Efforts Towards Good Governance

It is good that Foreign Affairs Minister Seehasak Puangketkaew had clarified Thailand’s current situation to the international community through the United Nation’s stage. His stressing that the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) work aimed to reduce social gaps while upholding people-centered benefits will create better understanding of the current Thailand’s new administrative efforts to prevent future conflicts. Mr. Seehasak addressed international community around the United Nations in New York last week at the High Level Political Forum Ministerial Dialogue. I agree with what he said that every country has different background and priority. I think that measures have to be found for more effective people’s participation, which is key to move the country forward to a new political and development environment and a better future. I am glad that he also mentioned that NCPO now focus on public participation in addressing the national agendas. Mr. Seehasak was hundred percent correct in saying that Thailand’s development would be impossible to achieve without the rule of law. That was the problem before military intervention two months ago when a large number of the people of all political spectrums demonstrated on the streets of Bangkok showing no respect for the law and the judicial system of the country. I am glad that he also informed the international community that Thailand now has a clear roadmap to democracy. I want to join the people who say that political reform must come before holding the next election. It is necessary to guarantee that there will not be corruptions in the newly organised electoral process such as vote buying and cheating in ballot counting. I am sure that the international community can see for themselves the problems that happen now in ballot counting in the recent elections in Afghanistan and Indonesia. Needless to say that I am happy to learn of the good reception that Mr. Seehasak received by the audiences after his speech. I urge the International community to leave Thai people to solve their own political problems without any negative outside intervention. There is no one route to ideal democratic process or good governance. Each country has to struggle to achieve that in their own way suitable to their particular political/cultural environment and people’s aspirations.

Change Happens / Thailand

After street demonstrations by more than 5 million people in Bangkok during the past five months, it is encouraging to see more involvement of people from business communities, lawyers’ associations, and the academic institutions to make political change happens. Meeting, seminars and discussion groups were organised trying to find solutions to the present problem in the country without parliament or legitimate government. After closing down the Parliament,Yingluck has then become a caretaker prime minister. When millions of people asked her to resign, she made a public announcement that since she came into office via an election process, she was prepare to die in a “democracy” battle. Despite warnings from many quarters, her caretaker government insisted in holding a national election on February 2, 2014, which later was nullified by the Constitution Court.The anti-government People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) declared that they will not participate in any election until there is a political reform. At the nightly public rallies, the PDRC leaders insisted that Yingluck and other politicians who did not accept the decision of the Constitution Court must resign. Not only that, many of those who faced corruption charges but also that they do not have legitimacy to govern the country. They declared that Yingluck government is illegitimate. Getting rid of an illegitimate and corrupted government is key issue in this struggle to eliminate corruption and bring in change of the way the country is organised and run. This is the first time in Thailand that millions of people have become aware that corruption is ruining the country. They want to end corrupted practices of government officials and their crony capitalists, called “Thaksinomic”. Anti-government demonstrators want the National Anti-Corruption Commission to hurry-up the investigation of cases against key cabinet members and politicians whose verdict are still pending.They were concern about the deterioration of Thailand’s international image which ranked 102 out of 177 countries in the latest Corruption Perceptions Index. The ranking got worst two years after Yingluck took over the office as Prime Minister (from 88 down to 102). Medical societies and student action groups have set up mechanism to effectively monitor future corruption by politicians, owners of political parties together with corrupted corporate leaders and business people. To the students, reform before national election include a revised regulation of elections in a bid to create a “fair election”. The military leaders had announced at their meeting with representatives of the PDRC that they wanted to see the country quickly return to peace through negotiations by different factions as soon as possible. The military will be out in the street, not to make a coup d’tat, but to keep the people safe from violence and arms attack. Contrary to report by many of the Western media, the PDRC are not against election as such, but they want it to be organised under a neutral and legitimate government with a new reformed election law to prevent vote-buying possibilities. They want to see political parties give commitment to people’s interest and not to their own business interest. The conflict in Thailand will end only when political parties and politicians agree to political reforms to ensure free and fair election without corruption. Future quick election, without the reform, is not going to happen any time soon. Because millions of people don’t want them and they will come out to the street again to prevent a return of the cycle of corrupted regimes. As citizens, they have a right, guaranteed by the Constitution, to get rid of corrupted government that does not respect the rule of law and the verdict of the judges of the Constitution Court.

