Right and wrong and ridiculous
Bangkok Post, 2 September 2008
Right and wrong and ridiculous
Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej made two serious mistakes last week.
The first has already become a hot topic. Last Tuesday he urged the media to make a decision between staying with the government side, or with the People’s Alliance for Democracy camp.
For him the answer to his call might appear simple, given what the PAD was doing – occupying Government House for eight days now. The prime minister on Sunday questioned the media about the principle of balanced reporting, which he said should not apply to street gangsters like the PAD.
But the press, like many people on the streets, will be very uncomfortable when it comes to picking either one: the elected government or the PAD. Mr Samak has said time and again that his work is supported by a mandate from voters who selected the People Power party as their No. 1 choice in the Dec 23 elections. The government is a legitimate body running the country. So why does he have to listen to the voices of those PAD members shouting for his resignation?
The prime minister is right. The government has come about through the democratic process. But this does not mean he can do anything at will. The mandate should be used to serve the public interest. But the faces in his cabinet clearly show that public benefit comes after his own survival, as he has to keep all factions in the PPP happy by rewarding them with cabinet portfolios.
What the PAD has been doing is also disappointing. It is ridiculous to consider the seizure of Government House as showing the “progress of democracy”. PAD members would also be happy to see army generals intervene by staging another coup, so long as it is aimed at kicking Mr Samak out of office.
So far, the anti-government group cannot supply a rationale for its decision to keep the rally going – even though its demands, particularly the one for the government to step back from any attempt to kill the charter, have been met. The PAD is showing that it is good at making both friends and foes. Those siding with the PAD are praised for their courage and fighting spirit. Anybody complaining about the PAD rally – from students fed up with noisy campaigns, to drivers tired of traffic jams – are branded as immature because they lack the spirit of democracy.
Another mistake of PM Samak is his idea for restoring democracy in Burma. He told visiting UN special envoy Ibrahim Gambari on Aug 25, that Aung San Suu Kyi should be put aside if other countries want to see a return of democracy to Burma. “Aung San Suu Kyi is one thing. The international community should talk about how to bring about democracy in Burma and focus on the constitution and the elections,” he said.
Mr Samak will try to sell this idea to the United Nations this month, when he takes the podium at the UN General Assembly in New York. And as chairman of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, to what extent will his idea shape the direction of the regional grouping, remains to be seen.
Thinking about what the prime minister plans to do with this idea is already scary and should be good news for the Burmese military generals. The reality is that it is not logical to separate the Nobel peace prize laureate from democracy in Burma, just like it does not make sense trying to separate ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra from the PPP. Mrs Suu Kyi is the symbol of democracy in Burma. She led the National League for Democracy to a landslide victory in the 1990 elections. But 18 years later, she is still under arrest.
As long as she is not included in talks about democracy in Burma, the problem will never end.
In fact, it is very surprising to see Mr Samak think the way he does. The prime minister should have more understanding and should sympathise with Mrs Suu Kyi, instead of alienating her from the political picture in Burma.
Mr Samak complains about the threat from outside parliament against his government, which was elected under the democratic process. Mrs Suu Kyi was also democratically elected, but the Burmese generals intentionally ignored the poll results.
Saritdet Marukatat is News Editor, Bangkok Post.