A govt not for the people

It is doubtful whether an imaginative screenwriter could invent more ways to get it wrong than Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej and his cabinet. On a daily basis they demonstrate that they have learned nothing from the past eight years of tumultuous Thai history.

Members of this government from the premier on down seem to believe that democracy is celebrated on Election Day once in every while. After that, the politicians feel that a parliamentary majority makes them invulnerable to democracy. This is a dangerous attitude which has sunk governments in the past and embroiled the nation in terrible conflicts.

Time after time, since it was sworn into office on the solemn pledge to work honestly for the country, the government has carefully considered its options and taken the wrong turn. It appointed a man accused of buying votes as Speaker of the House. It insisted that parliament should discuss constitutional amendments to save three political parties, rather than economic policies to help 63 million citizens. Mr Samak, ministers and senior bureaucrats secretly planned the most important and vital policies behind closed doors, then tried to spring them on the country as a fait accompli, when it should have involved the country in its programmes.
Through a careful and deliberate policy, Mr Samak has brought the country to the edge of yet another crisis of extremely dangerous proportions. The prime minister together with Foreign Minister Noppadon Pattama and senior civil servants conducted closed-door diplomacy on one of the touchiest subjects Thais can imagine. One wonders what Mr Samak and Mr Noppadon were thinking when they finally showed the country a contentious deal reached with Cambodia over the Preah Vihear temple. That all the ministers, behind the closed doors of a cabinet meeting, agreed to back the pact only makes it more astonishing.

The government has arrogantly ignored the opinions of the nation by not even seeking them. It has immersed the country in yet another new and divisive battle that ridicules Mr Samak's claim last year that he could reunite Thais. Relations with Cambodia are sinking fast and Thais are reduced to hoping that the politicians in Phnom Penh - who are in the midst of an election campaign - can keep the lid on the ultra-nationalists there. Through it all, Mr Samak, coalition partners and ministers continue to insist they have the majority of votes at the polls and in parliament. As if that were the entire point of democracy.

Once again the government has been caught flat-footed. Its response to a possibly criminal Speaker was to appoint a party-machine politician in his place. Forced to drop the constitutional amendment game, it had no economic policy. Now it has created a terribly dangerous scenario over the Preah Vihear temple, and there will be no graceful resolution.

The real vote of confidence was not held in parliament last Friday. It is being held daily, hourly even, in the streets and fields and markets of the country. Democracy is not an election. It is an ongoing, developing process. A democratic government does not just inform the nation of its actions. It is fully accountable for those actions. The Samak government has failed miserably to consult, inform or show accountability. Perhaps Mr Samak is too set in his ways to realise that accountability is no longer a choice in Thai politics. In any case, he cannot ignore the Preah Vihear temple issue.

Tomorrow, the World Heritage Committee takes up Cambodia's application to list the temple as a World Heritage Site. The fate of Mr Samak's government may rest on his actions over the next few days.

Bangkok Post