Anti-politician sentiment

16 09 2014

Atiya Achakulwisut is a contributing editor at the Bangkok Post. In a recent op-ed she looks at The Dictator’s claim that “his reform plans may take a lifetime to complete.” She refers to his policy document as a “31-page dream for Thailand…”.

She finds General Prayuth Chan-ocha’s “official statement” reasonable in some aspects: “Reducing inequalities, improving Thai people’s competitiveness or promoting sustainable use of natural resources have always been staple issues in the country’s development agenda.”

Yet Atiya also sees problems and items missing. She asks about decentralisation and about military and police reform, all missing. The latter two items seem too controversial for Atiya and she concentrates on decentralization. Her view is that:

Decentralisation is necessary because it’s the only way for us to get away from the cycle of corrupt politicians, biased laws that benefit the wealthy, inert bureaucrats that only serve people in power and the military that can always push democracy back by staging a coup.

She argues that:

The only way for Gen Prayuth to realise his own dream is for him to empower the people. He has to turn them into informed and engaged citizens and give them room to make decisions about their own future. Unfortunately, the PM [she means The Dictator] in his policy statement was more content to make the cumbersome bureaucracy the master of the citizens’ destiny. It is easy to foresee how he will fall short.

This is reasonably forthright criticism in a newspaper that usually fawns over military dictators, at least in their early days, and in an atmosphere of repression and censorship. However, the plight of decentralization is one that requires local voice. It is exactly this that has been suffocated by the military dictatorship. Atiya notes this: “I want administrative power to be decentralised and local communities to elect their own representatives and influence policies that affect them.”

But so bent is the notion of elections, especially amongst the Bangkok-based elite, that she must make this claim by stating: “I am not pro-politician…”. Yes, that is what it has come to in Thailand. You are pro- or anti-politician! A politician is one who is elected. Atiya can’t have her cake and eat it too. Empowerment means some form of representation, and we can think of no other way of arranging this than through free and fair elections.

Atiya goes further than being anti-politician, declaring: “I support the junta’s attempt to balance out the overwhelming power of elected representatives with effective monitoring systems.” That is not what the junta is doing. The junta is designing a political system that makes elections and elected politicians politically irrelevant.

She makes a little more sense when she notes:

Decentralisation, however, is not possible without the military and police reform. As long as these two forces are allowed to function the way they have and retain their usurping powers, there is no room for citizen-based organisations to grow.

Citizen-based organizations also represent interests, whether selected or elected. Being “anti-[elected] politician” and anti-military is a lonely place. Elections challenge the power of the unelected.


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