ASIA NEWS NETWORK
WE KNOW ASIA BETTER
Little confidence in Thailand's reform moves
Publication Date : 14-10-2013
The government-initiated reform process may not be completed within the term of the Pheu Thai-led administration.
Last week, key figures such as former prime minister Banharn Silapa-archa turned out in force to attend a second reform session.
After 10 hours of debate among 150 participants, the session could only manage to review seven past reports on reform. It adjourned after forming 20 subcommittees to work on various issues.
The first session, chaired by Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, took place in August and appointed three working groups.
However, the two sessions have had no tangible results other than naming taskforces to look into unresolved issues.
Deputy Prime Minister Phongthep Thepkanjana said he was optimistic about the outcome of the reforms. The government would definitely welcome and implement any recommendations presented to PM Yingluck in December.
Criticism of the slow progress was too harsh, he said. Consensus on reform would take time. If the reform process appeared to progress too quickly, critics would just suspect the government of introducing "rubber-stamp" solutions, he said.
Reform advocate Kramol Tongthamachart said he disagreed with a myriad of committees being set up to tackle issues. A former judge of the Constitution Court, Kramol said the prime minister should name and empower just one main committee to take charge of any changes.
"I frankly admit I don't know what I am supposed to be doing," he said, noting the confusion caused by forming of so many committees.
The People's Reform Council, organised by 65 organisations, had managed to set up hearings across the country, yet the government had nothing to boast of after more than a month, he said.
During 1996 and 1997, political reform was achieved because organisers set up a list of issues to be addressed before debating the solutions, said Kramol, but the present push for reform was an uphill battle due to the prevailing polarisation of issues, he said.
If there was no clear and equal representation of various political spectrums, the reform process was bound to fail, because each rival side would not accept the political system advanced by the other, he said.
"Leading figures have refused to join the reform process because they have concluded it would only benefit the present government," he said.
Political Development Council chairman Thirapat Serirangsan said in his opinion, the structure of a reform committee was less important than the issues it was trying to solve. He reminded the government that the push for reform may be weakened if there are no tangible results within the next three to six months.
"Due to lack of progress, the public might suspect the reform process is a government ploy."
He urged government leaders to act decisively in pushing through reforms.
In the 1997 round of reforms, Banharn, who was prime minister, played an active role, he said. But even Banharn is sceptical about success for the current round of reforms, as he is no longer at the government's helm.
Gen Ekkachai Srivilas, director of the Office of Peace and Governance at King Prajadhipok's Institute (KPI), said government efforts to push for national reform and reconciliation were too late.
Yingluck Shinawatra's administration should have pushed for reforms earlier on, he said - not now, when there is fierce opposition towards the government in parliament and on the streets. He suggested that the government consider the various recommendations made by five previous reform panels initiated under the former Abhisit Vejjajiva administration, so that their work was not wasted and some reforms could progress quickly.
"There's no need for a new commission," said Ekkachai, adding that he believed neither the former Abhisit administration or the current Yingluck regime were sincere about reconciliation.
People's Empowerment Foundation director Chalida Tajaroensuk called for the government to open venues across the country in order to get and heed the advice of the public.
Banharn's aide said the former PM did not believe opposition lawmakers and government critics would be able to derail the reform process. So he pinned his hopes on Yingluck having the capacity to steer the reform process.