The Reform Junket

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

The junta-appointed “National Anti-Reform Assembly” has just ended its “work” with a celebratory trip down the Chao-Praya River, at great public expense. The organisation “iLaw” has revealed that 700 million baht was spent by this assembly over the last few months. The product of the assembly’s work was summed up by iLaw as being “a woolly, pie in the sky, wish list” of 505 proposals, none of which could be put into practice. In addition to this, there was nothing new being proposed and at least a hundred new laws were set to be drafted over the next 17 years! The ideological basis for all this rubbish was the totally naïve faith that “Good People” could achieve what others could not. It would have been quicker and cheaper to subcontract the job to a group of kindergarten children. What a great junket for the junta’s friends!!

Another 85 million baht was spent by the junta-appointed Constitutional Drafting Committee, which excreted the now defunct draft charter that was overturned by the anti-reform committee. What an expensive load of bog paper!!

Of course, unlike the cases of the Yingluk government’s high speed rail link or the rice guarantee policy, there will be no Kangaroo Constitutional Court or Counter Corruption Committee to impeach Generalissimo Prayut on the grounds of corruption and wasting public money.

As a result of the actions of the military and their elite allies, the state of Thai politics and justice has gone to the dogs. It is almost not worth highlighting the latest case of double standards or abuse of power. It is almost not worth commenting on the various anti-democratic proposals emanating from the bowels of the dictatorship; all in the name of “reform”.

So what attitude should we take to the issue of political reforms and the drafting of a constitution?

Nearly everyone, including the most die-hard anti-democrats, will say that what is needed is “people participation”. So we have to be careful to define what this should really look like. It should be the opposite of the system of self-selection among “worthies” from various professions, favoured by the military and other anti-democrats. It should be nothing like “the Great Populous”, meaning the appointed friends of gangster and street thug, Sutep Tuaksuban. It should also not be the kind of “people participation” favoured by the NGOs. The NGO leaders like to put themselves forward as “representatives of civil society”, when no one ever elected them, and they do not event represent any mass movements. What is more, the NGO people on the national anti-reform committee voted to accept the now defunct and discredited charter.

Mass democratic participation cannot be crafted from above. It cannot be written into any constitution. It cannot arise from committees. It comes into being when millions of ordinary people become active in struggle and join social movements which are created from below. Such a social movement will have class dimensions because we all live in a class society. Such a movement will have to struggle against the ruling status quo. Such a movement must be a battlefield of competing ideas arising from the participation of political organisations and parties. These political groups would have to compete for acceptance and support in order to become leaders or representatives.

A consciousness of class society is vitally important when people actually sit down to draft any constitution or laws. It is no good if social movements make suggestions and then leave it up to others to drafts the rules. If the power to draft constitutions is given to the “qualified people”; the elites and anti-democrats, then the result will be more expensive bog rolls or, worse still, oppressive laws.

The task of expanding the democratic space and making society more just and equal cannot be achieved merely by writing new rules for society. In fact all the constitutions and reform laws in the world are meaningless without movements in society to back up the aims. It would be better to have a minimalist constitution and the least number of laws. Decisions and policies should be devolved to communities, where possible, involving the active participation of as many people as possible.

The conclusion is that real reform will only come to life if democratic Thais set about to build mass social movements from below, based upon the labour movement and other movements of the exploited classes.