Eighty years, three days and counting. This is how long the country has been "progressing towards democracy". If there were a scale of speed where an Olympics sprint rated a 1 and a stroll through the mall was a 10, the advance to democracy in Thailand would be about 20. There are numerous reasons for this, to be sure. But there is no valid excuse for it.
A healthy debate has grown up over democracy in Thailand in recent weeks. Two major issues have compelled the discussion. The first is the attempt by the Yingluck Shinawatra government to amend, and then perhaps to rewrite, the country's 18th constitution. This has been further kindled by the Constitution Court, which has sought to bar parliamentary debate on the charter while it considers opposition charges that the government may try to change the system of monarchy.
The second reason that the smell of democracy is in the air is connected. Last Sunday was the anniversary of the 1932 "revolution". Not everyone agrees with that word for the actions of the group which mounted it 80 years ago. But whatever word, the end result was that the actions of the Khanarassadorn group on June 24, BE 2475 led directly and quickly _ in less than six months _ to the official end of the absolute monarchy.
Families of the 1932 revolutionaries were clear at a weekend conference that neither the Khanarassadorn group nor its members had any intention of ending the Thai monarchy. It is logical, then, and widely accepted and taught, that the 1932 event should be considered as the start of Thai democracy. For the past 80 years, democracy has been developing. But no serious person believes democracy has been established.
That is a very long time for a nation to be "developing" its basic system of government. It is chic to point out that western nations have taken longer. But that is a half-truth, and actually wrong. Once Greece and France, Canada and Japan, the United States and the United Kingdom decided their forms of government, they were established and working quickly.
Thailand is exceptional for its 80-year-old decision to be a democracy, without ever quite reaching that goal. Most Thais want a democracy, and want their country recognised as one. The nation has established many of the trappings of a democratic system, first and foremost a free, fair and respected voting system. But still, poised on the threshold of a possible 19th constitution in 80 years, our country continues to develop democracy.Some describe this as a snail's pace but snails travel more quickly. Still, the recent, continuing and often robust debate over the details of an ideal democratic system is a healthy sign. It is one indication, in fact, of an actual democracy.
A democratic system of government under a constitutional democracy seems a simple goal, reasonably easy to achieve. The official visit this week of Japan's Crown Prince Naruhito serves as a reminder. Many other countries have succeeded, including Japan and a host of countries in Europe. Thailand must keep its eye on the goal, which is to be a true democracy. It will be difficult to achieve, but it is not impossible.
27 June 2012