Not just ‘anyone’ will do
Once the votes are counted and alliances must be formed, political parties will again be wearing price tags
Unsettling signs are gathering ahead of the election scheduled for February, the latest arising from apparent Chart Pattana Party rhetoric – its executives, clustered in front of a banner that read “No Problem”, said they could “work with anyone” in the future. They want to restore national harmony, they said, and that means getting rid of all “political colours”.
Coming as it did from, among others, Jatuporn Prompan – who led a violence-plagued protest in downtown Bangkok eight years ago – voters might be forgiven for not taking Chart Pattana at its literal word. If this was mere rhetoric, the party’s underlying message is that it prefers to sit on the fence for now and will choose which side to support – which political colour to adopt – only after the election.
It’s a common strategy in parliamentary politics to remain aloof from alliances as long as practical in order to gain leverage down the road. Unfortunately, this tactic of displaying malleable principles in the hope of becoming part of the government at any cost is harmful to the country, even if individual politicians and parties might gain substantially. The unabashed wink from Chart Pattana is among several signals indicating that Thai politics will remain stuck in a dead-end for the foreseeable future. There is even the possibility of all the deplorable practices of the past coming to a head after the vote.
Political horse-trading might be tolerable if it ensured that qualified people ended up in the top government posts. In the Thai experience, though, each new government rewards parties and factions for their support by allocating them these posts, and it matters little which individual is being nominated. Now too we have one major party opening “branch” parties and new parties emerging, adding to the crowded field of smaller parties. The competition suggests we have ample cause to fear the worst.
If retired General Prayut Chan-o-cha decides he does after all want another turn as premier, as widely expected, he will almost certainly need the support of “lesser” parties. As for his main rival, unless the Pheu Thai Party wins the election in a landslide and can thus form a government by itself, it too is going to need an alliance. Let the horse-trading begin.
Repeated failure to put the right man in the right job has long plagued Thai democracy. Powerful ministerial positions routinely go to the unqualified nominees of allied factions and parties that must be rewarded or pacified. To get in line for the goodies, the lesser parties have throughout our modern political history made themselves available for the highest bid.
Poor Cabinet picks exacerbate existing problems, the most egregious example being at the Education Ministry. A better education system is what Thailand needs most, above all else, and yet the portfolio overseeing it has often gone to people without the capability to make a difference. Other ministries – Agriculture, Interior, Science and Justice – have fallen foul of the same mismanagement, leading to corruption and other scandals.
Chart Pattana’s stated readiness to “work with anyone” suggests neither cheery neighbourliness nor sincere interest in reconciliation. Citizens cannot benefit and the country cannot progress with merely “anyone” in charge of essential services. For a change, let’s make sure all the horses traded are thoroughbreds.