Politics must begin with idea of public service

Politics must begin with idea of public service

This Sunday Bangkokians will decide who they will entrust with the responsibility of running the city for the next four years. In this election campaign more than any in recent memory, Bangkok voters appear to be having a hard time deciding who should get the job.

City politics for years have been under the reign of the Democrat Party, but major poll results have indicated that this time around the party is facing the real possibility of losing their grip on City Hall.

Since the poll results started coming out, the Democrats have been in denial, insisting the polls were politically orchestrated to mislead the public. But as the election draws near, Thailand's oldest party has failed to counter the perception that its candidate is trailing.

However, many so-called undecided voters do not want the portended outcome. Those who are undecided are either Democrat Party sympathisers or non-partisan voters who are not thrilled with the Democrats but at the same time wary of the Pheu Thai Party.

These people are in a dilemma.

They don't want to see Pheu Thai win, but on the other hand, they could not stomach the idea of voting for the same old Democrat Party candidate who they consider to be ineffective.

Most of the people I have talked to in my personal, decidedly non-professional, survey had the same thing to say. MR Sukhumbhand Paribatra has produced nothing to impress them during his time leading City Hall.

They were disappointed that the Democrat Party was unable to field a more highly qualified and capable person to stand in the election.

The party's failure was considered a major misstep that could turn off droves of supporters.

However, the fact that the Democrats' loss is Pheu Thai's gain is also hard to swallow. Despite the Pheu Thai's campaign slogan of "seamless administration" if Pol Gen Pongsapat Pongcharoen wins, the prospect of Pheu Thai having a monopoly on political power is simply terrifying.

It reminds people of how the Pheu Thai's de facto leader, the infamous fugitive Thaksin Shinawatra, used to build up his business through a virtual monopoly and how he treated the country as his own company when he was in power. Would the people of Bangkok be given any say in the running of the city if the Pheu Thai candidate becomes the city boss?

At crunch time at the poll stations, some Democrat-leaning undecided voters will probably vote Democrat again just to sooth their conscience that they played no part in helping Pheu Thai win.

Others may either choose to stay home or else pick one of the independent candidates just to exercise their voting right with the realisation that their votes, for all intents and purposes, will be wasted.

With due respect to the independent candidates, none of them has any realistic prospect of winning, no matter how attractive their campaigns might be. Every pundit knows the election is a two-horse race.

The problem with the independents is that most or all of them are an unknown quantity. We may know what they do for a living but that is hardly sufficient to tell whether they are qualified for the job they seek.

Are they genuinely public minded? Do they know what "my" problems are? Do they care? Are they capable of galvanising public support to move forward their agenda? Can they see the big picture but pay attention to the details needed to achieve the goal? How can we the voters be sure we are not being taken for a ride by a fraudster?

Even those seriously in the race _ and not just to have their names and faces in the media _ have little, if at all, to show in terms of dedication to public causes. Which of them has ever done anything to benefit the public good?

The short answer is none. Without concrete references to go by, why should we believe that he or she would actually do as promised and is capable of doing it effectively?

May I humbly suggest a way to overcome this deficit of public empathy if you consider a future in politics? Don't wait for the official start of the next election campaign to launch your candidacy. Do it now! But don't rush out to put up posters. They are an eyesore that contribute nothing positive to your image.

Instead, start a "10,000-kilometre march". Go meet your intended constituents face to face. Talk to them and learn about their problems and needs. Think of how you can help improve their life.

Then _ and this is most important _ help the people fix their problems. You don't need to put up your own money but your sincere efforts are required. You must help bring the people's problems to the attention of the right authorities and keep at it until the problems get fixed or at least properly addressed.

By election time, you will know your area inside out and have all the necessary information to run your campaign as well as an army of ready supporters and volunteers.

Come to think of it, all potential politicians should do this regardless of whether they belong to any political parties.

This is a major flaw of the representative system that we have. We let political party bosses pick their nominees to run for public offices without any input from ordinary citizens like you and me.

In this day and age this kind of political modus operandi should be outmoded.

It's the sort of thing that has given us a prime minister who, up until her appointment to the post, never saw a day of her life performing any public service or political functions for that matter. This is nothing short of the worst top-down decision forced on an unwitting citizenry by a political machine.

A political candidate should be someone who has dedicated at least part of his life to the public good, and citizens should have a role to play in selecting their candidates of choice.

Wasant Techawongtham is former News Editor, Bangkok Post. Currently a freelance writer, he also serves as editorial director Milky Way Press, a publishing house.

Wasant Techawongtham

Freelance Reporter

Freelance Reporter and Managing Editor of Milky Way Press.

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