Despite frequent drawbacks, Chuan still has confidence in democracy
Despite all the political ups and downs that have seen Thailand swing between democracy and military dictatorship, House Speaker Chuan Leekpai, whose political career spans over five decades, still has strong confidence in democratic values but urged politicians to make more efforts to regain public trust.
In an exclusive interview with Thai PBS last week, the 81-year-old veteran politician also took aim at politicians who try to portray themselves as being progressive but have no qualms about serving people who engage in corruption and power abuses.
However, four months into his role as House speaker, Chuan said he has seen encouraging signs among the new generation of politicians. But he cautioned them to be aware of people’s expectations, especially during the current political transition which sees Thailand freshly emerging from five years of dictatorship.
He said people’s perception of politicians is largely shaped by how they perform during House debates. That’s why MPs should stay away from rhetoric and mudslinging while debating in the House.
“It’s about time that politicians stopped quarreling in the House. The House of representatives has the obligation to set standard for local legislative assemblies and other organizations when it comes to deliberating issues and legislative pieces,” he said.
Chuan admitted he has been annoyed by frequent flouting of House rules and regulations during parliamentary deliberations and debates. He pointed out how MPs try to compete to outdo each other with invectives instead of substance.
“If MPs cannot even stick to simple House rules, how can people expect them to take on larger responsibility?” he asked.
Chuan admitted that frequent political squabbling and corruption have eroded the public’s trust in politicians. And that makes it even more incumbent on the current batch of MPs to regain public trust through effective parliamentary debating process. They have the responsibility to demonstrate that they are in office to protect public interest and not to engage in endless squabbling
Chuan urged members of the public to closely monitor how their representatives behave in the House so that they can evaluate their performance.
The House Speaker, who is probably the last remaining active politician from his generation, said that despite its ups and downs, he has never lost faith in the democratic system.
“It’s only in the democratic system that ordinary citizens, sons of common villagers, can aspire to become Cabinet members or even prime ministers. There are no other systems of governance that would allow someone like me to come this far,” he said.
However, citing a royal guidance from the late king Rama 9, Chuan said the challenge in a democracy is how to encourage good people to have a role in running the country while at the same time stop bad people from rising to power.
Chuan was first elected to the House in 1969 when probably more than half of the current young members of Parliament were not yet even born. Chuan recalled that because of his unwavering political stand against military dictatorship he had his fair share of being subject to frequent attacks from rightwing extremists.
“I was even branded a communist,” he said, referring to the hate campaign instigated by rightwing groups against political opponents during the tumultuous 70’s.
Chuan said his commitment to democratic system remained unchanged even after the military staged a coup in October 1976 following a massacre of student activists at Thammasat University. Along with several other politicians and journalist, Chuan was blacklisted by the authorities.
“But my political conviction never changes. Some people urge me to enter the jungle to join the Communist Party of Thailand so that we could come back and overthrow the system,” he recalled. “But I couldn’t force myself to do that. I was against military dictatorship as much as communism,” he said.
Chuan observed that there are a lot of politicians who portray themselves as being progressive but wouldn’t hesitate to be at the beck and call of corrupt capitalists.
“They try to create an image of being leftists who are against all the traditional institutions but end up serving corrupt politicians or businessmen,” he said.
While showing no sign that he is going to go into retirement soon, Chuan said the country needs a new breed of politicians who are committed to serving national interests.
“But they need to be sure that they are in politics to serve the country — not because they have no other job alternatives or because they are already in retirement or simply to protect their business interests,” he said.