Thais led astray by 'dictatorship of majority'
Constitution Court president outlines why the people themselves contribute to the country's flawed politics
'I cannot see the future for the country unless it can develop much further than at present. Thai people mostly don't understand their own duties, don't respect other people's opinions. Democracy must be engaged with rational discussion, not the dictatorship of the majority," Constitution Court president Wasan Soipisudh said in an interview with Post Today.
Wasan Soipisudh says while Thais are patriotic, many fail to grasp the bigger picture and just ‘love the country’ without much thought.
"In the United States, sometimes the president appoints people from the opposition party to important cabinet posts. But in Thailand, people from the opposition party are all bad, none are good. Whatever the opposition says is all wrong, while we are all correct," Mr Wasan said.
Once, when the Constitution Court chief went on a tour of various provinces, he asked people living in Pak Chong district of Nakhon Ratchasima, whether the majority could break the law. The reply was that they could. Mr Wasan then posed the question of whether the majority would be jailed if they killed someone. Pak Chong residents were stumped.
In Chaiyaphum, he asked the people whether it was possible for the majority to pass a law taxing the minority while exempting them from tax. The locals were confused for awhile but reluctantly admitted this should not be the case. All these examples point to the ignorance of some Thai people about democracy, the rule of law and justice. They mistakenly believe that if they win a general election and command the majority of seats in parliament, then they can do absolutely anything they please.
"I used to tell the press that if people have ethics and morals, there would be no need for laws and the country could be at peace," he said. "If the powers-that-be were ethical, there would be no need for the NACC [National Anti-Corruption Commission], assets declaration regulation, and conflicts of interest regulation. Some foreigners are surprised to learn that Thailand has such laws while their countries don't because their politicians would not think along that vein. For example, their leaders would not permit family members to engage in business with state concessions and carry out procurements."
Mr Wasan reiterated that the majority cannot do anything they like. He cited the example of a lecture by Bulgaria's constitution court president who told a Thai audience that in Bulgaria, the charter court president would tightly maintain the rules as specified in the constitution as well as make sure that the executive branch follows these rules. The court considers the voices of the minority and the opposition to be very important too.
Mr Wasan then cited another example of the constitution court in Germany which does not wait for people to petition the court before acting if it sees that the government is violating the constitution. The German charter court will summon the government to testify as well as to give it advice about what it should or should not do. This is in marked contrast to Thailand's Constitution Court, where simply accepting a petition for consideration is already judged as being biased by a certain group.
Asked how long it would take for democracy to take root in Thailand, Mr Wasan noted that in the past there have been too many coups interspersed with general elections, vote-buying or the offering of short-term gains to the electorate. If there are frequent elections, this would be better as people would have a chance to learn.
Mr Wasan voiced concern about populist policies which people can become addicted to and which require a huge budget year after year, eventually leading to overwhelming public debt and causing the country to go bankrupt.
"We can easily see populist policies leading Thailand in a direction similar to some countries in Europe where there are too many people working in the government sector. These people want a desk job even though they are from a farming background, but choose not work on a farm because it is back-breaking work. Eventually, when the government has to tighten its belt as the coffers run empty, these pampered people just come out to protest on the streets," he said.
"This is in marked contrast to South Korea, which suffered a financial meltdown at the same time as Thailand was hit by the Tom Yum Kung crisis. Many South Koreans donated their savings to the national coffers. They worked hard and eventually the country recovered. Some South Korean companies are now bigger than Japanese firms because the South Koreans love their country, and are ready to sacrifice for the good of the nation.
"We have too few people who are genuinely patriotic. Most just 'love the country' with saliva drooling from their mouths'," Mr Wasan said.
What is the way out of this quagmire? Mr Wasan replied that it takes time for people to learn. In the worst case, when the country has been bankrupted by crooked politicians, then people will learn their lesson the hard way.
"In the present situation, it is likely that Thailand could go bankrupt due to excessive populist policies, as people are conditioned to demanding help from the government whenever they are in financial difficulty. At that stage, people will come to realise that they are the ones to blame for not knowing who has been telling the truth. Some politicians even believe their own lies - that they are telling people the truth when they are telling lies," Mr Wasan said.
Some observers have suggested that Thailand is at a crossroads with the public sector, the populace and politicians trying to find an equilibrium. Asked to comment on this observation, Mr Wasan did not agree with it. Instead he believes that this is an era of political demagogy with the coining of strange terms while the behaviour remains the same. Both sides have their own TV channels and are trying to indoctrinate viewers.
"I watch all the channels. They are trying to indoctrinate, which means that the Thai people are not ready to have their own voice, but must be led," Mr Wasan said.
"This is similar to a certain politician not so long ago who campaigned for votes in Nonthaburi. This politician said that solving the flood problem is easy, just build dams from Nakhon Sawan to Pathum Thani. Viewers, not thinking too deeply, might have agreed with this suggestion. However, the politician failed to mention where the government could find the huge sums of money to build so many dams across the Chao Phraya.
"We are not as rich as Saudi Arabia. If Thai people could think for themselves, they would immediately know that this politician was lying because they should know that the country does not have so much money.
