Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Two recent blog postings on TAO elections

Though the recent elections for the TAO did not get much news coverage, at least not in the English press, last week two blogs had interesting postings about the current state of local politics in Thailand.

In the article Local politics that ‘you can eat’ (Thai เลือกตั้ง อบต. การเมืองที่กินได้) by the web newspaper Prachatai the vote buying in a northern Thai village is described.
As Election Day drew near, the village teemed with campaign staff for candidates running for the position of TAO Chairperson, who came to visit the villagers, distributing 1.5-litre bottles of soft drinks and ice, which really pleased the young kids.
The handouts went on blatantly, but did not reach where Achara was staying. Canvassers who were local villagers themselves were well aware that it was illegal, but also that knew they would be found guilty only if someone made a complaint. The canvassers would never complain against one another as each would mind their own business. And the villagers were too happy to care who gave what.
Many villagers told Achara that vote buying was the normal practice in the village. Candidates would choose to pay those who were not their relatives to collect additional votes to win the seats; with 100 baht per vote, 10,000-20,000 baht would be enough.
Still the same muddy way of politics, not different from the cases of the 1990s described in the book Democracy, Development and Decentralization in Provincial Thailand I read earlier this year.

But not all voters see the decentralization only from the viewpoint of having more election and thus more chances to get paid for their votes. Bangkok Post assistant editor Sanitsuda Ekachai in her blog wrote that There's still hope for Thai democracy.
A decade ago, Kuanru was a miniature of today's national politics. It was ridden with vote-buying, nepotism, corruption and factional feuds along party lines. The once close-knit community became divisive through mud-slinging campaigns which left deep resentment on all sides after the elections. Relatives no longer spoke to one another. When one group initiated any programme, the rival camp vetoed it. Old problems festered while new ones emerged and kept piling up.
But then a new generation of politicians, labeled "Young Turks" after the reformist party at the end of the Ottoman Empire, was fed up with it, set up a community development plan in a public meeting of all interested citizen, allowed election losers to work with the winning team, and most of all did all with transparency and not behind closed doors. So those only doing politics for their personal gain, the ones who need to do vote buying to secure their gains, had no chance anymore. While there are several such localities where the politics matured into what democracy is supposed to be, sadly these areas are still by far the minority. At least there is hope...

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