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    Posted Date: 2009-03-18 05:39:33
    Another drama with a hidden agenda
    Published: 18/03/2009 at 12:00 AM
    Newspaper section: News
    A political reform study is under way with the aim of rectifying political problems plaguing the democratic political system.

    Democrat leader Abhisit Vejjajiva discusses political reform at party headquarters. This was on Sept 1, 2006. The effort is still continuing.
    The duration proposed is eight months. This will be in the form of a committee to collect opinions from the general public as to what proposals they would want to make in regard to the reform of the ailing democracy.

    If anything, this is just another political drama with a hidden agenda.

    One of the objectives - as stated by those in charge - is to use the study to bridge the social cleavage which has thrown the country apart. In a nutshell, it is a scheme to hopefully bring the red shirts and the yellow shirts to a working table so that a dialogue will become possible.

    The hidden agenda is clear. It will seek to show that the powers-that-be are willing to negotiate and bury the hatchet. The next item is to show the public that that there are good intentions to seek a peaceful solution to the conflict which serves to retard political stability.

    This political drama is at best a gimmick. Even an amateur in politics can see through the ultimate motives vividly.

    If one is to argue academically about the project, one can start by asking a few questions.

    What is there to study? Everybody knows what the political problems are. In a nutshell, the problems which inhibit the development of a sustainable democracy are vote-buying, corruption and abuse of power. The rule of law is constantly violated. The people are plagued with the twin evils of poverty and ignorance while many politicians are sly, crafty, bent only on power and economic gains, devoid of ethics and political etiquette. Political parties are just a gathering of individuals who have come together to set up a legal institution to register as a party in order to fulfil the requirements of office-seeking, as ordained by the Constitution.

    Under the situation in which an ideology to serve the country and democratic ethos is an exception, not the rule, elections are but a political ritual in which the people whose votes had been bought, just dropped the ballot card into the ballot box. There is as such no election in the true sense of the word. Political legitimacy claimed by those successful in getting enough votes to qualify as a member of the House of Representatives is nothing but a sham.

    If the above problems escaped the attention of the people who proposed a political reform study project, it is either that they are naive or that they feign innocence. Indeed, political reforms have already taken place numerous times before this hilarious proposal.

    Back in 1974 after the Oct 14, 1973 uprising in which the regime of Field Marshal Thanom Kittikachorn was overthrown, there was a constitution drafting committee and a committee propagating democracy. Tens of thousands of students went to the provinces to propagate democratic values among the people. Television, radio, printed media helped the democratic values dissemination programme. The TV programme started with the cry of a baby just born. Then, there was a voice that said when we were born we were all free - we have the right to enjoy good air, the blowing wind, the sky and what not.

    The Constitution of 1974 lasted only three years and was scrapped by the bloody coup of Oct 6, 1976.

    Then came the period of the half-way democracy, during which time the proposal of a 25-point reform was made by a committee headed by Chumpol Silpa-archa, who came up with only two points of reform. One of the two points was to enable an 18-year-old to vote in an election. This lowering of the voting age from 20 to 18 allowed a large number of youths to exercise their political right.

    Then there was the first Chuan Leekpai government of the Democrat party who appointed a committee headed by Prawase Wasi, a medical doctor who took an active role in politics through his political commentary and also as a critic of Thai society. It was known as the Committee on Democratic Development. The committee came up with small booklets enumerating a dozen reform elements such as the electoral system, the administrative court, ombudsman, decentralisation of power, etc. Those small booklets served as a body of knowledge on political reform and it can be argued that in terms of knowledge, we were not surpassed by any country. Unfortunately, the findings of the reform, as with many research projects, were shelved.

    There was subsequently the Committee on Political Reform initiated by Banharn Silpa-archa, who was prime minister after Chuan Leekpai. The reform committee consisted of a sub-committee for the drafting of a national political development plan, a committee to study political reform in general and an amendment of Article 211 of the 1991 Constitution to pave the way for the drafting of a new charter by a drafting assembly of 99 members.

    This resulted in the 1997 Constitution which lasted for about 10 years until it was scrapped in the coup of Sept 19, 2006.

    The 1997 charter sought to come up with a structure and process of political reform in which the prime minister - who hitherto could not exercise political leadership due to constraints imposed by the coalition nature of the government, with political bargaining and horse-trading - would have more power. The aim of the new charter was also to minimise vote-buying and election fraud, to curtail corruption and abuse of power.

    The charter of 2007, in the main based on the 1997 charter, has been in use for more than one year now. It sought to rectify the shortcomings of the 1997 charter. But by so doing, it has created more problems than where it sought to solve. These included, inter alia, Article 237 which was put in the charter in order to legitimise the dissolution of political parties, with their executive committee members barred from exercising their political right of vote-casting for five years.

    The law was passed retroactively by the coup party of Sept 19, 2006. The passing of a retroactive law was against the general legal principle but that mistake and the legal abuse were further exacerbated by incorporation into the charter: Article 309, which stipulates that acts before or after the passing of the new charter in regard to activities resulting from the order of the coup party would be deemed constitutional. This last article then serves as an overriding article for it is even above the charter itself! It is an exception to the main rule, rendering the main rule meaningless, with no sanctity.

    No sane legal expert can explain this conflict of legal principle. The two articles, among others, reflect a wanton disregard for the rule of law, a legal state and the sacrosanct tenet of democracy and human rights.

    The proposal to study political reform for another round is ill-conceived. It has other ulterior motives. One can say flatly that, in essence, there is nothing more to study. If ever there was a need and an earnest desire to study political reform to pave the way for a viable and a sustainable democracy, the focus indeed should be on the people - most notably politicians - who more than ever need to go through a soul-searching in order to seek a reform of their souls. The very essence of a good politician is to have an ideological commitment towards democracy, and to the public interest through selfless sacrifice. As long as politicians cannot reform themselves, it is useless to talk about political reform, let alone implementing any reform programmes.

    One can shout the word "reform" ad nauseam, but short of self-reform it is nothing but empty air, deserving to be shunned.

    Prof Dr Likhit Dhiravegin is a Fellow of the Royal Institute.
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