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House budget session can't replace real censure debate

The government and the opposition have disappointed us almost equally. They have delivered threats to get down to the roots of the national problems and have backed off almost instantly.

The ruling Pheu Thai Party convinced a lot of people that it was going to amend the Constitution to make it more "democratic" so that we could get back to the real path of political reform. Then it proposed the national reconciliation bill, which it said would put the country back on the road to normality - and that we would love one another once again.

"Democracy" and "reconciliation" are naturally our top priorities, whether or not the two legislative moves will actually enable us to realise these goals. But even if the moves are controversial, the government shouldn't have back-pedalled on the grounds that the proposals could spark a new round of political confrontation. It should have put them up for genuine public debate so that the people could hear the real pros and cons.

Now that the government has shelved both pieces of legislation, we will never know whose arguments were worthy of more attention.

The opposition Democrat Party, seeming to have at least held off the Pheu Thai offensive on this front, has gone on to threaten a censure debate against Premier Yingluck Shinawatra. That, at least, could bring about a debate on all the issues that have, in one way or the other, affected the public.

The premier has even responded by confirming that she is ready for the political assault and that she doesn't need any help from her MPs in the House.

With that statement, we thought, at least a real debate was in the making - and the issues of "democracy" and "national reconciliation" would be put back in the spotlight once again.

Unfortunately, it wasn't to be. The Democrats, after their song-and-dance show, beat a retreat. The no-confidence debate, they said, will be postponed until the end of the year. They will instead concentrate on putting questions to the government over the Budget Bill for 2013.

Unless the Democrats have managed to thoroughly confuse themselves over their political priorities, they must realise that a censure motion and a routine budget debate aren't exactly the same thing.

A no-confidence debate concentrates on the evaluation of performance of either the prime minister herself or her Cabinet as a whole. The public expects the opposition to dig deep into what's wrong with the government and to come up with a definite scorecard.

The budget debate is a different story. MPs on both sides of the fence will deliver their routine rhetoric for their own constituencies, hoping to have a say in the budget's allocation.

In a censure debate, the public gets to decide whether the opposition is an effective check-and-balance mechanism. In House budget speeches, politicians are more concerned about whether their constituencies will get a fair share of the nation's tax money.

After a year in office, the Yingluck government is due for a real, professional evaluation in all aspects. Major issues affecting the country's direction for the next few years need to be dissected and analysed.

Where and how the government has lived up to its promises or failed to impress must generate sufficient questioning to ensure full accountability and transparency.

The government insists it is ready and prepared for tough grilling. The opposition claims it knows where the premier has failed miserably.

What's delaying Pheu Thai's "reconciliation" move? What's holding back the no-confidence debate?

A live-and-let-live policy on both sides underscores the fact that the government and the opposition are just playing their survival games rather than tackling the real issues of the day.

They both claim they are fulfilling their duty as the people's representatives. In fact, they are just muddling through by playing games, at their own pace, and concentrating on what's best for them, not what the public expects of them.


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