Thu, June 30, 2022

perspective

Money politics in Parliament? It’s business as usual for Thailand


Rumours that several small parties are accepting bribes from political big shots in exchange for their support in the upcoming censure debate are spreading through the media. However, this is merely business as usual for Thai politics.

Talk of politicians receiving or giving cash and other benefits has been a feature of our political scene for decades and is one of the reasons we have so many military coups. It seems that politicians never pause to consider the consequences of their own corruption. Meanwhile they are always quick to condemn the military for seizing their legitimate power and nullifying democratic governance.

Of course, we cannot be sure whether the latest rumours are true or just a hoax designed to discredit those in power, including the leaders of the accused small parties. However, people from all walks of life seem confident of their veracity, no doubt influenced by Thailand’s long history of political bribery and “rewards”.  

Personally, I am sceptical of rumours that as much as 30 million baht is changing hands in sleazy deals aimed at manipulating the no-confidence vote against PM Prayut Chan-o-cha and his ministers. The government still holds a majority in Parliament and I doubt that coalition parties will vote with the opposition in sufficient numbers to unseat the PM and his men. While the negotiating power of small coalition parties might be strong, they do not have enough momentum to cause serious turbulence in the governing body.

Politicians, as part of their role, make contact with each other for various reasons. So, even if a government minister did attend a lunch meeting with the small parties’ leaders, there is no guarantee that a deal on voting in the censure debate was reached or even discussed. It might be the case that the small parties simply wanted to flatter the government’s leadership and display their continuing loyalty and support. It could be as simple as that! 

We have to keep in mind that the current government’s tenure is coming to an end and a general election is looming on the horizon. And chances are high that these small parties will be wiped out in the coming election. Newly drafted amendments to the Constitution and related organic laws will change the election formula used to calculate the number of MP seats. We will no longer count every vote, meaning politicians from small parties will be in a very difficult situation at the next national polls. As a result, their priority now is to find ways to survive, rather than seeking backroom deals as the rumours would have it.

However, never rule out politicians’ capacity for untrustworthiness. Money politics has plagued Thailand for some time. The military knows this well each time it decides to stage a coup. Thais might be fed up with the constitution being ripped up time and time again, but the military is not solely to blame. Whenever they come to power, Thai politicians fail to learn from past lessons and work for their own benefits rather than the good of the majority.

Politicians are now looking ahead to the next election, due in less than a year, and obsessively planning how they can retain their seats. 

The so-called “quid pro quo” method will be attractive to those eager to remain in power as well as those seeking power.

Many observers say the current Constitution is to blame for the occasional bouts of chaos afflicting Thai politics. As a commissioner and spokesman of the Constitution Drafting Committee, I can confirm that in drafting the supreme law we knew we had to listen to all stakeholders, including politicians and the citizenry. Hence, the details of the Constitution came out of the opinions, criticism and evaluation offered by groups across the whole of Thai society. This might not be the best Constitution ever written but through it we tried to make our country a better place via reform.

For instance, Article 235 clearly states that “those who violate ethical standards and become involved in corrupt practices shall have their rights to stand for election revoked”. In other words, their opportunity to run for election will be terminated for life. For politicians accustomed to the old ways of climbing the ladder of power, this seemed to be a very harsh measure indeed. 

If the rumours cited above are true or substantiated in any way, those found to be involved in selling or buying votes in any circumstances will pay a very high price for their misconduct. Unfortunately, our system still needs a whistle-blower daring enough to make a legal complaint so that the court can have the final say. In reality, bribe-takers and receivers are always satisfied with their “agreements”, meaning it is very difficult to find anyone willing to come forward and blow the whistle. We have to wait and see if the rumours are true, or else check the result of censure debate to see how many votes are cast for and against the government. Only time will tell.

 

By Amorn Wanichwiwatana
Political scientist at Chulalongkorn University
The Nation columnist

Published : May 14, 2022

By : THE NATION