The Nation



Is transparent, graft-free politics too much to ask?

Protesters from all walks of life are united by the desire to stamp out corruption in power - and it's achievable

The size of Monday's march to Government House was widely reckoned to be even larger than the Democracy Monument protest on November 24.

Protests of this size in the capital are rare, if not unprecedented.

It was impossible to calculate the exact number who marched peacefully along Bangkok streets on Monday to express their dissatisfaction with a government and political system rife with corruption. Estimates ranged from the authorities' claim of less than 100,000 to protester organisers' boast of more than 2 million.

But the exact number of protesters mattered less than their reason for their decision to march. Why did so many educated, law-abiding citizens answer the call made by Suthep Thaugsuban, who has been charged with insurrection? The demands made by Suthep and his People's Democratic Reform Committee for serious and sincere political change in Thailand have struck a chord with many - despite his push for a "people's revolution" being against the law.

Certainly, people took to the streets on Monday for a variety of reasons. A major one was frustration with the government's abuse of power amid a political system in which corruption is endemic. These people are fed up with politicians buying their way to power and abusing the resulting mandate for their own benefit. They are demanding reforms that will clean the system of graft and impunity.

For many, the government-backed bill for a blanket amnesty was the final straw. It destroyed their last remaining trust in the MPs who backed a law that would absolve any politician convicted of corruption and serious crimes such as murder and arson, retroactive to 2004.

The calls for political reform are growing, fed by years of accumulated discontent with a corruption-plagued system and widespread distrust of elected officials concerned with their own parties and networks rather than the public interest.

A familiar line of defence for supporters of corrupt politicians is that every Thai government is graft-ridden - or at least contains some crooked members. Wouldn't it thus be a good idea to eradicate corrupt individuals from Thai politics? Keeping such individuals out of power would save huge amounts of taxpayer's money and improve the country's competitiveness in many ways. Thailand is ranked 102nd of 177 countries in this year's Corruption Perceptions Index, down from 88th last year.

Politicians, their supporters and sympathisers should learn to listen to this "people's power" instead of attempting to discredit or belittle the movement. They should be aware that this is a force that deserves to be heeded in our democratic system.

To achieve "true democracy", mere voting is not enough. The political system also needs transparency. Many of our politicians see their election to office as a licence to fatten their bank accounts with state funds and projects. Ordinary citizens should thus be more willing to blow the whistle against corruption and abuse of power. Meanwhile, the existing anti-graft watchdogs and check-and-balance mechanisms should be allowed to function independently without political meddling.

If their desire to see a better Thailand is genuine, politicians must allow a reform process to go ahead. There should be stronger legal mechanisms to enhance transparency in politics and to prevent any further attempts to weaken the check-and-balance system. With cooperation from all sides, keeping corrupt individuals out of politics is an achievable goal.

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