KEY CDC MEMBER EXTOLS VIRTUES OF THE 'GRAND DESIGN'
While the charter drafters were busy finishing the document before officially handing it over to the National Reform Council on Saturday for further studying ahead of the NRC’s September 6 vote on it, a “grand design” for the country’s reform, reconciliation, and revitalising democracy has also been hatched. It centres on the formation of a “reconciliation government for reform” and the National Strategic Reform and Reconciliation Committee. They would be tasked with helping the country repair the deep divisions – new ideas that have drawn criticisms due to the belief that the bodies may operate “outside the democratic system.”.
Anek Laothamatas is among those promoting the ideas, in his capacity as a Constitution Drafting Committee member supervising the drafting of the reform and reconciliation chapter, and as the chairman of the NRC’s reconciliation studies committee.
He talked with Thepchai Yong, editor-in-chief of Nation Multimedia Group, on NOW 26’s “26th Hour” programme. The interview airs tonight at 10.30pm. Here is an excerpt.
Q: If a reconciliation government for reform can be formed in the future, what would it be like?
A: If we can form such a government, it’s highly likely that the government would be a grand coalition, under which two big parties come and join hands to form the government, plus some small and medium-sized parties. As this form of government needs about four-fifths of the vote from the MPs [to endorse it], it would be almost impossible for them to reject sitting in the government together.
We have come up with this proposal because we want to have a new mechanism to help contain conflict, so that it will not spread out to the street. Instead of standing against each other as usual, they will join hands.
Q: Is that because you fear things will go back to square one? Like after an election, two big parties will form the government and the opposition. Politics will not change, and the conflict will not disappear?
A: Yes, that is what we fear. As you know, it has been like this for 10 years already. So, as charter drafters, we need to break this challenge. Actually, this form of government has been adopted in several countries, be they the Netherlands, Belgium, Northern Ireland, South Africa, Germany, and Malaysia.
Q: They had a similar problem to us – a severe political conflict?
A: Yes, correct. Why such the government? This is because if we choose only some parties to sit in the government, the others would then be left out and become an opposition. In countries where a conflict is deep or severe, they have developed what is called a consociational democracy, under which opposing parties learn together to help each other contain a conflict within the government they run – [they learn] to compromise and to reconcile.
Under the British or US-style democracy that we have been familiar with, the parties with the majority of votes takes the government seat, while the rest with votes fewer than 40 per cent will be swept to the side, which is an opposition. So, this is our effort to get over this division.
Q: So, if this proposal is pushed forward, we may see (Democrat Party leader) Abhisit Vejjajiva and key leaders of the Pheu Thai Party like Surapong Tovichakchaikul working together under the same government?
A: It’s possible, but it also depends on the politicians. They should act like statesmen too. No matter how good a constitution is written, it will become helpless if those using it are not [acting proper].
First of all, I think the political parties should introduce new faces to sit on this government. Don’t drag out those old faces to come work together. And while this constitution is in use, we should try not to create a new conflict. We must compromise. It’s fine if you don’t like this idea as it will be here for only four years. We may need to compromise a bit so that our country can go on.
What we will do is ask people [if they accept the idea]. I believe that people and politicians now think differently about politics. Politicians are still in conflict [mode] and uncomfortable to work with one another, while the people themselves may wish to see them work together.
So, we will go ask the people via a referendum. If they nod their heads for the idea, then it would be like an endorsement for this kind of government to be formed.
It’s what we have been trying to come up with with this constitution – to facilitate reconciliation and reform as much as possible.
Q: So, the question to go on the planned referendum will be as simple as, “Do you agree with the idea of having a reconciliation government for reform?”
A: Something like that.
Q: Like “yes” or “no” to show their position?
A: Yes. Based on a recent Nida Poll, over 50 per cent of over 1,000 respondents nodded their heads for such the government. At this point it’s just a poll. We need the referendum, and we hope that people will place a commitment on politicians’ shoulders via the referendum. Don’t let politicians manage everything for us. If they still want to argue with one another, the people must say “no” to this. I believe politicians will then become more cooperative with one another.
Q: If the majority of people agree with this form of government, what would be the next step for it to be formed?
A: We may have to write a provisional clause [in the charter] to facilitate its formation, and a government of this type may last four or five years. Some people may ask, “Who will become prime minister? Is this a trick to get a military official to be prime minister?” I would answer that if a military official became prime minister, it is you [the MPs] who would vote for him or her. So, who would you blame, as you would be the ones who raised hands in support of him or her?
Actually, we have choices when dealing with the premiership. For instance, the leaders of both parties can take turns being prime minister. Or you can choose a leader from small or medium-sized parties to lead the government. There are several other ways to avoid inviting a military official to be prime minister. But if that is really the case, it’s you who chooses him or her.
