Don’t expect the earth all at once
published : 3 Aug 2014 at 00:18
newspaper section: News
The composition of the National Legislative Assembly, unveiled this week with a heavy tint of green, is no surprise. With the military at the helm one cannot expect varied representation. Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha says he is aware of the criticism but believes the public should focus more on the end result of achieving national reform within one year — the National Council for Peace and Order’s main mission.
Amid the street protests and political turmoil prior to the coup, many sides called for and made proposals for reform, greater transparency and the end of corruption. With Gen Prayuth saying that reform is the military’s main goal, expectations from certain quarters remain high. But we should come down to Earth and temper our expectations.
Identifying the areas for reform is easy. We ought to know what these issues are since we have lived with the shortcomings for years. The goals set are laudable but the challenges are immense.
The nomination and screening process for the 250-member National Reform Council starts this month. The Election Commission is responsible for finding a shortlist of 925 names — 50 each from the 11 areas for reform identified by the military plus five from each of the 77 provinces.
But in the end, the NCPO will make the final selection and can influence not only the composition of the NRC, but the direction it takes on reform and whether genuine, fundamental changes will be made.
At present the direction for change leans heavily towards eradicating not just the influence of Thaksin but also preventing the possibility of any other political party becoming dominant and pushing “populist policies”. This is evident in the guidelines set in the interim charter.
Whether this direction is maintained in the reform process will be clear soon enough once the NRC’s composition is known. If NRC includes representatives of all shades of the political spectrum and views, then there may be hope because one real concern is that some segments will excluded and their views may not be heard.
And for reform to take place, there must be vigorous debate. The current restrictions placed on freedom of expression, the media and debate is premised on the belief that stability and security needs to be maintained and that differing views are the cause of political division within the country. The NCPO must unlock these restrictions.
The military also needs to overcome its mindset that debate means political division that leads to instability. It also needs to resist the tendency to view issues from a security perspective. Admittedly this is difficult because the military, as in any country, is trained to take this approach. But the fact is reform cannot be viewed from this perspective alone.
Senior military officials privately admit the reform will take years and that one issue that needs to be addressed in all 11 areas is disparity. Serious soul-searching, determination and effort are required among members of the NRC, including the military, to tackle disparity. And to do this, they need to look at themselves in the mirror and correct the wrongs in their own backyard.
Apart from the 11 areas of reform, another key issue facing the NRC is what can be done to strengthen our bureaucracy and independent institutions so that they perform their duties impartially and professionally.
Government officials need to do their duty of serving the government of the day and not take sides in any political conflict. One cannot deny, for example, that key members of the Constitutional Court and Election Commission were seen as taking sides. This perception emerges because they commented publicly on political issues or tried to broker a political solution during the impasse. A code of conduct is required and should be enforced because public comments damage the perception that these institutions are truly impartial and independent. And as long as the military’s influence remains over the reform process, any attempt at strengthening our institutions may not emerge.
It won’t be long before we will know which direction the reform process will take. But for now, it might be advisable to temper expectations to avoid disappointment. But if the process does become open and inclusive, with serious soul-searching and debate, then there may be reason for hope and happiness.
Pichai Chuensuksawadi is editor-in-chief of Post Publishing. Contact him at email@example.com.
Editor-in-Chief & Bangkok Post Editor
He is an Editor-in-Chief at Post Publishing Public. He also served as Editor at The Post Publishing Plc from 1994 to 2002 and Special Assistant to the ASEAN Secretary General Dato'Ajit Singh from 1993 to 1994. He serves as the Chairman of The Bangkok Post Provident Fund. He is Chairman of The Bangkok Post Foundation and Phud Hong Leper Foundation. He is a Member of The Press Council of Thailand. He is a Board Member of IFRA. He is Chairman of the Organising Committee, IFRA Asia Pacific. He has BA in Journalism from Queensland University, Australia in 1979 and BA. Political Science from James Cook University of North Queensland University, Australia in 1976.