Buddhist principles offer us key to reform

Buddhist principles offer us key to reform

The military crackdown in Egypt against a religious movement could be a preview of civil strife here if its political leaderships do not pull back from intransigent confrontations.

The prime minister's proposed reform forum, therefore, is a timely and possible constructive step toward a sustainable Thailand if it can turn the country away from bitter factionalism in the continuing struggle to control the government, its budget, regulatory powers, police and army.

The issue before Thailand is, sadly, not reconciliation but compromise on constitutionalism and the rule of law. The conditions for reconciliation are not yet present as they were 20 years ago in South Africa once the Afrikaaners accommodated themselves to majority rule. In Thailand today, ambitions still run strong while acceptance of the need for checks and balances is not yet the cultural norm.

Fortunately for us, however, a political code with wide, if little noticed, popular support exists to guide its political leaders from all factions.

This is Dasa Rajadhamma in Pali or Thosapit Rachathamma in Thai _ the 10 principles of fiduciary conduct in government and politics. These principles were derived from core Buddhist teachings on justice for application to kingship. But they apply with equal ethical force to all positions of power and responsibility.

The core purpose of the Thosapit Rachathamma is to have power used as a public trust for the benefit of those under its sway. The principles are to prevent those in office from abusing power and treating their positions as personal property ripe for selfish exploitation.

These principles are easily applied by Thai citizens in assessment of the quality of government as I found out in community focus groups organised last year in Roi Et and Prachuap Khiri Khan.

Not well-known at all by foreigners and rarely mentioned by Thai politicians, the 10 principles are as follows:

Dana or taan in Thai is giving in a beneficial way. This is a form of fiduciary behaviour where we seek how to make life better for others _ our customers, our employees, our communities.

Sila orseen is not breaking norms _ both legal and moral. It is being ethical and of good conduct. It is avoidance of dominion and oppression and exploitation and corruption. It is the essence of governance.

Pariccaga or borijark is putting service before self. It goes beyond giving in taking into consideration the greater good of the whole, the common good. It is the ultimate in agency where we give of ourselves to further a greater good.

Ajjava is loyalty, truthfulness, and honesty. It is the virtue that makes possible the loyalty demanded of every fiduciary as well as the self-confidence to disclose material information to markets.

Maddava is avoidance of arrogance and being open to persuasion. It is not being a "hua na" _ a "big boss" _ in narrow-mindedness; in only giving orders to underlings and in not accepting their advice and counsel.

Tapa or taba is diligence. This is the virtue necessary for taking due care in carrying out our fiduciary duties. It is avoidance of negligence or just going along for the ride or just showing up to put in an appearance. Negligence of duty is the enemy of good governance.

Akkodha or agoat is avoidance of anger and self-centred passion. To be angry or self-centred and emotionally vindictive diverts us away from duty, from listening, from wise action. It is putting our worst sense of self in the place of service and collegiality.

Avihimsa is living peacefully without doing harm. It is not disturbing the equilibrium around us. It is another form of service that supports the common good.

Khanti is patience and perseverance. Again, it is a virtue of self-control where we are not over-bearing and domineering allowing others to evolve according to their good and bad qualities. I consider this virtue more individual than corporate. One can be too patient in the face of failure and abuse of power on the part of others.

Finally, avirodha is acting energetically on behalf of ethics and the law. It is taking personal responsibility for seeking that justice is done, that wrong is disciplined, that good is rewarded. It is a necessary quality in any good leader. It is fundamental to practising good governance.

The agenda of the proposed reform forum should be straightforward and simple: how can Thailand live up to the Thosapit Rachathamma?

What constitutional provisions will implement these principles?

How can the courts be protected in defending them?

What kind of a police force is needed to protect them?

Who will vet candidates for office and senior army officers for constancy in this way of using power?

How can corruption be checked and prevented from turning our governance into dysfunction?


Stephen B Young is Global Executive Director, Caux Round Table.

Stephen Cross

Writer

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