Is having elected governors in Thailand dangerous?By Bangkok Pundit Jan 10, 2014 6:38PM UTC
One of Suthep’s proposals is for elected governors (currently, only Bangkok has an elected governor with all other provinces having a governor who is appointed by the Ministry of Interior).
A few years ago, there was an editorial in the very conservative Naew Na entitled “Danger of Elected Provincial Governors”. TANN translated it and excerpts are below:
The political conflict among Thais could escalated into a civil war which would be fought by the supporters of fugitive former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and a government led by the Democrat Party. The conflict is now approaching that critical point. At the moment, the red shirt movement, who’s shared the same ideology with a certain major political party, has been trying to topple the current government as directed by a mastermind, who is aiming to exonerate himself from the crimes that he committed while he was in power.
Many of the pro-red shirt scholars from Chulalongkorn University have proposed that the governors of all provinces in the country be elected, similar to the gubernatorial electoral system practiced in Bangkok Metropolitan and Pattaya.
These scholars believe that in the current provincial administrative system, the governors have became subservient to politicians, in which the governorship can now be bought and sold. With this point, they argue that the people in each province should be able to decide for themselves who should be their governor as has been done in many countries.
The system of the elected governorship is usually practiced in a “presidential” administrative system seen in the United States, the Federal Republic of Germany, Russian Federation, India, Swiss Confederation, France Republic and others.
However, Thailand is a “unitary state” and a “kingdom”, where we have a monarch who acts as the head of the state. Aside from Thailand, countries such as Japan, the United Kingdom, Sweden, Belgium and others practice this system.
It has been speculated that the Interior Ministry is planning to dissolve all of the provincial local administrative organizations and replaced them with elected governors. This is worrisome as the idea could lead Thailand to more conflicts and ultimately, its downfall since currently, the country is deeply divided.
The proposal to solve violence in the south by having voters elect their own governors would be like encouraging the separatist movements to form a sovereign Pattani State, which has been demanded for more than fifty years.
If voters in the three southernmost provinces could elect their own governors, many more political groups in other provinces will also demand the same thing. Eventually, this could disintegrate the Kingdom of Thailand. The issue is a dangerous one and could lead Thailand into the most serious conflict in the nation’s history.
BP: Talk of elected governors has been around for a while, but it has never happened. More recently there has been talk of elected governors for the Deep South – Chalerm of all people proposed elected governors in 2012 – but it has gone nowhere for now. It is interesting because opposition to elected governors has often been the position of the establishment,* but also when elected governments come to power they often talk about the issue of elected governors although never get around to do this.
Of course, what is interesting now is that the Editor of Naew Na is a regular speaker on the protest stage so can one take it he no longer agrees with the editorial?
The issue of reform for Thai politics is very complicated with numerous proposals about the process, but actual substance and details is still lacking. Elected governors is one proposal from the protest side and it is a proposal that many reds and some within the current government have agreed or supported in the past. Perhaps, this could be an option where both sides could agree upon although then the issue is, how much autonomy do elected governors have?
*See Pravit from last year in The Nation:
While Bangkok people toy with the idea of whom to elect, the rest of the country has to put up with appointed governors.
The system of appointed governors dates back to over a century ago when Bangkok centralised its power with a model “inspired” by colonial administrations in neighbouring countries under Western imperialists.
This outdated system has been maintained despite the fact that cities like Chiang Mai are much older than Bangkok and their people should have had the right to elect their own governor long ago.
An appointed governor cannot be expected to be as responsive as an elected governor, but due to the central government’s wanting to maintain power, the provinces continue to be treated as if they’re colonies of Bangkok.
Typical arguments for the continuation of this double standard range from distrust of provincial people’s rational facilities and maturity to fear of secession.
Opponents of elected governors for the rest of the country claim godfather figures or drug barons would be elected if we allow local people to decide who should best serve as their governor. This sense of exceptionalism held by many Bangkok people is becoming increasingly conspicuous as residents in the capital go on electing their own governor time and again without any trouble.