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Good ends can't justify bad means

Publication Date : 07-01-2014

 

The end justifies the means." Italian thinker Niccolo Machiavelli coined the now-famous statement, which sweeps away the need for moral action in achieving an objective. The method used to attain our goal is thus of no consequence.

Had he lived, Machiavelli would perhaps be surprised at how seriously his "thought experiment" is being applied. Some Thai politicians are following his words to the letter, probably convinced that the ends they are seeking will leave Thailand cured of its ills.

Chief among those ills is corruption.

The Anti-Corruption Organisation of Thailand is in no doubt of that fact. And it is pointing the finger firmly at politicians (more precisely, some politicians).

The organisation, comprising large nationwide businesses, places little blame on the companies who bribe officials for contracts. The Securities and Exchange Commission announced late in December that 264 among more than 500 listed companies have applied to join the Collective Action Coalition Against Corruption Council. But only nine have become members of the coalition, which is supported by the government and the Office of the National Anti-Corruption Commission.

In my world of the media, junior reporters cultivate contacts with government officials in the hope they get promoted to powerful positions and become valuable news sources.

This kind of patronage system can be seen at all levels of Thai society. In a village, relatives and friends of the headman seek his help to solve their problems. At government offices, influential figures usually receive quicker service.

Many of us fail to understand the constitutional duties of officials and get mad when influential relatives fail to solve their problems. Reporters sometimes get angry when sources decline to answer questions. Some officials, wanting to please, succumb to the pressure. As a result many no longer know which "hat". they are wearing and what they should expect from other citizens.

With this patronage system in place, I doubt the desire of the People's Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) to end corruption will be successful. The Shinawatra clan is just a group of people who built up fortunes thanks to the patronage system. Eradicating them would not help, when many others are doing the same thing but staying out of the political spotlight.

Given there is no end in sight to the political stalemate, the PDRC's moves to boycott the February 2 election also seem questionable.

Banning Pheu Thai politicians for five years will not help in clean up Thailand if the patronage system remains. And on what grounds should they be banned? They made a mistake in voting for the controversial amnesty bill, but it is for all Thais to decide if they should be punished - not the PDRC.

Equal rights for all citizens have been enshrined in all our constitutions, from 1932 to the current 2007-drafted charter. Ripping these rights away would only lead to more protests. The threat of this explains why Bangkokians have gathered at the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre to oppose the PDRC's plan to paralyse Bangkok on January 13. Violence seems inevitable as the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship plans a counter-rally.

It explains why the Stock Exchange tumbled by 74 points in the first two days of 2014, with the baht weakening 0.4 per cent to 33 per US dollar. The speed of the weakening does not correspond with economic fundamentals and is faster than any economic expert estimated.

Suan Dusit Poll reports that about 54 per cent of 1,159 people polled in Greater Bangkok said they were afraid the plan to shut down Bangkok would strangle economic activity.

Kasikornbank chairman Banthoon Lamsam warned recently that foreign investors look at two things when deciding where to put their money. The first is political stability. The second is macro-economic figures.

Banthoon voiced concern that Thai laws are always interpretable, with lawmakers failing to cover all scenarios when drafting legislation. In contrast, people in the US, where he was educated, respect principles drawn up after years of infighting. Here in Thailand, there are no common principles and the ruling class decides what is best. As the ruling class fights, ordinary people who have lost faith in governing institutions take to the streets. They resort to rules that will help them win, against rules held up by the other camp. In the end, there's no winner, he said.

To Banthoon, the regime is secondary; it is honest and capable leaders that counts.

If the PDRC is successful in setting up a People's Council and confiscating politicians' assets and power, we can expect a painful ending with no real finality. Things are obviously not as simple as they were in Machiavelli's times.

 

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