Govt clings to local grip

Govt clings to local grip

Enthusiastic voters will head to poll stations nationwide tomorrow to choose chiefs and members of tambon administration organisations (TAO) after an almost eight-year political gap.

Across the country, there are 60,414 stations where voters will pick 5,172 chiefs and 55,197 members. It will be the first time the elections of TAO chiefs and members take place in all provinces on the same day. This peculiar situation resulted from the suspension of local polls, ordered by Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha after he staged a coup to oust the Pheu Thai government in 2014.

The gap, and new election rules, have significantly intensified competition, with a massive cut in the number of TAO members. At the same time, poll-related violence has broken out in certain areas prompting police to keep a close watch on security, with arms being confiscated in a number of areas following reports of at least two murder attempts on TAO candidates in Nakhon Pathom and Nakhon Si Thammarat.

With regard to turnout, the Election Commission (EC) has encouraged people to exercise their poll rights and urged voters not to breach the rules including avoiding the use of black ink pens, should they use their own pens, as only blue ink is allowed. The obsession with such trivialities is absurd, if not a disappointment.

And as it shines its spotlight on the colour of the ink, the EC, along with other state agencies, is missing the chance to step back and see the big picture, one in which the flaws in TAO system, designed as a fundamental unit for decentralisation, are glaring.

The real problem for TAOs is that the state, the Interior Ministry in particular, is still holding on to its power, not allowing the local administrative units, which are able to make a real difference in their communities, to perform their duties as the law dictates they should.

In theory, the TAOs should be free to enact the manifestos upon their members were elected, such as setting development goals for education, health and welfare for the villages under their jurisdiction. Yet, in practice, they are faced with budget and resources contraints as the government defiantly retains its grip under archaic laws that hinder decentralisation. Consequently, TAOs remain in the shadow of the provincial governor and Provincial Administration Organisations (PAO).

In addition to this power overlap, many TAOs are dominated by influential local influential figures who prefer to promote idiosyncratic projects such as the notorious solar-powered street lamps topped with mythical kinnaree figures built by the Racha Thewa tambon administration organisation (TAO) in Samut Prakan, or are subject to accusations of conflicts of interest and graft.

Structural changes are sorely needed, and a revamp of the administrative system as well as law amendments, in order to promote real decentralisation, not the current broken iteration. The process must go hand in hand with political education, so local voters can make the right choices, free from the influence of others. It requires vision and commitment from the EC and other state agencies to make theory and democratic aspiration a reality. Without actual decentralisation at the local level, which would be as close as Thailand is ever likely to get to real democracy, progress is being hindered before it can even begin.


Bangkok Post editorial column

These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.

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