What kind of leaders should Thais have?

opinion April 16, 2018 01:00

Election has been wrongly and unfortunately focused

Ideology, if not properly promoted, can make a supposedly noble political exercise go astray. Such a danger is looming for the upcoming Thai election, where a divided nation is more preoccupied with partisanship and not the quality of leadership. In the country’s current circumstances, candidates are, and will be seen, through prejudiced eyes, thereby risking a return to Square One.

The Thai public have been acting for years like maniac sports fans. This has led to an unhealthy situation where the only thing that matters is “which side” the leader has come from. People are happy as long as “the goal” was scored by the team they cheer, in complete disregard to how the goal came about or where it leads. That is understandable and even acceptable for a sports fan, but in politics, it can have dire consequences.

As things stand, the next Thai election is about which side of the perceived ideological divide wins the election, not whether Thailand will get a leader with quality, who is willing to sacrifice for the country’s best interests and will be doing everything within his or her power to pull the nation out of a vicious circle and create a real democracy. The political optimism of one side has to do with whether a “military dictatorship” can be defeated, while the other camp will measure “success” on whether “proxies” of a certain political clan can be stopped.

Thailand, however, needs a leader who is somewhere in between. The country needs an elected leader who has a strong belief in democracy, including elections and other needed foundations like a strong checks and balances system. He or she must believe in the power of the ballot box, but “responsibility”,  not “entitlement”, must come first.

He or she must appoint an administrative team based on the country’s best interests, not his or her own vested interests. The education portfolio must be given the utmost importance, not dangled to pacify disappointed factions that view it as a “better than nothing” reward. The same goes for other ministries, which must be overseen by really qualified individuals, who don’t need to be “close” to the leader or have “strong political connections”.

He or she must not resort to proclaiming a “conspiracy” every time a scandal emerges to rock his or her administration. He or she must react to the slightest hint of a scandal in a way that maintains the government’s functionality and public trust. The next leader must punish, not side with corrupt teammates. Even when accusations are a long way from being ultimately proven, the leader must realise that trust comes not only from penalising wrongdoers, but also from dealing decisively with questions of nepotism.

He or she must create a government that would never compromise on these key principles in the future. Generous promises make it easy to put together a coalition, but those promises could come back to haunt the leader sooner or later. Such a coalition is easy to form, but it’s also easy to collapse. A coalition government with solid integrity is harder to build, but it can make the leader strong. Any leader trusted by the public will also reign over a unified and healthy government, which in turn will make democracy truly valuable and unassailable. The current political circumstances suggest such a leader is impossible, but no matter how ironic it may sound, we need him or her now – more than ever before.