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NCPO facing litmus test of its political will

The National Legislative Assembly (NLA) appointed by the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) isn't supposed to be a democratic body. It is meant to pass laws considered vital to the powers-that-be. It doesn't pretend to represent the general public.

The irony is that if the NLA can pass a few crucial laws that one could never imagine under an elected House of Representatives, it could be seen to be more "representative of the public interest" than the previous Parliament.

Whichever way you look at it, an appointed legislative body, of course, can never claim to be really "representative" of the public will, but if politicians can't live up to the public's expectations, the upcoming Nation Reform Council (NRC) and the Constitution Drafting Committee may come under great pressure to "clean up politics" once and for all.

NCPO chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha suggested in his latest weekly TV appearance that what the NCPO is trying to achieve may prove to be more effective than actions taken by the "previous, democratic governments".

He probably wasn't trying to discredit the principle of democracy. But he apparently was arguing that so-called "democratic rule" in the past had plunged the country into serious conflicts with no built-in safety valve. He then said that something akin to "Thai-style democracy" may be more suitable for this country.

He didn't define what "Thai-style democracy" looks like. And his statement is bound to stir a new controversy over what democracy really means and how a coup can improve democracy.

But a thorough study of the interim Constitution will offer a clear view of what the NCPO thinks needs to be done to eradicate "money politics" once the roadmap hits the third stage, when a new general election is to be held and a popularly-elected government installed.

Article 35 of the provisional charter more or less specifies the framework of the permanent Constitution. And if the framework is adopted by the drafting committee, a large number of veteran politicians could be barred from running in any election in the future.

The salient clause declares that anybody found to have been deprived of his or her voting rights for one reason or another will be banned from politics for the rest of his or her life.

If those proposed "new rules of the game" should come to pass, the political landscape could undergo a major shake up. But there are doubts as to whether such a drastic change will ever take place in Thailand, where lobbying by vested interests will certainly intensify and the powers-that-be will have to strike a deal in a trade-off.

The fact that the NCPO approved the interim charter with that particular provision, however, underlines the fact that good intentions to get rid of dirty politics are there. What remains to be seen is whether there is genuine "political will" to push through real changes in the country's political circles.

The same can be said of reports that the NCPO is contemplating the introduction of the much-delayed and long overdue inheritance and land taxes to make sure that the well-off pay their dues to help reduce the income gap between rich and poor.

Such reports are welcome and are certainly being welcomed by the general public, but they are being taken with a good measure of cynicism.

Most Thais have yet to be convinced that this time around, real radical actions will be taken to move society forward. Some may even be ready to sacrifice a certain degree of liberty and freedom in exchange for "real changes".

How the second phase of the NCPO's roadmap is enforced will provide a clear answer to the crucial question of whether we will see real change.


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