The Nation


Thai Talk

Reform: Separating political rhetoric from substance

Do we know how to go about "reforming" the country?

With all the heated rhetoric among the various parties in the ongoing political conflict, one might be led to assume that we as a nation aren't quite sure what the "reform agenda" is.

That's not the case at all.

The issue isn't about whether we know where we should be headed. The question is: Do the powers-that-be and the protesters and all those on the other side really want to embark on the road to reform?

It's not a question of whether we have done enough homework to draw up a roadmap for reform. It's all about the struggle for power of the various political groups that have put rhetoric before substance, heat before light and machination before transparency.

The comprehensive report titled "Thailand's Reform Road Map: Proposals for Political Parties and Eligible Voters" submitted by the National Reform Commission headed by former Premier Anand Punyarachun and Dr Prawase Wasi is just one of numerous independent studies carried out by non-partisan academics and practitioners.

The National Reform Commission (NRC) was officially appointed by one of the previous governments amid great hopes that the political leaders were serious about moving the country forward. The report, one of the most comprehensive proposals for national reform, has since been gathering dust on a shelf at Government House.

Another major study into national reconciliation and reform was completed by the Truth for Reconciliation Commission (TRC) headed by Dr Kanit na Nakhon, first appointed by the Abhisit government and later confirmed by the Yingluck administration. After two successive governments at opposing ends of the political spectrum publicly pledged their faith in this esteemed group, there should have been serious follow-up actions based on its recommendations. Again, their proposals have at best been given lip-service by the political leaders.

Now, a coalition of seven leading private business organisations has come up with a new "Road Map for National Reform" that spells out a clear process for "sustainable betterment of the country".

For the first time, the private sector has discarded its longstanding position of avoiding commenting on political issues for fear of reprisals. Now, business leaders have proposed the launch of a national reform body before the February 2 election - through an executive decree. They want the resulting non-partisan body to propose a "reform agenda" that will become a top priority of the new government, which should be in office for no more than one year to implement the reforms.

The private sector coalition is bold in this rare call for action: The proposed body must not be under any political party or be subject to interference by politicians. The proposed rules and regulations should be acceptable to all parties, be fair and maintain a balance of power, with emphasis on eliminating corruption and unfair behaviour, while ensuring justice and equality.

If you compare the reports from the NRC and TRC with the private sector coalition's suggestions, the direction and theme are more or less the same. December 22's unprecedented turnout of protesters underlined the Thai people's determination to embark on the long-delayed and badly needed reform process.

We all know what changes must take place. It's not a question of whether elections are more or less important than reform. It boils down to how politicians on both sides can prove to the people that they are serious about reform, instead of adding fuel to the fire of divisiveness by pitting election against reform.

The issue today isn't a choice between reform and election. The public, regardless of "colour" and party affiliations, has made clear its demand for reforms to all aspects of society, including the ground rules

for electoral democracy.

The issue is not whether we want reform and an election. The real

question is whether politicians really want reforms which, if carried out, would put a large number of them out of the game. That's probably the main reason why the turmoil stubbornly refuses to go away.

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