Readers may already be aware of the Rights and Liberties Protection Department of the Ministry of Justice, a government agency that performs such sterling work as helping victims of crimes, arranging compensation, and giving legal advice when rights have been violated (more often than not by other government agencies). Far less well-known is a parallel organization, the Duties and Responsibilities Enforcement Department.
While Ministry officials with a sense of fair play and social justice have naturally been attracted to work at Rights and Liberties, Duties and Responsibilities has lured a quite different kind of civil servant, as can be seen from the unedited transcript of a recent DRED meeting obtained by Prachatai through its normal unimpeachable channels (in this instance a feller wearing a balaclava in near 40C heat).
‘OK, now the next item on the agenda, er, ah yes, Section Heads were asked to come up with ideas along the lines of Khun Newin’s instant Songkran justice.’ (Ingratiating giggles round the table.) ‘Now you have probably heard the whinging from our colleagues in Rights and Liberties about due process and all that bleeding heart liberal guff and even the National Human Rights Commission felt obliged to make a comment though I’m sure I don’t know why.’
‘Should we send them a note, sir? Ask them what they think they’re playing at?’
‘No, I think not. I’ll just give whatsername a quick buzz. It’s probably one of their eager beavers trying to slip something through while everyone was on holiday. She really needs to get a grip on that place. Anyway, Khun Newin had these drunken brawlers put in the ring against real Muay Thai boxers to get the proverbial kicked out of them until they had some sense knocked into them by being knocked senseless. And didn’t he get a good press among the more enlightened of our citizens?’
‘Yes, sir. Do you think he’ll be using this as a springboard to get back into politics at the next election?’
‘Next election? What next election?’ (General sniggers.) ‘So what have you thought of? Traffic Section?’
‘Yes, sir. We thought we could use that patch just by the Courts, you know, next to the MRT multi-storey?’
‘It’s one of those mickey-mouse courses for learner drivers, isn’t it?’
‘That’s the place. Anyway, we thought we could take it over once a week for a sort of demolition derby for all the drivers who have been caught doing 200 kph on the expressway or running red lights and so on. They have to bring their vehicles and smash into each other until there’s just one left.’
‘Hmm. Yes, I like that. Especially if you can get a couple of Lamborghinis or something. Nothing the punters will enjoy more than 20 million baht’s worth of supercar getting smashed to bits. OK, move forward with that and have a look around for a suitable MC. See if you can’t find some would-be Minister of Transport. OK, who’s next? Economics?’
‘Yes, sir, we thought of going after corruption.’
‘Excellent. Can’t have those NACC glory-hunters getting all the headlines.’
‘We were thinking of a public auction of corrupt bureaucrats. Invite bids for anyone who wants them working as their slaves for a day or two.’
‘Good idea, but why only a day?’
‘Perhaps the length of time could be calculated on how much they took in bribes?’
‘No, I don’t think so. We’d have to prove how much they’d actually taken. Or even that they’d taken any money at all. Remember that this whole programme is completely independent of the normal judicial process so we won’t actually have to prove anyone is guilty. No, I’m thinking in terms of weeks, maybe months, teach them a proper lesson.’
‘Any restrictions on what they could be forced to so, sir?’
‘I don’t see why. If some official has been putting his hand out for a bribe, he deserves all he gets.’
‘Quite so, sir. But, er, what if it’s a woman? Possibly a young, attractive woman? Selling her into slavery, even just for a week or two, might not get quite the right media response.’
‘See what you mean. Perhaps we could have an internal auction in such cases. If they’re that attractive. But let’s cross that bridge when we come to it. Do some thinking on the time frame. Oh, and be careful how you draft the regulations so that the successful bids, er, end up in the right hands, eh?’
‘Will do, sir.’
‘OK, who’s next. Political, what have you got?’
‘We thought we’d take on abuse of political power, sir. Officials acting beyond their authority.’
‘How do you mean?’
‘Well, sir, something like deciding guilt without the benefit of a trial. Or dictating punishments that are not on the statute books.’
‘Now hold on a minute there. I’m not sure I like where you’re going with this.’