Water and Personal Security

Before the Bangkok Flood of 2011, I did not realize that the rising flood water could force me to look seriously at the clean water supply and the scarcity of drinking water problems. I often take it for granted that water will always be there, available for me to use whenever I want. During the period of flood in the city, dirty flood water got mix-up with the municipality’s canal system which provide clean water for most households use. We were warned by the government not to use contaminated water for cooking and drinking. I had to go to the neighborhood store to buy bottled-drinking water, but I found out that the shelfs were all emptied. People began to stockpile cases of bottled-water at the first warning of flood. I was too late, and ended-up having to buy several bottles of soda water and beer to drink instead. Hard to believe that this could happen in the capital city of Thailand when we used to have plenty of water from the rain six month yearly. I never thought that it could happen to me when I came from New York to visit my ailing mother. That was a hard lesson for me to learn. Luckily the major part of that flood did not reach Sukhumvit areas where my mother lives. So I survived the crisis. But I know that many people in other flooding areas had suffered a lot. No one can survive without clean drinking for a day. And the Thai government emergency water distribution did not reach people fast enough. The experience have made me pay a particular attention to all discussions on the subject relating to clean water. The dialogues among government officials and water experts at the 2nd Asian and Pacific Water Summit held last month in Chiangmai provided valuable information on the problems of water resources management, and the distribution of drinking water when disaster hit. Asia and Pacific leaders came together to share their country’s experiences and to set a new policy on the establishment of water information system. They also focused on the inter-connectedness of clean water supply, food security, and sanitation, especially when a disaster strikes. Water availability at community level is most important for the survival of people, especially those who live in urban areas. In Thailand, we used to store rain water in earth jars or aluminium tanks for household use, but people don’t do that any more. They all rely on water coming out of the government water-pipe. I am glad that leaders in the Asia and Pacific region were aware of this problem. They unanimously agreed on the Chiangmai Declaration committed to promote efficient use of water resources, reduce water pollution, improve water quality, and protect sources of fresh water. The urban water security was included in the effort to meet the UN Millennium Development Goal of universal access to water and sanitation by 2025. With climate change that we are facing today, nobody can wait that long. Scarcity of drinking water is a survival issues for most of us right now. For me, it is personal security and human rights issues.

Truth & Reconciliation

It was with good intention that the Abhisit Government set up the Truth For Reconciliation Commission of Thailand in 2010. This independent commission, headed by Kanit na Nakorn, was to investigate and collect evidence on the violent clashes between the redshirts street demonstrators and the national security force, causing the lost of 92 lives, and the injury of many. The final report has just come out, and the public reaction to it is mixed. Some people think the report is good and fair. But there are others who hated the report . The redshirts did tear up the report in front of the press, saying that it was one sided in blaming Thaksin Shinawatra as the main culprit of the trouble in Thailand. They suggests to the Yingluck Government to throw out the report because they think that it will further create more division between the Thai people. The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay on Tuesday urged the present government to act on the report’s good recommendations. Especially to hold state officials to account and address the institutional weaknesses that the report identified. Even if the Commission does not have the power to enforce its’ recommendations, their report will be useful to the people in the long run. It gives the learning institutions an opportunity to educate the public about how Thai political conflict got started during the past two years and by whom. Political institutions will also gain insights from the report which they can use it to find solutions to the present problem or to prevent future violence. I think we should not expect reconciliation to happen soon. It will not happen because the country cannot face up to the truth . Thailand is still very much divided between those people who opposed Thaksin and his way of leadership and those who loved him and wanted him to return to Thailand, no matter what.

Compromise Is Necessary For Peace

It is difficult for me to see real peace in Thailand even when leaders of the two political factions agreed to meet and talk. Members of Parliament are still in fierce fights on constitution change this week. The political divide in Thailand is too deep among the population at large and not on two or three individuals.It is far beyond the recent public demonstration of smiles and handshakes by heads of the Government and the Privy Council. Politicians talk “reconciliation” while at the same time provoke hatred among Redshirts and those who oppose them with song and speech through social media network and mass media. Most people are concerned with daily living struggling to cope with the rising price of oil, gas. electricity, and food. They do not want to see more street demonstrations and violent fights. There is no way out of this problem in the near future, except when the leaders of all sides can come up with a compromise on how to make changes in the Constitution that all Thai citizens can live with and agree on common strategy to drive the country forward economically.

