The Nation


burning issue

Political crisis shows Kingdom badly needs reforms

Though the political situation appears to have eased somewhat, the actual conflict remains unsettled. Fortunately, the point where confrontation could lead to violence has passed.

Protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban set his first deadline for the government on November 11. That was the day when the International Court of Justice passed a verdict on a disputed piece of land near Preah Vihear Temple. Many observers feared that nationalistic fervour coupled with widespread outrage over the government-backed blanket amnesty bill would give rise to clashes. Luckily, nothing happened because the court ruling did not favour either Thailand or Cambodia.

On November 24, a large mass of people - powerful in numbers - gathered peacefully around Democracy Monument on Rajdamnoen Avenue and adjacent roads.

Then on Tuesday, the government unexpectedly opened the gates of Government House and the Metropolitan Police Bureau to let the protesters in. This "truce" - whatever its reason - did not result in any confrontation or loss of life. The protesters peacefully walked in, stayed briefly and left. The People's Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) declared victory.

Now, what Suthep and the PDRC do next to achieve their goal of "uprooting the Thaksin regime" remains to be seen. They have already besieged many government offices, including the Finance Ministry and the Government Complex.

As the government offers talks to settle differences, Suthep has started unveiling a "blueprint" for a "people's council" if the prime minister and her Cabinet quit, leaving a political vacuum. According to Suthep, a people's council can be formed under Articles 3 and 7 of the Constitution.

Article 3 states: "The sovereign power belongs to the Thai people. The King as head of state shall exercise such power through the National Assembly, the Council of Ministers and the Courts in accordance with the provisions of this Constitution."

Article 7 says: "When no provision under this Constitution is applicable to any case, it shall be decided in accordance with the constitutional practice in the democratic regime of government with the King as head of state."

Suthep has come under much criticism for this "undemocratic" plan, but the one good thing that his supporters' month-long protest has shown is that Thailand is in dire need for national reform.

Ideas for reform were floated earlier, but they failed to gain much interest. A committee comprised of respected figures like Anand Panyarachun and Prawase Wasi had been set up under the previous government in the wake of the 2010 unrest, and it came up with many proposals.

Today, with so many political conflicts, it appears that the general public is aware of the need for national reform, even though many corrupt politicians might disagree. Reform is not just required in the political field, but should also cover areas like education, bureaucracy, police and the justice system. Without proper reform, Thailand would continue being caught in a vicious cycle of conflicts.

Now the question is how to materialise national reform in Thailand?

The PDRC wants to set up a people's council that can oversee these reforms. However, the government maintains that this is beyond "legal bounds and, hence impractical".

Obviously, it is not likely that either side will completely accept the other side's stance, so perhaps for the sake of the country, they should come to a compromise or choose a "middle path".

What might be even better is if they turn this crisis into an opportunity to turn over a new leaf and come up with something that benefits all citizens and not just a few groups of people.

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