Alongkorn Ponlaboot used to be a member of the media who observed social and political phenomenon for many years before entering politics and becoming one of the top politicians of the country. He joined the now-defunct National Reform Council (NRC), acti
‘Reform process ideally placed in current environment to be a success’
Alongkorn Ponlaboot used to be a member of the media who observed social and political phenomenon for many years before entering politics and becoming one of the top politicians of the country. He joined the now-defunct National Reform Council (NRC), acting as its whip. He is now vice chair of the National Reform Steering Assembly (NRSA), set up to replace the NRC. He talked to The Nation’s Piyaporn Wongruang about his hopes for the new round of reform.
WHEN PEOPLE FIRST HEARD ABOUT YOUR ORGANISATION [THE NRSA], THE QUESTION MANY OF THEM HAD WAS WHAT WOULD BE YOUR ROLE IN THIS ROUND OF REFORM?
I would like to say that we have the highest chance of success in reforming the country during this period before an election. From my experiences, structural and fundamental reform can never take place by an elected government. This is because political parties are themselves tied to their own commitments that need to be fulfilled otherwise they risk losing popularity.
Secondly, we have a positive environment … after the coup we have seen political conflicts lose their momentum. The country has reached a degree of order and peacefulness, enough to allow other processes to proceed, including the reform.
In addition, we are moving towards integration of the Asean community. This is a great opportunity for Thailand to reposition itself as the centre of the community. There is a kind of “Look West” policy by some newly emerged economic giants in the East, as they are attracted by the growth of Asean, while big countries in the West have continuously shown their interest in Asean as well.
So, we cannot proceed with a status quo perspective any more. We cannot look for ways to solve only our internal problems. We need to design our country to also be able to catch up with global dynamics. Our reform work thus must respond to the future challenges as well.
HOW WILL YOU PROCEED WITH SUCH REFORM?
We are lucky that the defunct NRC has come up with one of the country’s best reform blueprints. This is not just a proposal, but a blueprint for changes. It is very comprehensive, covering 505 issues that the country faces. They are grouped into 37 main reform agendas, eight development agendas, plus 15 special ones including reconciliation – 69 in total.
They have not only addressed issues, but proposed solutions for them, both in terms of changes in organisations and in structure. So, it’s quite easy for the new NRSA to proceed.
We will review what they [the NRC] have done, screen [it] and prioritise the issues before an election. We have divided the work into two phases. The first phase will be before an election – within one or two years. The other [phase] will be after the election. Once we have finished prioritising all 69 agendas, we will then develop action plans for putting them into practice.
All plans will then be tabled before the Cabinet. It will be the principal body that makes a decision. If it is about structural reform that needs a legal amendment or enactment, it will then be forwarded to the NLA for further work.
WHAT EXACTLY IS THE ROLE OF THE NRSA IN THIS ROUND OF REFORM?
Our role is screening and prioritising what the NRC has done, and then transforming the blueprint into action plans. We will stick with four key principles – being quick, being thorough, being comprehensive, and public participation.
We believe that the success [of this process] will not just be about having a good plan, but having good cooperation, as reform will have a chance [of succeeding] only when people accept it and agree to changes.
At this point, we have set up a new communication centre to communicate with the public. We realise one of the problems the NRC faced is that people didn’t understand what they did. We want people to feel that reform belongs to them.
GIVEN THE LIMIT TIME, YOU HAVE PROPOSED A FORMULA OF 1+1+18?
A: Yes, I have. It means the first month we will spend time organising our work structure and procedures. In the second month, the NRSA members will be allowed to review all the NRC’s agendas and the reports on over 700 forums it organised, plus some reform proposals by the Cabinet and the Defence Ministry.
They [the NRSA members] will start a major review and screening on the proposals. General debates will be organised to let the members hold discussions, but this time about how to accomplish the reform, not what is to be reformed any more.
So, in mid-December our action plans should take shape and be forwarded to concerned agencies. Like I said, if it’s about changes in organisations, it will then be sent to the Cabinet. But if it’s changes in structure that needs some legal support, we will then forward it to the NLA.
In addition, we have come up with two joint platforms between the concerned bodies, following the premier’s recent directive. There will be a new joint committee between us, the Cabinet and the NLA to put into practice reform action plans. The other will be a committee between us, the Cabinet and the Constitution Drafting Committee to help each other complete the design of the new constitution.
Our work paradigm is about approaches, but the NRC’s was issues.
GIVEN THE GREAT AMOUNT OF THE WORK YOU WILL BE DEALING WITH, TO WHAT EXTENT DO YOU THINK THE WORK WILL BE SUCCESSFUL? PEOPLE HAVE OBSERVED THAT YOU HAVE NO AUTHORITY TO MAKE |IT HAPPEN IN THE FIRST PLACE?
I must say that to stick with having or not having power to do things is a very wrong perception. Looking back to what happened to us, you may have realised as well that we could not build democracy, despite several good laws, good administrations, or good constitutions. Why?
That’s because people keep violating the rules, right? So, the success of the reform in this round is not really about having laws or power to force people to do or not to do things. The NRSA may have no power, but it has a duty, and real success can only happen when people feel they own it too.
So, people’s mindsets are also no less important. You can actually not think that it’s all about the NRSA, or leave the burden on its shoulder alone. If we think that we are in a crisis, every one of us must change. Once we realise that we have a problem, we will then start thinking of changing things, right?
So, the key to the success this time is really about us being able to see things through and share both burden and responsibility. So, you should also ask people: Are they ready [for real reform] or are they still stuck in the mud of politics? I don’t want to say that we are hopeless with no future.