‘Well, sir, we can’t have civil servants or police officers and military men acting like tinpot dictators and ignoring all the laws and regulations and so on.’
‘So we were thinking about some form of public humiliation. First we thought of the old-time stocks, with a placard round their necks, but it looked a bit medieval. Then we considered forced confessions on prime time, but there is a risk they might blurt out something we don’t want. But in the end we had a brainwave.’
‘Social media. Facebook pages and tweets about would-be vigilantes in official positions, personal details provided and an invitation to the cyberworld to take all necessary measures. We could go after judges who overstep the constitution, or army officers who openly talk of coups, or …’
‘Yes I think we’ve heard enough. I don’t think you’ve thought this through properly. Who the hell do you think is backing us in this programme? Making sure we can get away with all this extra-legal stuff? All Political Section personnel in my office immediately. Meeting closed.’
About author: Bangkokians with long memories may remember his irreverent column in The Nation in the 1980's. During his period of enforced silence since then, he was variously reported as participating in a 999-day meditation retreat in a hill-top monastery in Mae Hong Son (he gave up after 998 days), as the Special Rapporteur for Satire of the UN High Commission for Human Rights, and as understudy for the male lead in the long-running ‘Pussies -not the Musical' at the Neasden International Palladium (formerly Park Lane Empire).Read more...
So, Pheu Thai could evolve into a Socialist or 'Social Democrat' party (such as the one currently leading a controlling coalition in Austria). A Social Democrat party supports both a free market and taxation to support a welfare state. Examples of countries that have developed along the lines of social democracies include the Nordic Model countries (Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden), which lead the world in equality through a highly progressive taxation system and a well-developed welfare state.
Or, Pheu Thai could evolve into a true Democratic Socialist party similar to those of Latin America outlined in the introduction, more in favor of wealth redistribution, property redistribution and a socialist command economy. However, such a ‘Hard Left’ position would be too radical for the great majority of voters in Thailand.
This is despite the fact that Thailand does have a quasi-command economy with five year plans and a heavily centralized bureaucracy, two potential (not necessarily good) components of Democratic Socialism. So, perhaps elements of Democratic Socialism could exist within a broader Social Democrat ideology.
In terms of macro-economics then, a reformed Pheu Thai would continue Thailand’s quasi-command economy. Solving the rice problem would be a priority, and while subsidizing the cost of production is possible, the ‘Green’ element common to most Social Democracy ideology would likely continue to try to move Thailand away from mono-cropping through supporting more sugar cane production, for example. As such, it could also involve both subsidization of costs and price controls in several agricultural industries.
A more progressive taxation system, abolishing personal income tax exceptions and instituting property taxes would be a priority for a Social Democracy party. Again, property taxes would find the party running up against opposition from the 1% from both sides of the political spectrum.
A Social Democracy outlook on developing this existing welfare state would see a more equal education system promoting entrepreneurial activity, i.e., improving equality of opportunity through more investment in schools in the regions, more equipment for their chemistry and physics labs, better libraries, and educational philosophies that prioritize human rights education and social problem solving. The Left is particularly strong in these areas, with both critical pedagogy and community-based research willing and able to look into injustices along race and class lines and develop actions and policies to address them.
As for justice, a reformed Pheu Thai following a Social Democracy model would introduce change along the lines of social justice. This would include more funding for the justice system to eliminate Thailand’s backlog of cases, more transparency in terms of judgement making to establish a rational humanist aspect to Thailand’s existing case law, and a whole new set of ideological components to address the cultural rights of racial minorities such as the Thai Lao via new legislation including a National Language Policy.
The reform of Pheu Thai cannot be undertaken without the corresponding reform of the Democrat Party. If the Democrat and Pheu Thai Parties reform themselves, we might be able to see, though only through a glass, darkly, the emergence of Thailand's dream: a stable political system where all sides can clearly see each other’s ideological positions and policies.
John Draper is Project Officer of the Isan Culture Maintenance and Revitalisation Programme at College of Local Administration, Khon Kaen University. His opinion proposed for reforming the Democratic Party can find in Bangkok Post.