Published on October 21, 2007
We did not need to be reminded of this fact.
We have been stuck in a vicious circle of gutter politics for decades and will remain so for a long time unless there are serious reforms in education, a change in public attitudes, and unless the right course is set for politics.
Of course, voters must be educated enough and be conscientious enough to sense and weed out undesirable politicians who are corrupt, self-serving, greedy and treacherous, among other despicable traits.
That's easier said than done. Previous governments failed to educate rural voters, not due to an inability to institute reforms, but rather because they felt they would be left in dire straits at election time with an educated rural base.
Vote-buying, rampant in all parts of the country including Bangkok, is considered a serious political investment and one which successful candidates intend to recoup many times over while in power.
Politicians currently put a monetary value on themselves and bargain based on that with political parties, switching allegiances if they are not offered a satisfactory amount. Judging by this, the public can see that we still have a lot of shameless people in politics and most of them are the same old faces with ugly track records.
The prime minister's statement was just an admission of failure on the part of his government, which never clearly stated its priorities or mission, and never fulfilled the expectations of the public. He has spent these past months chanting the mantra that organising a general election was his prime responsibility.
The prime minister is not disturbed by his failure to do away with corrupt politicians and those with unsavoury practices. His administration did not even try to reset the political stage through much-needed reforms before he let loose the wolves to seek their prey among gullible rural voters.
What did he do during his weekly interview? He just expressed his hope that voters would know enough to elect good politicians to serve the country. In many areas, if not most, naive voters always regard politicians who buy votes as the ones who understand their duty.
"You must pay to get my vote" is the general mindset, ironically or otherwise, among voters who do not much care about the consequences of signing blank cheques for politicians.
What should Surayud do after his interview? Oh yes, the prime minister is concurrently interior minister and he must oversee the general election while the Election Commission and other agencies see to it that voting continues without blatant vote-buying.
That will be difficult, if not impossible. Vote-buying has already taken place by various subtle means in defiance of whatever laws are in place. Tour groups have been organised to favourite Asian destinations, and fund transfers have been made through ATMs, community groups, etc. What's more, the prime buyers are political parties competing to round up potential candidates to join their camps. But loyalty that can be bought does not run deep. If offered a higher price for their services, it normally does not take candidates-for-hire long to jump to the party with the larger war chest and sweeter promises for more benefits.
To stop vote-buying initially, political parties must not buy potential candidates. That is again not possible simply because politicians do not take ideologies, policy platforms or the public good seriously. Pork-barrel politics is as strong as ever.
This time round, there are more than a few political parties with fat pay cheques for candidates-for-hire who have sold their souls many times to improve their livelihoods. The election battle will be fierce and brutal, with big money in play just to win as many seats as possible. The stakes are higher than ever before.
The prime minister has a new position and mission in addition to his already heavy burden, particularly taking care of the economic situation and the rising cost of living. He has General Sonthi Boonyaratglin to oversee the hard part of election monitoring in order to ensure fair play.
They have spent most of their careers in military service. They have yet to learn the tricks and the arcane art of vote-buying among potential candidates. Surayud just mumbled his concerns when he saw parties competing to buy top-rated candidates, but he could not do anything.
Judging from their performance in office during the past year, there is not much hope that they will be effective in their tasks. What more can we do? We have to let them prove themselves again. After all, the claim that it has to organise the general election has been a strong excuse for the administration to stay put despite deafening criticism.