Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Deconstructing Korn Chatikavanij: Needs Lessons in Political Theory and Logical Thinking

Hamburger and 'New Politics': the end of liberal democracy

Korn Chatikavanij

Bangkok Post

Talk of the reformation of our political system is all the rage at the moment. After all, can any of us seriously, hand on heart, say that we are happy with the result of democracy and what it has achieved for Thailand?

It is easy to conclude that a system that gave us Samak as Prime Minister, Chalerm as Interior Minister and Chai Chidchob as House Speaker must be fatally flawed. The democratic system is meant to provide us with, at worst, political leaders of average competence. What we got, however, was the most toxic combination of leaders that we could possibly imagine. Is the logical conclusion, therefore, that the system itself is flawed?

Is democracy fatally flawed because you and your party are perennial losers and the other party is a perennial winner? I follow politics in many different countries. Many times the politicians I don't like win and the politicians that I do like lose. Does that mean just because I am a loser that means those democracies are flawed? As Bangkok Pundit pointed out, the Democrats don't think all these flawed politicians were flawed when they were on the Democrat team.

One argument I could immediately make to refute this line of thought is that at least the system was good enough to allow them a very limited term of only seven months. In other, non-democratic systems, populations are forced to live with toxic leaders for years, if not for a whole generation; think Stalin and think of Kim Jong-Il. In the end, recent change for us came through a combination of the rule of law, exercised through an independent judicial process, combined with the need to acknowledge public opinion. Perhaps thus we can conclude that even if our flawed democracy means we can get the worst possible leaders, it also at least allows for their prompt removal.

Love this argument: Compare authoritarian dictatorships with liberal democracies, then give faint praise to Thailand for its progressiveness because the politicians Korn doesn't like are bullied out by either mobs or a politicized judiciary.

Arguably, though, no change would have occurred had politicians not been scared of the potential reaction of the military to the re-selection of Samak as prime minister. Fear of a coup remained in the air and this has forced the politicians to behave in a way that is more sensitive to public opinion. The talk among politicians last week was very much "unless we get our own house in order someone might come and take it away from us".

Korn contradicts himself. On one hand, he says that "the politicians" were scared of a coup so they behaved, yet argues that they were forced to be "sensitive to public opinion," as if what the military wants and public opinion(PAD) are one in the same.

So much for democracy providing a safety valve. So, while a full-blown coup is something everyone wants to avoid, it would appear that an unspoken threat of a coup was necessary for the right decision to have been made by politicians. Thus what we are left with is a flawed selection system and a far from ideal check and balance system. No wonder there is talk of the need for reform.

So every recent political decision has been a result of a threat of a coup? I am struck by how much power the military has in motivating the government but has no power to contain the fascist thugs who have taken over the seat of government by force.

During the past two weeks, our political crisis competed for attention with the crisis unfolding in the US financial markets - an event Thais have come to call the "Hamburger Crisis", as payback for having the Asian crisis of 1997 labelled "Tom Yum Goong" by the West.

I thought some cute name would come up for the US financial crisis.

Indeed, the irony of the demise of Lehman Brothers is not lost on Thais who remember Lehman's role as a beneficiary of our crisis a decade ago. Once the dust settles though, the disappearance of the likes of Lehman, Bear Stern, AIG and even Freddie and Fannie will be less of an issue, than the questioning of the cult of the free-marketeer.

I think whatever criticism of the "Hamburger Crisis" is justified. Actually, US bailout of these finance companies are a result of pressure by foreigners who hold these securities wanting to protect their investments. Bailout Nation, Time Magazine.

The contention that governments should not meddle with free markets will not again be taken seriously for at least a generation. The reality is that market players are motivated by both greed and fear and will do everything to promote their interests within the frame of what they think they can get away with. The debt bubble that has led to the financial crisis is the latest example that without strict laws and regulations market players cannot be trusted to behave. Worse - governments cannot even allow them to pay the full consequences without needing to be involved.

I am not quite sure the problem was a regulatory problem, because there are quite a lot of regulations of the US financial markets, but rather the government is being asked to bail out risky decisions within the regulatory framework.

The same is true for politicians - left to rules and regulations that cannot be enforced, politicians will do anything and everything to promote their interests. The more we rely on the free market (liberal democracy) the more we can bet that the system will be abused.

Korn is a dope. Liberal democracy and free markets are not the same thing. Here is wikipedia's definition of liberal democracy.

