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 > summer special 2000
For the year 2000

The Best Government Reformer
How Asia Is Governed
The Best Local Administrator
The Best Activist

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Government Reformer | How Asia Is Governed |  Local Administrator |  Activist
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 to five.

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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