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Facing the Challenges: Engaging in Dialogue for Thai Democracy

In his introspective piece, Methichai Thongpleo delves into the tumultuous landscape of Thai politics, highlighting the nation’s struggle between traditional power dynamics and the quest for genuine democracy.

As Thailand faces a pivotal moment post the 2023 elections, Thongpleo underscores the deepening generational divide and emphasizes the need for constructive dialogue to reimagine the nation’s democratic fabric.



by Methichai Thongpleo

Thailand’s journey towards democracy has never been a linear one.

It has been a mix of feelings, with each of them tied to the recent and old events. Sorrow, pain, frustration, hope, optimism, each of these feelings found a place in the political vicissitudes of Thai politics.

Now, it seems like all these emotions are converging at a crucial crossroads, with the vast majority of people wanting many things, like a fair say in government, steady leadership, and a better future themselves.

After all, these are their rights. Let’s not forget it.

The ongoing political situation shows how democracy’s potential and prospects intersect with the realities of power struggles in the traditional Thai way of politics.

Unfortunately, even now, the contours of the Thai Political system cannot escape a future without the military-based parties.

Such a doomed reality won’t make us a better nation. It won’t bring Thailand to an ideal place among the so-called full and mature democracies. Rather, it will reinforce the unfortunate but well-rooted elements at the foundations of Thai politics: short-lived governments characterized by high levels of political instability.

Such dynamics in the past, as we know, were marred by the role of the military, and instead of being the saviour of the fatherland, it has been the cause of all these years’ troubles.

It is indeed a perverse cycle. We do not want this vicious cycle to happen again, to repeat itself, but we feel impotent and unable to do anything meaningful about changing what I would call a curse.

The betrayal that the Thai people experienced after the general election of 2023 reflects the change of power relationship among Thai political agents.

The hope was that Pita Limjaroenrat, as the new Prime Minister, would probably have allowed all of us, even for a short period, to feel good about our country.

It was till this point that the youths started feeling a real sense of pride in our resilience, in our capacity to step up despite the adversities and bring change.

However, while we are coming to terms with the harsh reality, and even though some of us are still struggling with it, such feelings don’t persist long despite the profound affront.

The Phue Thai Party (PTP), after the failure of the Move Forward Party (MFP) in forming the new government, is daring to take the lead in forming a new government driven by conservative principles and values.

Meanwhile, its founder, Thaksin Shinawatra is back home, but who really cares?

The reality is that an amalgamation of populistic and right-wing principles and values and high deference towards the status quo is gaining the upper hand.

We knew that these forces would not let power go easily. We pretended to see things differently but deep inside, we knew that it would have been hard to have a real change in the power structures of this country.

This new coalition, a betrayal of the popular vote, has elected a new Prime Minister who probably would not respect the wishes of the vast majority of the population.

Once again, the status quo in the Thai political system is prevailing.

According to the article by Thitinan Posnsudahirak in the Bangkok Post, I agree that Thailand has endured a crisis of democracy since the 2006 military coup. Volatile shifts in government, frequent coups, and manipulation of political processes characterize it. The military-backed groups influence all sections of Thai Politics.

The current impasse in forming a government reflects this ongoing struggle, with MFP and PTP facing challenges in securing power despite a significant combined voter mandate.

Thitinan emphasizes the potential for a deepening political crisis if the legitimate demands for change by a substantial portion of the electorate are continually denied, hinting at the looming consequences for stability, business and investor confidence, and public sentiment.

We are really facing a legitimacy crisis with the new upcoming coalition manipulating the rules of the games, rules that, as we know, never have been fair or just.

Thailand is at a crossroads in its journey towards democracy, but many of the same old guards governing our lives are going, once again, to take over power.

This is creating a lot of uncertainty in the society itself. The conflict between the older generation and the new generation shattered any hope for such dreams to become reality.

As a consequence, the divide between the young generations and those once again in power is gaining wider and wider.

It is not just about ideology. It is also about the beliefs and morals of these two groups, a divide that, day by day, seems more irreconcilable than ever.

Where will such a situation lead? Thailand stands at the point where I have never imagined the country would be. Instead of moving forward to a better future centred on progressive ideals and personal and political freedoms, the opposite is happening.

The big question now is: What do Thai people want? Is it just an issue about Pita, the MFP leader, or would it be enough to have just a different type of new prime minister, someone decent enough to break from the past? Do they need real Democracy? While change is desired, older and younger generations clash over how to do it.

Balancing the traditional ways of doing politics with real democratic progress is tough. Do the PTP grassroots members really want to abandon the promise in the memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the MFP and PTP so that the country can move forward with the economy by establishing an ally with the military-based party?

Yet, Thailand had to wait so long to get a new Prime Minister, four months after the election.

The disillusionment and frustration that is festering around us is not just about the denied opportunity of having Pita Limcharoenrat and his MFP team leading the government.

The causes of our current feelings are much deeper, and look at the systemic issues impeding our country from evolving to become a mature democracy. It’s not just about a new leader we should aspire for. Instead, our focus should be long-term and much more ambitious, a complete makeover of Thai democracy.

To bridge the gap between generations between different groups and ideologies, engaging in constructive dialogue, mutual respect, and understanding is necessary.

We should be mature enough to understand that street protest provides temporary relief and emotions, but it might not provide a sustainable solution.

Progressive forces need to engage constructively with conservative forces. We all have a stake in Thailand’s future. We cannot let Thailand fall behind.

The author is a youth volunteer at the Department of Children and Youth, and a student in International Development, School of Social Innovation, Mae Fah Luang University, Thailand.

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