Cash for votes a no-go
Thailand has a history of using money to influence the outcome of elections, with allegations of vote buying, campaign finance violations and influence peddling marring past elections.
The country has tried many times to eradicate money politics but a proposal last week by a Senate panel shows those efforts have failed.
The Senate committee on political development and public participation proposed that voters be given 500 baht each in travel expenses in the hope it would encourage greater turnout and help combat vote-buying at the next general election.
If the proposal materialises, about 20 billion baht would be needed for a turnout of 40 million eligible voters.
The committee has suggested the Election Commission (EC) or other state agencies pay the suggested 500 baht per voter.
It says that in the provinces, many voters have to travel a long distance to polling stations. Transport costs are a burden on voters which opens the door to vote-buying. Politicians would give money to voters in exchange for their support. Some might arrange transport services for voters and encourage voters to back them.
The committee said voting-buying is partly due to economic problems affecting people's livelihoods, while the political culture and people who wield political clout in local areas also play a part.
Unclear is how the government could be sure that the money does actually end up paying for the cost of getting voters to the ballot box, but in one sense, this is almost beside the point. Giving cash handouts to voters to encourage them to vote or prevent vote-buying reflects a poor attitude that money handouts can solve money politics.
Thailand has struggled to address vote-buying. Despite the fact the country has laws against vote-buying, these measures are not enforced consistently.
One reason is that vote-buying is often done in a clandestine manner, making it difficult to detect and prosecute. Additionally, some politicians and parties may have the financial resources that make it easier for them to engage in vote-buying.
Another reason is the pervasive culture of corruption in Thailand. Vote-buying is often seen as normal practice, and many politicians and parties have been known to engage in the practice. This has led to a culture in which vote-buying is seen as acceptable and made it difficult to combat effectively.
Poverty and lack of political awareness among voters make them vulnerable to vote-buying. But that taxpayers' money would go to waste if it was handed to voters to subsidise transport costs as proposed.
Giving cash to people may increase voter turnout to a certain extent, but it does not address the underlying reasons of why people engage in vote-buying such as poverty, lack of political awareness and manipulation by political groups and local influential figures. Most importantly, cash handouts could be a form of vote-buying themselves.
If the government is seen as providing financial incentives to voters in exchange for their vote, it could undermine the integrity of the electoral process and create a perception of corruption. Cash handouts could also be used as a political tool that benefits some groups during the election campaign. While the country has struggled to deal with money politics, how can the Senate committee float such an ugly idea to promote money politics in another form?
Bangkok Post editorial column
These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.
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