Published on November 15, 2007
And confronting the press in a verbal showdown can't provide an excuse to avoid an open debate on the country's real issues.
Despite claims to the contrary by certain party leaders, a one-on-one interview can never satisfy voters' demand for a robust exchange of ideas among political leaders.
A public debate puts to the test not only the party leader's IQ (intelligence quotient) but also the EQ (emotional quotient). The latter may prove to be more important because it determines the degree of respect a candidate gives to the intelligence of the general public.
To make sure that the electorate gets what it deserves, the National Election Commission should initiate its own Big Debate in which wide-ranging public participation is guaranteed and all party leaders running in the election are required to take part without exception.
In order that the current crop of party leaders won't be able to keep brushing off the really crucial questions, here are some of my questions for the Big Debate:
l How do you define "populism"? Would you say your party's platform is a populist one? How is that different from a "welfare state" platform?
This is a vital issue, since a commitment to either policy would inevitably be linked to tax and social security issues. But politicians have tried desperately to avoid being questioned on the flip side of their vote-getting slogans and have also failed to address the cold hard facts on the sensitive and more relevant question:
l "Where will the money come from?"
l How do you define "sufficiency economy"? And how is it different from the previous so-called grassroots "populist policy"?
l Will your party seek a pardon for the 111 banned executive members of the disbanded Thai Rak Thai Party (including Thaksin Shinawatra, of course) so that they can resume their political activities?
Where each party stands on this question offers the electorate an insight into the sanctity of the rule of law - and how a political party views the consequence of using influence and money to circumvent the election law.
A crucial question for both People Power Party leader Samak Sundaravej and Democrat leader Abhisit Vejjajiva in this debate:
l How are you going to treat Thaksin if you were to be the country's next prime minister?
This is where the biggest difference between the two main party leaders will be noted. No, this isn't a question of personal feelings towards the controversial ex-premier. It's about making a public stand on corruption, cronyism, populism, liberalism and, you guessed it, money politics.
l How would you, as prime minister, prevent another military coup?
Samak has sought votes by declaring that if his party is elected to power, that alone would reduce the chances of another coup. Exactly how his logic works is always puzzling to most people, especially this latest comment. For one thing, his "nominator" (as opposed to "nominee") was ousted by a coup in the first place. And his confrontational style is courting trouble from all quarters concerned.
This question of a premier convincing the military establishment that another attempt at a military takeover would be suicidal, however, remains one of the most important roadblocks on Thailand's path back to credible democracy.
l How would the government that you may lead bring the violence in the deep South to an end? What's the time frame? What exactly, in your opinion, are the root causes of the southern problems? How do you plan to resolve them?
Don't beat about the bush. Be specific. The voters have already heard too many generalisations from politicians.
l How do you propose to face the climate change issue, apart from making general statements about "closely following the world trend?"
Last but certainly not least is the life-and-death question for every politician:
l How can you convince me that I should go out and vote for you?