Election Commission chairman's new mission
Passion to serve public paved way to post as EC chairman
Ittiporn Boonpracong has assumed the chairmanship of the Election Commission (EC), an agency which will play an important role in organising a general election expected in late February. It will see a transition from the coup-installed government to a democratically elected one.
Formerly an ambassador and head of the Foreign Ministry's Treaties and Legal Affairs Department, Mr Ittiporn, 62, talked to Mongkol Bangprapa about a range of issues and the challenges of his new role.
Q: When you served as an official at the Foreign Ministry, you had a chance to meet reporters a lot, didn't you?
A: Sometimes, it was not easy for me to tell all. It was not easy to disclose everything. Some policies had to be kept secret. I had to keep a balance when giving answers. Sometimes, I felt bad or awkward when I could not give the answers they wanted.
But at the EC, I will not say anything that I have no knowledge of or anything that is not agreed upon by the EC. We have agreed that we will work as a board. We have to thrash out things until we reach a common view to prevent any confusion.
Q: When you decided to apply to be an election commissioner, did you realise what political conundrums might lie ahead?
A: I grew up in a family of state officials. My grandfather was a civil servant. My father served as a district chief in Yala. I went with my father during visits to see local people. Some smiled at us, some were afraid of the district chief. But these things I experienced made me happy. So I have always dreamed of working for the benefit of the people.
While working at the Foreign Ministry, I could also do my bit to help the people, though in an indirect manner.
Q: Several politicians have backgrounds that are similar to yours, but they chose to pursue a political path. Have you ever thought of becoming a politician?
A: No. I had wanted to become a civil servant since I was young ... I feel that a sense of our own value depends on our contributions to society. Government officials also have their dignity.
My family members were mostly Interior Ministry officials. I nearly became one. But I ended up at the Foreign Ministry to satisfy my father's wish. My father himself wanted to be a diplomat but my grandfather wanted him to work as an Interior Ministry official.
I served as an assistant district chief in Nakhon Ratchasima for about a month. When I drove into my area, I had a feeling that this was the area that I was in charge of, and it gave me goosebumps. I felt that I had to put people's interests first. This was an approach to my work as a government official.
Ten months later, I applied for a job at the Foreign Ministry where I worked for more than 36 years.
Now, I am here at the EC. Apart from serving the people, I also work with the government, other state agencies, and political parties. Political parties are a very important institution. If they maintain high standards, politics and the governing of the country will stabliise.
I have realised that there are risks involved in my job, but I have my personal mantra that keeps me buoyant and optimistic. "Don't break the law. Don't take sides.''
Q: There was a report that former prime minister Kasit Piromya encouraged you to apply to be an election commissioner.
A: That's not true. This is the first time I have heard about it. I used to work under two former foreign ministers -- Mr Kasit and Surapong Tovichakchaikul. No one encouraged me to apply for the commissioner seat.
I actually wanted to work at either the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) or at the EC. At the time, applications were not open at the NHRC so I switched to the EC. I applied for the job myself.
Q: What about your elder brother Sean Boonpracong (a United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship spokesman handling foreign media)?
A: When I handled a case involving the Preah Vihear temple dispute with Cambodia, my brother told me he received more information on the issue from the media than from me.
I took my job seriously and I didn't want anyone to mess with me. I love my family, but I can't afford to leak information even to anyone at home.
My brother lived abroad for more than 30 years. He is self-confident, but others in the family also have a high degree of "being government officials''. But we still manage to live together in harmony. My parents never tried to change our beliefs.
Q: How do the jobs at the EC and the Foreign Ministry differ? Do they have anything in common?
A: They are mostly similar because they are government official jobs. The difference is that the EC job is to deal with a lot more people. We have to educate a wider public about democracy, and have to deal with political parties. We are also accountable to the parliament.
As for the job at the Foreign Ministry, I spent most of my time with colleagues unless I was given diplomatic postings abroad. I had a chance to talk to the media only after I became a deputy director-general.
Q: How are you prepared to cope with pressure from the media?
A: We have to exercise our discretion to ensure accuracy in what we say to the media. People have differing views. It's normal for them to agree or disagree with what we say. But it's important to express ourselves clearly.
Q: The EC also has the authority to disqualify election candidates and poll winners who violate election regulations, and some may not like its decisions.
A: Decisions must be made based on evidence and the law, and this applies to every case. Of course, there will be winners and losers, but we have to maintain impartiality. Consistency and standards must be upheld.
Q: Currently, there are so-called "back-up'' parties or "nominee or proxy'' parties emerging. Do you think this goes against the law on political parties?
A: Legal facts are sometimes different from our perception. Any party that is established in compliance with the law is legal. I will view things only through a legal lens. If they follow the law, those parties are legal anyway.
Ideally, politics and the governing of the country should stabilise. Elections should be free of fraud and vote-buying. If that can be achieved, political instability will disappear.
Q: There is a report that a certain party is still being influenced by someone who has no right to do so.
A: This is prohibited by Sections 28 and 29 of the law on political parties. If there is clear evidence pointing to such a practice, the EC will take action. The EC is duty-bound to monitor what is right or wrong.