Cooking up an Absurd Stew in Thailand

The Thai political crisis took another farcical turn Tuesday when the courts ruled that Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej must resign because he appears on a television cooking program. Rather than concentrating on serious issues like democratic legitimacy, murder in street fighting between the two opposing factions or trying to find a peaceful and democratic solution to the crisis, the courts chose to join in the political circus that is playing out.

Upholding the letter of the law, but ignoring the spirit of the law, the judges ruled that Samak must resign. His party's members of parliament can then reappoint him. The law was originally drafted in a futile attempt to reduce the influence of big business on Thai governments. It was not drafted to deal with cooking programs. Those who have illusions in Thailand's constitutional monarch as a "powerful and stabilising figure" might legitimately wonder why he is not intervening in order to bring about a peaceful and democratic solution. Others may already have an answer.

Cynical website commentators have joked about it all being a ploy to promote Thai cooking and Thai restaurants. Unfortunately there are much graver consequences. What ever the outcome of this struggle between the elites, it is democracy and the poor majority who will suffer. The anti-government fascist mob, who call themselves the "People’s Alliance for Democracy", are out to build an authoritarian New Order by provoking violent clashes and a coup. They may find themselves shoved to one side, after being used, if the military and the conservative bureaucrats take power.

The present government has nothing to commend it. But at least it was democratically elected. A coup or a "government of national unity” made up of unrepresentative politicians and elites, is not a democratic alternative.

There is a crying need for a political alternative that stands for democracy, social justice and income redistribution. We need a welfare state, funded by taxation of the rich. This will only come about if those in the Peoples' Movement, who wish to be independent of both sides of the elite, stand up and start organizing.

Giles Ji Ungpakorn is a member of the Faculty of Political Science of Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok.