Reforms must uproot money politics
The country&’s latest round of political conflict has seen each side question the other&’s political legitimacy, while insisting that its own actions are morally justified and necessary.
Government politicians say they are legitimately holding onto power because they were elected, while protesters accuse them of “stealing” their mandate through vote-buying, and of condoning widespread corruption.
Government figures have hit back, maintaining that protest leaders have no legitimacy to demand that Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra step down and make way for a “people&’s council”. But the protest leaders assert that the premier and her government lost their right to govern when the ruling Pheu Thai Party refused to respect the Constitutional Court&’s recent verdict striking down a government-backed move for an all-elected Senate.
Each side makes strong points to back its position, but two questions have emerged from the ongoing conflict that challenge those positions. First, is it legitimate to claim a mandate to rule if you won the election by buying votes? Second, is it legitimate to oust a government that includes MPs elected with purchased votes?
The wholesale buying of votes occurs at every level of Thai elections, from village heads up. Only those who are who are directly or indirectly involved in such corruption (or genuinely ignorant of it) will deny that it pervades Thai politics.
But vote-buying isn’t just about swaying voters with offers of cash. According to the Election Commission, candidates also “buy votes” by offering large amounts of free food and drink at local functions, by funding parties, sponsoring trips and “educational tours” for targeted groups, and bribing local officials who have influence over voters. In many cases, the funds spent by incumbents to gain voter favour come from the taxpayers themselves. For these corrupt politicians, vote-buying is a worthwhile investment.
However, for many, any attempt to oust a government because some of its MPs are guilty of buying votes is a step too far and illegitimate.