This past week, the role of elected representatives is in the spotlight once again.
On Friday, Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha, head of the National Council for Peace and Order, suspended local elections because they could lead to renewed political conflict. This decision prompted concerns that the order is a prelude to new measures to dissipate the influence of national-level politicians in local administrations.
Also last week, the National Anti-Corruption Commission urged the Election Commission to implement measures to screen populist policies. It suggested that political parties would have to provide details of the impact of proposed policies and where the funding would come from.
The EC has, meanwhile, conducted opinion polls on various measures to reduce corruption, abuse of power and patronage among elected MPs.
It says the majority of those polled support the idea of enlarging constituencies to make vote-buying more difficult, limiting the terms of MPs and senators and banning spouses, children and adopted children from running or serving in both houses at the same time.
The track record and role of our politicians and political parties is nothing to be proud of. Time and again they have failed to measure up to our hopes and expectations. Revelations this week that some MPs received committee attendance allowances of up to 9,000 baht after spending just five or 10 minutes at meetings further tarnishes their image. Quite rightly, questions are raised as to why it is necessary to spend five billion baht to build a 2,000-room apartment for parliament officials and MPs.
The role of MPs will get more attention when we start the process of drafting, yet again, a new charter and its related organic laws. Of course, reforming the role of MPs is just one change that needs to take place for us to become a democratic society.
Former prime minister Anand Panyarachun succinctly spelled out many other vital issues in a speech titled “Long walk to good governance” in yesterday's Bangkok Post. These include free and fair elections, respect for diversity, respect for human rights and the rule of law, accountability and transparency, a vibrant civil society and responsive leadership.
Still, the role and performance of our representatives — at national, provincial and even district levels — is a fundamental building block for a democracy. They are the direct link to the people. And for this reason, the role of the House of Representatives should be paramount. The Senate must check and balance that, but not to the extent that it stymies or dilutes the role of the elected House.
The biggest challenge is how to change the mindset of many of our representatives who repeatedly quote chapter and verse that they are “elected and chosen by the people” and therefore have carte blanche to do what they want. Changing this mindset to one that lends importance to respect for the rule of law, transparency and accountability can only come from within the individuals in question.
Limiting the terms of MPs, for example, does not tackle the problem at ground zero where vote-buying and election fraud remain rampant despite decades of elections.
The EC currently has a system for issuing red and yellow cards to offenders. Candidates who receive a red card for misconduct before election results are announced are barred from running in resulting by-elections, but those who are given yellow cards can still take part. If there is one reform to the law that should be made, it is to increase these punitive measures.
Depending on the severity of the case, candidates given red cards for vote-buying or election fraud can be banned from running again for five to 10 years. This should be changed. They should be banned for life. At present, the law does not prevent candidates given red cards from being appointed as advisers to ministers or MPs, because these are not considered political appointments.
This too must change. Perpetrators should be barred from being appointed to any political advisory position. They should also be barred from participating in any shape or form on any committee whose decisions affect state funding or policy.
If our representatives find it too difficult to change their mindsets, we must change electoral laws to hit them where it hurts.
Pichai Chuensuksawadi is editor-in-chief of Post Publishing. Contact him at email@example.com.