Wednesday, July 28, 2021

perspective

It’s all in how you share the cake


The election outcome won’t settle Thailand’s future, but rather the way the Cabinet is stocked

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While many are scratching their heads over how to reconcile deeply divided Thais torn apart by their love or hate of certain political figures, the real problem may lie elsewhere. It’s a problem that always hounded Thai democracy even in peaceful times, and it mattered not which side of the polarity held power. It’s the practice of giving away Cabinet posts in exchange for crucial support.
The scourge of dividing up the Cabinet “cake” will almost certainly strike again, with the new Constitution giving small and 
medium-sized parties more 
leverage and with key rivals juggling bigger stakes than ever before. The horse-trading could reach an unprecedented level, and it all puts at risk politicians’ sworn duty to serve the people.
Citizens tend to believe that 
winning the election is the ultimate goal and the democratic system will cope with whatever stumbling blocks arise thereafter. The truth is that Thai schools are in their present sorry state and are not going to improve anytime soon because the Education minister’s post is always given to disappointed politicians as a consolation prize for having been passed over for a more important portfolio. And the Education Ministry isn’t the only bargaining chip dangled before the lucky charms who pulled in the votes and are expecting rewards. Virtually every ministerial appointment is dictated not by the public interest but by the level of pre-election support the candidates provided.
We’ve had a Justice minister who blatantly defied the law and a Science minister who venerated the spirit house outside his office. And then there is the revolving door at the Education Ministry, where appointees with no clue about school reform come and go, in turn overriding their predecessors’ 
policies so that nothing ever gets accomplished.
The new electoral rules could well make matters worse. Small and medium-sized parties can win Cabinet seats if their losing candidates accumulate a big enough share of the national vote to help the lead party cement victory. This notion of giving meaning to the votes that are cast for losing candidates has a certain democratic ring to it, but it also enables parties with no actual mandate or power to play kingmaker.
Their increased leverage jibes with the cutthroat battle for power between the big players. If the Pheu Thai Party fails to win in a landslide and needs smaller parties to form a coalition government, for example, Cabinet seats will be open for bidding. If Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, Pheu Thai’s main rival, needs 20 extra parliamentary votes to remain in his post, he will be sweet-talking whoever is in a position to help him.
Unqualified ministers have plagued the Thai political landscape for too long, the result of sheer nepotism on one hand and on the other the brokering of Cabinet seats to secure power. The frenzied slicing up of the cake leads to inefficiency and often corruption too.
Thailand’s much-vaunted return to democracy largely hinges on whether the post-election Cabinet genuinely works for the people’s benefit. If the Cabinet has too many unqualified ministers, the past four years will have been a waste – the coup, the new Constitution and the election itself. Whether we witness a new dawn or more endless twilight will depend not on who wins the election but rather who ends up in the Cabinet. 

Published : October 07, 2018

By : The Nation