authority. The latter to win as many votes as possible.

Good cop, bad cop? Or, tough cop, funny cop?

The Old Solider Who Refuses To Fade Away

It’s not quite official, yet, not at the time of this writing anyway. General Prayuth Chan-ocha is not saying it, he’s got enough problems. General Prawit Wongsuwan is not saying it, he’s got more than enough problems. Deputy Prime Minister Wisanu Krua-ngam is saying it, but not quite saying it, because he really doesn’t want to take this problem head on. In a nutshell, no one wants to say it, and everyone is pointing to the Election Commission to say it.

If the Election Commission is anything like the Anti-Corruption Commission, they will likely say it. Yes, the elections date set for February 24, 2019 will be moved. Hopefully it won’t be, but let’s just entertain the notion that it will be. Move to when exactly we don’t yet know, but as specified by the constitution, elections must be held within 150 days.

The reason given is the royal coronation ceremony, which was announced on the morning of January 2, is to be held May 4-6. The previous royal coronation of King Rama 9 was held on May 5, 1950. As such, it is considered auspicious.

Therefore, according to junta logic, to not interfere with the ceremony, elections can wait.

Regardless however, given the 150 days’ grace period, there’s no avoiding overlap of preparations for the two events. As such, why then must elections be delayed? There are two possible reasons for this.

The first possible reason is already well explained by many media outlets. One scandal after another that not even generous populist handouts can overcome, the junta’s image is at a low in the eye of the public. As well, the political party backing the junta, Palang Pracharat, hasn’t been able to recruit enough key politicians, more time is needed. Furthermore, there might be a last-ditch plan to ban Puea Thai Party, perhaps more time is needed to build a case.

The purpose of all this, of course, is to ensure the junta’s return to power.

The second possible reason is that the generals simply cannot miss out on the opportunity to host the royal coronation ceremony. Even if they lost the elections, polls result wouldn’t be official until 60 days after the elections date. Therefore, the generals would still be in charge of the government during the ceremony.

To understand the importance of this, one must look into Thailand’s history and appreciate the roles of the monarchy and the generals. I will use the term “the generals”, not “the military”. This is because your average soldier hasn’t got anything to do with anything anymore than your average civilian.

So, here’s a very brief look at the history.

A coup d’tat on June 24, 1932 saw the Kingdom of Siam transitioned from absolute monarchy to constitutional monarchy, and led to the rule of Khana Rasadorn (People’s Party), which was composed of a civilian branch and a military branch. The 1933 Royalist Boworadet Rebellion was put down by the military branch, and led to the rise of one army officer, Plaek Phibunsongkram.

By 1938, Plaek has become field marshal and military dictator of the country. At the time, fascism and nationalism were en vogue worldwide. The field marshal himself was an admirer of Italy’s Benito Mussolini. He adopted the fascist salute, changed the name of Siam to Thailand and led a cultural revolution that included a decree for Thais to adopt western-style clothes and hats and use utensils when having meals, among other things. He created his own cult of personality where his portraits, quotes and mandates were everywhere.

In all of this, Thailand was technically a constitutional monarchy, but Plaek was the man in charge of everything. There was no one else in the picture.

After World War 2, the field marshal managed to return to power, but then he was deposed in the 1957 coup by another field marshal, Sarit Thanarat. It doesn’t matter if the Thai military was never big enough to qualify a field marshal, led alone a few field marshals, but never mind. At least, we don’t have to put up with Field Marshal Prayuth Chan-ocha.

Now, here’s the context of the time period.

The Cold War was about to hit Southeast Asia like a storm of napalm bombs, courtesy of Uncle Sam. This was a time when the number one enemy of freedom and democracy were pajama-wearing rice farmers of the tropics, not pajama-wearing goat herders of the desert.

Wars raged through the region between the 60s and 70s. Look to the left, and the country formerly known as Burma became a closed dictatorship. Look to the right, and Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, one-by-one were gobbled up by communism.