Preventing War On Reconciliation

Mr. Borwornsak Uwanno, the Secretary-General of Thailand King Prajadipok’s Institute (KPI), did a good job at the meeting yesterday on the Reconcilliation Research Report. He did prevent the new violent confrontation to flare up between the pro-Thaksin groups and those who opposed his Pheu-Thai Party plan for his “graceful” return to Thailand by using a majority vote in the Parliament for his amnesty. Last week the House Committee Reconciliation report had sparked turmoils in the Parliament . Mr. Uwanno did not want to see his Institute’s Research used by General Sonthi Boonyaratglin’s House Reconciliation Committee to start fights in the Parliament by politicians and political parties.He had threatened to call back the Institute’s Research if MPs continue to use it to get a majority vote in Parliament for Thaksin’s amnesty. He called for a broader discussion and debate on the content of the KPI Research Report and its proposals. Not wanting the Parliament to rush into considerations of the General Sondhi’s Reconcilliation Report and to hurry the adoption by majority vote of the Pheu-Thai Party MPs, he proposed that the House only “acknowledge” the report. He urged that the Opposition Party, the Democrats, and the people in the country engage in a constructive dialogue on the controversial proposals. He asked that the media when report on the reconciliation process to do so with a balanced view. He also asked the people not to believe in any comment on the proposal until they read the short and the full versions of the report for themselves. I recommend that those who are interested should also read the reports of the independent commission led by Mr. Kanit Na Nakorn, The Truth for Reconciliation Commission of Thailand (TRCT), set up by the Democrat-led coalition government last year, have just released its’Third Progress Report (July 2011 – March 2012). After reading all the reports involved, people will then get a full picture of what has been going on in the whole process of reconciliation in Thailand. Reconciliation will take time. It cannot be done in a hurry to be beneficial to a certain individual. The conflict and division in the country are too deep. They require a well-planned public education and communication-support programs to change existing attitude of animosity against those who have different ideas in how the country should be organized and run. Respecting the rule of law and opinions of other citizens are key ingredients in a democratic form of governing a country. Thailand is no exception.

Advancement Of Women In Politics?

I regret losing Abhisit Vajjajiva as Thailand’s Prime Minister, but consoled by the fact that he will still be around as an important political figure and as leader of the opposition party in the Parliament. I consider him to be one of the best prime ministers Thailand has ever had. He has a suitable educational background and an ability to speak well publicly in both Thai and English. I am always proud to see him representing Thailand at various national and international meetings. Not only that, he had led, for two years, a government that was supportive of women in politics, economics and social development. He had made sure that programs were created for the goal of Gender Equality as written in the Thai Constitution. We will no longer have that kind of a government again, due to the big change that happened after the election on July 3. Yingluck is Thaksin’s sister. He selected her to be his “clone” in this election because he cannot be in the country himself. Thaksin had already dropped his Thai citizenship to avoid a jail term. He is now a citizen of Montenegro with a residence in Dubai. To my amazement, the Election Commission did allow a foreigner, a fugitive from the Thai judicial system, to fund and set up a political party from abroad to run in this national election.
Using clever marketing gimmicks of “direct sales” which Shin/AIS Company is well-known for success in selling their mobile phones, Yingluck led the Pheu Thai Party in election with a slogan “Thaksin Thinks – Pheu Thai Acts”. She won 265 seats, (more than half of the total 500 parliamentary seats) for her brother’s Party. When combined with six smaller Parties, Yingluck will lead a coalition government of 300 seats in the Parliament. Thailand is again in danger of having a “parliamentary dictatorship”, just like five years ago when brother Thaksin was the Prime Minister before the 2006 coup.
I am ambivalent about the outcome of this election. I support women in politics in general and want to see a qualified woman as prime minister, but I am not happy with the way Yingluck came to power. She had accepted the role as  “puppet” for her fugitive brother who believed himself to be above the law. A business woman with only experience in managing a family-owned mobile phone company, is not enough background to lead a government of the country. She does not have a mind of her own. In many occasions, Yingluck has publicly admitted that she always listens to her brother and asks for his opinion on most things. She cannot speak intelligently on the subject of international politics and regional economics whether in Thai or English language. When giving answers to questions from foreign journalists about how she will solve the country’s problems, she skated and skipped around adding her innocent girlish smile plus occasional giggles. It is embarrassing for me to watch her performance in the media representing Thailand to the World. To me, no one should claim that what is happening in Thailand right now is an advancement of women in politics.

