Thailand really needs a few good men, not another coup

Thailand really needs a few good men, not another coup

Perhaps I am having a mid-life crisis. It would explain why I feel so baffled by the things I see and hear from people of all walks of life.

Amorn Wanichwiwatana

Special to The Nation

I sometimes feel very alienated from the present world. Some of my acquaintances, particularly youngsters, speak to me about facets of life that differ totally from my teenage years.

As a professor, I need to listen patiently to all the debates, points of view, and arguments that people often use to prove their thinking is right!

But recently, the youngsters have asked questions that sound good and reasonable to me because they match my own experience and musings.

For instance, they asked why they need to study for a degree if our leaders can’t even produce their primary school certificate, claiming it was burnt in a school fire. Or why professors have to study abroad at huge cost when a degree from Oxford or Harvard brings them neither fortune nor high status.

And many more questions are being asked about our culture, social institutions and ways of doing things. Why do the rich get richer and the poor get prison? Why respect the law if your wealth and good connections mean you can escape the long arm of justice?

Some of the same questions may have occurred to you. I believe our young generation is right to ask them. They spur an eagerness to find good solutions to Thailand’s problems.

Indeed, all of us have to rethink the world and society we are now living in.

Since my long and challenging time as a Constitution Drafting Commissioner (CDC), I have been out of politics for five years now. That’s almost the same period I spent on my doctoral degree in Britain.

So, what on earth is going on with my career path? Do I have less intellect than those in power or is there some unspoken factor? The answers that I had found were nothing special, though many said I wasn’t submissive enough to the powers-that-be and ignored the rules they play by. Some pointed out that I and many other decent men and women would do a lot better if Cabinet ministers were chosen on merit rather than connections. Controversial individuals prosper when the patronage system runs strong in our society. Many people get promoted in government and politics not because they are more intelligent or smarter than others, but because they have better connections. But for this reason, our country is failing to maximise the benefits of its human resources. While we continue failing to put the right man/woman in the right job, our society is losing good opportunities to exploit its fittest members.

We are in desperate need of a few good men (and women) to forge policies for the benefit of the majority. Of course, those few good people should not come to power via underhand means such as a coup. I acknowledge that I myself once rose to the important posts of constitution drafting commissioner and CDC spokesperson under a coup leader. But I always insisted and prayed that the 2014 coup should be the last.

Unsurprisingly, the Constitutional Court’s ruling last Friday to allow Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha to remain in power for another half-term has sparked concern. Many are asking whether Gen Prayut could have stayed for another full term had the opposition not filed its lawsuit. The saga also allowed Gen Prawit Wongsuwan to shine on the political stage as well as being Palang Pracharat Party leader. Gen Prawit became the best choice for next PM soon as Gen Prayut survived the court verdict – but he may not be in good enough physical shape to rule for a full term if nominated as PM at the next general election. This may be the reason why Prayut immediately announced he was delegating some power so he could work on unfinished matters. That move likely reflected his awareness that time is running out and his journey is almost over. We might not see any political party propose Gen Prayut as a prime minister candidate at the next general election.

What’s certain is that Thailand should place the leadership of government in the hands of one individual. The “few good men” that our country so desperately needs could be any one of us, not just the familiar big names or the inner circles of both Gen Prayut and Gen Prawit, as the media often predict. We have a population of 70 million to choose from. And anything can happen in politics, especially Thai politics! I understand that many are concerned about the post-Prayut era and desperate to find out what will come next. As we all know, in these situations the military is still the key institution in keeping peace and order, and they could intervene if they get an opportunity. There are no guarantees and no one can rule out a coup happening again because the power stakes are high and non-negotiable. Even though I pray that the latest coup was our last, the only certainty is uncertainty.

Amorn Wanichwiwatana, DPhil (Oxon), is a political scientist at Chulalongkorn University.