The Economist's March 1 edition features an article on what has gone wrong with democracy in the world, which raises issues relevant to Thailand. To summarise, a democracy must encompass the following characteristics:
_ Avoid the pitfalls of majoritarianism – the misconception that winning an election entitles the majority to do whatever it pleases. In short, the power of the state needs to be kept in check while freedom of speech and to organise must be guaranteed.
_ Robust constitutions to provide a safeguard against abuse of power and corruption. A built-in checks-and-balances mechanism is as vital to a healthy democracy as the right to vote.
_ Reform of party financing that requires disclosure of the names of political donors so as to counter money politics and help reduce the influence of special interests.
_ The most effective way to constrain power of special interests is to limit the number and scope of subsidies through populist policies that the state or political parties vying for power can hand out. That is, the key to a healthy democracy is a smaller and less powerful state or a limited government. An increase of government power is typically followed by reduction of civil liberties and the relinquishing of power to vested interests.
_ State power can be reined in by self-restraint, such as by adopting tight fiscal rules, or establishing independent commissions to counteract the short-term tendencies of populist policies.
Thailand would do well to adopt or rigorously enforce the above practices if we wish to see a healthier democracy take root. Contrary to the demands of the vested interests, such built-in checks and balances should be promoted, not curtailed.