End the local leader mafia
The National Reform Steering Committee (NRSA) has for the first time in years come out with an issue where it has broad-based support from academics, politicians and the general public.
The decision by the NRSA involves a bill on local administration reform which would cut short the term of local kamnans and village heads. At the moment they can stay on until retirement at 60 years of age. Under the plan they would be elected and serve a 5-year term. The proposal sailed through by 91:27 votes, with 32 abstaining.
The bill, which has drawn fierce opposition from the local leaders, will be moved to cabinet for approval before being sent to the National Legislative Assembly. The bill would once and for all put an end to what has been called the "generational politicians" of local communities.
Up until now the Interior Ministry has conducted performance reviews of these village heads and kamnans once every five years, which moves to three years under the NRSA proposal. While some advocates of the status quo claim that kamnans and village heads have lost their jobs as a result of these evaluations, so proving the transparency of the system, in truth the number who have lost their jobs this way amounts to barely 2% of the national total, which is hardly a recommendation.
On the contrary these village heads and kamnans have become powerful enough to get their way by aligning themselves with politicians and determining the way the people in their community vote in general or local elections. It's known that most, if not all, local heads have been spending millions of baht to get elected each time there is a vacancy in the hope they would be able to build a powerbase that would be passed on from one generation to another.
The power of these people is so strong that a threat of protest issued by Yongyos Kaewkiew, chairman of the Village Chiefs and Kamnans Association of Thailand, was enough to spook a military man like Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, who came out to say no final decision had been made on the NRSA's proposals.
The NRSA's move to curtail the power of the village heads and kamnans is not new. Previous governments have tried to change the rules and some were successful. In the 1970s, a lifetime term was reduced to retirement at the age of 60, then in the 1990s it was reduced to a 5-year term but the military coup of 2006 brought back the 60-year retirement age to please the local leaders. The Pheu Thai Party then tried to cut their term to five years while the Democrat Party wanted to get rid of the archaic system altogether, which was first put in place in 1897. But all these plans were shelved amid opposition by these local leaders and possibly due to the impact they would have on voter support bases if such rules managed to pass any of these elected governments.
It is therefore important that the military government, which has no such baggage to worry about, takes up the duty to implement these measures that would benefit the country in the long run. The government of Gen Prayut would do a great deed for the nation by eliminating the mafia-style influence that these village heads and kamnans have wielded for decades.
But the bill, if passed into law, is just a start. As we know, the patronage-client system is a real problem in this country. If it continues, bad but influential leaders can still make a comeback through the election system. The government must find a way to eradicate the patronage system. This can be achieved through political education, with an empowerment process, that enables grassroots people to bargain with local leaders.
Bangkok Post editorial column
These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.
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