We have an opinion piece on Inside Story about the challenges facing Abhisit’s government. Here are the closing paragraphs:
One of Abhisit’s most important political assets is the perception that he is one of the “good men” in Thai politics. Abhisit is young, urbane, well-educated and untainted by business dealings. He has sufficient credibility and charisma to represent the ideal of a loyal official, dedicated to serving his country and guiding it through difficult times. There is a common mantra in Thai politics, particularly among the more conservative elite, that good men alone are required to manage national affairs. Abhisit himself has mobilised several committees of such good men (and a few women) to work through the process of national reconciliation which, he insists, must follow the violent confrontation with the red shirts. National unity must be restored by seeking wise and ethical counsel.
But this preoccupation with good men is naive at best and deeply cynical at worst. Thailand’s recent political history demonstrates that it has to learn to deal with the full spectrum of political behaviour. The long reign of the widely respected king has helped create a perception that goodness is essential for national unity and prosperity. This perception will be hard to maintain if Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn takes the throne or if palace divisions spill out into the public arena. It will be a hard message to sell if an increasingly assertive army flexes its muscles against opposition groups. Appeals to goodness may start to be drowned out if the yellow shirts keep muddying national virtue with aggressive xenophobia. Ethical virtue may be of little interest to a new generation of red-shirt leaders, hardened by the bloody events in Bangkok. And talk of goodness may evaporate completely if Thaksin Shinawatra finds a way to return to Thailand and resurrect his political career. Thaksin is more electorally popular than any good man ever was.
Thai politics would be simple if it only involved good men. Abhisit’s key challenge is not to mobilise even more of them, but to help Thailand develop strong democratic institutions that can cope with the machinations of the good, the bad and the ugly.