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Reform is not a 'top-down' affair

It's all about love, compassion, understanding and clear conscience - and it starts from the bottom

Everyone is talking about "reform" as if it is totally up to Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha, or the National Council for Peace and Order, or the interim Parliament. Truth is, none of them can deliver genuine reform unless a mental change happens on a massive, national scale. Critics are necessary. Freedom of expression is necessary. But equally - if not more - necessary for Thailand is a reversal of the long-held belief that changes must only happen from the top down.

Ironically, even the staunchest critics of Prayuth, who now will double as prime minister, and his coup are harbouring the top-down mentality, albeit without knowing it. They give his every move too much importance and scrutinise every detail. When the interim Parliament is formed and flooded with those connected to the military, the critics say reform will fail. When the coup-makers clamped down hard on media freedom, many people said "We told you so" and gave reform no chance.

Whether positive reforms are enacted depends on whether all the good ideas can really become good deeds. Anyone can call for reform. Anyone can even have great ideas on how to improve the country's politics, society, economy and justice system, but reform's trickiest part is that a million good ideas will never work if we wait for the others to do it. Effective reform must start from "within", pure and simple.

Are you ready to tell the traffic police to "Give me the ticket" and go pay the fine as you are supposed to? Will you take taxis to pubs rather than driving there? Will parents stop paying extras to prestigious schools and give all kids fair play? Will stockholders stop using nominees? The list of questions go on and on.

Prayuth can steer the drafting of a new Thai Constitution. We will have a new set of rules. That doesn't mean "reform" imminent, though, as long as those decrying the "military domination" of the whole process won't do more than complaining. "Political reform" is difficult, because it involves a lot of vested interests, not to mention clashing "ideologies". But "genuine reform", which Thailand truly needs, is simple, as it's all about love, compassion, understanding and clear conscience. The best part is it can begin from the bottom up.

Prayuth is in a strong position to lead, but he is just one man and the interim Parliament is just a group of people who may or may not have some good ideas.

There is no better place to see the complexities facing his reform agenda than the ASTV website. The head of the National Council for Peace and Order, after overthrowing a divisive regime, is becoming a divisive figure himself. Some people have hailed him for establishing some kind of peace, so far a temporary one at best, while others are losing patience and beginning to doubt his measures to date.

Rhetoric won't help create true reform. Action will. And it must be action of people at the base of the pyramid. Of course, for good changes to happen, good examples must be set at the top, but if we stop to think, we will see that a lot of our "big-picture" problems stemmed from the tendency to give the traffic police a couple hundred baht, pay schools special money and do whatever it takes to pay two thousand baht less taxes. A collective national conscience needs to be changed, which is why reform must be at least a two-way process, if not something that starts right from the bottom.


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