Saturday, January 30, 2010

The Ten Commandments Of Thai Politicians

I rarely do this, but this “field manual” for Thai politicians written by Prophessor Stephen B. Young for The Nation is worth to be mirrored in full. You may remember The Nation’s telling interview back in September last year with the man. Young introduces his helpful rules for Thai politicians with this:

“Having tasted of politics both east and west, and having shared many a story over the last 49 years with Thais in and out of government and politics and from Isaan villages to royal residences, it seems to me the current unrest in Thailand could be overcome by application of the following guidelines for Thai politicians:” (…)

Take a deep breath. It’s an again telling list. Explicitly mentioning to “beware farangs bearing condescending advice” as if we’d still be stuck in colonial times. Or Thailand as a potential Leitkultur? The old man has definitely gone Thai. And who’s that “established moral elite”?! But Young only lists eight helpful rules. So what two rules are missing to make it a uniquely Thai Decalogue? Maybe “Thou shalt first and foremost dismiss thouself” …

1. Stand up to bullies

In periods of political transition and turmoil, authority wanes and self-seeking vigorously asserts itself. Then bullies tend to appear. But, fortunately, their bark is much more impressive than their bite.

Bullies are only testing the water to check their buoyancy. If confronted with firmness and quiet perseverance, they will protest with more threats of violence and retaliation, grumble loudly, and then slink away.

The bully wears a mask like a dancer in a khon play. Wait to see the true face behind the mask before making judgments about the real game being played.

Calm and respectful abiding by principle and the law will reveal whether or not bullies have real power to impose their interests or whether all they have is bluster.

2. Barami can’t be bought

Real barami, the kind that comes with bun and which brings genuine distinction, does not come simply by holding positions of power and possessing a lot of money.

Power and money bring a certain kind of forced pre-eminence, to be sure, but not lasting admiration and gratitude. Subordination of supporters bought with money or imposed with power does not last. Uneasy lies the head that surrounds itself with hypocritical professions of loyalty from paid or coerced retainers.

The politician who goes down the road of seeking money and administrative power can never turn back to virtue. More and more money and power become ever more necessary to keep one’s dependents in line. So, the game has to be fixed to get the means to keep up one’s position. Real barami slides farther and farther away.

Thus, it is foolish to use politics to climb the ladder of barami and try to enter the ranks of the established moral elite. It won’t work.

Use politics to serve the people and the right kind of barami will come to you of its own accord.

3. Thai politics is just another form of Thai drama; take your mask off

There is a lot of smoke and noise in politics; rumors and schemes; shifting alliances and false friendships; all under the cover of polite conventions and smiling deference.

But the noise and the gestures are mostly those of actors only. Take off your mask and expose to public disdain the others who then refuse to do so. Be yourself and speak your mind – politely of course.

Don’t just play a role of convenience; be decisive and take real risks in order to do good. Better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.

4. Confront with kreng jai

Confrontation can be civil and respectful. In fact, differences don’t have to be confrontational, more like sharing views in a dialog or a conversation. Detach points of view, suggestions and concerns from power and status; let comments and ideas stand on their own for consideration by others.

5. Dialog is not defeat

Dialog is the meeting of minds around ideas and initiatives. It is not a posture assumed for the purpose of tough negotiations. Standing on principle while entering into dialog does not compromise your barami.

6. Beware farangs bearing condescending advice

The farang mindset, no matter how well educated or how well intended, has no necessary commitment to the well-being of Thai society. Nor will the farang mindset necessarily have good remedies for Thailand if all goes wrong with farang recommendations to better conform Thai values and social practices with foreign standards.

Even the well-meaning farangs will probably not stick around to pick up the pieces if it all falls apart. Remember the Americans in South Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.

7. Everyone is responsible

Don’t leave important matters to a Thevada. Thai citizens shape Thai destiny. The helpful touch of many hands accumulates much good karma. Provide space for the effects of constructive contributions coming from all over.

8. Use the Thosapit Rajatham

The ten guiding principles of just rule, taken from Theravada teachings on moderation, can work just fine in the 21st century.

Politicians, political parties, even government programs, can be judged good or bad by their alignment with the Thosapit Rajatham.


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