From Manager, September 30, 2013
President of the Parliament: Senator, please stop debating with members of parliament. It’s so loud and it is disturbing them.
Caption: Next year, it will be a couples’ parliament.
[This cartoon illustrates the fears about a constitutional amendment that would return the senate to be a fully elected body. The cartoon jokes that if constitutional amendments are in place to return to a fully elected senate, it will once again be packed with the spouses of MPs as it was when Thaksin was prime minister.
The supposedly neutral senate, which has traditionally been composed of academics, high borns and especially military men, is, in theory, designed to restrain elected MPs from obtaining too much power for their own political cliques (or rewrite the constitution to cement their position in power as the Pheu Thai Party is attempting to do now).
In the past, this senate oversight on the power of the elected also resulted in weak governments and usually put the brakes on real reform or greater empowerment for voters.
Complaints about the army appointing uneducated and greedy military men to hamper the will of the electorate, coupled with a desire for fuller democracy, led to the people’s constitution of 1997 and a fully elected senate.
During the years when Thaksin was prime minister, the senate became dominated with spouses and relatives of political party MPs. Since the senate was supposed to be non-political, this packing of the chamber with the spouses of MPs from the ruling party was meant to blatantly demonstrate that the popularity of Thaksin’s political machine could override the intent of the constitution for a neutral senate and that the senate would no longer be able to temper the actions of the government.
It should also be remembered that present constitution that is being amended by the Thaksin-directed Pheu Thai was promulgated by a post-coup government and approved in a national referendum in which a “no” campaign was suppressed by the military. Thus, it is not surprising that those who wish to rewrite it hold little reverence for the document.
Amending the present constitution to allow a fully elected senate again would certainly strengthen the Pheu Thai Party’s control over parliament and thus the spoils of government. A Pheu Thai senate packed with spouses of MPs further alarms opposition politicians along with those who contend that all Pheu Thai Party efforts are aimed at affording Thaksin a return to political power.
This concept of “checking the elected” seems strange to the Western ear, but the Thai world still usually lauds the learned academic and the appointed person over the elected. The elected are usually seen as compromised and working for their own ends while they dole out benefits to their family and friends. This is simply regarded as a common sense notion in the Thai world.
The Pheu Thai Party’s conduct in wheedling multiple attempts at amnesty for Thaksin does nothing to dispel this perception and leads to opponents labeling government MPs as slaves of Thaksin.
While times are changing, the fear that those in power will become too greedy and will need to be checked can still override Western notions that elections and rule by the elected are the ultimate solutions in politics.]
2Bangkok.com Editor Ron Morris’ book, The Thai Book: A Field Guide to Thai Political Motivations, is available in the Kindle Store.