Thais should think twice before assuming a republic would get them out of their current difficulties, warns Hamish McDonald, the Sydney Morning Herald’s distinguished Asia-Pacific Editor on 18 May, 2010.
Just looking at those comparable nations in South-East Asia that espouse elected-democracy within a republican framework should, he says, make Thais pause.
“In the Philippines, Benigno ''Noynoy'' Aquino rode to power on the fond reputation of his assassinated oppositionist father and of his recently deceased mother, the former president, Corazon Aquino, “he continues.
“Those who voted for him hope he will clean up the government. But his discredited predecessor as president, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, has got herself elected to Congress and is scheming to be made its speaker – to protect herself from prosecution. She has been making last-minute appointments to stack the Supreme Court, the armed forces leadership and the Ombudsman anti-corruption panel with friendly faces.”
He points out that also sitting in Congress will be Imelda Marcos – “the widow of the president under whom Aquino's father's killing on the airport tarmac was engineered – along with a Marcos son and daughter. Out in the provinces, the hacienda rules; rich landowning families with private armies prevail.”
In Indonesia, he points out only one or two cronies and presidential children were prosecuted when the late President Suharto's New Order regime crumbled. “Other power groups just rebadged themselves as “pro-reformasi and adapted to electoral politics.”
“This month came a reassertion of old elite power. The wavering, compromising President, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, parted company with his government's strongest reformer, the Finance Minister, Sri Mulyani Indrawati."
" The leader of the old Suharto regime electoral vehicle, Golkar, was made head of government business in the legislature. He happens to be one of Indonesia's biggest tycoons, Aburizal Bakrie, who is moving into a strong position to succeed Yudhoyono at the next elections. Money and political power would then be joined directly in a way rarely seen in democracies.”
One exception, he recalls , has been Italy under Silvio Berlusconi.
He says another was Thailand,” under the ''tropical Berlusconi'' Thaksin Shinawatra, over whom all this turmoil started.”
“ That happened,” he adds ” when The King was around.” (The King is ill)
He points to the role the former prime minister played and still plays in Thailand.
“Imagine a President Thaksin without the restraining authority of the state vested in the monarchy. Thaksin cemented his power by punching a hole in the royal myth. King Bhumibol's subjects were constantly told how much care and resources he devoted to the rural majority. As prime minister, Thaksin started poverty alleviation and healthcare schemes that made villagers realise how much they'd been missing out on.”
“It might have been a cynical manoeuvre, but it has let an electoral genie out of the bottle. The more the elite tries to stuff the genie back in – by coups and lese-majeste prosecutions – the more angrily it will emerge in populist forms.”
“Far better to try a hasty reconstruction of the royal role, as an impartial umpire and protector of universally applying law.”