Voting against elections

An overwhelming majority in Thailand have voted against “democracy.” Instead, in their referendum, they supported the latest of that country’s paper constitutions, which promises to give them a break from popularly-elected governments in the foreseeable future. Instead they may hope to enjoy a period of domestic tranquillity, under the authoritarian ministrations of the Thai army, navy, air force, and police. Unless, of course, these institutions fall out among themselves, as they have sometimes done in the past. True, there will still be a popularly-elected Lower House; but it will be in the power of an appointive Upper one, which will be in the power of a few generals. I have read little in the 279 articles of this latest constitution, but one gets the gist.

It will be the twenty-first new Thai Constitution since absolute monarchy was overthrown — by the military in the name of “democracy” — in 1932. That is according to Internet sources; as an old Siam hand, myself, I lost count thirty years ago.

My favourite military despot was, incidentally, Sarit Thanarat: whose coup in 1957 was followed by an earnest and quixotic attempt to turn the clock backwards, and re-establish the prestige of His Majesty the King. (Who remains to this day, it is marvellous to say, after seventy years upon the throne, Phra Bat Somdet — Bhumipol Adulyadej — Paraminthra, Chakkrinaruebodin, Borommanatthabophit!)

Unfortunately, a return to absolute monarchy — which had delivered peace, order, and unity, with minimal intrusive government or taxes, through so many preceding centuries — was never on any ballot. A terrible oversight, to my mind: for through the ’seventies, and probably later, this proposition could easily have won in every blesséd changwat.

By now, the decades have carried me too far away from the daily realities of the Bangkok in which I once lived, to have an intelligent opinion. The few old friends I am sometimes in touch with tell me things I only half believe. This is because they remain too close to the action. For there are two ways to misunderstand everything that is going on in a country. One is to be outside, and the other is to be inside.

This is the human condition, more or less. We cannot get near to understanding anything, unless we are partisans in the cause; in which case we cannot be impartial. Of course, gentle reader may think that I am joking.

A complicating factor is that a country, or any country larger than, say, Monaco (which has the prettiest stamps), is more than one place. In my day, those who lived in Bangkok looked upon the “upcountry” (many very different regions) with what could be described as benign contempt. It was known to be full of ignorant peasants (e.g. the skilled rice farmers on whom the city-folk depended, for their survival). But these could still be sentimentalized, and condescended to.

There were those upcountry who migrated to Bangkok, in the hope of getting rich. The rest might look upon the city (accurately, I think) as the Israelites came to look upon Sodom and Gomorrah. They were, as they had been from time out of mind, happy where they were, and with how they lived; they had no immediate interest in being de-moralized and de-racinated. People lived and died in the shade of the Buddhist temples, whose monks instructed them in the art of making merit, in return for propitiatory gifts.

On the other hand, thanks to our old friend Technology, modern media and advertising began reaching them with its constantly buzzing and drumming refrain: that one ought to be dissatisfied with one’s portion in life. And politicians were promising them stuff for nothing. Being ignorant peasants, lacking sophistication, they tended to associate all such works with the devil.

Meanwhile their young are bought off, one by one.

What amuses me now is the complaint, made against the Thai electorate by the international partisans of democracy. This electorate is held to be too stupid, and too poorly informed, to understand why they must vote for democracy; too weary, too easily put off by the chaos and violence it has engendered. Perhaps the advocates of democracy should think this through. If people are too stupid to do anything right, how are they smart enough to choose their own leaders? In fact, the Thai voters made a botch of that, and have now elected to pass on their next chance to make things worse.

Representative democracy is a system, as we learnt from the scholastics in the West, by which a nation is divided into rival factions, invasive of all private life. It is a way in which self-interested politicians can be elevated above all other classes, and enabled to divide all spoils. It is a means by which the mortal sins can be advanced, using the keys of pride and envy to open all the rest. It is a device for reducing order to chaos. But the scholastics had never experienced modern democracy. They looked upon it only as an hypothesis, a pure “thought experiment.” Had they been able to experience the real thing, I’m sure their condemnation would have been stronger.

From this distance we tend to look upon such Asiatic peoples as the Thai with what could be described as benign contempt. They cannot handle democracy, the way we can in the West. We alone have the maturity, the knowledge and sophistication to make wise collective choices.

Such as that between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.