It’s not that Thailand has had bad charters. Some of them are quite good. Our problem is that the “values” those constitutions sought to uphold were not genuinely respected. Our constitutional will was there to be skirted, not cherished.
The Nation December 8, 2014 1:00 am
There are greater difficulties than the usual outcries
The two men who are supposed to lead the nation in its quest for a new political soul have identified the difficulties expected along the way. Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam and Constitution Drafting Committee chairman Borwornsak Uwanno said charter clauses dealing with the powers and/or status of the monarchy and judiciary can pose the toughest questions whereas ones concerning politicians could be relatively easier to tackle. They are right, but only technically and politically speaking. When it comes to Thailand’s “reform”, action is far more important than words.
When people say what is hard and what is easy about “reform”, they naturally refer to “reaction” of the public or affected parties more than anything else. If some proposed measures are likely to spark an outcry, they can be deemed extremely hard or troublesome. When proposals sound “politically correct” to all camps – like ones designed to eradicate corruption – they are dubbed easy.
“Reform” doesn’t work that way. “Reform” doesn’t end with the completion of a new Constitution or an election that follows, but a wholehearted respect for the new rules that will allow their effective enforcement. It’s not that Thailand has had bad charters. Some of them are quite good. Our problem is that the “values” those constitutions sought to uphold were not genuinely respected. Our constitutional will was there to be skirted, not cherished.
Anti-corruption measures in the charters only led to tricky asset transfers or formation of dubious front companies. And, when one says he or she respects human rights, most of the times it is the human rights of people on his or her side. Universal demonstration of values is the rarest thing nowadays.
There’s a big difference between values and rules. The latter can change accordance to circumstances, probably frequently. When lawmakers take their bargaining power too far, causing undeserved trouble and political stability for the prime minister, the rules may be changed in favour of greater prime ministerial control. When the prime minister abuses such control, making it impossible for the lawmakers to follow their conscience, the rules can be in favour of greater parliamentary independence.
Values or wills, on the other hand, are hardly changeable. And only when all Thais unconditionally embrace and respect them will “reform” last and be healthy. Values concern such issues as corruption, human rights and transparency. They have to go hand in hand, not each its separate way. “Values” shall be short, because they don’t need much explaining. They aren’t things for debate, because practising
them is harder than talking about them.
So, which are the more difficult: The question of what’s next for the Thai monarchy or the question of how to make all Thai politicians and citizens truly realise that the war against corruption must be absolute, and integrity and accountability are required in the fight? What is easier: Giving the judiciary more or less power or making all Thais accept that a Bt2,000 fraud is the same as a Bt1-million fraud?
Wissanu and Borwornsak should start with changing their mindsets on what’s easy and what’s difficult and go from there. “Reform” is about change of attitude, not change in constitutional wording. It’s about a society of more than 60 million people who will have to accept that “they”, not “the others”, must change and must embrace the right values unconditionally. If “reform” is politicised too much, it will be anything but reform. It will end up being a new set of rules written by the powers-that-be of the hour.