Now that we are on the verge of a new election, the important questions to ask are: Should a mediocre Thai government be given a second chance? Does a failed opposition party deserve to be the next government?
To put it in another way: How do we know that a party that doesn’t perform well as a government would do better if voted back in? And how do we know that a party that refuses to be a strong opposition can become a strong and effective government?
Every political party, big or small, old or new, progressive or conservative, has campaigned with one common slogan: We will be part of the post-election government. None of them has come out to say that they will help make sure that the public has a strong opposition in Parliament.
None of them seems serious about telling the voters what they want to do for the public. Because of the lack of a real, informed debate about their respective policies, we still don’t know the basic differences between the Democrats and Pheu Thai, the two main parties, except that they will both attempt to outdo each other in their populist platforms.
They also share another common policy: we are more loyal to the monarchy than the others.
Thaksin Shinawatra, the de facto “owner” of Pheu Thai, declared in his video link to the party’s gathering last week: “I am confident Pheu Thai will form the next government.” And in a strange twist, he said: “If I can come back to Thailand, nobody could tamper with the monarchy.” He also said if, after his return to the country, he proved to be disloyal, he would be willing to be lynched by the Thai public. But he didn’t offer a chance for anyone to ask him whether his continued stay abroad would mean a different position over this issue.
Deputy Premier Suthep Thaugsuban of the Democrat Party was equally confident: “We will form the next government, that’s for sure.”
Premier Abhisit Vejjajiva also touched on the monarchy issue by saying he had asked the Election Commission to consider issuing a new set of rules to ban politicians from “using” the monarchy in the campaign. He was of course also suggesting that he and his party are perhaps more loyal to the highest institution than all the rest.
The small and medium-sized parties, too, have been telling everybody publicly that no matter how the ballot-casting exercise turns out, they will also be part of the government.
No politician in Thailand, it seems clear, is ready to serve in an effective opposition party. That certainly means that if they aren’t in the government, they don’t think they have a duty to perform. And that explains why Thailand’s parliamentary democracy has gone nowhere from the outset.
They probably don’t realize that when a voter casts a ballot for a certain MP of a certain party, the expectations aren’t only for them to become Cabinet members. People want their representatives to be ready to serve both as a member of the powers-that-be and, perhaps, even more importantly, to be able to provide the checks and balances if they aren’t part of the ruling elite.
The past few years have proved that a strong opposition is even more crucial than an effective government, especially when the ruling parties aren’t in a position to drive their policies toward any clear direction. This has been true because of the political stalemate that has plagued the country since the yellow and red shirts took to the streets to force their demands on the rest of the country.
The various post-election scenarios suggest that a similar situation will re-emerge. The need for a strong, vibrant opposition party that can represent the dissident voices, the oppressed and downtrodden is no less important than an effective, honest and transparent government.
Therefore, my take is: Any party that isn’t ready to serve as a true opposition force isn’t qualified to be voted in as part of the next government.
By Suthichai Yoon
Suthichai Yoon is editor-in-chief of the Nation Group in Thailand. ― Ed.
(The Nation/Asia News Network)