No Need For Social Media Regulation

I am a regular user of Google, Web Blog, Twitter and Facebook. I want Internet and the social media to remain free as private enterprise – not under government’s control. Social media give us a chance to practice “democracy” from the bottom up. It worries me when I read a report that some of the G-8 leaders who attended the last week Deauville G-8 Summit, had tried to push for internet regulation. The new communication technology is created by private companies and individual citizen, therefore it must remain open for every one to use. I am alarmed that key journalists in Thailand have been asking the Election Commission to issue them a clear guideline on how political parties can use social media in this election campaign. Political parties and voters in Thailand should be left free to communicate with each other until the July 3 election day. How can any authoritarian leader think he/she can control the minds of 7-8 million Facebook users and over a million tweeters just in Thailand alone. It is good that the major parties are actively using social media in their election campaign. Thai voters and Party candidates do not need to have “a guideline” to communicate online. Whatever happens in social media will balance itself out after the election. I can understand why many government leaders fear social media when used effectively by young people to organize protest on the street to overthrow the corrupted authoritarian regimes such as in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya. And how the social media had challenged Singapore one-party ruled in the last election. It is good that Eric Schmidt, Google’s Executive Chairman and Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook who attended the e-G8 Forum in Paris before the Summit warned government leaders“to thread lightly on internet regulation because moves to tame its rough edges risk hurting its virtues”. Not only that, new Internet technologists can always find a way to undergo or bypass any government’s attempt to control Internet access. It is ironic that most governments now use Internet and social media to their benefit to run day-to-day businesses and enjoy the fruits of a booming digital economy. Then the leaders must not turn around trying to isolate out things they like about the Internet and control things they don’t like. This is unfair. If we believe in democracy/ people’s participation, then government should encourage transparency, free flow of information and two-way communication. The role the government can play in the Internet revolution is to expand access, open it for use by all its citizens free from censorship and control.

A Woman On A White Horse

On May 16, an opposition political party, Pheu Thai voted for Yingluck Shinawatre as its No 1 candidate on the party list system to compete with Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva a leader of the Democrat Party in the coming July national election. Don’t even think for a moment, that this is progress for Thai women in politics. Yingluck does not stick her neck out in the political arena for the advancement of women or gender equality in Thailand. She has done this to advance her family business, to become a nominee, or a clone of her brother, the fugitive, self-exiled, former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra . One retired Army General, a crony of Thaksin, came out publicly to praise Yingluck, calling her “A woman on a white horse” to lead Thailand out of economic problem”. He even said that she will win big in the election, and become the first female Prime Minister of Thailand. In electing her to lead, Pheu Thai party think that Thai women will be happy to vote for her even when they know that she has no experience whatsoever in politics. I am not so sure that it will happen. Thai voters, whether males or females, are not so stupid as to vote for just anyone that Thaksin sets up to work for him. Yingluck is his “sacrificial lamb”. History has shown us that when a man is desperate, he often puts a woman in front to shield and guard him from danger. By allowing herself to be used this way by her brother, Yingluck shows us that she is not qualify nor is intelligent enough to become Prime Minister of Thailand. I agree with Banharn Silapa-archa, the former Prime Minister, when he warned that Yingluck should be careful and not become “A woman who falls from the white horse” after the election.

Thailand and Democracy

We have good news coming from Thailand. Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva announced last week that he will dissolve Parliament in May to pave way for national election to be held in late June or early July. Ever since the announcement, Thai politicians and civil society activists are having heated debates within political parties, and social groups, and out in the open in the newspapers, television and the social media. I would be quite happy if the arguments and debates are about how to conduct a clean and fair national election, or how to stop corruptions and vote-buying, but instead the debate focused on whether election should be postponed for four or five years to allow an appointed-government by the King to run the country. Many don’t think Thailand is ready to have an elected government coming from either the red or yellow shirts. Those who are against the next election come from the People Alliance for Democracy (PAD), a coalition of several groups formed in the last couple of years in a nation-wide campaign to get rid of the former Prime Minister Thaksin and his “corrupted government”. They called themselves “yellow shirts” in support of the monarchy. They want to use Article 7 of the Thai constitution to have the government of “good” people to be appointed by the King. They don’t think that holding election at this time will solve the country’s problems of corruptions and divisions among people in the country. No matter which side wins. Despite having “democracy” in naming their group, in reality, many PAD leaders are authoritarians. One of the leaders made a recent public statement saying that during the 79 years since 1932 revolution, Thailand had been more ruined under elected governments than under military juntas or appointed governments. This view is widely disseminated through newspapers articles under a heading such as “Thailand doesn’t need democracy”. If election is going to be held in two-three months, the PAD leaders said that they would boycott it by casting a “no vote” on the ballot. They encouraged the people to follow them in this act of defiance. I think that the PAD leaders should stop being so arrogant as to tell Thai citizens how to vote in the next election. By doing so, they insult the intelligence of Thai voters. Everybody has a right to make his or her decision on who should be elected to form a new government. It is not possible to have unelected government in a democracy. Thailand has a constitution that is based on a democratic principle, recognizing equality of all citizen to have a say in all decisions that affect their lives. Respecting the rule of laws, of human rights, and of freedom of thoughts are important ingredients of Thai democracy for more than two decades. The country has been lucky to have recent past and present government leaders who believe in democratic principle. That is why I think that it is ridiculous for PAD leaders in this day and age to attempt to pull the country backward politically. But I don’t think that they will succeed in getting much support in the “no vote” campaign. After a long wait, the majority of people in Thailand want to use their voting power in this coming election to make a change, to have a government of their own choice, and to move the country forward to a better future.