Reform, the only way out of political conflict for Thailand'

opinion July 31, 2014 00:00

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In this concluding part of the speech by former deputy prime minister Surakiart Sathirathai at the international conference "Thailand is Back", co-organised by the Federation of Thai Industries and The Nation at Dusit Thani Hotel, Bangkok, on Tuesday, h

With Thailand back to business, there are still a number of tasks that have to be performed to ensure sustainability. The public and private sectors need to devise strategies and action plans to handle the decline in tourists and sluggish export growth. Relatively weak small and medium-sized enterprises need capital facilities and other assistance to enable them to benefit fully from the Asean Economic Community. Innovation is needed for Thai industrial production. Proper programmes to assist farmers, particularly rice farmers, have to be devised to provide them better income without excessive burden on the government budget. Income and job creation  programmes for the poor have to be created in ways that are sustainable.
With the rapidly changing regional and international economic landscape, Thai businesses need support from the government to open up new markets and seize new opportunities. But for this to happen during this “special situation” that we find ourselves in, it is absolutely necessary that both the government and the private sector join hands to lay down new approaches, to build good or special relationships with countries which are potential new markets. Relevant ministries and the private sector must examine both economic and political obstacles and potential in different markets and devise different strategies and approaches to each market. Strategies and approaches to build good and special relationships with the US, Latin American countries, Central and Eastern European and Central and Western Asian countries, and African countries which have purchasing power, must be carefully crafted, must be properly focused, and must vary, based on circumstances and the special characteristics of each country. We cannot rely just on being a part of multilateral processes.
This is the time when foreign policy, international economic policy, and the strength of the private sector have to work in tandem. The “special situation” we are in must be seized as an opportunity to reposition the country in order to enhance overall competitiveness and maximise benefits.
Political roadmap important
While the economic roadmap has been spelled out and is in the process of implementation, the political roadmap is indeed equally important, if not more so, as it will bring all sectors in Thailand to share in the future we want, a future that is sustainable. Political stability is a necessity for economic growth and prosperity.
 The 11 areas outlined by the Transitional Administration for reforms are therefore to be welcomed. Reform of the process of political participation, reforms for better checks and balances in government, strengthening of anti-corruption regulations, transparency in decision-making, and good governance in public and private sectors, all are critical for the success of a new Thailand. Reducing income disparity, reform of the justice system, decentralisation and wise use of resources in order not to destroy environment for the next generation are other important elements of reform. Therefore, the establishment of the National Reform Council to work on these issues will be the most significant undertaking facing a new Thailand in the months ahead.
It is an ambitious agenda. Not everything can be accomplished at once, or even in a short time span. Priorities therefore have to be set, consecutive  phases in implementation have to be outlined, and continuity of the reform processes will have to be guaranteed. The composition of the National Legislative Assembly, the Cabinet, the National Reform Council, and the Constitution Drafting Assembly will be crucial to sustaining the momentum of confidence in the political roadmap. Confidence is key to economic recovery and advancement. Thus far, the general public has drawn comfort from the abundance of good intentions shown by the interim administration. This popular support and confidence has to be constantly nurtured and maintained.
Building a sustainable democracy
We in Thailand are in transition from a dysfunctional democracy to a new and sustainable, deliverable democracy. A sustainable return to normalcy will require successful reforms. For the reform process to be successful, it would appear to me that the process must be inclusive and participatory, encompassing people from all parties to the conflict and those not party to the conflict. There must be constant dialogue and exchange of views until the agreed package of reforms can be adopted. The reforms must not be a victor’s  reforms; it has to create a sense of ownership for the people. Ownership can only be created when people can participate, not only in the National Reform Council, but through various mechanisms and forums to enable those outside the Assembly, all over the country, to have the space to discuss, debate and exchange views, to have their voices heard, and provide them with channels to make inputs to the reform council for deliberation. The efforts that the interim administration is making on reconciliation is therefore to be commended. It is a necessary precondition for setting the right atmosphere for dialogue. It is perhaps important to note that reconciliation and reforms are part and parcel of the same process. While reconciliation can lead to successful and acceptable reforms, a successful and acceptable reform will also lead to successful reconciliation. To me reconciliation does not mean that all must agree on everything. Reconciliation means that people can appreciate and accept differences and are able to live together in harmony under agreed rules. Diversity can bring strength. We must build a new Thailand with strength coming out of diversity.
We, in Thailand, have embarked on an ambitious but necessary undertaking that will have enormous consequences not only for the Thai people, but for all our friends and partners, and the wider region as a whole.
 In the aftermath of the international financial meltdown of 2008-09, the World Economic Forum issued a study in 2010 on the state of the world economy entitled, “Rethink, Redesign, Rebuild”. There was an opportunity to overhaul the world’s financial, trade and economic architecture in order to provide more equity, transparency and sustainability, and to lessen conflicts. As we all know, that window of opportunity, regrettably, was not fully utilised.
 For us here in Thailand, in the aftermath of a series of traumatic political conflicts, the battle cry is now “Reform, Reform, Reform.”
 The foreign business community should view Thailand’s reform agenda as a great opportunity to engage with us even more than before in order to bring about a strong Thailand with more economic opportunities for everyone. We should not let this opportunity pass us by. The head of the interim administration has indicated that well-intentioned proposals from foreign partners would be welcomed. 
The international business community and foreign countries can contribute to the economic and political reform process by sharing best practices, bringing in experts to provide new ideas and experiences in areas such as prevention of corruption, checks and balances, good governance, electoral reforms, and public participation. We need to learn and study the successes and failures in many countries, many corporations, and pick and choose what are suitable for Thailand. 
I am confident Thailand will emerge stronger, more resilient, more democratic, more content, with an open, vibrant and outward-looking society. But we will have to roll up our sleeves and get down to work. 
Challenges remain. We do not have the luxury of time; we must make the full and best use of the window of opportunity that has opened up before us. Each of us here today, in our own ways,  have talked the talk. Now, there is a clearer economic as well as political roadmap. 
We invite our friends to now walk together with us on this journey to a brighter future for all.