If there’s one thing all Thais on both sides of the political divide should be able to agree on, it is that Thailand is corrupted to the core.
Ordinary citizens handing a hundred baht bill to the traffic cop or bringing a gift basket to the village leader (poo-yai baan). Generals receiving luxury watches as gifts or politicians dividing up a 1.9 trillion baht piece of cake.
Corruption is not an exception but a lifestyle.
There have been many protests in Thailand. One group donned yellow shirts, while another wore red shirts, and another blew whistles. They all had varying motives, both noble and shady, but there’s one commonality: the hatred of corruption.
Most recently, before the COVID-19 crisis, students protested against injustice and double standards, which are also symptoms of corruption.
Yet, no matter the protests, coups, or elections, we end up in the same situation.
Every government is corrupted.
In countries with democratic governance, corruption is an exception. In a country like ours, corruption is 26 hours a day, nine days a week.
I’ve been a journalist since the Thai Rak Thai party won its first election in 2001. Every government, since then, has had varying degrees of capabilities and accomplishments. But through all the governments, Thailand is plagued by one constant: corruption.
Look at the faces in the current government. They have been in charge for the past 20 years. Nothing has changed, even if every government has promised to root out corruption.
There has been no reform of “old-school dirty” politics, but the continuation of it.
With the recent shakeup of Palang Pracharat Party, out are incompetent technocrats, in are old-school politicians, headed by an old-school general, playing the same old political game.
The prize? The biggest cake ever, 1.9 trillion baht. To be divided among all the “good” and “not so good” people.
Despite all the coups, protests, and elections, why haven’t things changed?
We are stuck in medieval mentality.
We don’t have the modern nation-state consciousness necessary to unite the people and drive forward Thailand.
In developed countries, their national debates, social tensions, and political divide revolve around the issues of having more rights, more liberty, and more equality. Conflicts are contained within the democratic framework.
Changes, for better or worse, come at the election booths.
Meanwhile, in Thailand.
Our national anxiety is over whether we love the monarchy enough or whether there’s a plot to overthrow the monarchy. Our social conflict is between the so-called social superior (poo-yai) and so-called social inferior (poo-noi). Our political divide is between competing patronage networks, with ever-shifting alliances.
Monarchy, hierarchy, and competing lords (khun-nang), it’s a medieval period piece sets in 2020, where conflicts lead to medieval solutions, like the seizure of power by force, as in military coups.
Changes come with tanks and guns, which means, things never change.
Where has that got us?
The feudalistic patronage system rules over Thailand, flooding our government with cronyism and nepotism, thereby drowning the country in corruption.
Medieval mentality breeds medieval governance.
Politicians, bureaucrats, and generals who behave like mafia godfathers and warlords; addicted to accumulating wealth and power and obsessed with prestige and shiny medals. Rival patronage networks compete against one another to enrich their faction, like feudal lords in centuries past.
Furthermore, the medieval mentality is the ink on our constitution.
For example, the 250 junta-handpicked senators are a guarantee of the oligarchic power of elite rule. When the body of law that makes the foundation of the country is medieval, the governance of the country is medieval.
Supercars and fancy malls aside, our national mentality is stuck in the past.
To change is no easy thing.
Education leads to evolution, and it takes time. But we can start with the foundation of a country, which is the body of law that governs society, the constitution.
When the constitution is democratic, we have a foundation to stand on and to work towards achieving the good governance of democracy, thereby minimizing corruption.
If the foundation we stand on, however, is based on medieval mentality, then we are what we are today, corrupted to the core.
Human civilization should evolve, not devolve.
The question then becomes, which of the political parties that sit in parliament would drive Thailand towards democratic governance, leaving the medieval mentality in the rearview mirror?
The better question still, how many of us Thais are willing to discarded medieval mentality to build a better future for our children?
Never forget, giving a hundred baht bill to a cop and giving a Richard Mille to a general, one may be more expensive than the other, but it’s corruption all the same.