Monday, April 20, 2009

Getting Back on Track in Thailand

*All Photos Copyright*

A lone protester in front of the military lines during the so called 'battle of Din Daeng'. April 13th.

Tim Meisburger, writing in the Asia Foundation's In Asia Blog, puts forth four ideas for getting Thailand back on track:

"One way to reduce political tension is decentralization. If people have control over and pay for their own local services, there will be no reason for conflict with other provinces, while democracy and accountability will be enhanced. Political decentralization could also help resolve the separatist conflict in the South."

In total agreement here. The march to decentralization might have been slowed by Thaksin and is now throughly stifled by the military and Ministry of the Interior but it has the ability to mitigate Issan's tension with Bangkok as well as empower the Deep South with the means to solve their own serious issues.

"Another way to reduce tension and improve democratic representation is to allow voters to vote where they live. Currently, many people who live in Bangkok are counted for representation in their home village or town. This means not only do they have to travel back to their home provinces to vote, but that their home towns are over-represented in national government and Bangkok is under-represented. If representation and voting were based on where people really live, Bangkok residents would not feel under-represented, and everyone would enjoy better representation and improved political accountability."

Yes, this is long overdue and obviously results in some curious electoral scenarios.

"Third, for a country faced with little external threat, Thailand’s army is probably too big, and it is certainly too powerful. To reduce the threat the army poses to a democratic civilian government, the army should be reduced. This can be accomplished through legislation, and also by reducing the financial resources available to the army."

Yes but no. Obviously the Thai military's overblown budget, economic interests, Orwellian participation in the media, and their overwhelming political power is likely the single most caustic element in the volatile political mix and the greatest threat to democracy but the real question is how to disentangle them from politics and reduce their grotesque budget. Agreed that this needs to be done but doubtful it can be done.

"Fourth, to re-establish the democratic legitimacy of the Constitution, Thailand should consider conducting another participatory constitution-drafting process, similar to the one in 1997 in Thailand, or more recently in Nepal. After completion of the draft, the new charter can be endorsed through a fair national referendum. Concerns raised about clauses in earlier constitutions can be addressed in a national dialogue."

Agreed. The 1997 Constitution was widely respected with its emphasis on civil society, checks and balances but it was also a time when the military was waning both in size and in budget. I am not sure if there is a correlation with the Constitution and the military decline but the 1997 Constitution - with some thought to preventing Thaksin-style abuse of power - is an essential long-term solution to this ongoing political strife.

"And last, but not least, the most important step required to heal the political divide and re-establish Thailand’s democratic credentials would be fresh elections that everyone agreed accurately and fairly reflected the will of the people. Opinions differ as to whether these elections are so important that they should be held first, as soon as possible; or whether they should be postponed until other necessary reforms have been enacted. If the second approach is adopted, elections should be scheduled as soon as possible, to reassure voters and reduce political tension."

Sort of agree...but the cyclical nature of conflict-election-conflict-government falls-election-conflict-government falls seems assured if a snap election were to be called now. Abhisit also seems to know that his chances of being elected now are slim so there will not likely be fresh a election. What might be better is if current Government can provide limited stability for the short term while engaging in a participatory constitution-drafting process then call for an election, there might be some hope of forming a more stable government.

Also of interest on the Asia Foundation's blog and related to the ongoing crisis are:

Abhisit's Big Test and Skip the New Year and Go Straight to the Hangover

1 comment:

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