Chiang Rai province’s Election Commission reported that in August there will be elections for seven local TAO positions in the province alone. It is estimated that nationwide there will be several hundred.
Each election will cost the taxpayers approximately 50,000 baht. You do the rest of the math.
Why and how have we come to this?
The particular law responsible came into effect on Dec 31, 2009, but it was passed in 2007.
Who was in charge in 2007?
It was the interim government led by Gen Surayud Chulanont and appointed by the _ let’s call them the Coup Council.
Why did they pass such a scrumptiously feudalistic law?
The reason as explained then was that the law would assure that the village and district heads have no political allegiance, that they would not be biased or act as hua-kanaan, or canvassers, for any political party.
Well, that’s what they said anyway.
The real story is a bit different.
Critics assert that it was simply the Coup Council’s strategy to uphold and strengthen Thailand’s patronage democracy. The village and district heads are the closet to the voters, closer even than TAO or PAO members.
They are the first line of control, the front-line soldiers to keep the populace in line. They are the ones that bring in the votes.
So have your loyal men in place. Make sure they are in place until retirement. And general elections will always go your way.
Patronage democracy at its finest _ it was also meant to dismantle the Thaksin Shinawatra political machine.
But oops, it didn’t work, did it?
Between Dec 31, 2009 and July 3, 2011, there simply wasn’t enough time for the system to work. Even the Coup Council couldn’t very well have fired all the village and district heads wholesale, and have their people elected.
The irony is that the Thaksin political machine will be the beneficiary of this tasty feudal dish over the next four years and until the next general election.
The village and district heads in place and the new batch would do very well to play nice with the new Bangkok regime.
It’s mutually beneficial, after all. But that’s neither here nor there.
As I have stated before, the problem of the Thai political landscape goes beyond Thaksin or any one general.
Over the past few weeks, I have discussed traditionalist patronage democracy versus capitalist patronage democracy.
Last week, I painted the picture of Thai politics as a family business, dominated by regional family dynasties.
This week, it’s the same theme, but digging deeper down to the village level.
The conclusion is, the Thai patronage democracy is a built-in system that encompasses all fabrics of the political and hence, social spectrum.
It may be democratic in practice, because at the end of it all, each and every one of us goes to the polls. But it’s very feudalistic in its structure, because the outcome of the system reflects the motives, the mentality that built the system _ that is the control of the populace, the peasantry.
We now have a new government in charge. What does it mean?
It means only this: The system is still the same, only the masters have changed.
Instead of ammart in traditional uniforms, we have capitalists in expensive suits calling themselves prai in charge, while the masses are still the pawns in the patronage system.
The Thai patronage democracy keeps on perpetuating because we are a country of peasants _ and the powers-that-be, whether traditionalist or capitalist _ would like to keep things that way.
Because we are a nation of peasants, this makes us easy to be governed and useful whenever the masters need to whip us up into a fanatical frenzy to achieve a political end.
The July 3 general election is said to have been one of the most corrupt in history. Some international observers may have actually thought it was clean and clear, but face it, international observers can’t see what we Thais can see and know.
Even our own Election Commission spoke of how dirty it was.
But at the end of the day, a total of two yellow cards were given to the alleged cheaters in the July 3 general election. Why so few? More yellows plus a few reds are handed out in a single match of the Thai Football Premier League.
Election Commissioner Somchai Juengprasert said it best when he explained that corruption is in the workings of the patronage democracy _ what is there to do about it?
Indeed, what is there to do about it? What does it take to change the system?
A renovation from above? A revolution from below?
The former would be much less painful. As for the latter, open a history book and learn that revolutions from below usually start out with the best of intentions, but more often than not end up in a bloody mess and with an even more authoritarian regime in place.
Or should we just do nothing, let nature takes its course, which means Thailand may forever at best be average, in the middle ranking; break-dancing with two left feet on the thick, concrete line that separates the advanced world from the peasant world. Hopefully we are a little more ambitious than that.
This feudalistic plague is something every advanced democracy has gone through, every struggling democracy is going through, and every society soon to adopt democracy will go through.
There’re always some variations, but it’s basically the same human story. To start with, we just need to be a little more ambitious.
Contact Voranai Vanijaka