“From the War on Drugs to the Rice Pledging Scheme, experience in Thailand has shown that what is popular is not always right”, said former Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva in a talk in the Ateneo de Manila University Law School, Philippines last 18 October 2017.
In a lecture entitled “Liberal Democracy in the Time of Post-Truth Politics”, he related Thailand’s experience with the so-called “drug suppression policy” in February-April 2003 under former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. Quoting a report of a government-formed independent commission that investigated the iron-fisted policy, he noted that “(i)n the course of execution of the plan, a large number of civilian population lost their lives.”. As regards the Rice Pledging Scheme, he said that it had to be terminated amidst huge losses and massive corruption. “Neither policy brought lasting benefits and failed in their objectives”, added Abhisit.
“In politics, however, doing what is right sometimes comes with a political cost”, continued Abhisit. “Does this mean that we should stop doing what is right? Not at all. But we should do more to ensure that our work is known and felt by the people that we serve. Our weakness in this aspect has been exploited by populist politicians, who forwarded simplistic, but visible, solutions to complex problems such as poverty and drug use.”
Abhisit then proceeded to draw the connection between populism and the crisis of liberal democracy in the so-called “post-truth” world. He said, “Post-truth for me is only a symptom of our problems. Our response to deal with the political situation cannot be only about post-truth or fake news. We have to realize where Liberals and Democrats often fell short in effectively carrying out our liberal democratic traditions.”
“It has to be recognized that the wave of discontent that led to the rise of populist leaders and the growing support for illiberal and authoritarian policies are partly a result of the failure to genuinely connect to the people, and to adequately respond to their needs. As liberal democrats, we always work for policies that truly cater to the interest of the people, but must strive to serve the people’s needs better so that we can effectively fight the populists and authoritarian leaders who have been exploiting the fears and insecurities of the population”, Abhisit said.
“Liberal democrats must reinvigorate our principles and values, and relate them to the needs of the people today. By doing so, we can rightfully reclaim our place as the true champions of the people,” he added.
Abhisit, who was also joined by CALD Secretary General Kiat Sittheeamorn in his Manila visit, also took part in a High-Level ASEAN Conference and a dinner hosted by the Liberal Party of the Philippines on 19 October.
This post was written by CALD