Decent politicians and transparent parties the cornerstones to a workable political system

national November 23, 2015 01:00

By THE NATION

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SERI SUWANNAPANON is a veteran lawyer whose parliamentary experience includes a stint as a senator and several terms as a charter drafter. He is a former chairman of the now-defunct National Reform Council's law reform committee and he currently serves as



In an interview with The Nation, he tells Piyaporn Wongruang what’s wrong with our political system and how it should be reformed.
 
IN YOUR EXPERIENCE, WHAT IS THE PROBLEM WITH OUR POLITICAL SYSTEM?
Our political system has a problem both before and after politicians take office. The biggest problems occur before they assume power as it involves so many critical challenges. We have to get good politicians to enter politics, make sure political parties truly belong to the people, establish an effective electoral system to screen politicians and set up an effective election regulator to direct quality elections. 
These problems need to be addressed, and it needs to be done systematically.
Let’s look at our political parties as an example. First, we have to ask ourselves who they work for. Several political parties are funded by outside backers and, as such, their only objective is to enter politics so they can seize power and raid the state’s coffers.
A lot of the executives of political parties are business people. That’s why our politics has become like a business. As they think it is business, they take rather than give. That’s why the system is corrupt, and that’s why these externally funded parties and their politicians are part of the problem.
 
PEOPLE MAY SAY YOU ARE TOO PESSIMISTIC ABOUT THEM AND ACCUSE THEM OF TOO MUCH.
They need proof, I understand. But we have seen it so many times, including from the recent move against one politician. The man himself told the parliament that he received a large sum of money, which exceeded the ceiling allowed by law, from his party to run in an election. Not to mention the fact that payments have been made to politicians, or even senators, to vote a certain way in parliament.
All these are facts, not accusations. It’s the facts that challenge us all, whether we dare to speak about it and take action or not. It’s always been like this.
 
THE NRC AND ITS POLITICAL REFORM COMMITTEE HAVE BEEN WORKING A LOT, SO HOW WILL YOU PROCEED?
Yes, they have. But they have just been coming up with proposals. During this “reform steering period”, we will put those ideas into practice via our work plans.
 
WHERE WILL YOU START?
As I said, we need to reform the whole system as everything is interrelated. We need to look at all the components, be they politicians themselves, political parties, the electoral system and the election regulator, which is the Election Commission.
We need to come up with a new management structure to make sure that political parties belong to and work for the people. Their budgets and books must be transparent and, if any executives or politicians violate the laws, penalties must be severe with no statutes of limitations to the point where some of them may not be able to enter politics again and their parties are dissolved. 
Much of this depends on the people’s participation; in other words, relations between the people and the political parties as well as the politicians. As long as our political culture is based primarily on money politics, where everyone can buy and sell votes, I don’t think we can reform anything. 
This can be achieved through education, especially among our children. We need to put in place some measures to screen bad politicians and this should come with harsh penalties when they break the laws.
All these possible solutions are down to the point of legal reviews and amendments. We need to revisit all concerned acts, and review or rewrite them if necessary.
WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT THE CONSTITUTION DRAFTING COMMISSION’S LATEST PROPOSAL – THE MIXED MEMBER APPORTIONMENT SYSTEM?
I think it is still based on the idea of having small constituencies that, in my view, limit the chances of other candidates representing the people as small constituencies require fewer winners.
I would rather have large constituencies, so that more MP candidates can win elections and thus better represent a broader spectrum of people. This way, the people’s will to have their own representatives would be taken into account, while we don’t have to get stuck with complicated calculations.
 
WHAT ABOUT FIXING THE PROBLEMS AFTER POLITICIANS TAKE OFFICE?
When politicians become office holders, it is critical to keep their power in check so that exploitation or abuses of state power will not take place. It’s about regulating the use of state power.
It is quite a challenge, but I think the best course is to put effective laws in place to regulate how politicians wield their power. Harsh punishments must be meted out so abuses of power are not repeated.
 
HAVE YOU BEEN IN TALKS WITH THE CDC AS SOME LEGAL ASPECTS MAY NEED TO BE ADDRESSED IN THE CONSTITUTION?
We have invited some CDC members to talk about this. We will also try to come up with recommendations for it. 
We are lucky this time that we have representatives of political parties in the NRSA. We can address issues together before moving forward.
 
TO ADDRESS REFORMS IN THE POLITICAL SYSTEM, MAYBE YOU NEED TO ADDRESS RECONCILIATION FIRST TO UNLOCK THE DEADLOCK BETWEEN THE CONCERNED PARTIES.
We need to find solutions for what has happened so we can move on. We need to look at what people need, and they need peace, right? We may need to consider cases concerning ordinary people first. 
But in the case of politicians committing serious offences, I still think a legal channel is the only way to pacify conflicts. 
The justice process must be fair and just, that’s the main thing.

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