By Kornrawee Panyasuppakun
On average, Thailand has had a military coup every four years since the country got its first constitution in 1932.
Anusorn Tamajai, dean of Rangsit University’s Faculty of Economics, cited this statistic as he advocated the setting up of village committees to promote democratic principles at the grassroots level.
The top-down approach to governance has clearly failed the nation, according to Anusorn and other experts at a recent academic forum.
Held by the Future Fundamental Institution of Thailand (FFIT), the event discussed the possibility of reforming Thai democracy from the bottom up.
“We should decentralise power and empower villagers. Locals in each village should vote for people they believe should sit on village committees,” Anusorn said. He expected such village committees would promote a just, fair and safe society.
Anusorn also suggested that Thailand empower community-based economic development by giving local people access to resources and curbing economic monopolies.
Seri Phongphit, president of Learning Institute for Everyone, said local people are capable of governing themselves, as evidenced by the many hilltribe villages found across the world.
“In Thailand, Khiriwong Village is proof that a self-governed community can succeed. Nestled in a mountain, it has operated independently for nearly 200 years. Its founders were commoners fleeing the nobles,” he said.
Chulalongkorn University’s political-science lecturer Pitch Pongsawat said he agreed with the idea of village-based democracy and believed Bangkok needed to embrace democratic reform.
“I must say that today’s Bangkok Metropolitan Administration is even more backward than provincial administrative organisations and even tambon administrative organisations,” he said.
Citing the potential for vote-buying, Pongsri Tarapoom, a former Democrat MP, was less committed to village-based democracy.
Institute of Human Rights and Peace Studies director Gotham Arya, meanwhile, said that fear stood in the way of democratic development in Thailand.
“Thais are afraid that bad persons will come to power. Thais are afraid that power won’t be in the hands of good guys,” he said. “But the definition of who is good may be subjective. So, it becomes more about who people like or not.”
Gothom suggested that the nation’s advancement of democracy should integrate core pillars of Thai society, namely the concepts of nationhood, religion and monarchy.
At the same seminar, FFIT chairwoman and Pheu Thai Party member Khunying Sudarat Keyuraphan encouraged political parties to put “an amended Constitution” as their top policy plank, and urged elected village representatives to participate in amending the Constitution.
Chatthaipattana Party director Nikorn Jamnong said he agreed that the Constitution should be amended, but predicted it would be very difficult to achieve.