The Best Government Reformer
The traditional image of Thai politics the vote-buying, the
invisible platforms, the self-destructing coalitions is finally
being challenged. Thailand is seeing through ambitious reforms enshrined
in its new Constitution. Inevitably, the changes demand the involvement
of parliamentarians, yet many of these people owe their positions
to old-style politics. What incentive would they have to reform
a system whose distortions have rewarded them so richly? The Election
Commission (EC) is one of the instruments designed to ensure they
face little choice.
Charged with overseeing the electoral process and enforcing the
rules, the EC is helping to bring about a peaceful, democratic revolution
one in which the corrupt dinosaurs of the old political order
are teetering toward extinction. In March, the commission took the
unprecedented step of rejecting over one-third of newly elected
senators for suspected malfeasance.
Without clear evidence of direct manipulation, only a handful were
barred outright from standing again. Most rejected senators participated
in a second poll. Over the next four months, the EC braved increasing
voter apathy to push through repeat polls. All but four cases were
resolved by the third round. Three went to four rounds and the last
This has led to some concerns. A general election is due by November,
and if the body again detects vote-buying and acts within
its mandate the result could be chaos as the country goes
through endless rounds of voting. Critics also question whether,
in view of its sweeping powers and independence, the commission
itself is properly policed.
Still, few dispute the EC's dogged determination to go by the book.
"Simply having something like this is a bit of a shock," says veteran
political observer Chris Baker. "To have got this far without a
major disaster is an achievement in itself." The EC has certainly
made a brave start in filtering out the poisonous old political
dregs. Given time, that process can only improve the quality of
Thailand's political leaders.
By Dominic Faulder
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