One feature of political parties that have enjoyed power in a democracy and then been voted out, especially when the defeat has been resounding, is that those who are committed to returning to power under democratic means have not only re-examined their ideology and the policies that flow from this but, perhaps even more important, is the discipline that leading party members are obliged to accept as the price for returning to credibility with the voters. The Labour Party under Tony Blair, the Democrats under Bill Clinton and especially Barack Obama are perhaps the most obvious examples of this – party ideology was (often in a series of bloody confrontations in political terms) forcibly readjusted to the new reality brought about by electoral victory by opponents and leading member required to keep on-message in supporting those changes. This is not perfect since the process colludes with the political environment stimulated by modern media that regards all forms of discussion or debate as evidence of disunity or the result of a ‘gaffe.’ Important debates are, therefore, stifled or held in secret without much public participation.
To what extent has Thailand’s Democrat Party followed this process? Well, there has certainly been little public debate of ideology or policies. In opposition, the Democrats consistently opposed every policy of the democratically-elected government, frequently in ad hominem terms. Now placed in power as a result of a series of deeply undemocratic activities, the Democrats have appropriated many of the same policies, albeit occasionally under different names. It would be reasonable to say that the Democrats have changed their ideology as a result of a shift in public opinion except that there is no coherent ideology and government spokespeople continue to talk in terms of being ‘virtuous’ and ‘technically-competent’ people – it is managerialism with the Thai characteristics of patriarchy and deference to the ruling classes.
Distinct from what they do, can anyone honestly say what, apart from office, the Democrats stand intellectually?
As for discipline, well, the Cabinet is already a shambles. The latest idiocy is a series of outright, inflammatory lies from Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban. One Cabinet Minister has already been forced out after a corruption scandal and several more are likely to follow – and this with all the ‘institutional benefits’ that the government supports. Are these people really serious politicians? Or are they just exercising their birthright of power?