When the government issued a request on March 3 for some businesses to shut down because of the COVID-19 outbreak, boxing stadiums were high on the list. Packed tight with sweaty people, spitting salivas left and right through cheers and shouts (betting), there have been a slew of infected cases from boxing stadiums.
While most businesses complied with the government request, the army owned Lumpinee Boxing Stadium went ahead with its March 6 matches.
Bear in mind, Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha was a former army chief and the current Minister of Defense. As well, Army Chief General Apirat Kongsompong is the chairman of Lumpinee Boxing Stadium.
It took public outrage for the Army Chief to transfer General Rachit Arunrangsi, who’s in charge of stadium management, from his post. Which of course, to the public, is merely a light slap on the hand. What about the chairman himself? What about the minister in charge?
It is not just mere negligence that General Rachit ignored the government request. It’s the careless action of a man who is a member of Thailand’s second most powerful institution after the monarchy.
The military is an institution that has long operated in a bubble of privilege and entitlement. But we don’t want to accuse the entire military. After all, regular soldiers aren’t privileged or entitled. Rather, it’s the generals.
The abuse of power
An institution is an organization governed by a set of rules. It behaves through practices or customs, which make up an organizational culture. An institution is not inherently corrupted, but every institution can be corrupted by people who are inherently capable of both goodness and corruption.
As the saying goes: power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely. As such, unchecked power is where those people in charge run amuck with privilege and entitlement. Since the Thai nation is ruled by generals whose power is largely unchecked, then Thailand is — as it has always been — open season for abuse of power.
Over THB30 million baht in luxury watches? Never mind, mai pen rai. Running business empires and competing with the private sector? Never mind, mai pen rai. Second-hand tanks and submarines without parliamentary due diligence? Never mind, mai pen rai.
State enterprises run by retired generals who neither have the skills nor experiences? Bloated, incompetence, hugely in debt and always needing taxpayers to bail out. A government run by the same people? We suffer the consequence of it, each and every day.
Coups and dictortaships? Unchecked power has allowed the generals to pull out the gun at any time and tell the entire country to “bend over.”
Trying to check the power of the generals? Look what has happened to the Future Forward Party and its executives.
Privilege and entitlement
On his birthday, March 23, General Apirat led a military clean up of Bangkok streets. Decked out in Hollywood-esque biochemical gear, with a full music video production for posterity. Many mainstream media fell head over heel, showering the Army Chief with endless gratitude. Meanwhile, regular folks still walk the streets with just face masks as protective gear.
Cleaning the streets is fine. The filth of Bangkok streets need cleansing, with or without COVID-19. As long as the music video is not on taxpayers’ money, which of course it is. But just as with the 2011 flood crisis and any other disasters in which the military provides help, we are expected to feel gratitude. Which is fine also, gratitude may be given for a job well done.
The problem is, expected along with gratitude, is a blank check for unchecked power. That the military should be above criticisms and above check & balance. That the people are ingrates, if we don’t fall head over heel for anything the military does.
Soldiering is a noble profession, but no nobler than teaching, doctoring or sweeping the streets. Every honest job is noble, as is everyone who works honestly. Hold the gun, stand guard at ready. Defend the nation and the people. Help the nation in times of crisis. These are your duties, which you should fulfil with honor, and the people would be grateful.
But to use one hand to perform your duties, while the other to launch military coups, to establish dictatorships, to take the power from the people and put yourselves in charge of the nation, even when hiding behind 250 junta appointed senators and a funny calculator… no, just no.
There is no honor in this. The people shouldn’t feel grateful for this.
Check the power
Advanced nations operate in a system of check & balance called democracy. Flawed and far from perfect, annoying and at times downright nauseating, still democracy is the best system of governance mankind has ever created.
With check & balance, generals are grilled by representatives of the people for transparency and accountability. In Thailand however, representatives of the people cowed in fear of the generals.
The people don’t have guns to fight the soldiers, and the people shouldn’t have to, if the military understands its role, which is to protect and to serve, not to subjugate and to behave as 20th century warlords ruling a fiefdom.
Finding a solution is more than one article can do. Perhaps we may start here with the understanding of the inherent corruption of unchecked power.