Cases for and against ‘national government’

opinion May 16, 2018 01:00

By Tulsathit Taptim
The Nation

Things that are good are not necessarily feasible, especially in politics. This may apply to the prospective “national government”, which has been mooted amidst all the doom and gloom concerning the next general election. There are negatives associated with the idea, but the biggest one has to do with what has been happening, and will happen, otherwise anyway.

So, my list of pros and cons of a “national government” will start with that.

There will be no checks and balances. When a country has a “national government”, there will be no parliamentary opposition. Many consider this a major flaw of the idea, although they may have overlooked the fact that genuine checks and balances had never been efficient in the Thai system anyway. Granted, a “national government” would not have to endure a no-confidence debate, but if our censure debate had really constituted checks and balances, would we have ended up here to begin with?

There will not be blood. When Thailand is concerned, a national government would include the much-maligned military, the much-maligned Democrats and the much-maligned Pheu Thai Party. In other words, no much-maligned people would be left on the opposite side.

There would be no massive street protests and nobody would attempt to bomb them.

There are merits in “keeping the enemy closer”. That there would be no opposition doesn’t really mean there would be no leaks on corruption. When “enemies” work closely together, they tend to keep their eyes on one another, out of jealousy or whatever. Of course, there would be no parliamentary opposition to follow up on valuable leaks, but we have social media, don’t we?

We may at long last be able to put the right men in the right jobs. The winner-takes-all system is flawed democracy. Ask the Americans. You deserve good rulers, not election winners. It’s as simple as that. A national government could provide a better pool of capable human resources. For example, if Pheu Thai is good at handling healthcare, let it do it. The same goes for the Democrats’ better records on, say, education.

But enemies are not supposed to work together as their conflicts could drag down the entire executive apparatus. All Thais are familiar with a children’s tale about how unified sparrows trapped under a hunter’s net managed to survive by lifting it through harmonious takeoff attempts, and how disunited sparrows are doomed under a similar trap. Will the military, Democrats and Pheu Thai be unified sparrows?

And the brave new world requires more political unity than ever. If the military controls the Interior Ministry; Pheu Thai the Public Health Ministry and the Labour Ministry; and the Democrats the Education Ministry and the Science Ministry, what would the implementation of, say, a policy to deal with our ageing society be like? Issues such as ageing or digital learning need government agencies to work like one.

There are such things as constructive rivalry, though. You are at your best when your opponent breathes down your neck. Or it can be said that instead of making a man reputed for mocking the law justice minister, a political party may at long last try someone with real integrity, just to look good when compared with rivals.

If it doesn’t work, it’s tantamount to sweeping everything under the carpet. Allowing problems or conflicts to remain and fester will only make their imminent explosion stronger.

At least that’s what many opposed to the national government idea think. Will a national government make the yellow-red divide go away? Not many people are confident that it will.

New charter?

What’s next if it works? This will be a big headache. Thailand’s constitutions, whether written by elected representatives, military nominees with good intentions, or “dictators in disguise”, all support the “winner-takes-all” system, in which election losers go straight to the opposition bloc no matter how better they may have been on certain administrative issues or how narrow the margins of their defeats are. If the “national government” system worked, would that require a rethink on a national scale – in other words, a new charter?

Coke and Pepsi are the same. Flawed democracy gives advertising more importance than it deserves, meaning “similar products” rely on quality of advertising rather than quality of action. This has made political parties, in Thailand at least, more alike than they care to admit. They all depend on propaganda, nepotism and the excuse of “conspiracy!” when accused of corruption. A national government would not effectively take care of those flaws, but it could turn the similarities into something worthwhile rather than destructive.

What do we need the election for, then? Exactly. This is a very strong argument against the idea of a national government. Although the fact that an argument is strong does not necessarily mean that it’s foolproof. That’s my two cents on the procs and cons. A national government could be a solution for, or a main cause of, future trouble. It depends on your perspective.