Q: As you may also know, it may not be easy for politicians to agree on a prime minister post without taking their party’s benefits into account. Some people might think of a figure with Barami [integrity], and as such, it may be their view that this kind of government is an open door for an “outsider” or a military official to become prime minister. They would be right to view it in such a way, wouldn’t they?
A: It’s not wrong if they view it in such a way. We have not closed the door to any options. They are out there for them as choices. If you [the MPs] think that having an outsider to lead your government is the best choice, it’s up to you. Compared with the previous system, that’s truly a closed one, as it blocks you from having more choices. It’s “only us” who can be prime minister. The “only us” or “only me” choice has caused us to argue with each other for over 10 years now. So, with this idea you have more options.
Q: From what you have explained, it sounds like we want to get politicians to be more responsible?
A: Yes, it does.
Q: Not like letting them write the rules and play with them as they wish? But from now on, with this idea, politicians will have a commitment to resolve the country’s problem?
A: Yes, they will.
Apart from the government, there will also be the National Strategic Reform and Reconciliation Committee. It will be composed of 23 prominent figures including the prime minister, military (leaders) and police chiefs, plus specialists.
The NSRRC will then establish a new reform committee and a new reconciliation committee. With the NSRRC’s standing, it’s highly likely the government has to comply with the body’s directives. It is written that the NSRRC’s chair will only come from a non-traditional post. Its chair will not be the prime minister at the time the body is established, but someone who gains the trust of concerned parties. The committee [NSRRC] will also have a special power to intervene or cease the reform or reconciliation process if they have a problem. This will be further discussed, but such power will be ultimate.
Q: Now we have the government and the NSRRC. So, with these bodies, it seems we will be able to make changes to the country, by working on both reform and reconciliation? I mean, if we have a true intention too?
A: It means that we will not place hopes on politicians to work on reform and reconciliation any more. It will no longer be up to their mercy or willingness to pursue the work as we will have the new mechanisms to help drive the work.
Q: You are also chair of the reconciliation studies committee under the National Reform Council. It makes me think that maybe you cannot see any other ways, so that’s why you have proposed this approach – forcing politicians to follow what is designed?
A: Yes. But it’s not only me who has been developing this idea. Constitution Drafting Committee chair Borwornsak Uwanno is the most important figure because if he didn’t support the idea it would be almost impossible. At first, there was only a few of us. But as time goes by we have gained more support from our CDC colleagues.
I laid steps for this. Our chair then suggested to us we ask people via the referendum. I think this is very genius as we will go ask people straight away whether they wish to see the reconciliation government. If they wish to, we will have to form the coalition government to primarily work on reform and reconciliation. But if not, we will go back to the status quo. But any way, the NSRRC will help supervise the government to some extent.
Q: Your committee cannot see any other ways to achieve reform and reconciliation?
A: No, we cannot. If you can see that, please inform us too [he laughed].
Q: But you have been working for nearly a year. Can you not really see a light at the end of a tunnel?
A: What we have managed to see that a bit with the referendum. I view this approach as excellent. We didn’t think of it before. When we had talked to some politicians and they responded with strong opposition, said “No we don’t want this [the coalition government]”, I can say that I couldn’t figure out anything more. But our chair Borwornsak said: “Well, let’s ask the people.” I think this is a very innovative of the charter drafting this time.
Q: Do you think you will be able to explain all these things, especially the idea of the reconciliation government, to convince people to accept it and not view this as an attempt to prolong the power of the National Council for Peace and Order?
A: It’s not, because it will be here for only four or five years. And I think the period will not allow the military government to prolong its power or cover up itself. Such a period is over. We have the military intervention because it is necessary. The military themselves also realise that they are out of place. They may stay for the period of time, but once the country is revived, they will pass on power to the civil government.
The charter drafting this time is difficult because we are not drafting the charter to be just democratic, but we have to address reform and reconciliation, and even forced reform and reconciliation [he laughed]. In addition, we have to think of a transitional period, not just having an election and everything is back to square one.
Q: It’s not just writing the charter – that [alone] would not help, right?
A: No. No, it’s not.
Q: Have you had conversations with politicians before coming up with this idea [the reconciliation government]?
A: I have had conversations with them to some extent. Privately, some have accepted the idea, but publicly they are still refusing it [he laughed].
Q: They have to insist on the principle of democracy?
A: Yes, they seem too. But I think if the result of the referendum shows supports for the idea, they will have come down [from their lofty belief in their version of democracy being best for the country] – right? Because people want them to do that.
Q: To what extent do you expect to see people endorse the reconciliation government via the referendum?
A: I have more than 50 per cent confidence that people will support the idea.