If history had turned out differently, our parents would be climbing over the gates of the US embassy trying to catch that last helicopter from the rooftop as communist troops marched into Bangkok. Not even Chuck Norris could have saved us. But thankfully, that didn’t happen.

Historians have different theories, and I’m no historian. Though I am of the argument that an important factor that saved us from being torn asunder by civil war, was the roles played by the monarchy and the generals in keeping Thailand together. This partnership was first forged under the regime of Field Marshal Sarit, courtesy of the agents of John F Kennedy.

Tanks and guns are machines of war, but it is the shared national identity, the common purpose of value, belief and reverence, that keeps a nation together. In this, Thailand had King Rama 9. Without going into details of the political communication strategy employed during the time, the result was this: do not ever underestimate the influence and impact King Rama 9 had/has on the cultural conscience and national psyche of this country.

Kings are called “great” for many reasons, most common of which is by conquering wealth and land. But King Rama 9 conquered the hearts and minds of the people, the spiritual guide that kept us together.

This was how modern Thailand was built. The elected government (whenever we have one) was always third wheel, expected to be submissive to the monarchy and the generals. Until a certain tycoon-turned-politician got a different idea… and well, here we are today.

Though the Cold War is no more, and today the country does not need the generals to do anything more than soldiering, ideally pledging to defend the monarchy, the people and democracy. But that’s not to be. Power is an aphrodisiac, it’s simply not easy to let go. The generals do not want to give up their status, a status that today largely clings on to the prestige of the monarchy.

Because of this history and because of this current reality, the generals cannot and will not pass up on the opportunity to host the coming royal coronation ceremony. This would be a reminder to the people, that one way or another, the generals aren’t going away, even if they were to lose the elections.

To host the royal coronation ceremony is symbolic and plays into the history, mythology and psyche of the Thai nation. Remember the popularity of General Prayuth when he first took power, and then he started speaking. Remember how the popularity came back during the royal funeral ceremony of King Rama 9, specifically when he was caught on camera choking back tears, and then he started speaking again.

The old soldier does not want to pass up this next opportunity, and he isn’t going to just fade away.

Now, if it turns out they don’t move the elections date, then never mind.

It’s Not Just Corruption, It’s Culture

The National Corruption Commission (NCC) has cleared Deputy Prime Minister General Prawit Wongsuwan of any wrongdoing over the luxury watches scandal. Of which, he is reported to have been sporting some 21 watches valued at over 30-million-baht total… on a soldier/politician salary.

Some of you observant readers may think to yourself, wait, isn’t it called the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC)? Well, that depends on how you want to look at it.

The finding comes to no one’s surprise, yet the public is outraged over it. This is because the emotion of outrage isn’t always the result of a shocking surprise. Many times, it’s simply out of predictable disgust.

Many activists and opposition leaders are already taking the Commission to task, calling for shame, investigation and resignation. But what would be the point other than having an outlet to express outrage? Government agencies cowing to dictatorship regime, it’s a tale as old as time.

But is this anything new for Thailand? No, it’s not. Powerful politicians get away with scandals during times of democracy. So why wouldn’t powerful generals get away with scandals during times of dictatorship? Hence, the problem goes much deeper than dictatorship or democracy.

Though to be fair, at least in democracy, the people have the rights, as guaranteed by the law, to march, protest and demand a regime change. But since this is Thailand, the military would waltz in, declaring dictatorship and promising a return happiness. Either way, we are back to square one.

Therein lies the problem. There is no body of law that we can trust. No government institution that we can put our faith in. No constitution that we can rely on. Under dictatorship or under democracy, everything is arbitrary. Favors. Connections. Bribery. Patronage. Power-play. Intimidation. Violence. These are the values we rely upon to get anything done.

Despite fancy malls and super-cars, culturally we are simply a backward child-like society with an obsession for shiny toys. There are exceptions, of course. Society can be proud of many fine, upstanding citizens. But as a whole, well… it ain’t pretty.

