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Change we need, but will we get it?

As the national reform process gets underway, the challenge of transforming ideas into reality looms

The much-anticipated process of national reform has begun. The ruling junta yesterday set up committees to select members for the National Reform Council (NRC). Today legal entities all over the country will begin nominating their candidates.

Things have moved quickly since General Prayuth Chan-ocha, chief of the ruling National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), launched the process on Saturday with the "Roadmap for Thailand Reform" event, attended by representatives from many groups. Prayuth said the reforms are needed to solve the country's problems and allow it to move forward.

Opinion polls have already suggested overwhelming support for the process but, while many agree on the need for reform, the means of ensuring its success are in dispute. The ruling junta must start by making the process genuinely representative of the people, by giving a voice to different groups while at the same time ensuring that the NRC contains well-qualified people with strong ideas about reform. Although candidates are being nominated from around the country, the NCPO has the final say when it comes to appointing the 250 members. The danger is that the NRC will be dominated by the junta's own trusted military officers, thereby overshadowing the need for ideas to come from as many minds as possible.

Under the provisional charter, the NRC must "study and provide recommendation for reforms" in 11 areas, among them politics, administration of state affairs, the law and justice system, local administration, education, economy, energy, public health and environment, mass media and social issues. These cover most major national concerns.

It is unlikely that every element in society will be represented on the reform council, so the NRC should also take into account opinions from groups that are absent. This should even be the case for political groups that refuse to nominate representatives out of opposition to the NRC or the coup. These include the country's largest political parties, the Democrats and Pheu Thai.

Reform proposals from the NRC are to be included in a charter prepared by the Constitution Drafting Committee, which will be set up later. The interim government to be formed under the provisional charter also has the duty of "conducting reformation in all aspects", in addition to running the country and promoting national reconciliation. NCPO legal adviser Wissanu Krue-ngam says it will be the duty of the interim government and relevant state agencies to realise the reform proposals forged by the NRC.

Putting reform ideas into practice and enforcing the constitutional provisions on reform will be more difficult than coming up with the ideas. Certainly, some proposed changes will adversely affect certain groups, who could then attempt to block reform. If these people manage to get elected in the future, they might simply ignore any changes prescribed in the constitution, as politicians in power have done before.

Should there be some legal requirement that future governments must carry out reforms? The interim administration is unlikely to complete all the reforms during its tenure, which is expected to last a little over a year. Should the new constitution make it compulsory for future governments to conduct reforms in all 11 areas? And should it stipulate punishments for those who violate that imperative? These are just some of the questions that need to be answered in the coming months.

Meanwhile it will be everyone's duty to unite in pressuring those in power to complete reforms that are in the national interest - regardless of any reluctant, self-interested politicians.


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