‘A week is a long time in politics’. It appears that in Thailand, a week is also a very long time without politics, or at least without government. Since the military announced a state of martial law on May 20th 2014, closely followed by a coup, it seems that much in the Land of Smiles has changed, including perhaps, my own views on democracy.
As an individual I firmly believe in democracy, and as a liberal standing somewhere to the left of centre, I firmly believe in freedom of speech, fairness and equality for all citizens. So, after less than two weeks of military leadership in Thailand, why do I now feel that it’s probably the best thing that could have happened here? Don't get me wrong, that's not a personal show of support for military intervention, but a reflection of how bad Thailand's alternatives really were.
A few years ago, I was deeply in love with my latest motorcycle, a BMW R1100SS. Deep red paint with bags of torque and a lusty exhaust note, it was a bike that constantly reminded me of everything that was good about motorcycles. I was working as a motorcycle despatch rider in London, a difficult test for any bike, but that BMW turned every working day into an absolute pleasure. Sadly, a despatch rider’s income and BMW ownership were never an ideal pairing and as the mileage mounted, things started to go wrong. Small things at first; electrical niggles, brake issues, suspension glitches - things that didn’t stop the bike in its tracks but issues that I really ought to have fixed as they arose. But, being amazingly lazy and ever so slightly broke, I decided to ignore them and ride around the problems. Finally the clutch, which had been slipping for weeks, finally gave up on the task of delivering 100bhp to the rear wheel. On many bikes, replacing the clutch is a relatively simple task, but this was a BMW. Off came the exhaust system, the catalytic converter and the rear wheel. Then, out came the sub-frame and the shaft drive assembly, followed by the swing arm and rear suspension unit. Finally, I reached the burned-out clutch and set about replacing it. My journey towards the depths of the BMW's problematic clutch was a journey into the unknown, a true mechanical voyage of discovery. With BMW tools being unique to a BMW, and my own tools being universal to everything but a BMW, the process ended up taking two weeks to complete and during that time, I was forced into using a slightly different mode of transport.
To non enthusiasts, all motorcycles are recognisable as motorcycles, but as enthusiasts, we know that beneath the visual outer skin, or the identifying symbol on the tank, they’re all amazingly different beasts. Democracy is the same. In Thailand the democratic clutch had burned out and no amount of cursing, kicking tyres or adding fresh oil was ever going to fix it. To the outside world it still looked like a democracy, but in mechanical terms it was absolutely unrideable and the only option was to rebuild it. If Thailand's democratic problems had arisen in Europe, then I'm confident that the courts and media would have done their jobs and called-out the politicians long before things had been allowed to deteriorate that far. But Thailand’s in Asia, a continent where democracy has a certain ‘uniqueness’ and is often seen by politicians as having little, if anything, to do with following the law or abiding by the decisions of the courts.
In time, working democracy and free elections will return to Thailand, and when they do, suspension, engine, electronics, brakes, gearbox and clutch will hopefully all work far better than they ever did before.