AFTER looking at the Election Commission (EC)'s proposals for electoral reform, I wonder if the commission's way of thinking might end up being problematic and whether it will pose an obstruction to democracy.
Several suggestions offered by EC officials show that the agency might be pretending to know more than it actually does.
The proposal that has received the strongest blast is for a change in the constituency election system from a single MPs to multiple MPs per constituency.
This nitty-gritty issue has been debated at length since 1997. Even though the 2007 Constitution opted for a three-MPs-per-constituency system, every political party and democracy advocate agrees that the most suitable system for the country is the single-MP per constituency, which enables election officials to draw a smaller electoral area.
The reason is that with a large electoral area, parliamentary candidates with more money have more opportunities to win. Candidates have to spend millions of baht to campaign effectively in a large constituency. It is almost impossible for a candidate to connect with all electors in a large constituency – so he or she has to seek help from canvassers to woo votes.
It is common that canvassers tend to help the candidate who gives them more money. As long as election officials close their eyes and ears to this fundamental truth, elections can never be an instrument to make democracy flourish – but merely a tool for “money politics” to thrive.
The EC’s claim that its proposal helps ensure a free and fair election is without basis in reason or fact.
The proposal attacked by politicians as making EC officials “look like amateurs” is the one that would limit MPs to two consecutive four-year terms. Critics wonder on what grounds the EC has come up with such an absurd proposal.
Although limiting terms would help prevent politicians from becoming power-drunk and clinging to office, this rule is applied only to officials in the executive branch, and not MPs, who are direct representatives of the people. The EC should have realised that not all MPs belong to the government camp. Many must carry out the government-checking role in the opposition camp.
The EC appears naive with its autocratic proposal to make it more difficult to set up a political party that is easier to disband. To strengthen democracy is to make it easy to establish a party.
The EC has proposed that registering a new party should require 5,000 members and a set-up of four provincial branches, whereas earlier only 15 people could register a new party and provincial branches could be set up later, within the next 180 days.
On the other hand, the agency can dissolve any party if it fails to submit meeting reports regularly.
The proposal to empower the EC to be solely responsible for scheduling an election date is seen as an attempt to flex its authoritarian muscles. Such a move would present an obstacle to democracy if the EC is not politically neutral and defers an election in favour of a particular political camp.
What is perceived as even more detrimental to democracy is the proposal to allow the EC to decide which populist policies would cause damage to the country.
The people’s power would be stolen in broad daylight if this were allowed.
The people must be given a chance to learn through a democratic process what policies are truly beneficial to them and whether or not they are sustainable in the long term.
To prevent loss or damage incurred from policy corruption, the EC should come up with a strong checking mechanism, and not abort unborn policies designed by politicians.
To sum up, I wonder if the EC is working along democratic principles or if it is pulling the country back.