By Tulsathit Taptim
Election promises, after all, can fall flat for various reasons and even good ones do not necessarily come from good intentions. However, the prelude to any election is a time when apparently creative ideas run amok, so here is a personal list of election policies that should be seriously looked at by whoever forms the next government:
1. Chartthaipattana’s proposal to extend the mandatory retirement age to 65. This could place a sizeable healthcare burden on the government and private employers, but why not? Retirement can cause depression, and for a country whose population is ageing fast, the policy, if properly implemented, could solve several major problems.
Singapore has found an unlikely solution to its labour shortage by tapping retirees who are willing to go back to work. With a different economic structure, Thailand can come up with legislation to make use of what must be an abundant pool of ageing human resources who still want to keep going.
2. Peau Chat’s plan to give gays and lesbians more rights. “Respect human rights” is often a highly politicised phrase, and the people who really need it most are often ignored, if not ridiculed. The party is seeking to appeal to LGBTQ (Lesbians, Gays, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer) people by promising to improve social, religious and political acceptance for them.
This is easier said than done, but if Thailand cannot do what Puea Chat promises, maybe debate on human rights should stop entirely.
3. The Democrat Party’s “spare no one” anti-narcotics policy. Thailand has no heavily fortressed armed cartels, like we see in Hollywood movies. This means the Democrat’s policy is feasible, albeit requiring a very strong political will on the part of the government.
The party has promised to give police drugs squads more teeth, empowering them to forward cases directly to prosecutors, levy bigger penalties on state officials involved in the narcotics trade, and severely punish users who are caught again after rehabilitation. Community watchdogs will be genuinely supported, the party said.
If all of the measures are implemented with resolve and efficiency, Thailand will have a chance in the fight against the drug scourge. It will not be easy, of course, but the current situation is a losing battle.
4. The Mahachon Party’s idea to decriminalise sex workers and effectively recognise prostitution as a career. This could be more complicated than Puea Chat’s LGBTQ policy but it’s noble all the same. The party says that the current status of sex workers, who are numerous in Thailand, means they face widespread abuse, entrapment by law enforcers and have no labour rights.
5. Phalang Pracharat’s tax breaks for new online entrepreneurs and first-jobbers. The party has promised many things else regarding taxation, but let the experts discuss them. For practical measures, allowing online entrepreneurs to go tax-free in the first two years so they can “take off” makes sense, as does the proposal for new graduates to be exempted from taxes for five years.
6. Bhumjaithai’s free online learning for life. This is a really good policy in many ways. It is doable, affordable and beneficial. It cleverly exploits the latest technology, meaning whoever delivers this one deserves to be called visionary.
The policy will surely require a large budget. But it will be money well-spent, especially in Thailand where the educational gap between the haves and the have-nots is huge.
Popular rhetoric has led many to misunderstand “democracy”. For all the ongoing and angry talk about inequality, the most serious injustice in Thailand is found in the legal process and education. No political party has proposed a workable solution to the legal “privilege” enjoyed by elites, but technological advancement is enabling Thailand to tackle the other category. The internet has facilitated online learning a great deal, but advances have so far been dictated by commercialism and corporate image-making.
For the underprivileged Thais to truly benefit from the technology, online learning must be extensive, virtually costless, effective and long-lasting. And that goes whether Bhumjaithai is in the next government or not.
7. Chartthaipattana’s proposal that the children of farmers get free education to bachelor-degree level is also worth considering, although its feasibility might not match that of Bhumjaithai’s online-education idea. Both measures could be mixed, however, by for example giving farmers’ kids first rights to enrol in online courses.
Writer’s note: The above are policies that I honestly think should be considered by the next government and Parliament. They are the kind of pledges that make an election meaningful. Handled responsibly, these policies transcend politics, are sensible, workable and put national budget to good use.