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New law on political parties a magic pill for democracy? 


The ideal of representative democracy, in which politicians and parties truly reflect the voices of the people, is a tough one to reach. But Thailand is taking another shot, with reformers and legal experts once again attempting to lay the foundations.

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Politics that is genuinely representative of the popular will has been a rarity in Thai history. Our political parties and politicians have instead been dominated by special interests – a situation that undermines not only their ability to represent constituents, but also the spirit of democracy itself.
Organic constitutional law on political parties now being written offers fresh hope that parties could be liberated from such domination. 
“The new political parties law we are writing is aimed at freeing parties from influence and making them belong to the people,” Udom Rathamarit, a spokesman of the Constitution Drafting Commission (CDC) told The Nation in an exclusive interview. “It will bring changes in how a party is established, as well as how it is run.”
With the new bill, reformers and members of the CDC are seeking to reconfigure the links between the people, political parties and politicians by decentralising power and strengthening democratic institutions.
The new law will require a more participatory process in forming parties and determining membership, with an increased role for party branches and members, including in the selection of candidates for MPs. It also stipulates greater transparency for donations and finances, plus more opennes and commitment by parties in regard to formulation of their public policy.
Political parties and politicians will thus be made more transparent, accountable and committed to the people, with stiff penalties for politicians who treat their parties or positions as assets in return for monetary gain. Those penalties can be as severe as capital punishment or life terms in prison –an unprecedented legal constraint against politicians and political parties.
The renewed reform effort appears justified given the mess politicians have made of the country in the past. Measures introduced are in fact logical steps toward the overall aim of forging political parties that genuinely belong to the people, by boosting their participatory nature and commitment to the public.
However, relying exclusively on an approach of legal suppression might not yield the yearned for results. 
The CDC has held at least two public hearings on the organic laws, yet no major parties have attended. If their absence suggests anything, it is that the new law will face strong opposition.
More critically, the public has been just as unresponsive to the bill, partly due to its complex and technical legal language that is difficult to understand. 
A genuine and deeper sense of political ownership among citizens can only be instilled through education and public-awareness campaigns. Besides focusing on legal curbs on political parties and politicians, reformers and law drafters need to address the long-term process whereby people are encouraged to become politically self-aware and demanding of their representatives. Genuine democracy will not be achieved by flicking on a legal switch.

Published : November 24, 2016

By : Piyaporn Wongruang [email protected] The Nation