EDITORIAL: Politics can do without culture of intimidation

BANGKOK (The Nation/ANN) - After a young singer is excoriated for being at Prayut’s side, we need more people understanding the right to be different.

A teenage singer has come under fire for letting herself become linked professionally to the government. In articles and vicious social media posts, critics of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha said she should not have helped “promote” a non-democratic ruler. The outrage must have left the girl very perplexed. 

The same holds true for the opposite side. Anyone professing support for Thaksin Shinawatra, particularly a celebrity, can expect major uproar. The simple expression of opinions can earn severe wrath amid the divisive politics we have in Thailand. There have been several outrageous examples, as when a citizen triggered a social media meltdown by simply having a selfie taken with a political figure.

There’s a thin line between bullying and constructive criticism other people’s actions when given within the scope of democratic rights. The line is also blurred when it comes to Thai politics. What the teen singer has put up with went beyond appropriateness and has encroached on the realm of intimidation and the obstruction of her rights.

Productive criticism involves exerting a right without making others fearful of doing the same. It’s a delicate exercise and wrong moves can backfire drastically, especially if those making them do love democracy and advocate liberalism.

Difficult as it is, constructive criticism is a must if Thai politics is to achieve genuine progress. In countries that are more politically advanced, celebrities work with politicians or governments all the time and without causing much fuss. They can express their political opinions without being hounded in the social media or torn to pieces for saying the same things ordinary people do.

In an era where anyone can scold anyone else via the social networks, examples must be set. And who can set better examples than the people who consider themselves opinion leaders or are considered to be? The toughest exercises in politics are avoidance of double standards, and refraining from bad actions in revenge or simply because “others are doing it”.

People feeling empowered by the social media need to learn the intricate exercise the most. In order to have a genuine democracy and help it move forward, they have to learn to respect other people’s rights first. Otherwise, the form of democracy achieved will be unhealthy at best and fake at worst. And for politics that is divisive and tumultuous like ours, intimidating people simply because they’re on the opposite side is really bad news.

The use of celebrities for political purposes is a different issue entirely. Everyone seems to be doing it, and, again, the practice is condemned only when the opposite side is doing it. Even when Thailand was enjoying full democracy, movie stars and singers were always recruited as election candidates.

The outcry against the young female singer is also ironic coming from many people who insist everyone is equal. The uproar seems to fly in the face of that “every voice is equal” advocacy, appearing to acknowledge that someone or some voice is more important after all.

Thailand’s political problems stem from many factors, one being the disrespect and hypocrisy that’s become so blatant nowadays. An important election is only months away, so it’s imperative that we get the basics right. If not, we’ll end up with something other than true democracy. 


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