Unelected PM plan winds back the clock
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Unelected PM plan winds back the clock

The first draft of the new constitution will not be available until Jan 12, but the public already has an idea what will be in the document.

Several trial balloons have been floated to see which ones are more likely to fly — or to prepare people for what is to come. These include a plan to adopt German-style, mixed-member proportional representation as the country's electoral system and to let an unelected outsider serve as prime minister.

More details will emerge as the deadline for the Constitution Drafting Committee (CDC) to produce the first outline of the charter draws near. Overall, however, it is becoming clear that the drafters are possibly executing the desire of the military junta to return to the type of politics that prevailed before the rise of Thaksin Shinawatra.

If the proposal for the PM to be unelected sails through, then we could see the political clock wound back as far as the 1980s, when the non-elected Gen Prem Tinsulanonda was invited by parties that won the election to serve as the country's premier for eight consecutive years.

Some people look back to the time and see it as a period of political stability, when peace and order could be easily maintained.

The CDC chairman Borwornsak Uwanno himself sees the unelected PM option as a safety valve for our volatile political system. When there is a crisis of leadership, it would be better to trigger this option than to let the situation slide until the military has no option but to stage a coup d'etat.

But is it? Is the conscious decision to allow a person who does not have to prove anything to voters in an election serve as the country's democratic leader better than succumbing to a coup?

To me, these two options may not be that different.

Have the gentlemen in green been lurking behind, or sometimes at the forefront of, our country's political scene? Oh yes, they have.

Their presence in state offices, even in the suits, ties and colourful silk attire they wear at present, suggests they would like to retain their influence far into the future.

An option for the PM to be unelected would make it easier for these strongmen should they want to intervene in politics again.

Next time, they would not have to bother with rolling out any tanks. Such a cumbersome feat would be relegated to bedtime stories for their grandchildren.

They would not even have to organise a meeting with party leaders and twist their arms into submission like then army chief Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha did with the May 22 affair. They can just sit and wait for an invitation to sit at the top position as the country's saviour.

That is what this clause is for after all. It is a time-out for democracy dressed as a contingency measure.

The non-elected PM would be better for the country's image as well. Military coups have a stigma. There is no getting around such undemocratic baggage in the international arena.

People who back this option must believe that it is a convenient modification to Western-style democracy that has proven so problematic. 

Indeed, the German-style electoral system that is designed to produce a mixed-party cabinet plus the non-elected PM option could prove to be the paragon of Thai-style democracy that the junta has dreamed about.

Apart from the expediency factor, however, questions arise for ordinary citizens like me: Why would we want to provide what seems like a major discount to the principle of democracy in the rather vain hope of preventing future coups?

Why would we want to write it down in our highest law that we agree to a lesser degree of democracy whenever the threat of a military takeover is looming?

The truth is inconvenient. The root of the problem of never-ending coups lies in the overreaching power of the military and the perception that it can meddle in politics whenever its leaders feel the need.

It's not just that coup-makers are never punished for the transgressions but they are also hailed as heroes.

The non-elected clause in the new charter, if it is ever endorsed, will simply legitimise the inglorious feat.

Still, the biggest question is whether the junta's dream of bringing back the politics of the 1980s — in which governments were consistently weak, policies never far-sighted, wheeling and dealing ruled the day — is one that will fly. It's now 2015. More than 30 years have passed.

In case the junta has not noticed.

Atiya Achakulwisut is Contributing Editor, Bangkok Post.

Atiya Achakulwisut

Columnist for the Bangkok Post

Atiya Achakulwisut is a columnist for the Bangkok Post.

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