Tuesday, September 17, 2019

No road back to democracy without public participation

Apr 18. 2016
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By Piyaporn Wongruang
The Nation

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The lid has finally been lifted on the new charter draft, to reveal the missing jigsaw pieces of the political picture for the so-called five-year transitional period - including the selected Senate.

But an unelected Upper House isn’t the only controversial feature in the new political landscape. Also warranting scrutiny is the blueprint for reform.

Public policy in the charter draft is divided into conventional procedures of state governance, and unprecedented “reform plans” plus the national strategy.
Whichever party forms a new government can still deliver its own policies too, but it will have to account for their implementation via advance planning and auditing by Parliament and independent agencies.
In short, the new government will face more stringent regulation of its policies while at the same time having to achieve strategy goals laid out in the charter draft. Such an enormous task will mean parties may have to think twice before fielding election candidates.
For the people, however, the reform efforts could be even more troubling.
The set of plans and policies to address fundamental problems in the country have been put in place by a small group of individuals who claim good intentions and expert knowledge.
The question is, does the strategy forged by these “good people” answer the needs of the country and its citizens.
So far, the reasoning behind the reform plans and national strategy has not been clearly explained to the public. We little idea of how the ideas were developed nor of the information used in that process. 
The final wording is equally opaque, with a few vague sentences culminating in a directive that “the government has to ensure that people are allowed to participate in the plans and the strategy”.
However, the lack of public participation so far leaves us sceptical that charter policy will respond to people’s needs in a democratic manner and thus eventually alleviate deep-rooted problems for the country. That two-way communication between the people and their representatives is the foundation of democracy and the only sure way to national progress, however much learning through trial and error it may contain. 
In contrast, taking a short cut to “rebuilding” the country via a set of ideas dictated with little public participation could lead to a dead end. Not only is the road ahead unclear, but we are sacrificing the learning process that is fundamental to democracy. 
Such brittle, top-down thinking without solid foundations in the popular will is too fragile to survive a pre-existing environment of conflict whose underlying tensions two years of military rule has done little to alleviate.
But if we do choose this road at the referendum in August, those in charge must be pressured to make public participation in reforms a priority. 
Only then can we know we are taking the right route to national rebuilding and sustainable democracy.

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