‘Invisible hand’ throttles our democracy

The “invisible hand”, “special power”, “irresistible force”, all these words have been mentioned frequently lately by people, politicians and the mass media when discussing Thai politics, the upcoming general election and what may follow.

These expressions are used as a substitute for an alleged unspeakable and unconstitutional force in Thai politics, to make the otherwise incomplete stories about politics and its manipulation slightly more comprehensible.

Last week, Chart Thai Pattana party leader Chumpol Silpa-acha claimed his party was coerced to join the Democrat-led coalition government in 2008 through some “irresistible force”. By the way, that crucial coalition-formation talk took place at the residence of then Army Chief General Anuphong Paochinda.

On Sunday, PM Abhisit Vejjajiva, leader of the Democrat party, claimed there was neither an “invisible hand” nor “special power” in Thai politics.

However, many Thais- including some long-term observers of Thai politics and society – will likely continue to talk about the existence of the invisible hand, or the special power, for as long as our politics work in their mysterious ways.

Earlier this month, veteran Reuters correspondent Andrew Marshall, a deputy Bureau Chief in Bangkok between 2000 to 2002, who moved to Singapore in 2008, resigned from his post as deputy editor to write about Thailand, the invisible hand and the latest batch of WikiLeaks.

Marshall justified his regretful resignation in order to write honestly on his blog about Thai politics without fear by stating:

“Because of Thailand’s harsh lese majeste, defamation and computer crimes laws, which criminalise telling the truth about powerful figures, it was not possible for Reuters to guarantee the safety of its staff within Thailand if it ran the story.”

As far as this writer is aware, Reuters’ Bangkok Bureau is bracing for a visit from the Thai authorities as Marshall, who is not in Thailand, begins uploading his 40,000 to 50,000 words story today.

What Marshall has written aside, we can view “the invisible hand” as a puppet master, who pulls the string of Thai politics from behind.

The hand (he or she, there could be more than one invisible hand), operates in the shadow because it cannot bear the scrutiny, the transparency and accountability of a democratic society. It also apparently does not believe the majority of voters should be able to elect their own representatives and determine the future course of Thai society.

The flesh and blood puppets of the invisible hand can at time rebel and become a loose cannon, however. What Chumpol said last week might have been an aberration of a puppet and so he quickly enough, but belatedly, tried to play down what he had said earlier.

There are many puppets. Their job is to make unconstitutional and unpalatable things acceptable and be rewarded. These flesh and blood puppets do have their own ambitions and interests too, so their relationship with the puppet master, or the invisible hand, isn’t actually that straightforward and smooth, and not always subservient.

The invisible hand remains invisible, however, pulling the strings from behind, manipulating things, and silencing critics through the use of laws as mentioned by Marshall or through propaganda.

Like a vampire fearing the scrutiny of sunlight, Thai politics can never be comprehensible or democratic without trying to make visible the invisible hand.

Who was the real mastermind of the military coup in September 2006? Was there an order to shoot to kill in April and May 2010? A year after, why has not a single person been arrested and charged in relation to the 91 deaths which occurred during the clashes between red shirts and soldiers in Bangkok? Will the invisible hand act after the July third election?

Yes, the invisible hand is still invisible, but increasingly, people are visibly talking about it.

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