Guest Post – Reform proposal: Why not a win-win for both sides?
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Guest Post – Reform proposal: Why not a win-win for both sides?

The below is a guest post from a reader who is frustrated about the current impasse. BP has added some comments in square brackets as also wanted to comment on the TDRI proposal. Post is below:

Why can’t we just give everyone what they want? Reform before election AND reform after election? Can we consider this?

As soon as possible, the government sets up a National Reform Committee, along the lines of what Somkiat Tangkitwanich, President of the Thailand Development Research Institute (TDRI) proposal here [BP: Excerpts chosen and highlighted by BP]:

First, the reform process must start prior to the election because once a government is secured in power, it has no incentive to conduct reform.

Second, the reform body should be a “reform committee”, not too big in size that it becomes a “reform assembly”. For example, the body might be limited to 30 people; one-third could be recommended by the ruling parties, one-third by the opposition, and one-third could be representatives from different sectors in society (such as academia, business, agriculture, civil society, or labour), who could be the “trusted neutral parties”.

The candidates for “trusted neutral parties” must be accepted by both the government and the parties in conflict. This arrangement would include parties in conflict without letting any side dominate the process.

[BP: On the model, of all the offered models it seems more workable, but devil is always in the detail. For example, the 10 from opposition, does this include Bhum Jai Thai and Chuwit’s party? What about PAD? Or just Democrats? ]

Third, the committee’s recommendations for the government should require just a little more than a majority such as 60% (18 out of 30 votes) to ensure the recommendations are accepted by the opposite side and the “neutral parties” as well.

This proportion is also not too high to make reform difficult, as it prevents recommendations from being blocked too easily.

Fourth, the reform committee should limit the scope of its recommendations to no more than four or five significant issues that drive the current political conflicts and which require immediate attention.

These issues might include rules related to acquiring state power, checks and balances on state power, corruption, populism and fiscal discipline, or justice issues relevant to the current conflict.

This does not mean that other issues such as education reform, inequality reduction, or the broader justice system are irrelevant, but only that these issues need continuous and long-term measures and should be carried out by an elected government under normal circumstances.

Fifth, the committee should offer reform recommendations along with time frames to the government, starting with ones having high consensus and practical plans. The recommendations should provide a deadline as well, to provide tangible results for citizens. The committee could recommend more complex reforms afterwards.

Sixth, besides recommending reforms to the government, the committee should monitor whether the government is carrying out reform as recommended and within the time frame. If the government does not carry out reform as recommended or shows an intent to delay or shun reform, the committee should have a duty to advise the government to “punish itself” by dissolving the parliament and holding a new election. This would create incentives for the government to carry out reform unless it wants to face public pressure.

A reader: What is especially appealing is his recommendations for composition and defined scope and mandate. This is much more desirable that the nebulous “let’s reform Thailand until it is ready for democracy.” [BP: Agree]

This reform committee would be legally endowed with the power to perform its work no matter who wins the election, that is, neither PT or Dems can neuter it once it is in power. What I mean here is that it is somehow  formally insulated from government interference or from being shunted aside. [BP: Legally, it is not possible to do this as you can’t bind a future government through a decree, but morally it may be possible as if enough people are happy with the process and the result, the failure to act will hurt the government. Previous reform committees have failed as they were not inclusive of both sides. Nevertheless, it would be very difficult to stop a reform committee half-way unless they had done something so egregious].  The committee would be tasked with developing reform measures, not administrating the country for an unspecified period.

The Feb 2 poll could be delayed for 60-90 days and reopen registration of candidates so Democrats can field candidates in the next election. They may not win, but they can use the time to campaign for actual votes, highlighting not only what they think the government did wrong (rice subsidy, amnesty bill, etc.) and give them a chance to offer a realistic plan of action for how they plan to rid the country of corruption.

The government may insist, “No, no, we can’t do that, the law says elections can only be delayed for natural disaster.” If it means avoiding another coup, then please, let’s make the exception. (Like we haven’t been arbitrarily applying and ignoring laws the whole time.) [BP: Don’t disagree with the idea – and there is a post in draft mode looking into this more – but the Court would need to sign off on this otherwise given the Council of State (executive’s legal arm) that they can’t postpone the election, the PM would personally be in legal jeopardy.]

The PDRC will probably complain, “This won’t help because Thaksin will just buy the votes to win again. But do we really want to take a big step back when we should all be working together, focusing on the challenges of the upcoming ASEAN Economic Community?

Let’s allow everyone a chance to save face, but make certain any reform measures are more than just lip service. And if reform means everyone has to live with a little less (because politicians will be skimming less from public projects, and ordinary citizens can no longer buy their way out of a traffic ticket) then we need to do it for the good of all of Thailand.

Otherwise all we are doing, in the words of an old Thai proverb, is breaking our own rice pot.