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How’s that fair?

Just to quickly reiterate some points about Thaksin’s reaction.

What he did, both in business and in politics, was par for the course, only better. He wasn’t the first one to marry and bribe his way up, and he certainly had the abilities that probably justified giving him an advantage over less fortunate peers.

He wasn’t the first one to go into politics to take care of business. In the beginning he even had better motivations than most, he really wanted to change the country. And he was clearly better than his rivals at their own game, from buying the votes to buying MPs, and he certainly didn’t invent the process. He didn’t invent the phrase “kin muang” either – everybody was practically entitled to providing for himself when in politics.

He beat his opponents fair and square by their own rules.

Why is this injustice, then?

I think he missed a couple of crucial points. First, not everybody was in politics to enrich themselves. It might be true for politicians, no one expected much from them anyway, but Thaksin tried to be something more than just an average, off the mill, greedy bastard, and so he had to be judged by different criteria. He came in with a business mentality but tried to claim a place among rulers and kings, and for rulers and kings principles and personal sacrifices are far more important than greed.

To claim a place in that league one must dedicate himself to serving the country, and one must be honest and true to himself and his own words. That’s how this kind of people acquire “baramee”, that special influence over ordinary folk.

Thaksin failed miserably in that test, he was a cheating, lying bastard whose words only contaminated the sacred atmosphere. He should have stayed where he belonged, he had a good thing going, just didn’t know when to stop.

Another point that he missed is that in the 90s middle classes and elites changed the rules of the game, they demanded better, cleaner politics, and they had Democrats with Chuan and Abhisit as examples. While everybody else mutually agreed that buying people off and shooting your opponents was a fair game, Chuan’s Democrats didn’t. Chuan was absolutely, squeaky clean and he was a living proof that politicians can and should abide by the rule of law.

Well, traditionally, there was no such thing as a rule of law in Thailand, not in absolute sense, certainly not in a sense that everyone is equal before the law. There was a law of karma and the rulers were meant to enforce it, but that law does not have absolute, clear boundaries of what is right and what is wrong.

On a practical level “wrong” is defined as upsetting others. If no one is visibly upset, there’s no “wrong”. Practically speaking, there was no such thing as “absolute wrong”, there were always leeways and loopholes and walkarounds for the absolute rules that made them impractical and open to all kinds of abuse.

1997 constitution put an abrupt end to all of that that. It became absolutely wrong for a politician to buy votes, even if both sides of the transaction were perfectly happy, it became absolutely wrong to run a business and govern the country at the same time, even if your particular solution was to everyone’s agreement and benefit, like excise tax change for AIS. It became absolutely wrong to have “conflict of interest”. So many things had become wrong. Yeah, those liberals enforcing their ideals on a largely feudal country like Thailand…

So, naturally, those who still lived by the old rules, under the old patronage system, couldn’t possibly see what Thaksin’s transgressions were. They applied the same old logic – if it doesn’t hurt anybody, how could it be “wrong”?

The reaction among those who bought into the liberal project was completely different – it is wrong, wrong, wrong. End of discussion.

And here we come to a point of little hypocrisy, because both elites and middle classes never actually lived what they preached. They had ideals they aspired to but their personal lives were never even close. Bribes, from traffic policemen to school administrators to government officials were still the norm. Why did they demand any better from Thaksin? Well, initially they didn’t.

They gave Thaksin a lot of the usual leeway but their patience ended when Thaksin crossed the line between what is socially acceptable and what is not.

Having little vices on the side is acceptable, part of the Buddhist “middle way” solution. Declaring these vices as new virtues is not. Lots of people are engaged in various shady activities, including Surayud and his forest home, but they keep them quiet, as a source of shame, and this attitude only strengthens the contrast between vice and virtue.

When Thaksin tweaked national policies to help out his phone and satellite businesses it was acceptable. When he came back form Singapore and declared that he had nothing to do with the sale and it was his kids decision, that was a slap in the face. What was expected is being mumbling and apologetic and pleading, not daring everyone to accept his lies at the face value. That wasn’t the first time either, airport scanners scandal being probably the first that really caught public attention, and there were a lot more to come.

Thaksin misjudged those reactions from the public, misjudged them fair and square. He didn’t get it at all, he didn’t try to correct it, he didn’t try to find a mutually acceptable solution. In hindsight, if he’d agreed to give 25% of Shin sale profits to charity, as was proposed by Chamlong, he could have made permanent peace with PAD now and then, in early 2006, would have certainly worked out cheaper for him and less traumatic for the country, but he didn’t. He didn’t see that people have changed, the rules have changed, and that he himself was outdated. It was a natural thing for him to reject when he thought of himself “think new act new” all along, but if he’d got it then, it could have saved all of us a lot of trouble.

But, being easy on the country as it could have, we wouldn’t have learned the lessons from the fraudulent elections, coup, military incompetence in running the country, street protests, double standards, ammart and so on. Those lessons can’t be bought, they have to be lived through, and that only underlines the old lesson – everything happens for a reason, and usually a good one.

And another thing – Thailand paid for them rather cheaply, by historical standards.


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