Former Prime Minister, Anand Panyarachun, addressed the political and economic future he imagines for Thailand at the Foreign Correspondents’’ Club of Thailand last week. (Read the speech in full here).
He called this future “Thailand’s New Normal”, highlighting four elements that he believes will lead to “true and enduring change” for Thailand; sustainable and widespread economic development, an open and inclusive society, rule of law, and public accountability and transparency of the law.
For those unfamiliar with Anand, he served as Thailand’s Prime Minister twice, in 1991-1992 and again later in 1992. He was responsible for many reforms, including drafting the People’s Constitution, which was done away with in 2006. The Anand government was responsible for tax restructuring and establishment of the ASEAN Free Trade Area. Outside of economics, Anand was the first Asian leader to enact a “comprehensive nationwide HIV/AIDS programme in the 1990s.” (UNICEF). His progressive philosophies, clearly present in his governance, also came through in his speech at the FCCT Dinner.
Anand highlighted economic development as the first element for Thailand’s successful “New Normal.” In the past, Thailand, “neglected the quality of that growth as well as the equitable distribution of income and opportunities,” Anand said. Economic inequality is not unique to Thailand, he pointed out that, “even the United States, the world’s leading economic power, is home to some of the greatest economic inequality in the developed world.” Anand argued, “the Asian financial crisis of 1997, and the more recent global financial crisis, both illustrate the dangers of unbridled economic growth.” According to Anand, sustainable economic growth starts with the “foundation” of the economy rather than “short-term stimulus measures.”
After moving through the economic element, Anand switched his focus to “promoting an open and inclusive society.” “Every group, every religion, every region, every rung of society must enjoy these to be able to participate collectively in directing national development,” Anand said, words punching hard at the current political climate.
Anand then spoke on “rule of law”, along with “public accountability and transparency of the law.” He was clear that the government, as well as the public, “must be subject to the law” “Most importantly, the law must not be used as a means for attaining political goals,” Anand said.
As for accountability and transparency, “Responsive government lies at the core of true democracy, and can occur only when there is comprehensive decentralisation and local political empowerment,” Anand pointed out. He argued that more local governance would give more citizens an opportunity to engage in a democratic Thailand. “Importantly, once the political process is decentralised, citizens become more aware, interested, and willing to participate in shaping collective outcomes,” he explained why localisation leads to greater involvement.
According to Anand, this involvement starts at the roots, with education. “The main focus should not be on getting the right answer but on instilling confidence to think problems through, to voice opinions and to articulate reasoned arguments,” Anand said. He argues that the current education structure causes, “a tendency to focus on democracy in form rather than in substance. We follow procedures and go through the motions of elections. Yet we have paid little attention to developing the institutions that are critical to sustaining democracy.”
An interesting observation of Anand’s speech is how interconnected he sees all aspects of Thai society. Education leads to successful citizen engagement. Successful citizen engagement leads to a more effective government. This government must address issues that affect all of Thai society, rather than just a few, which will happen with more localisation and citizen involvement.
Upon concluding, Anand remarked, “over and above the implementation of critical reforms, moving forward towards a prosperous new normal requires that we fundamentally change our way of thinking, attitudes, and mindsets to embrace openness, a diversity of views, as well as values that support societal change.” Clearly, with this statement, he sees effective education as a frame for a “new normal” and successful democracy.