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Why do we need a coup-maker to do simple things?

Publication Date : 27-08-2014


Polls suggest that the public is fairly satisfied with the performance of the National Council for Peace and Order in the three months since it came to power. Taking politics out of the equation, positive changes wrought by the junta have not only pleased most citizens but also prompted them to reconsider the pros and cons of a non-elected government.

One question being asked, though, is why essential changes can't be made under democratically elected governments? Does it take a coup to have traffic laws properly enforces, transport put in order and mafia-like vendors cleared from popular beaches? Unlike countries where laws are rigidly enforced and commonly respected, Thailand has long suffered from lax enforcement - a problem the military junta has been quick to address.

We might laugh at Singaporeans' fastidious refusal to spit in public, and be amazed at motorcyclists in Vietnam wearing helmets even on quiet country roads. In both cases, they respect the law despite being quite able to break it without being caught. So which nationality is behaving strangely here?

The military government is trying to convince us that the pros of non-elected rule outweigh the cons, delivering as much if not more. Yet if we look at the quick-fix measures launched by the NCPO, none should be beyond the scope of an elected government.

Take, for example, the NCPO's launch of one-stop registration for immigrant workers, which has earned widespread praise. Yet any government could have tackled the problem of illegal immigrants by improving the registration process.

The reality is that bringing such positive changes does not depend solely on the government in power. Smooth-running bureaucratic services, proper enforcement of traffic laws and regulation of public transport serve the common good. We are eager to claim our individual rights, but more reluctant when it comes to the other side of the social contract - our personal duties and responsibilities. Yet we will only restore order to our society when we realise that individual freedom cannot exist without individual respect for the law.

This means we must instil moral authority at every level of society. Police must act professionally and enforce the law strictly and without favour. Government officials must do likewise, serving the public to the best of their capacity. Members of the public must respect the law without insisting on conditions or expecting privileges.

None of this will happen through force or coercion. The readiness to do good for the sake of the common good must be instilled in children. The next generation must learn civic values that equate to more than just fear of punishment.

Improvements made by the NCPO might be something to cheer about, but can they be sustained, or will they be obeyed only so long as their makers remain in power?

The NCPO faces a more pressing challenge, though, in the rising public expectation for its imminent reform process. Public pressure for transparency is growing, and the members of the junta and National Legislative Assembly are being urged to declare their assets.

NCPO deputy chief General Paiboon Koomchaya, in charge of legal affairs, says the junta members are ready to comply voluntarily. NLA members, meanwhile, will be required to declare their assets and liabilities in accordance with a law being enforced by the National Anti-Corruption Commission. There is hope, too, that the NCPO extends this law to cover its own members.

By declaring assets, the junta can set a direction for the reform process. Although the generals are not obliged to do so by law, voluntary declaration by members would offer some assurance that they are sincere in their stated aim of forging a new and "cleaner" politics.

The military is now involved in three branches of power, with one general now prime minister and others likely to become Cabinet members. Having taken this central role in politics, the top brass must pay serious attention to whether it is in the national interest that they declare their assets, thereby setting an example of honesty and transparency that all citizens can follow.


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