It's time our lawmakers stopped passing the buck and began taking responsibility for their actions
Chung Hong-won resigned from his post as South Korea’s prime minister on Sunday, taking responsibility for the slow initial response to the Sewol ferry disaster which ended in the loss of more than 300 lives.
His action was deemed normal in countries where ruling politicians and officials are held to high standards. But in countries like Thailand, the news came as a surprise, and the Korean leader’s decision was viewed by many as irrational.
Why would a leading politician take responsibility for a wrongdoing he did not commit? Why was the prime minister expected to resign over a tragedy that wasn’t his fault?
Were he in an equivalent post in Thailand, Chung would simply have offered a nicely worded apology and been praised for it. But the South Korean premier chose to go much further. As second-most senior figure in government after President Park Geun-hye, Chung felt accountable.
“As I saw grieving families suffering with the pain of losing their loved ones and the sadness and resentment of the public, I thought I should take all responsibility as prime minister,” he explained.
“I would like to apologise for the mishandling of a slew of problems, from preventive measures before the accident to the government’s initial response and follow-up steps over the accident.”
Such a sense of accountability is a key requirement in a good leader.
In Thailand, however, few lawmakers take the concept of “political responsibility” seriously. Rather than owning up to their faults or wrongdoings, they tend to shift the blame onto others. Cornered by the courts or independent watchdogs, they come out fighting, accusing the judges of bias or of being politically motivated. Indeed, why show accountability or remorse for actions that damage the lives of millions when politics is a self-serving game of survival?
Caretaker Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra recently urged the Constitutional Court to rule with fairness over her alleged malfeasance in the removal of National Security Council chief Thawil Pliensri. She asked for the same from the Anti-Corruption Commission as it considers whether she is guilty of condoning corruption in connection with the government’s graft-plagued rice price-pledging scheme.
How would people ordinarily react to defendants asking the court to ensure that it judges their case fairly? If the defendant is sure of his innocence, he should produce the evidence and wait for justice to be served. And, whether or not he agrees with the final verdict, he must accept it. That is the nature of justice.
We Thais do not expect our politicians to follow the example of South Korea’s prime minister. We do not expect our lawmakers to take responsibility for the carelessness or wrongdoing of others. We would be satisfied if they merely took responsibility for their own negligence or abuse of power – or, at the very least, showed some remorse.
If more of our politicians did so, Thailand would be a better place in which to live. Higher standards of accountability in politics would lead to a decline of conflict and violence.