If viewers thought even harder, they would know that politicians propose such huge infrastructure projects because they can benefit from all the state projects, no matter which party controls the government. It has always been the case, Mr Wasan said.
Asked to comment on the government's claim that corruption is prevalent in all governments, but the main problem has been the 2006 military coup, the charter court chief replied that each side always blames the other. The military always cites corruption as justification for toppling civilian regimes, but in Mr Wasan's opinion both the military and the politicians are corrupt and continue to siphon money from the national coffers. If the people cannot solve Thailand's deep-rooted graft woes, the situation in the country will get worse. Not only does Thailand boast one of the most traffic-congested cities, but she is also ranked as one of the most corrupt countries, Mr Wasan said.
The constitution rewrite has also become news again with coalition MPs deciding to go ahead with the third reading of the amendment bill to establish a constitution drafting assembly. However, there could be a hiccup.
The Constitution Court has ruled that amending Section 291 is parliament's prerogative. However, parliament cannot rewrite the whole constitution as the present one was endorsed by a people's referendum. So if parliament wants to rewrite the whole charter, the people must be consulted. Mr Wasan noted that the court's ruling is a recommendation for the government to carry out and that it is up to the administration whether it decides to go ahead with the third reading without heeding the court's warning.
"We don't issue commands, but why try to be bull-headed and generate opposition?" he said.
Another strategy for the government is to amend Section 68 by getting rid of it so that people will not have a channel to petition the court to examine whether a charter rewrite amounts to overthrowing the established institutions. On this point, Mr Wasan noted that they could do so but the intention was easy to decipher.
"In fact, amending this constitution is not hard. Parliament can amend 100 sections in one month and it will be finished in three months. The government can use its majority to silence the opposition, even forbidding the opposition to debate each amended section," he said.
Some Pheu Thai core leaders want to dissolve the Constitution Court, citing the court's ruling interfering with the government's administration. They also want to propose legislation to make various courts more accountable to the people.
Mr Wasan said that whatever happens will happen. The politicians can write a constitution abolishing all the courts if they really want to.
"If all the courts are dissolved to be replaced by a people's court, then a majority may rule that killing is not a crime, not punishable. They say the court judges are not accountable to the people, and not chosen by the people. Then how about holding elections for court judges, for bank managers, for medical doctors? All positions must be elected, otherwise it would not be a democracy!
"Why is electing court judges not a good idea? Because canvassers could win every legal case," he said.
The Nitirat group has proposed that the court should be accountable to the people indirectly by giving the government or parliament power to appoint judges.
Mr Wasan ridiculed the idea.
"Are you kidding? This parliament is full of so many political animals swearing at each other. Look at politicians' behaviour. Look at the Supreme Court's plenary session. Sometimes, the issue is hotly debated, but it never degenerates into throwing objects or picking up seats. Once the session's vote is cast, whoever wins or loses, they all go out together to have lunch. There is no lingering enmity. It has been like this for several decades now.
"The difference between politicians and judges is that we hold judges to higher moral and ethical standards. This should be enough. This does not mean that all the judges are without ambition. If there is a system of government or parliament appointing judges, some ambitious judges may lower themselves to serve political masters for higher positions on the bench. Do you really want that to happen?"
Mr Wasan then explained that the judicial branch is not totally independent. Judges can be impeached by the Senate. The judiciary's budget is also scrutinised by the Auditor-General's Office.
"One day we will be ready to be directly accountable to the people if the situation improves. It depends on the people themselves. As long as politicians believe that the majority is always right, that time will not come. No matter how you reckon it, five monks can never outvote 500 robbers, no matter how hard the monks try to preach. Those who claim that getting an electoral mandate from the people allows them to do everything are without merit if we scratch below the skin. This country is not ready to embrace such thinking."
Graft image worsens
This year's Transparency International's annual survey emphasises the well-known fact that Thailand is among the most corrupt countries in the world.
Of 177 countries surveyed, Thailand's rank this year is 88, falling from 80 last year, noted a Thai Rath editorial.
Meanwhile, Suan Dusit poll's nationwide survey found that about 33% of respondents said Thailand's corruption reputation is embarrassing and it is a national priority for the government. The survey noted that 45% believed that politicians are the most corrupt, followed by government bureaucrats.
When asked for the reason why they thought graft is flourishing in Thailand, the respondents pointed the finger at ineffectual law enforcement with few offenders receiving harsh punishments. To solve this problem, children must be inculcated in the value of honesty from when they are very young.
The editorial said it is not surprising only 33% felt embarrassed by Thailand's worsening corruption image in the eyes of the global community. This is in line with previous surveys that more than 60% of correspondents condone graft if they benefit from it too.
Thai Rath also noted that graft flourishes in Thailand because the powers-that-be use the law to harass political opponents while ignoring the corrupt practices of their own ilk.
As long as the people accept corruption as normal, allow politicians to buy votes, praise politicians who come to power via corruption or dark influence, then politicians have no incentive to fight graft and will continue to buy votes, accumulate war chests while in power, and buy votes again in the next election.