Put society into perspective. Rich/powerful folks aren’t doing anything different from poor folks. From motorbikes to taxis to sedans to super-cars and to submarines. From street vendors to moms-n-pops to SMEs to huge conglomerates and state enterprises. From village heads to district kam-nans to local council, provincial strongmen, national MPs and ministers.

When rich folks cheat, it’s just on a bigger scale, and they are more likely to get away with it, that’s the privilege of being rich. Poor folks cheat on a much smaller scale, and there’s lesser chance to get away with it, that’s the disadvantage of being poor.

But all are the same, rich or poor, we cheat. Not all of us, but enough to make it a cultural norm.

One thing is for certain. Every society on earth went through (most are still going through) this every-man-for-himself cultural value. We were all backward and feudal once, and many still are. But a society that has been successful in re-engineering its cultural mindset, is the society that has pulled ahead in the global system. Not everyone in a society has to be enlightened, in fact that would be impossible. But enough people have to be enlightened, to pull society out of the dark age and forge the sense of responsibility and accountability.

What does being enlightened mean? In this context, it’s a society where upon the collective identity of the people is based on the sanctity of the rule of law, which is formulated on the principles of human rights. This is the ideal we must strive for and turn into reality. The ideal that invokes trust and inspires faith, the ideal that the people know they can rely on.

But ideals are meaningless, lest we have people of integrity to champion them.

Therefore, we need a new crop of inspiring leaders. Even more importantly, we need inspiring parents and teachers.  

The Gulf Of Siam Is Largest In The World

A gulf is a big chasm, one that lays between the rich and the poor. When it comes to wealth inequality, the gulf of Siam is the largest in the world.

Bangkok is a city where you may chill on a fancy high-rise balcony bar, at a building as luxurious as any you would find in this world, and look down… only to see a slum as poor as any in this world.

This is a city where you may be stuck at an intersection, surrounded by outrageously priced super-cars… and yet see street urchins in rags selling garlands and flowers. Go outside of Bangkok, and you’ll realize that everywhere else in the country, safe for luxury hotels and mansions of the wealthy, is very much the developing world.

So, when the Global Wealth Index 2018 put Thailand as the number one country with the highest wealth inequality in the world… well, it’s merely a matter of suspicion confirmed by empirical evidence.

According to the Index, the wealthiest 1% of Thailand owns 66.9% of the country’s entire wealth, up from 58% in 2016. Thank you, Uncle Tuu.

Coming in at second place is Russia, where the wealthiest 1% owns 57.1% of the country’s total wealth. In 2016, Russia was number one, with the 1% owning 78% of wealth. Thank you, Uncle Putin, for letting us have first place. Rounding off the top four are Turkey and India, with the 1% owning 54.1% and 51.5% respectively. Thank you, Uncle Erdogen and Uncle Modi.

Other than these four countries, no other nation on God’s decaying earth has the 1% owning more than half of the country’s wealth. On the opposite spectrum are Belgium and Australia, with the 1% owning 20.1% and 22.4% of total wealth respectively. Thank you, Uncle Michel and Uncle Morrison.

Many are blaming Uncle Tuu for the nation’s wealth inequality. But that’s not entirely fair. Uncle Tuu didn’t start it, he only makes it worse. The dishonor of winning the number one spot on global wealth inequality has taken decades of hard work and dedication by successive governments and economic elites. Call a spade a spade and spread the blame.

The question is, how did this happen? No doubt, there are many theories, but here’s one. It’s a simple equation. You take the deeply entrenched Thai patronage system, add that to unchecked capitalism, take it to the power of populist policies, and voila, the highest wealth inequality in the world.

Observe:

Political elites come up with a populist policy to give out free sim cards and free six-month usage to 14-million poor folks.

