OK, democracy's not perfect - but what's the alternative?
Though Thai "democracy" turned 80 on Sunday, debate on whether the majority of Thai people are ready for democracy continues. It's still common to hear so-called well-educated and well-to-do Thais casting doubt as to the suitability of democracy for the Kingdom.
The typical argument goes like this: most less-educated and poor Thais are too naive, they do not understand democracy or how to vote and are often misled by propaganda and populist policies, as well as money politics through vote-buying.
Some even toy with the idea that only those holding a university degree should be allowed to vote, while others are nostalgic for a military strongman or even the absolute-monarchy system that ended 80 years ago after the June 24, 2475, revolt.
So basically what they are saying is that they are smart and superior while others are stupid and inferior. This writer will not try to argue that all Thais are equally well versed in democratic values, but the same can be asked of many members of the middle class and elites who support one military coup after the other, including those who supported the latest putsch in 2006. Do they really understand what democracy is all about?
Society is always in a state of flux, and after eight decades of trial and error, it can be said that a majority of people will no longer welcome non-elected government. Most people know they each have one political voice and it can be exercised through elections as well as street protest. But if some "educated and well-to-do" Thais insist otherwise, the question would then be: What other option does Thailand have?
The other option is to try to reinstate a political system wherein a majority of the people have little or no political voice. The potential of a vast majority of the people would not materialise, as they would be suppressed and kept where they are - that is, in the lower echelon of society with fewer and unequal opportunities. Rule by the elite without elections and with no accountability or transparency is a recipe not just for a repressive and unjust society, but for one that would ensure Thailand would be a backward society filled with destitution, especially for the majority.
No society is automatically ready for democracy. Democracy is a learning process and the result of competing interests from various groups realising that although the system may not be perfect, it is the least evil for most members of society. Learning to become a truly democratic society can't simply be taught in schools; people must exercise and fight for their rights and democracy, be it on the street or at polling stations.
Through these actions, it is hoped that Thailand will eventually cultivate more a widespread democratic culture where people are regarded equally as human beings, as citizens, no matter how little educated or poor they may be, no matter if they are good or bad, and that something close to equal opportunity for all will be realised.
A recent poll by the National Institute of Development Administration revealed that most Bangkok respondents long for members of Parliament who are "moral, ethical and educated". Democracy may not guarantee moral and ethical government, but it guarantees an equal political voice during elections and the right for people to remove peacefully any government they disapprove of or recognise as not responsive to the will of the people.
It's good to be concerned about corruption and bad politicians, but unless all organisations, public figures and institutions can be subject to the same scrutiny and criticism, it is almost pointless, even hypocritical, to talk about good governance without a level playing field for everyone.
Eighty years on, a political system that thrives on inequality, no matter what it is euphemistically called, will continue to be resisted by people who recognise it for what it truly is.