Young risk jail, or dying of boredom

The popular saying “you can die of boredom” rang through my head this week upon hearing the prime minister hint that the long-awaiting election may be postponed again.

He made the statement after the Phramongkutklao Hospital blast on Monday which injured 25 people. Some observers said the bombing was timed to coincide with the third anniversary of the military government, which took power on May 22, 2014. The bomb took away the regime’s chance to legitimately claim that peace and order now reigns.

For those who are patiently waiting for a new era of democracy, the prime minister’s statement must come as a disappointment. For me, it’s unbearable.

Paritta Wangkiat is a reporter, Bangkok Post.

I now share the feeling of some of my friends who, out of sheer boredom, have turned away from politics due to the authoritarian government. Some have left the country and are now living in a de facto state of self-imposed exile.

But people react to boredom in different ways. Some will leave; others will struggle for change.

This helps explain why the yellow- and red-shirt protesters, despite having opposing political stances, rose to bring about changes in accordance with their beliefs. Their struggle brought about the same result on two occasions, with the coup in 2006 repeated again in 2014.

But unlike their military predecessors, Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha and the National Council for Peace and Order do not hide their hope of staying in power for a long time. Imagine how serious life without freedom of expression could be. Isn’t it a miserable state of affairs where one can be jailed for writing an article or posting something online? If the military has its way, we can be thrown behind bars for just visiting a website deemed inappropriate.

It’s hard to believe that after more than 80 years since Thailand transformed from absolutism to a constitutional monarchy in 1932, debate is still raging about whether the public is ready for democracy.

And we still hear many excuses — lack of education, raging conflicts — why we should not embrace democracy in its full form. In short, the military government thinks we need more time.

Apparently, the suggestion that the election may be postponed means the leaders want to start over. It’s like they want to erase some text from a paper and issue a rewrite. But that isn’t the way things are supposed to work.

At different points in history lay people have risen up against authoritarianism and added new pages to history (rather than trying to rewrite it). Examples include the 1973 student uprising against military dictator Thanom Kittikachorn, which ultimately led to his downfall, and the “Black May” protests in May 1992 when young, well-educated people confronted Gen Suchinda Kraprayoon and the National Peace Keeping Council (NPKC).

The middle class, which has expanded in recent decades, remains a strong political force. They now enjoy better living standards, are more informed of global trends, and most cherish freedom as a core value.

Increasingly they are frustrated with the state of politics under NCPO rule, much like those who detested Field Marshal Thanom and Gen Suchinda. The military regime runs the country according to a hierarchical system that doesn’t align with the new generation.

Let’s compare the country to a workplace that experiences growing conflict due to a generational gap. Those at the top want to maintain a “command and control” style of management, while younger people want more openness and participation.

Let’s say many talented younger staff have quit in frustration. For them, being in a system where they could not fight back or have their say was intolerable. Others adopt a more confrontational approach. The exodus of the former makes the company less competitive in a rapidly changing world; for those who stay behind, there may be chaos.

Compare this to the situation in Thailand, where protracted political unrest and clashes of ideas have resulted in a loss of competitiveness.

But it appears our leaders still want to erase some political history and have a “clean slate”. Surely they must realise they cannot go back to square one again and again.

Young people are frustrated at having their rights and democratic values infringed upon. We are living in a precarious time when we can get into trouble just by reading Facebook posts or having a different opinion. This leaves us with two tough choices: to leave, or stay and risk the consequences.