14 million sim cards. 14 million poor folks. 50-baht service fee per poor folk each month. That’s 700 million-baht per month for six months. That’s a total of 4.2-billion baht for the entire shenanigan.

Where does the 4.2-billion baht come from? Taxpayers.

Where does the 4.2-billion baht go to? Economic elites who own the telecom industry.

What do the political elites get in return? Gratitude from 14-million poor folks that might translate into votes. And may be also a little “something-something” from the economic elites for “helping a brother out”. But of course, not with the current crop of political elites. They are as clean and shiny as a Richard Mille watch.

What do the poor folks get? Free internet for six months.

Capitalism is an economic system with the goal of acquiring as much wealth as possible. Patronage is a social system where a network, or a tribe, pursues as much wealth as possible for its own group.

Put the two together, and we have the sum of: acquiring as much wealth as possible… for us. Not for the people. Not for society. Not for the country. But for us (puag goo, พวกกู).

This is an example of how the 1% came to own over half the country’s wealth.

Can everyone else catch up? Well, with the recent 500-baht government handout, poor folks are 500 baht closer to catching up to the all the “tao-gaa” and “chao-sua”.

It’s a tight race, ain’t it?

 

In A Land Where None Is Trustworthy

If society is dominated by the “every man for himself” mentality, there’s a logical explanation for it. Just as man is inherently capable of both good and evil, he’s also inherently capable of selflessness and selfishness. The path he chooses is dependent upon the context and condition he finds himself in.

The context for the modern Thai society begets a crisis of confidence, and hence the condition society finds itself adheres to is “every man for himself” – and woman too, of course.  

The rich pursue wealth and monopolize businesses with vigorous self-righteousness. They bend the law, bribe the government and exploit the poor for the glory of their family name and offshore bank accounts. With no thoughts of “giving back to society” beyond tax breaks and good PR. Already, dear readers, a few famous family names pop into mind.

The poor demand handouts, subsidies and their rights to break and bend the law with vigorous self-righteousness, because life is tough and they are poor. Without the need to elaborate, you, dear readers, already think of a few groups of people who fit this description.

The middle class meanwhile, try their best to join the rich and bask in all the privileges with vigorous self-righteousness, their worst nightmare is to fall down the social ladder and become one of the poor folks.

Here we talk in generality, of course. Theories are made to form an understanding of the big picture, with the recognition that there are exceptions in all forms of social science.

But why have the people adopted an every-man-for-himself mentality? This is because the context of modern Thailand is that we live in a nation, unreliable and untrustworthy.

Here’s an example.

Last week, the National Legislative Assembly approved a budget of over one billion baht for a five-year period as “meeting allowance” for the Thai courts. The chairperson of the meeting would receive 10,000 baht per meeting. Others would receive 8,000 and 6,000, depending on their ranks. Each court has two meetings per month, hence 24 meetings per year. So that’s 240,000 baht annually for the chairperson and at least 144,000 baht annually for everyone else.

The reason for the allowance is cited as (this is my own translation from Thai, not an official translation):

“To guarantee the people the benefit of more meticulous deliberations. So that members of the court of justice would dispense impartial verdicts for the people, with thorough details, careful considerations and utmost fairness.”

Already, dear readers, you feel like sniffing on some vapex.

Of course, the people cried foul over this. Just as they cried foul over the controversial multi-million-baht housing project for judges at the foot of Doi Suthep Mountain in Chiang Mai back some months ago.

The crisis of confidence is this: The people look at the politicians and see corruption. Look at the military and see power-grabs. Look at the police and see ineffectiveness. Look at the bureaucrats and see incompetence. Look at the religious institution and see debauchery. Look at the courts and see lucrative meeting allowances and fancy houses on the edge of a national park.

If the people see all the branches of the government, and the religious institution, as unreliable and untrustworthy, then this is a nation drowning in a crisis of confidence.

