Thailand must develop the ‘democracy’ that fits it best


We have to remember that democracy is a Western product imported into Thailand, so mapping this system on Thailand will not entirely fit since Thailand has a different history, culture and development.

Anyone who studies democratic theory will understand that “democracy” does not mean simply holding elections.

Real democracy must consist of four elements, namely: the executive and legislature are chosen through regular, free and fair elections; virtually all adults have the right to vote; political rights and civil liberties (such as freedom of expression and organisation) are broadly protected; and elected authorities have real power to govern and are not subject to substantial control by the military, clergy or other entities not accountable to elected officials.

We have to remember that democracy is a Western product imported into Thailand, so mapping this system on Thailand will not entirely fit since Thailand has a different history, culture and development. Naturally, during a transition, every country stumbles. So, maybe a slow but stable transition is better for Thailand.

I disagree with the assertion that with the current political climate there is shrinking space for people who find their choices flawed. On the contrary, there is more room for the public to give input to help construct our society and the kind of democracy we want because, whether we like it or not, politics is a part of our lives and will affect us whether or not we play a role in it or try to shut it entirely out.



New political reform must end politics as usual

POLITICAL REFORM is something that every political party talks about, mostly in ambiguous terms. Once you start asking them to commit to some concrete platform, that’s when you see real action – passing the buck onto somebody else to get it done some other time.

Perhaps, we should become more realistic and stop assuming, naively and dangerously, that political reform is not possible without the active participation of politicians.

The fact may be to the contrary: Real reform in politics could come about only if politicians are barred from having any influence on the drafting of the reform agenda.

You don’t expect MPs or Cabinet members to write new rules and regulations that will require them to sacrifice what they assume and believe are their hard-fought-for privileges, do you?

That’s probably why Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has sought out King Prajadipok’s Institute (KPI) to draw up the first draft of a political reform master plan to, as he put it, “Bring about national unity, one of my government’s objectives”.

What this move implies is that the prime minister may be inclined towards thinking that national unity could be jeopardised if politicians, either on the government or opposition side, were to undertake the crucial task of political reform themselves.

Does this mean that we can’t trust our politicians to clean up their own house?

They have messed it up to the point that the clean-up job will have to be done by “neutral” parties.

But then, under the current rules of the game, no matter how good the reform plan is, the final nod will have to come from the lawmakers themselves since no constitutional amendments or changes to the election laws can be implemented without approval from Parliament.

That, then, means that Abhisit’s gesture to the KPI is nothing but a ploy to buy time – and an apparent counter-move to blunt the opposition Pheu Thai Party’s attempt to submit an amnesty bill that would, if passed, absolve former premier Thaksin Shinawatra and his cronies from all their political wrongdoings.

And because some of Abhisit’s coalition partners will stand to gain from this move, the premier has been placed in a dilemma. Pre-empting the bill, which could arguably undermine his coalition government, would involve some delicate manoeuvring. Hence the decision to invite a “neutral” academic institute to “kill two birds with one stone”.

With that, Abhisit issued a highly ambiguous statement: “I am confident that both the government and opposition can find a solution to the political conflict.”

For one thing, a political reform plan doesn’t, at its roots, have anything to do with ending the Prachatipat-Pheu Thai conflict at all.

The issue between the two major parties is basically a continuous power struggle, but not over political ethics or the introduction of broad-based, participatory politics – the very crux of every major political reform platform.

While stricter implementation of good governance and the politics of accountability should wipe out corrupt politicians and raise the people’s hope of cultivating better politicians, recruiting King Prajadhipok’s Institute to play the role of an honest broker won’t put an end to the red-yellow rift or the running feuds between the Democrats and Pheu Thai.

Genuine political reform, therefore, isn’t confined to political parties. If KPI were to serve a really useful purpose, it would have to demand a clear and full mandate to involve all social groupings in the process of drawing up a road map for genuine participatory political reform.

In other words, electoral politics, which represents the main thrust of what the current crop of politicians are obsessed about, can’t be everything. It must only be part of the master plan.

The real crux of the reform process would have to provide answers to the most important question of all: How do we make politicians the real “servants of the people”?

By Suthichai Yoon
The Nation
Published on March 5, 2009


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