A benevolent dictatorship is a clearly a superior form of government. An all-powerful do-gooder who can cut through deceptions, bureaucracy, and legal technicalities to benefit the people is dream of the righteous and justice-loving people. Most religions put God in this role of benevolent dictator of heaven, while secularists bemoan the impossibility of such mortal paragons who can guide our affairs here in this life. We settle for democracy because we cannot divine which among us is wise and benign enough to have dictatorial power. Democracy, we decide, is the best government that’s possible.
King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand is widely revered as semi-divine in that country. His picture and that of his daughter the Princess are everywhere. He is seen as both wise and very human. He’s often pictured with his Nikon camera, and he wrote a bestseller book about a stay dog he had taken in. The adoration of the King was difficult for me, a authoritarian-wary democrat, to accept during our visit to that country in 2001. But, our ex-pat hosts helped us see how the King spoke for the nation, guided it, and stepped into politics rarely and only in moments of crisis. He spread confidence and pride throughout the nation. He is the one everyone could love, regardless of the current policy disputes.
Ousted Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra brought modernization and financial transfer benefits to the rural areas of the country during his five years in power. He has been good for business. Yet, he has been spectacularly corrupt both in private enrichment and in manipulating political power. He rigged an election even though he probably is the most popular politician. He had placed his cronies in positions of judicial power and had loaded them onto supposedly impartial commissions.
Thaskin also moved against the King. Earlier this year he publicly criticized the court. He was planning an October shuffle in military assignments would have put his supporters in key roles in that institution, too.
This week the old guard military, with the approval of the King, removed Thaskin in a bloodless coup. There is no unrest reported on Thai streets, and the leaders promise a quick return to civilian rule, probably as soon as they can figure out how to revise the system to keep it from being corrupted in the same way as Thaskin has done.
The White House was outraged about this blow against democracy. Perhaps because Thaskin was “elected” in a highly suspect election and he had put election judges in place to confirm his win, President Bush is felt a certain affinity to the booted minister. I don’t know.
I do know that there’s something pleasing about a higher power stepping in to right a moral wrong that would otherwise be legally confirmed. Too often things that stink are accepted as inevitable.
Sometimes I wish the United States had a king.