Again, here we speak in generality. Surely, there are capable and honorable men and women within all branches of the government, as well as in the monkshood. But if as the saying goes, a few bad apples may spoil the whole bunch, then a few bad durians stink up the entire country. And surely, there are more than just a few bad durians in this country.

Therefore, if the people cannot trust the law, then the people must fend for themselves, and hence the social norm is defined by the “every man for himself” mantra.

There is no quick-fix for a long, lingering disease. However, the first step might come next February. Vote for new people to do new things. Not for old people to do the same old things.

But even more important than voting is this. No one is completely one way or the other, we humans are all walking and talking contradictions.  But we need to ask ourselves, on a scale where selflessness is at one end and selfishness is at the other, where does each of us stand?

The government would do nothing for us, unless we demand it from them. But aside from making demands from the government, we should set a better standard of how we conduct ourselves as members of a society.

 

 

Six People Who Should Give Up Politics

If I were a hopeless optimist, only seeing the beauty in this world and the good in everyone, then I could make the following statements:

  • Thaksin Shinawatra was the most talented political leader Thailand have ever had.
  • Abhisit Vejjajiva was the most educated political leader Thailand have ever had.
  • General Prayuth Chan-ocha saved Thailand in time of crisis.
  • Suthep Thuagsuban led the people to fight against corruption.
  • Jatuporn Prompan led the people to fight for democracy.
  • Natawut Saikua led the people to fight for democracy.

I may say the intentions of all six gentlemen are pure and honorable. They truly want to do well for Thailand. But the reality that we see every day is that every time each of these gentlemen utter a word that becomes news, the good people of Thailand have an epileptic fit.

Thailand may find some sort of unity in criticizing a celebrity love triangle, but as soon as any of the six gentlemen become news, society is fragmented into two sides. We lob hell, fire and brimstone at one another. Furthermore, if ever someone aim to agitate, society may very well once again degenerate into mob violence, as we have seen time and time again in over a decade of Thailand’s political divide.

Therefore, these six gentlemen should retire from politics and from public life. There might be more than these six, but these six make for a good start.

Democracy stands on the principle of freedom. As such, differences and diversities are the norm. Discussions, debates and even arguments are encouraged. But differences and divisions aren’t the same. The former is a matter of discussion and exchanging ideas, even if at times we can be quite stubborn and emotional about things. The latter is a matter that leads to fragmentation and chaos. A nation divided against itself.

If one were to pore through books on the history of Rome, one might find tens, if not hundreds, of reasons as to why the western half of the empire fell. Every single reason certainly played a contributing factor. All the reasons combined together yielded the sum of an orgiastic mess of failures.

In his book, Fall of the Roman Empire, Michael Grant gave a summation of 13 interacting tensions that led to the fall of the western half of the empire:

The generals against the state. The people against the army. The poor against the state. The rich against the state. The middle class against the state. The people against the bureaucrats. The people against the emperor. Ally against ally. Race against race. Drop-outs against society. The state against free belief. Complacency against self-help. The other world against this world.

Thirteen different interacting tensions, but one common theme “against”. Specifically, a nation (or empire) divided against itself.

Thailand is not Rome, not by any stretch of imagination. But Rome and Thailand, as well as every country ever created since the dawn of the human civilizations, are the same in its basic structure: these are human organizations.

As with any human organization, a decline and eventual fall starts with the organization being divided against itself.  In today’s world, we are witnessing this theme, from the most developed western countries to a struggling nation like Thailand.

What would be the point of history if we don’t learn from it?

Thailand today is the people against the people. The people against the bureaucrats. The state against the people. The military against the politicians. The people against the military. The poor against the elites. The elites against the poor. Tradition against change. Control against freedom. Most specific to this essay, cult of personality against cult of personality.

The list may go on and on. But one theme remains the same, the word “against” in the context of one nation.

There are many reasons to explain Thailand’s division. Everyone has his or her pet theory. But like as not, one important reason is the love and hate the Thai people have for these six gentlemen, and the cults of personality they have created. The love and hate that brought about chaos and violence. The love and hate that see a nation divided to this very day.   

