Not the tortoise and the hare

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

There are a number of Thais who watch political developments in Burma and despair when comparing things with Thailand. The above cartoon about the tortoise and the hare sums up such feelings. Some academics have been warning that Thailand is moving backwards while Burma is moving forwards.

This is just not true. The reality is that the political systems of the two countries are converging.

The Burmese junta has made a great show of “handing power” over to Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy (NLD). But this has only come about because the Burmese generals are convinced that Suu Kyi is not a threat to their long term interests. Rather than a naked military junta, why not have Suu Kyi fronting a civilian government while the military retain key and powerful ministries, retain the power of veto by their appointed representatives in parliament and by writing a pro-military constitution? It is obviously a “win-win” situation for both the military and Suu Kyi, but those who have lost the right to freedom and democracy are the citizens of Burma, and especially Muslims and other ethnic minorities.

Recently Suu Kyi was overheard complaining about being interviewed by a Muslim BBC news presenter. She had been grilled about her islamophobic position over the violent Buddhist pogroms against the Rohingya people. Her Foreign Ministry has asked the US to stop referring to “Rohingya”. In the past she has been patronising towards other ethnic groups, for example writing that “Karens make good nannies”. Those who defend her say she needed to refuse to support Muslims so that the military would not block her rise to a key position in the government. So Suu Kyi has proved that she is a trustworthy Burmese politician who won’t threaten the military and the Burman Buddhist hold on power in the country. The military have used Burman Buddhist nationalist ideology for years. The Thai military use a mixture of Monarchy and Buddhism in their version of nationalist ideology.

The Thai generals have been keenly watching the Burmese drama. They are busy giving instructions to their hirelings to write a similar constitution to the Burmese military constitution. They want to enshrine the power of the military into the future and emasculate the power of any elected government. Generalissimo Prayut promises elections, perhaps around July 2017, but at the same time says “give me 5 more years to sort things out”!! He also expects his despicable political “road map”, guaranteeing the power of the military, to last at least 20 years. They are using terror against those who oppose this and the Internal Security Operations Command are prepared to mobilise non-state right-wing extremist thugs to support the dictatorship.



Thai junta arrests people opposed to its constitution (photos from BBC)
Thai junta arrests people opposed to its constitution (photos from BBC)

Before the recent elections in Burma, the military turned a blind eye or supported Buddhist extremist thugs who rampaged against Muslim villagers. People can still be punished for insulting Buddhism while Buddhist extremists enjoy impunity. The double standards of the Thai court system have often been discussed in this blog. The latest being the acquittal of various royalist thugs while jailing and harassing pro-democracy activists. In the past the Thai Constitutional Kangaroo Court punished the elected Yingluk government for trying to build a high speed rail system. The doddering judge whined that it would be better to upgrade the dirt roads in the provinces. However, there has been silence from such fools now that Prayut’s junta has announced a similar but inferior version of the rail project.

For the Thai generals, the attraction of the Burmese model is that they can create an image of democracy and hope to silence any criticism from outside and inside the country. Ordinary Burmese people seem to have been very enthusiastic about the recent elections there. What is more, if things go badly in Burma, the NLD civilian government can be made to take the blame. The Thai junta is currently starting to be blamed for economic problems and needs to off-load this blame on to civilian politicians while still maintaining power.

In Thailand opponents of the junta are being threatened daily and many are dragged into military camps for attitude changing sessions. The use of lèse majesté to lock up the government’s opponents continues. The junta are trying to soften up some politicians from the Taksin political wing so that they can become domesticated tame creatures, willing to compromise with the military.

So it isn’t a matter of the Thai hare being left behind by the Burmese tortoise in the race for democracy. It is more a picture of two gun-toting gangsters walking off hand in hand into the sunset and a dark future without freedom looming.

Yet there is one ray of light on this darkening horizon. The Thai junta have become increasingly worried that the vast majority of citizens are switching off their television sets during the junta’s daily broadcasts on all channels after the news. The level of electricity consumption is said to dip significantly at this time.