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Thailand's unpleasant lesson for Malaysia

Many may not realise that quite a few of Malaysia's official protocols and ceremonial rituals or processes stem from those of Thailand.

Our first prime minister (PM), Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra, was in his childhood brought up in the courtly environment of a Thai palace and thus had great affinity with the Thai court and its practices and indeed the Thai people. When he was our PM, it would not be wrong to say Thailand was our closest and dearest neighbour.

Thus it was hardly surprising that when Malaya gained its independence on Aug 31, 1957, Tunku naturally leaned upon his Thai colleagues and close friends, and perhaps even relatives, to help our then nascent nation build up our own set of official protocols and ceremonies, those that British-style protocols could not cover.

One striking example would be the unusual military-style uniform for our ministers, which was copied from the Thai practice. There are many other such examples of us adopting Thai official customs and ceremonial practices.

But one particular Thai habit worries me, a proclivity of our northern neighbour that I hope we won't ever blindly adopt: their propensity to resort to undemocratic means to seize power.

We are only too aware of the current, unpleasant events in Thailand where its democratically elected government, made up of PM Yingluck Sinawatra's Pheu Thai Party and smaller political allies, have been under illegal political and physical siege by a cabal of conservative forces.

Just a quick summary of the make-up of Thailand's House of Representatives (akin to our Dewan Rakyat). The Thai House has 500 members, with 265 democratically-legally won by the Pheu Thai Party, a clear cut majority in any language and with it, the democratic right to form the Thai government.

Backed by smaller parties as well

In addition, Yingluck enjoys the support of five smaller parties, taking the current government's total members of parliament (MPs) to around 340.

On the opposite side of the House, with only 159 MPs, is the Thai Democratic Party and allies led by Opposition Leader Abhisit Vejjajiva. Thus the Opposition commands only 32 percent of the House.

The Democratic Party's former secretary-general, Suthep Thaugsuban, resigned from his parliamentary position prior to the Election Commission seeking a court ruling to disqualify him from Parliament for alleged violation of the Thai Constitution.

Suthep is currently the leader of the so-called People's Democratic Reform Committee, which has been campaigning, sometimes in an aggressive, violent form, to not only overthrow the Yingluck government but to deny the people any re-election for a new government based on the ballot box.

He has also demanded that Prime Minister Yingluck be prosecuted on charges of insurrection for allegedly ‘trying to overthrow the Constitution', when ironically or unashamedly, Suthep himself has been the one facing an arrest warrant for allegedly the same charge.

He wants a new government that will be appointed (not elected), naturally by his so-called Reform committee or the cabal behind his brazen, provocative and illegal agitation. And from this appointed, meaning unelected new government, a new PM will be also royally appointed.

By making these demands, Suthep has effectively retired off the Election Commission of Thailand. Somehow he reminds me of a certain someone in Perkasa, though in our case, our Election Commission is fairly safe.

In the meanwhile, as PM Yingluck bravely restrains her Red Short supporters, Suthep Thaugsuban behaves extraordinarily as a government in parallel to Yingluck's democratically constituted one.

Snap election date fixed

Though Yingluck has called for a snap election for Feb 2, 2014, to determine once again the people's choice in a democratic forum, the forces led by and also behind Suthep won't have any of that, aware that a nationwide vote would likely return the far more popular Pheu Thai Party, thus explaining why they want instead an unelected or appointed government and a PM appointed by the Thai royalty to run the country.

Journalist Brian Klonoski wrote recently in the news media RYOT: "The recently rowdy streets of Bangkok were silent on Tuesday, thanks to a national holiday, but that didn't stop Suthep Thaugsuban - the former politician now leading protests - from giving speeches, issuing decrees and more or less attempting to establish a parallel government in Thailand.

"Despite lacking an ounce of authority, Thaugsuban continues to insist that his protest movement - which has drawn as many as 150,000 demonstrators in Bangkok - has more legitimacy than the elected government."

While the frightening thing is that despite lacking an ounce of authority, Suthep is being taken seriously by the conservative forces, including the powerful Thai Army. But then again, it is hardly surprising, as some of them are probably part of the cabal behind his destabilising campaign against the Yingluck government."

Thai Armed Forces invite Suthep

We learn today that the Thai Armed Forces have bizarrely invited Suthep to join the heads of the army, navy and air force at a seminar to be held tomorrow "to find a way out for Thailand", and that the supreme commander would be the mediator and other "stakeholders" would join them.

I suppose we may safely guess that when the Thai military invites such a rebel-rouser, one already facing a warrant of arrest for alleged violation against the Thai Constitution, PM Yingluck is hardly likely to be one of the ‘other stakeholders'.

Thus, while Suthep has effectively rendered the Election Commission redundant, the Thai Armed Forces in inviting Suthep, but not Yingluck, to a seminar to resolve Thailand's present political imbroglio, has done likewise to Yingluck Sinawatra, the legally and democratically-elected PM.

Will tomorrow's seminar involve appointing the ‘specially selected' people to form the new government, with one to be the royally-appointed new PM? Won't this elitist, undemocratic meddling marginalise the people of Thailand?

It is interesting to recall that on April 26, 2006, His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej addressed the Administrative and Supreme Courts' judges at Klai Kangwol Palace, where he said the following (only an extract):

"If the House is not filled by elected candidates, the democracy cannot function. If this is the case, the oaths you have just sworn in would be invalid. You have sworn to work for democracy. If you cannot do it, then you may have to resign. You must find ways to solve the problem."

"You cannot ask the King to make a decision, saying that the King has signed his signature. Article 7 does not say that the King has that authority. It does not.

"Look at Article 7. The article does not say that a constitutional monarchy means the King has the authority to make an order. I insist that I have never issued any order without basing them on directives of the articles of the Constitution, laws and Acts. I strictly and correctly have complied with the Constitution.

"People have asked for a royally-appointed prime minister, but there is not a rule for this; a prime minister is correctly royally endorsed every time. There may be people who say that King Rama IX likes to do what he wants, but I have never done that."

Thai elite fearing political awakening?

Based on his royal, most correct and most proper views on Thailand's constitutional monarchy some years ago, obviously the Thai king himself is hardly likely to be in support of the current attempt to overthrow a duly and democratically-elected government, nor in the undemocratic nonsense of a royally-appointed PM. Who then would be?

As Lizzie Presser wrote for the New York Times, it's all about the Thai elite (the royal aristocrats and old establishment) fearing the political awakening of the powerful peasant supporters of the Pheu Thai Party as a threat to their status quo, an awakening first brought about by Yingluck's brother, Thaksin Sinawatra and then continued by her. Hence, it is hardly surprising that Thaksin has been repetitively demonised by the aristocrats and conservative elites.

The old establishment wants to regain and retain their old power, their status quo so to speak, by any means, including questionable tactics as the current undemocratic and violent destabilising upheavals.

And that has been why Suthep Thaugsuban and his protesters could run around with impunity in Bangkok in their harassment and disruption of the legitimate government, while the police were 'advised' by the Army to 'take it easy'. I am not sure why, but I keep thinking of Perkasa again...

But what lesson does it hold for us in Malaysia, that a minority party, with some powerful backing, including those of the Army, could demand a new government, one to be appointed by 'the few' with a PM appointed by the royalty?

And you thought 46 percent of the popular votes was bad?