Opinion: The silent culprit of Thailand’s hopelessness

“The truth is, there is something terribly wrong with this country, isn’t there? 

I know you were afraid. Who wouldn’t be? War, terror, disease. There were a myriad of problems which conspired to corrupt your reason and rob you of your common sense. Fear got the best of you.” – V for Vendetta (2005)

When the movie V for Vendetta came out in 2005, one would be hard pressed to find similarities between the dystopia vision of London portrayed in the movie and Thailand. Sixteen years on and the plot of the movie is eerily similar to what this country is going through. Threatened by war and plague, democratic values and judicial norms were abandoned in favor of absolute control under High Chancellor Adam Sutler, causing British citizens to live under constant surveillance akin to those portrayed in the novel 1984 by George Orwell.

As of the time of writing, Thailand has been living under Emergency Decree for thirteen months since it was first announced on 26 March 2020. Civil liberty and the economy were sacrificed with the promise that the government will be able to prevent the widespread outbreak of Covid-19 and countless deaths as seen in many other countries. However, an entire year’s worth of effort and sacrifice has been rendered meaningless by the latest wave of the pandemic.

Since incompetence and Prayut’s Government seem to go together like bread and butter, it is hardly surprising that the government seems completely clueless on how to simultaneously keep the pandemic under control and to protect the economy. The real question is how and why such an incompetent government is in a position of power when there are life and death consequences for the entire country.

Thailand’s democratic struggle against dictatorship has already been much written about, but it does not address the cause of the issue. The root cause, rather, is the absence of meritocracy in Thai government and in those that come to power.

Lee Kuan Yew famously said: 

“For Singapore to succeed – for any country to succeed – you must have a system that enables the best man and the most suitable to go into the job that needs them. You have got to find the right person to do the job. To do that, you must have an open recruitment system, proper appraisal systems, not just go by word of mouth of some individuals.”

With an alleged Australian convict as the Deputy Minister of Agriculture, an owner of a construction company as Minister of Health and former Commander-in-Chief of the Army as Prime Minister, the absence of meritocracy in Thai politics is self-evident.

But how did this system come to be?

Libertarians will undoubtedly point to Thailand’s countless coup d’etats, which is definitely a significant contributor to the current predicament. To observers of Thai history, it seems as if power can be taken away by force almost at will by those in uniforms.

Perhaps the reason for that is because military takeovers are met with very little civilian resistance so the head of the armed forces have little to be afraid of in terms of pushback.

With a culture that engenders willing submission and age-old fear, our liberal, civic-minded leaders get isolated and voiceless, sometimes leading to their assassination or disappearance.

The truth is, we as citizens, as a society – are the silent culprit for our own predicament. We allow it to happen, approve it with our silence and endorse it with our obedience.

It is our civil duty to fight against dictatorship not because it is inherently bad. We have to fight against dictatorship because we have plenty of historical evidence from our very own country that military dictatorship brings nothing more than nepotism and incompetence, as clearly demonstrated by the current government.

We are not fighting for democracy because it is inherently good, but because it is the only system of governance that allows us to keep those in power accountable.

Democracy is not inherently good. It is subjected to favoritism and cronyism. And if we as a society continue to be apolitical, our democracy will also be corrupted in a way that is not so different from the nepotism we see under military dictatorship. If it is a meritocracy that we seek in our politics, it is time for a political awakening of this country to let those in power know that this absurdity can no longer be tolerated.

You may be able to survive living under fear. But if this country wants to thrive, then we better be ready to fight for it. The price of civilization is not free. Are we – as a society – ready to pay for it?

By Serichon

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