Pasuk : We need reform, but how do we achieve?
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Pasuk : We need reform, but how do we achieve?

Pasuk has an op-ed in today’s Bangkok Post about reform. She starts off the piece by noting that per capita income has increased threefold during the past few decades and this means their expectations from the government have changed. She states:

In the past 20 years, the many levels of elections that come with decentralisation have also empowered the citizenry, especially people in the provinces.

They have discovered how the one-man-one-vote system can change their lives for the better, how it has brought more money to their localities.

In short, they have discovered their power in the one-man-vote system.

Before 1980, only 5-10% of the national budget was allocated to the rest of the country outside Bangkok and other big cities.

By 2001, this meagre amount had risen to 16%. Since 2001, this amount has increased to 24%. One quarter of the national budget does not sound that much. But it is a big increase compared to what the provinces received in the ’70s and ’80s.

As payers of taxes like everybody else (especially value-added tax plus other sales taxes, which account for 50% of total tax revenue), Thais in provincial areas all over the country, who form the majority of the population, have contributed to the annual budget.

They have the right to receive a fairer share of their tax payments in the national budget.

They have begun to receive a fairer share because of changes in the political system _ from a military dictatorship to parliamentary democracy under the constitutional monarchy _ which accords each person with one vote on an equal basis.

Some city people are saying the one-man-one-vote system does not work for Thailand.

But in truth, for the majority of the people it has begun to work. Some city people say they deserve more weight than rural people because they pay taxes.

But in truth rural people pay taxes too. These city views are unacceptable by those who have been empowered by the new system.

BP:  See previous post on this issue which had Revenue Department figures only. The Budget Bureau Web site seems to be experiencing technical difficulties, but according to the Ministry of Finance, gross government revenue for November 2013 was  187,982.12 million baht OR net government revenue (after VAT refunds, tax rebates, and allocation of money to PAOs) is 165,332.12 million baht. Of this, only 20,487 million baht or 10.9% is from personal income tax (note for full year: Thai Publica has it at 11.8% for the 2009 fiscal year)

On Democrats vs Puea Thai:

The Democrats blame their defeats on vote-buying, not their own failure to create innovative policies with public appeal.

I am perplexed by the Democrats’ poll boycott decision. A political party in a democratic system does not want to contest an election. How can this be? Australia recently went through a fierce power struggle. The Labor Party knew it would face poll defeat, so it changed the party leader.

Even though defeat was certain, it still contested the election because it was thinking ahead to a possible win at a future poll, and because it respected the rules of the political system.

Perhaps the Democrats do not really trust the process of democratic politics. The party’s leaders are good at negotiating with powerful groups in society such as the military, business groups, and senior officials. They concentrate on fostering ties with groups that “matter” rather than winning support at the grassroots outside Bangkok and its southern strongholds.

I fear the Democrats’ election boycott will make them even less popular, even less likely to win elections, and even more distrustful of democracy. That would be a pity.

Some Democrat politicians have tried to lobby for party reform but have failed. The party is now talking about reform of the whole political system. I agree. There are many things that need reform _ especially the judicial system, the anti-corruption machinery, taxation and budgeting, and the parties themselves. The question is how to do it.

All the important changes in our political system in recent years _ the 1997 constitution, decentralisation, anti-corruption measures, reorganisation of the civil service _ have come at times when an elected government was in power, not when parliament was suspended after a coup. Why should we believe the current situation is any different? When democracy is suspended, powerful minority interests have the field and tend to institute “reforms” that suit themselves.

I have been disappointed in this Pheu Thai government.

Many of its policies are gimmicky and ill thought-out. It has refused to listen to legitimate criticism of the over-blown rice-pledging scheme.

It abused public trust over the amnesty law.

It has not done anything about reform of taxation and the budgetary system. I sympathise with the demonstrators’ frustrations.

But I cannot see how the current protest strategy will achieve reform. The aim is to create a crisis which will bring down the Yingluck government and the “Thaksin system”. But what next? No amount of reform planned by this council or that is going to undo the big changes in political awareness and aspirations among the mass of Thai society. As long as there is one party that responds to those aspirations (with or without the Shinawatra clan), and another party that has not yet learnt to do so, election results are going to be much the same; and the middle-class frustrations will be the same too.

The alternative is to rig the system so drastically that those aspirations are suppressed.

BP:  It is key to remember that the current electoral rules were written by the Establishment in 2007 and then revised early 2011 by the Democrat-led government. The rules were not designed by Thaksin and haven’t been changed by the current government (although their amendment to a fully-elected Senate failed). They have already tried to change the rules to their favour. They got rid of a fully-elected Senate, they stacked “independent” agencies with those opposed to Thaksin and with the partly-appointed Senate could always ensure that enough establishment sympathisers would be appointed again to exercise enough control of the agencies, changed laws to make it easier to dissolve parties, increased powers of such agencies, changed the electoral system twice,* funnelled billions to get former Thaksin allies to defect and establish smaller parties where those smaller parties outspent pro-Thaksin parties 3 to 1 (yet still lost) etc. Yet, even with all of this, the Democrats won’t contest the election under the current rules? The fear that BP has is as Pasuk states they rig the system. Suthep’s People’s Council which would seemingly have absolute power could do just that. Yingluck’s national reform model though hasn’t attracted much support outside of the party, so what now?

*Remember under the 1997 Constitution, we had 400 single member constituency MPS and 100 MPs from the party vote. Thaksin won under that system so in 2007, they changed this to 157 multi-member constituencies (with up to 3 MPs per constituency and 400 constituency MPs in total) and 80 MPs from the party vote (because Thai Rak Thai had done well under the party vote system previously) but a pro-Thaksin party still won in 2007 so the Abhisit-led government, who had done well on the party list vote in 2007, changed the electoral system in 2011 to move to 375 single member constituencies and 125 MPs from the party vote. Yet, the pro-Thaksin party won again in 2011 and the change didn’t help. Hence, we need a third change to  somehow weaken Puea Thai, but BP thinks they realize this is not enough. They are unhappy that the 2007 Constitution didn’t go far enough in weakening Thaksin so want a do-over. And you think Puea Thai will be happy about this reform? Of course, not. As it is they are not happy with the 2007 Constitution and want a fully-elected Senate and to make other changes, but the establishment want to go the over way entirely…