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More provinces should have right to elect own governors

As much as Bangkok residents may relish the right to decide which Bangkok governor candidate to vote for early next month, the race has become a glaring reminder of inequality on at least two fronts. First, the absolute lack of a level playing field for most candidates and second, Bangkok's sense of exceptionalism - to elect its own governor unlike the rest of the country, which is now taken for granted.



With the Election Commission allowing a campaign budget of up to Bt49 million for the Bangkok poll, it virtually ensures that only the really rich or big-party-backed candidates have any chance of attracting the attention of voters and winning. It would take a minimum wage earner four decades to save Bt40 million.

Most of the mainstream media have also, whether intentionally or not, focused on the two big party hopefuls. They may argue that these two are the most likely to win, but in doing so, the rest have even dimmer chances of winning.

To make matters worse, Bangkok's four leading pollsters mostly focus on no more than three or four candidates, if not just two. Then you have the well-oiled political machinery of the two big parties, their leaders, provincial MPs and city councillors campaigning on their behalf.

This may make you wonder whether there is any point having independent candidates at all.

Those who may prefer independent candidates are confronted with the prospect of voting for someone who may never be able to muster enough votes to win, thus "wasting" their vote.

But if they don't vote for these independent candidates, the chance of having promising and qualified independents running in the next election will be even slimmer.

While Bangkok people toy with the idea of whom to elect, the rest of the country has to put up with appointed governors.

The system of appointed governors dates back to over a century ago when Bangkok centralised its power with a model "inspired" by colonial administrations in neighbouring countries under Western imperialists.

This outdated system has been maintained despite the fact that cities like Chiang Mai are much older than Bangkok and their people should have had the right to elect their own governor long ago.

An appointed governor cannot be expected to be as responsive as an elected governor, but due to the central government's wanting to maintain power, the provinces continue to be treated as if they're colonies of Bangkok.

Typical arguments for the continuation of this double standard range from distrust of provincial people's rational facilities and maturity to fear of secession.

Opponents of elected governors for the rest of the country claim godfather figures or drug barons would be elected if we allow local people to decide who should best serve as their governor. This sense of exceptionalism held by many Bangkok people is becoming increasingly conspicuous as residents in the capital go on electing their own governor time and again without any trouble.

Thailand as a whole would benefit if, for a start, large and well-established provinces and cities like Chiang Mai, Pattani and Khon Kaen could choose their own governor.

Alas no government over the years, including the current Yingluck Shinawatra administration, has been keen on pushing for this long-overdue decentralisation, as they want to keep power to themselves.

Each province has potential that could be unleashed with an elected governor willing to truly listen and serve the local people instead of the government in Bangkok. It takes a lot of ignorance and prejudice to continue to claim and justify that such a system should continue.

A true level playing field is needed in Thai politics and democracy. However, this can never be achieved if there is no recognition of such a need to begin with.




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