The Nation



Surin's 'reform' talks do have a point

But association with Democrats will overshadow proposals

Take away his Democrat hat, and former Asean secretary-general Surin Pitsuwan can be a genuine reformist. His analysis of the Thai crisis has been spot-on, but his political affiliations could mean his proposals may not go far. Acceptable to both sides of the polarity must be his conclusion that Thailand's political strife has been undermining the country's competitiveness - but the agreement ends right there.

The rest of his idea favours one side more than the other. In a TV interview, he cautioned that there is a fine line between democracy and majoritarianism. The latter asserts that a majority of the population has the right to make decisions that affect the society.

Thailand, he said, has embraced the latter to the extreme, leading to some questionable exercises of "mandate". Critics of the "Thaksin system" must agree with Surin, whereas democracy idealists must be frowning. He was more or less echoing what anti-government leader Suthep Thaugsuban had been preaching.

Is Surin slamming overuse of mandate because his party doesn't have it? The question, while tempting, is not as important as whether what he said is true and whether now is the time to make things right. Election "mandate" has been overriding much in the political system, as seen particularly in the manner in which the House of Representatives rammed the controversial amnesty bill through. Should the scope of democratic mandate be redrawn?

That question should be addressed not because the Pheu Thai Party is in power and is deeply associated with Thaksin Shinawatra, but because, as Surin said, Thailand is stuck in a vicious circle. If majority control of Parliament is considered a licence to do anything or a lucrative "concession", elections will not be fought for the people's wellbeing but more and more for vested interests. And when vested interests overtake the people's wellbeing in politics, corruption will prevail.

Surin's second point is that the country's bureaucracy needs a major revamp as well. The seemingly idealistic idea of giving elected politicians absolute control of bureaucratic transfers, appointments and promotions has bred nepotism, which leads to inefficiency. Thailand's technocrats and bureaucrats are among the world's most incompetent, he said. "You can spot them easily at international conferences, because they are the ones who just sit there and say nothing," he quipped.

His third point is land reform, something most politicians promised but have been unable to deliver. In Thailand, the powers-that-be and landlords are the same group, meaning genuine land redistribution has been just a pipe dream. The land issue is a root cause of poverty, and unless real efforts are made to tackle it, the main source of political strife will always remain.

To dissociate corruption from democracy is easier said than done. Loopholes will always be there, because it's in everyone's nature to take advantage of the system he or she is in. But years of political misery have cried out for a real change, a new beginning that will benefit no politicians, be it Pheu Thai or its rivals, and take into full account the people's best interests.

The hardest part is forgetting who makes the valuable proposals and embracing them without bias. Democracy is, of course, primarily about what the people need, but it is also about what politicians cannot have. The lines have been blurred over the years and one problem has led to another. Only through redrawing them without bias can Thais move forward together.

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