The case for rich politicians

opinion March 08, 2018 01:00

By The Nation

2,415 Viewed

If a rookie has the right intentions, lofty financial status shouldn’t matter 

Almost 50 groups of citizens have applied with the Election Commission to form new political parties since last Friday. Some of them are veteran politicians, others younger aspirants ready to make their political debut.

The wannabes have mostly promised “progressive new alternatives”, pledging to fix what was wrong with the politics of the old. This notion of “old politics” is often mentioned with contempt. Voters do, after all, tend to place their hopes on new parties and new faces ahead of elections. But new parties and political debutantes have also disappointed backers in the past, failing to deliver on promises and sometimes even following in the footsteps of the corrupt purveyors of old politics whom they denounced to get elected.

It is not unusual that new parties are financed by wealthy businesspeople, some of whom also join the ranks as co-founders. There should be no problem with rich people entering politics with the goal of becoming lawmakers or Cabinet ministers – unless they do so with hidden agendas, such as serving their business interests or otherwise increasing their personal wealth.

We have seen more than a few wealthy people and entrepreneurs becoming politicians. They have entered the game with promises of bettering the country and public wellbeing. They have pointed out that rich people have no motive to cheat the country or seek more wealth. They have sounded convincing to begin with, but, once elected, it was a different story. Fresh faces turned sour all too quickly as they became ever richer while in government.

As is the case in other professions, politicians should acquire knowledge and experience over several years before they can regarded as full-fledged. They need to spend time learning the etiquette and ethics of the profession from mentors and other respected elder colleagues. This is the case, at any rate, in countries with established democracies. In Thailand, however, too many aspiring politicians go looking for “shortcuts”. Rather than learning the system from the bottom up, they spend part of their wealth setting up personal parties or building inner factions. As a result, they lack the qualities required for good politicians – those who are willing to serve the people with honesty and integrity.

It is not that wealthy political novices necessarily turn into bad politicians. Instead, they lack the good qualities of seasoned politicians that require years to accumulate and cannot be claimed just because they found a party or call themselves politicians.

We need more politicians whose wish is only to serve the country and the people, who plot their career advancement in terms of the benefits that the public will derive from the laws and projects they propose. Politicians needn’t be rich to begin with and must not become rich (or richer) while in office. They are entitled only to the salary and other forms of remuneration they deserve. And they must not gain personal wealth dishonestly by taking advantage of their status, as lawmakers or members of government.

Thailand can boast a handful of these “ideal” politicians. They are a rare species here. We need more of them, and urgently. It doesn’t matter if they come from a wealthy family or a poor one, from the corporate world or academia, from a conservative or a liberal background. It is these people who will enable the country to progress, proudly and with grace, and not the aspiring politicians with their hidden agendas.