If national reconciliation is the goal, then perhaps we ought to thank the six gentlemen for all the goods they have intended. But more urgently, we must ask these six gentlemen to make an important personal sacrifice for the future of our country. This sacrifice is to retire from politics and public life, to earnestly retired, and not even to play the wizard behind the curtain.

Obviously, as things stand, they are not going to give up on politics. Wealth, power and pride, these are rather irresistible things. But if we the people realize the need for the six gentlemen to turn in their badges and hang up their gloves, we may eventually pressure them to do so… one voice at a time, until we reach of sum of millions and tens of millions. 

Then we can move on to better things in life.

Put Me in Charge of Education Reform

Recently, I took up a teaching post at Webster University. Over beers and hot wings one evening, five teaching staff, three western and two Thais, engaged in a discussion over white privilege, social justice warriors, safe space and other delicious topics. Since everyone lives and works in Thailand however, the conversation invariably drew comparison to the kingdom.

Specifically, we were discussing the Age of Enlightenment, which started around the early 18th Century in Western Europe. This was a time of burgeoning democratic conscience, struggles for civil rights and liberty, advancements in science and technology, the industrial revolution, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. Underlining all of this is of course the ideal of freedom. Free the mind. Free the soul. Be enlightened. Then all things become possible, including scientific advancement and economic prosperity.

It was proposed that the Age of Enlightenment formed the backbone of western society today, even though many might argue that the backbone is rotting away at the present.

The obvious question then became, when was Thailand’s Age of Enlightenment? Anyone? Anyone? Anyone? No?

But it’s not just Thailand, is it? Most of the world did not go through the Age of Enlightenment. Why? Superiority of western culture? White privilege? God chosen? Historical accident? Too busy getting colonised? There are lots of fun and racially rambunctious theories to be had. But we’ll save that for another day. Opening too many cans of worms at one time only lead to too many worms.

From the establishment of the Sukhotai Kingdom in 1238 to the fall of the Ayutthaya Kingdom in 1767. From the short-lived Thonburi Kingdom (1767-1782) to the rise of the Rattanakosin Kingdom, the Thai people were 694 years under absolutism, then we woke up one morning in 1932, heavy heads and sleepy eyes, muttering: “What? We’re a democracy now? What’s a democracy?”

Then, from the 1932 Revolution that ended absolute monarchy to today as you are reading this, we have been playing a ping-pong match between democracy and dictatorship. The match saw 19 military coup d’etat attempts, whether fail and success, not counting the 1932 revolution. That’s averaging one coup attempt every four to five years. Half of the period we were also a pawn in the Cold War between the US and the USSR.

So, where was Thailand’s Age of Enlightenment? Anyone? Anyone? Anyone? No?

We are the sum of our pasts. Who we are today is the accumulation of our historical evolution.

If the ideals of freedom, liberty and equality are generally embraced in western culture (even if these ideals have come under attacks at present time) it is because the democratic conscience has been fostered in western culture for centuries, since even before the Age of Enlightenment.

If the ideals of freedom, liberty and equality generally hold second position in Thailand, lagging behind the top priority of tradition and Thai-ness, then this is simply the sum of our historical evolution.

Hence, through the past 86 years, Thailand may have had democracy as a set of rules written in ink on a piece of paper. But papers can be torn up, as happened so many times with the Thai constitution. For democracy to work, it can’t just be ink on paper. It has to be in the national conscience. There has to be a democratic conscience.

However, we can’t change history. What can we do?

One western professor pointed out, “Well, Voranai, you seem to understand all of this, and you’re Thai.”

Therein lies the answer. We can’t change history. But we can learn from history. If I “understand all of this” (which I would never be presumptuous enough to claim “all” about anything) then I understand it through education.

Education.

I should be put in charge of Thailand’s education reform.