Intervention is required, just as it is required in financial markets, and that is why there is so much talk of the need for political reform. The reality is that the damage caused by "free market", whether in financial markets or the market for votes, is too great on society as a whole to be ignored.

What kind of intervention? Obviously, if you read the first portion of the opinion, he means military intervention.

Abhisit Vejjajiva led a team of Democrat MPs to visit and attempt to bring some relief to the flood-stricken population of Lop Buri and Saraburi on Saturday. We were guided by our local representatives, both coincidentally female and both who had won their seats the hard way. In politics the hard way means having no money to use, and therefore receiving little help from local leaders. They both had to endure more than one electoral loss before finally prevailing, and both are now clearly adored by their electorates.

I mention this because seeing them at work reminds me of electoral politics - the political free market - at its best. They are ever sensitive to the needs of their constituencies, and their public responds to them with votes without the need for financial compensation. I couldn't help but think that at least a part of the problem, if not the main one, was that there were just not enough politicians of this kind for the electorate to choose from. Similarly, there are not enough responsible financial institutions that can be trusted not to abuse the freedom given them. The question is, why are such good politicians so hard to come by?

Again, Korn contradicts himself. One one hand, he ponitificates about Thailand's flawed democracy, yet actually admits that Thai democracy works in this circumstance. Instead of crying about being a loser, maybe he should use the model that works here and apply it to the rest of the country. Or maybe it is the Democrats dishonest intention to keep "reforming the system" until they become the majority party, which really doesn't make them any more credible than the politicians they criticize in the opposition.

While we ponder this question, we are left with the reality of an imperfect system, and frankly, one that has clearly been a hindrance to the development of our society and the economic welfare of our people. I am not one to believe that fairness always means the view of the majority - I have seen the majority at work in Parliament over the past four years to know how flawed they can be. I am thus apt to believe that while the majority view should be given first priority, a good system requires other mechanisms to provide the check and balance necessary. This is why I was always a supporter of the part-elected, part-selected Upper House - there is no reason why we should have the Upper and Lower Houses filled with people of the same DNA. The question today, however, is whether we should go further - should the Lower House also be partly selected and, if not, should its powers be curbed?

I can tell you as an elected MP that it is humbling to have to acknowledge that the questions have validity. In my opinion, if we are to seek to amend the Constitution, these are the issues we should be focusing on, not ones related to questions relevant to the survival of existing political parties or politicians.

An imperfect system translates to imperfect system for the Democrat Party. Nothing has stopped the Democrat Party from using their powers in the minority to check the majority coalition. What can't the Democrats be honest? They are angry they are in the minority and they keep losing, so they want to reform the constitutional order so that they can rule and their enemies are eliminated.

In politics, we also need to learn the lesson of the value of a politically active population. We cannot leave politics simply to politicians and the activism of the people deserves a leadership that is not only true to their cause but is also seen to be true. This is why nobody should be above the law - and why the law itself needs to be sensitive to local needs and culture.

Again, another contradiction. He condones the crimes of the PAD for their political activies while saying that nobody should be above the law.

If we can build from this a genuinely committed and active general public, supported by an active and unbiased media, then I do believe we can withstand much of the shortcomings of our flawed political system.

Be in no doubt, an apathetic population suits the needs of the worst kind of politicians. The question we need to answer is: what else do we need to do to curb the politicians' instinct to abuse a liberal system? Opinions are welcome; this is, after all, a democracy!

The last bit I agree with, but I think he is attacking those who support the government as apathetic and ignorant and an active and unbiased media means a media that propagates for the Democrat Party and the PAD.


Marlon said...

The Bangkok protestors and the Army Gen Anapong do not represent anybody but themselves.
They do not like the Lao and the other Northern people. Bangkok elitists thing the Lao are inferior and sould not be allowed to vote.
The King endorsed the new PM so,the PAD and their Military Generals who support them should go home or face treason charges.
Maybe PAD and Gen.Anapong want to be the guests of honor at their neck tie party.

Marlon said...

The Bangkok protestors and the Army Gen Anapong do not represent anybody but themselves.
They do not like the Lao and the other Northern people. Bangkok elitists think the Lao are inferior and should not be allowed to vote.
The King endorsed the new PM so,the PAD and the Military Generals who support them should go home or face treason charges.
Maybe PAD and Gen.Anapong want to be the guests of honor at their own neck tie party.