Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Inverse canvassing in village headmen elections

An interesting contrast can be found in the description of village headmen elections in the 1990s as found in the book Democracy, Development and Decentralization in Provincial Thailand by Daniel Arghiros, and a shorter description from the 1960s in the paper ''A Thai Village Headman as a Synaptic Leader'' by Michael Moerman, found in the book Modern Thai Politics.
Once some names have been placed in candidacy, and usually immediately thereafter, a general village meeting is called. The candidates' names are announced, and they are asked whether they are willing to serve is elected. The candidates profess their inadequacy and the private concerns which would interfere with their ability to be effective headman. For the most part, these are not empty protestations. Common villagers, former headmen, and the present incumbent all agree that the office is an unpleasant one which it is best to avoid. It is the duty of the elders and of others who take an interest in village affairs to convince potential candidates to stand for office. In describing the most recent election, one informant tells of how, having been warned by friends in the police that the officials favored him as headman he went to his close kinsmen to tell them not to vote for him. A former headman admits that only those without close friends who can be asked to vote for others are elected to the office. [...]
Especially the part I highlighted in bold shows it was very much the opposite to the situation in the 1990s, when the candidates used vote buying and other (of course illegal) ways to secure the votes. Probably the main reasons for the change is the village development fund which was created in the 1970s. The headmen had a lot of influence on how these funds were spend, so they could use their office to secure lucrative contracts to their friends or kinsmen, or to accept bribes if giving to outsiders.

I don't know what is the situation nowadays. Quite a lot of the funds have probably moved to the local administrations - Tambon administrative organizations and municipalities, so the village and subdistrict headmen should be reduced to tasks and powers like in the 1960s. However one of the projects started by the Thaksin administration was a new village fund system under the name SML (small medium large), and it is still in place despite several change of governments. Given the fact that the headmen in Ko Samui don't want to leave their offices, these offices cannot be as unattractive as they were in the above citation.

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