Undemocratic centralism

7 12 2014

PPT missed this story/interview at The Isaan Record a few days ago and thanks a regular reader for drawing it to our attention. It is a story about the Governor of Khon Kaen province and his work for the military dictatorship, based on an interview. We do not know if the interview was conducted in English or Thai, and the language used may explain some of Kamtorn Tawornsatit’s sometimes strange responses. Even so, the intent of his answers describes authoritarian Thailand today in revealing terms. PPT simply reproduces snips from the interview below:

On color-coded conflict: “I’d like to inform you that the word ‘colored-shirt villages’ was a measurement to address the critical atmosphere caused by the differences in information and beliefs of the people. The NCPO therefore came and took control of the country. First, we have to look at the people as Thai, that we are all Thai. This idea eliminates division and violence. When we are divided, we think of others not as Thai, but as opponents. Thus, this crisis could be peacefully resolved if we looked at others as Thai.” General Sarit Thanarat would be pleased. H e adds: “Today, I have managed to eliminate the colored shirts in each community.” Kamtorn explains how this was done: “[We had to] stop the flow of information that has caused division; this is the most important.” He says that junta-directed reform has eliminated the “disease” afflicting Thailand and that “reform” by the junta will solve all problems.

Authority and control: “Previously, governors had no authority in these areas [justice processes] but did have the power to call people in for questioning if necessary. But now, they have power to command [these areas]. The authority to command has now been unified in seven or eight areas, such as in forests, where the governor can take command for more efficient law enforcement.” He says that orders are centralized: “At the moment, command orders [go out] to all officials in the province, thus even local officials from the central government [have to obey] if the governor asks them for their cooperation to solve a problem.” This takes Thailand back to the 1980s.

Justice and following The Dictator: “What state officials can do is deliver on justice. Justice comes from good governance observed by state officials. After all officials observe good governance, work can be fast and accurate, [and with that] then comes fairness and justice. Justice is about how the legal process is enforced. The last part, fairness, is how well the political rights, the duties and power of the people, are taken care of. In the long term, it is about having a peoplecentric and problem-solving approach. To address problems of the people in this case, the government has announced the 12 Core Thai Values policy. This shows that people come before the structure and the system.” Presumably this means all people will be happy.

Decentralization: The real answer is, “No way!” He babbles a lot, but that is the answer. For example: ” There are three mechanisms in the administration: centralization, authorization, and decentralization.” He declares: “There has to be one government for the whole country. For a government to occupy the whole of Thailand, [local central government offices] have to be the government’s eyes and ears…. If one asks, “Who is a governor?” the governor is the ears and eyes for the government in each province. Who is the district head? The district head is the [central] government in a district. Imagine what would happen to the country if the government was not in Bangkok, in Isaan or in the South—there would no one from the central government [in those places].

Freedom and electoral processes: Forget it. “[B]ecause [people] misunderstand the nature of a unitary state of Thailand, people might think the word ‘freedom’ must be used. With Thai democracy, it is impossible to talk about rights and freedoms by the book because rights and freedoms are related to the quality of the people. If we don’t have democracy yet, then the quality, perspectives, and knowledge of our people should be taken into consideration. I’m not complaining, but these are all obstacle to democracy.”

Local elections: Forget them. “It is within my authority to appoint [new] members [to formerly elected local bodies]. While we are [in a period] when we do not have confidence in the electoral process and the election system is being reformed, we use appointments as authorized by the NCPO. The procedures and rules are already defined. [Appointees] must be a bureaucrat who has served in the position in the area for a certain period as legislatively defined.”

The future: In a word, bleak. Rule by autocratic officialdom. “The bureaucracy is the mechanism of the government. Taking care of the people’s welfare is the duty [of the bureaucrat]. When bureaucrats do their job with good governance and with responsibility to the people, the faith and trust of the people [in us] will provide the energy for us to move together. Without trust, the country cannot develop. Come and work together [with us].”

The military coup was was meant to return authority to unelected bodies. The governor seems to be saying it has been successful in Khon Kaen. We are sure that he deludes himself and his bosses, yet the direction is clear.



%d bloggers like this: