วันเสาร์ที่ 28 มิถุนายน พ.ศ. 2551

[19] Bangkok Post & The Nation

Introduction to English Language Newspapers

Thailand has two major English language newspapers on general news, the Bangkok Post and The Nation. Both are large and excellent newspapers, and over the years have been leading newspapers in Asia, having won many awards by international trade organizations. Ex-pats have consistently rated Thailand's newspaper status as among the best in Asia.

In March 2008, The Nation split into the free Daily Xpress and the classic The Nation, as discussed later in this article.

Though both of the above papers have good business sections, if you need business information then you should also pick up Business Day, "Thailand's first international business daily", though its website is flaky.

Thailand news in the English language can also be read on-line at the website of the Mass Communications Organization of Thailand (MCOT) at enews.mcot.net
For Pattaya, PattayaMail.com, and for Phuket, PhuketGazette.NET

Sometimes a new English language newspaper will pop up for awhile, e.g., The Thailand Times (which subsequently died a short time later).

You can also find the latest versions of the Asian Wall Street Journal and the Far East Economic Review which, of course, cover Asia rather than mainly Thailand. In farang centers, you can find many other international newspapers, though usually a little outdated. All international magazines and even a lot of specialized ones are available in the expat areas and beyond.

There are several Thai language newspapers, but few farangs learn Thai well enough to read the newspaper vocabulary of the Thai language, and so I don't cover them on this website.

The Bangkok Post and The Nation both have home and office delivery service, and can be found on sale all over Bangkok and in provincial capitals.
The Bangkok Post was founded by an American editor in 1946 and is staffed with a mix of farangs and Thais. The Nation goes back more than 30 years, but took a major turn in 1991 by Thais who broke off from The Bangkok Post over reporting principles, and is directed and staffed more predominantly by Thais.

Comparing the two is like comparing apples and oranges. Each has its strengths and weaknesses relative to the other, but one thing is clear -- they're approximately equivalent to each other in both quality and quantity of news and information.

Some people (including myself) who compare the editorials in the Post and Nation feel that the Nation is usually more critical of the government, though clearly both are critical to similar degrees. Many feel that the Bangkok Post gives a more farang "internationalist" view of sorts, whereas The Nation is a little better at local news and analysis. The Nation is sometimes qualitatively measured as fairly radical in this culture, and it seems to me to address questionable cultural values more often. However, think and read and think for yourself.

Many farangs who prefer the Bangkok Post seem to do so because of its "more farang" style, which is in turn due to higher influence by farang journalists within. I tend to prefer The Nation because it seems to me to be more multifaceted and more sensitive and respectful to a diversity of viewpoints (including more which I disagree with), in addition to somewhat better local analysis, in my opinion. I feel that the Bangkok Post is still a little bit more of an establishment sort of conservative newspaper, and The Nation is a little more courageous, cutting edge and ambitious. Nonetheless, each paper has excellent pieces missing in the other, especially in the analysis sections, and there is not a lot of difference between the two.
(I read both. Some days the Bangkok Post is better, some days The Nation is better. I want to make clear that I find some things questionable in both The Nation and The Bangkok Post, and am not endorsing either newspaper without some reservations.)

We'd like to remind you to not assume accuracy in news reporting in the Thai newspapers (The Nation, The Bangkok Post), the foreign press (about Thailand from outside Thailand) and of course internet websites. As you know, when a newspaper publishes stories about topics that you already know about as a specialist, you often see a lot of inaccuracies, poor analysis and misleading information. So, when you read articles about things you don't know about, do you assume they are more accurate? (It's not just about Thailand; this is what motivated me to get into internet in the 1980s, and I'm happily witnessing the erosion of the powerful centralized media like the BBC, New York Times, etc., by web reporters and blogs!!) Journalists are often lazy, careless, biased, influenced by similarly opinionated peers who they surround themselves with, are hired by their views and not objectivity, have vested interests, etc., despite the official ethics and image. A problem with expats in Thailand is that people parrot "the experts", there are a lot of "urban legends" parading as fact, and as expat newbies arrive, many unfortunately and ignorantly reinforce these mistruths, perspectives and attitudes.

Daily Xpress
In early March 2008, The Nation split into two newspapers:
Daily Xpress - free - a smaller, tabloid style newspaper focussing on "lifestyle, human interest news, talk of the town events, entertainment and fun" and which appears more targeted at younger audiences

The Nation - 25 baht - same as before but focussed on business and politics, though still with special sections such as travel, and which appears targeted at more a mature audience

The two are offered quite separately in public, but subscribers receive both, though only the Daily Xpress on Sunday. The "Sunday Nation" no longer exists, as The Nation is now published only Monday thru Saturday.
The Nation is now thinner, with a lot moved to the Daily Xpress. There is no duplication of content between them. The editor of The Nation moved to the Daily Xpress, so The Nation has a new editor, but a lot of the other staff are still shared between the two papers.

Don't misunderstand: Both on newsstands and for subscribers, The Daily Xpress is stuffed inside The Nation, so it looks like a tabloid has been inserted into a newspaper, but it's a completely different format, there's no overlap between the two, and you can find the Daily Xpress in places without The Nation (but not The Nation without the Daily Xpress).
It is confusing because I have found issues of The Nation at newsstands which was thin and didn't include the Daily Xpress inside, but lately every time I pick up The Nation, the Daily Xpress is inside.
Being free, the Daily Xpress is supported by advertisements, which becomes obvious by the first few odd numbered pages, but it's not too much, and then towards the end where there is a large Classified section.
Being the only free major newspaper, the Daily Xpress aims (and claims) to be the highest circulation English language newspaper in Thailand. It is designed to appeal to younger people who will take a free newspaper but not pay for one, and who are attracted to a colorful tabloid style paper much like several others around town, such as the reputable Guru magazine (not associated with Thailand Guru, to also answer many inquiries I receive, and they came well after me). With so much content free now, not just the internet but also advertiser-supported tabloids, Nation Multimedia decided to toss their big hat into the ring, which might squeeze out a few others and upstarts.
On-line, the Daily Xpress can be found at DailyXpress.NET
There were announcements all over town, such as this huge billboard on Lad Prao Rd.:

Further Discussion of the Thai Press
The press in Thailand has been one of the most free in Asia for decades, and continues to be to date. The newspapers are remarkable for their hard-hitting exposes of powerful politicians all the way up to the Prime Minister, the richest people, and entrenched organizations in Thailand, as well as their articles for community service, their intellectual editorials on cultural issues, and their select incorporation of articles from international newswires.
This is something usually taken for granted in many "Western" countries, so don't take it for granted in Asia. Just go to Singapore (with only its official Straits [Jacket] Times) or Malaysia or most any other bordering or regional country and look at the press there.
Thailand has had periods of censorship (e.g., blacked out censored articles) in the past, though the current period is another golden age, hopefully a permanent one. In reading of all the corruption and other dirty issues in the Thai press, the overriding positive thrust is that the Thais can take pride in their free press. Of course, there are also many creatively positive articles as well.
The press is not allowed to publish any negative reports of the royal family, and follows certain sensitive guidelines in layout. All printed publications are bound by law in this regard. The existence of these lese majeste laws are not a sensitive issue and are accepted by all. The King and Queen are extremely popular due to their decades of hard work for the people of Thailand, especially the poorest people, and also stay out of politics except in very rare and extreme situations (such as calling for an end to the physical conflict between pro-democracy students and the military in 1992, leading to a return to civilian led government and the last military run regime to date).
It is argued that the press has other limitations in its freedoms. Some very powerful Thais such as politicians, mafia figures and big businessmen get easily insulted by what is printed about them, and have many ways of hitting back. Actually, it happens practically all over the world, including the U.S., but in Thailand the powerful Thais tend to get away with it a lot more. Even in cases that involve physical assaults, they sometimes are not dealt with strongly and swiftly by the local police or court system, though this situation has improved markedly in recent years.
Some recent events:
In the year 2001, companies associated with the new Prime Minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, suddenly started discontinuing advertisements in The Nation, reportedly due to orders from the higher-ups, in order to put pressure on the newspaper for more favorable reporting. The Nation went public with this, rather than cave in. The newspaper is thinner now due to less advertising, but it is just as critical of the government.
Shortly after that, the leader of The Nation was investigated and harrassed by the Anti Money Laundering Office (AMLO), again allegedly upon orders from the higher ups. The Nation's lawyers hit back and pushed forward an investigation of their own thru official channels. It turned out that AMLO protocols were ridiculously bypassed. The investigation was based on one anonymous and vague letter, and was put onto the top of the priority list, in stark contrast to usual investigations.
Before the present administration, back in 1999, some henchmen of a member of parliament walked into a Thai newspaper with guns to have a talk with the editors who wrote a piece critical of the parliamentarian. The police arrived but did not deal with the situation with a show of righteous force when they found out who they were dealing with. As is usual in Thailand, the situation was dealt with by having minimal loss of face, though the parliamentarian and his perpetrators had their reputations worsened (or improved, depending upon your viewpoint) when this event was reported in many other newspapers as well the next day.
There have been numerous threats of lawsuits and filings of lawsuits for slander and the like, as is common anywhere, including western countries with the most free press. A small percentage of lawsuits whose intent is censorship get very far in the courts, much less result in major settlements, but some are tactically introduced.
It's also been said that mutual blackmail is Thailand's preeminent system of checks and balances, and helps explain why the big bad guys always go free and big problems don't get resolved. In the past, some journalists and publications have felt under the hammer of certain operatives at the Ministry of Justice.
The following is what I've heard from some ex-pats who have lived in Thailand for decades and either worked for one of the newspapers or are intimately familiar with them. None wish to be identified by name, and I have not verified the accuracy of all of the following comments on the Bangkok Post and The Nation. Further, I have been cautioned to be careful what I say about these supposed defenders of the right to free speech due to certain powerful owners and other special interests within. Some journalists and newspapers can dish out criticism a lot better than they can take it, and don't always uphold their own professional principles of objectivism. Get on their bad side for one reason or another (your opinions, your knowledge, whatever) and their good 'ol boy network might develop an "attitude" and ostracize you ... or report on you in a biased way ... or worse.
First, a little history. The absolute monarchy was toppled in 1932 by a coalition of the military and civilian intellectuals. The civilians were led by Pridi Panomyong, a French-educated intellectual. The military was led by Phibul Songkram, an ambitious junior army officer who asserted the greater efficiency of the military in running the country, and considered the civil bureaucracy led by Pridi as too corrupt. The initial Prime Minister, Phraya Phanon, was an old military officer who kept Pridi's civil and Phibul's military factions balanced. For decades, Pridi and Phibul would be the leaders of the two powerful forces running Thailand and struggling with each other.
In 1938, amidst military pressures from the neighboring British and French colonies, Phraya retired and Phibul assumed the role of Prime Minister. Phibul allied Thailand with Japan as a way of counterbalancing the Western colonial powers. However, on the day after Pearl Harbor, Japan invaded Thailand. Facing certain defeat, Phibul avoided destruction of Thailand's territory and armed forces by instead negotiating a very cooperative ally arrangement with Japan, especially as a staging point against the British and French. (They also agreed that Thailand would declare war against the U.S., but the Thai ambassador in Washington, D.C., simply never delivered the proclamation nor officially discussed it in Washington, D.C., circles, and relations between Thailand and the U.S. never deteriorated in substance though there were the usual propaganda lines. The U.S. countered efforts by the British and French to condemn Thailand after the war, while the latter two jumped back in to take control of the bordering colonies.)
Phibul ran the Thai puppet government during World War 2, while Pridi led the underground Free Thai movement. Pridi was known as codename "Ruth" by American intelligence, and was widely trusted. Phibul became unpopular due to his association with the Japanese, and when Japan's strength weakened in 1944, the National Assembly demanded the resignation of Phibul and reintroduction of civilian rule. Phibul went into internal exile. Pridi was elected Prime Minister in January 1946.
The Bangkok Post was founded in 1946 by an American and a Thai. The American co-founder, Alexander McDonald (who passed away in the year 2000), was a former World War II U.S. OSS agent (the precursor to the CIA), and experienced editor and a close admirer of Pridi.
The king returned from studies in Switzerland in 1945. However, he was found dead in his bedroom of a gunshot wound to the head in June 1946. The government initially said it was an accident when he was cleaning his Colt 45, but few believed this, and outside forensic experts were called in. They determined it was either a murder or suicide, and virtually everyone agreed it was fairly certain that it was a murder. (The assailant and motive remains a mystery.)
The bungled government investigation along with Prime Minister Pridi's longtime antiroyalist assertions left Pridi responsible in some of the public eye. Phibun's remaining camp was of course not supportive of Pridi, and some say that the leaders of a conservative opposition party also acted to hasten Pridi's demise. Pridi resigned in August 1946 and left the country (some say escaped bullets, too) on an extended vacation, with the assistance of McDonald.
The years since have seen countless flip-flops between civil and military rule.
At the beginning, the Bangkok Post was independent and quite critical of the military leaders. Over the years, especially after McDonald left, the Post became an establishment paper, remaining politically correct, id est "politically safe".
Another newspaper was started during FM Sarit Thanarat's reign, called the Bangkok World. It was begun -- with government support -- to rival the Post.
In the late 1980's, the Bangkok Post acquired the Bangkok World.
The Nation was founded by a group of Thais reacting to this acquisition and its results in reporting. The founders wanted to provide an alternative English language newspaper. The founder of The Nation quit working for the Bangkok Post in order to start the new newspaper.
The Nation was widely commended for taking a courageously strong stand against the 1991 coup by the National Peace-Keeping Council (NPKC) (which, in turn, fell in 1992 after shooting pro-democracy student protesters).
Today, the two newspapers compete to provide quality coverage. Each improves the other by competition. They are both excellent newspapers, and the differences I report below should not lead you to believe that they are very different in their reporting. Compared to other countries, the reporting by the Bangkok English language dailies is far more similar than different.
Some people who compare the editorials in the Post and Nation feel that the Nation is usually more critical of the government, though clearly both are critical to similar degrees. Many feel that the Bangkok Post gives a more farang "internationalist" view of sorts, whereas The Nation may be a little better at local news and analysis. The Nation is sometimes qualitatively measured as fairly radical in this culture, and it seems to me to address questionable cultural values more often. However, think and read and think for yourself.
Many farangs who prefer the Bangkok Post seem to do so because of its "more farang" style, which is in turn due to higher influence by farang journalists within. I tend to prefer The Nation because it seems to me to be more multifaceted and more sensitive and respectful to a diversity of viewpoints, in addition to somewhat better local analysis, in my opinion. I feel that the Bangkok Post is still a little bit more of an establishment sort of conservative newspaper, and The Nation is a little more courageous, cutting edge and ambitious. Nonetheless, each paper has excellent pieces missing in the other, especially in the analysis sections, and there is not a lot of difference between the two.
Both newspapers underwent significant changes due to the 1997 Asia economic crash.
The Nation cut its foreign staff by about 80% after the 1997 economic crash, whereas the Post kept all its foreign staff but cut out foreign freelancers. But it cannot all be blamed on the 1997 crash, as The Nation had financial difficulties in 1997 due to opening up too many new ventures (e.g., magazines) just before the financial crash. The Nation staff works longer hours but it pays its staff better. Sometimes it's obvious they're short on proofreading. According to some, there is concern over morale with some staff, and potential defections to the Bangkok Post for an easier way of life. We shall see what happens. I'd be surprised if my favorite journalists' names start appearing in the Bangkok Post. Other staff, well, who knows...
The foreign staff at the Bangkok Post are mostly old-timers and naturally concerned with keeping their jobs. That presents its own drain on the newspaper, but then again, they get more advertising income.
Many longtime expats note that in past years the Bangkok Post was known for choosing sides in political power struggles, whereby they would predict the winner and suck up to them as a public relations proxy, rather than as a responsible newspaper. Most of these expats say, however, that the Post has cleaned up its act considerably in the past 10 years after The Nation emerged. The Nation was founded partly by defectors from the Bangkok Post.
There is one incident in particular which is very salient in Thai history, which goes back to a popular uprising in the 1970s in which the Bangkok Post was allegedly instrumental in a disinformation effort to discredit the anti-dictator student movement in the eyes of the general public. It involved a front page photo which was changed to look like the students were against the Royal Family, which was false. In the year 2001, The Nation raised this issue against the Post, in an article in The Nation, and the Post sued for libel, saying it wasn't true. In the judgement, there were several points of contention, and it was ruled in favor of the The Nation on all points except one: that The Nation should have given the Bangkok Post more of a chance to present their side of the story. Both newspapers ran stories the next day claiming victory in court.
Besides reporting on politics, both newspapers have excellent reporting on business, travel, entertainment and special articles on the activities on good samaritans and nongovernmental organizations.
One area in which The Nation is significantly better is in its technology reporting. An example is in its IT section. The Bangkok Post tends to deal more with helping the novice user, whereas The Nation better covers emerging technologies and trends.
You may note that The Nation is owned and operated by the Nation Multimedia Group, which is ambitious, and that their website is technically more sophisticated and superior to the Post's. The Bangkok Post runs its IT section on a very limited budget and in an old-school way, whereas The Nation is apparently investing heavily in the Internet future. The Bangkok Post was initially dragged into the web world by an expat named Theo in the mid to late 1990s. Theo did not have a high position in the Post, and subsequently disappeared from it after an acknowledgement. The Post's web operation lagged behind The Nation's, especially in retrieving archival articles. The two are now nearly at parity for general web surfers, but it wasn't always that way.
With the advent of the Internet, the paper medium is giving way to the electronic medium. You don't need to buy a printing press and lots of paper to guarantee that you can express your right to free speech. Now all you need is a website on the so-called Information Superhighway, especially if that website is located on an overseas server, as many people have pointed out.
It possible that in the future, other "newspapers" specializing in certain issues will pop up on the Internet, in both English and Thai, similar to in other countries. However, in Thailand, a much smaller percentage of the population has access to the Internet at this time. This may change as the Internet is relied upon moreso in the future in day to day commercial marketing, sales and delivery. E-commerce and Internet will bring in more cheap "dumb terminals" which are little more than a screen, keyboard and Internet connection (as opposed to a full blown personal computer), and Thai gossip will take it from there.
However, for the moment, the main news gathering and distribution publications, TV shows and radio programs in Thailand have maintained their current operations in a traditional mode, with their websites performing a minor role overall. There is still a clear technical as well as corporate distinction between them.
When Internet connections expand, and when bandwidth improves so that multimedia clips become a good market, The Nation Multimedia Group may be one of the first in Thailand to merge the various media sectors. Or, possibly, additional entities may spring up, since they don't need to buy the paper generation and physical distribution means.

วันอังคารที่ 24 มิถุนายน พ.ศ. 2551

[17] Sustainable Democracy

Anand Panyarachun on Sustainable Democracy
Published on June 24, 2008 จาก หนังสือพิมพ์ The Nation

Amartya Sen Lecture Series on Sustainable Development, In association with the Cambridge Society, Oxford Society and Harvard Club, of Belgium
Public Lecture on
Sustainable Democracy
By Anand Panyarachun
Former Prime Minister of Thailand
Brussels, 24 June 2008

Professor Amartya Sen,
Mr. Marc Bihain of the ING Bank,
Mr. Willem Van Der Geest,
Distinguished Guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a privilege to share with you some observations on sustainable democracy in a lecture series bearing the name of a great philosopher, thinker and a Nobel Laureate for economics. He won further plaudits for his work a few years ago as co-chair of the United Nations Panel on Human Security.
Professor Sen has inspired us all with his seminal contributions that, among others, have given new meaning to the ethical dimensions of the pressing economic and social challenges of our times. One of Professor Sen's most influential contributions is the concept of capability which places human freedom in the centre of the discourse on development.

On democracy, Professor Sen has observed that, "No substantial famine has ever occurred in any independent and democratic country with a relatively free press."

Today, when the profit motive often prevails over considerations of justice, equity and rights, Professor Sen's message on development, linking it with human freedom, democracy and a free press, is refreshing indeed.
With the end of the Cold War, Francis Fukuyama suggested that the end of history was upon us. Yet over a decade and a half later, the triumph of democracy has been less than absolute. Some countries have turned away from a liberal brand of democracy and embraced a more authoritarian one. A number of governments continue to be quite successful in keeping their political systems democracy-free while delivering the economic goods to their citizens. At the same time, some countries that have democratic systems seem to be struggling with issues of accountability and governance.

At first glance, this is somewhat surprising. Surely, democracy, with its obvious virtues, should have had no difficulty in taking root around the world. Yet for many countries, "government of the people, by the people and for the people" remains a tantalizing, elusive ideal.

The primary cause is in the struggle between those who govern and those who are governed. Aristotle proclaimed that, "If liberty and equality, as is thought by some, are chiefly to be found in democracy, they will be best attained when all persons alike share in the government to the utmost."

In our own times, we face compelling questions:
- Why does democracy seem so fragile?
- What elements are required for a country to reach the threshold necessary to sustain democracy?

Let me share some insights from my experience as a prime minister committed to building democracy in Thailand, including through drafting a people's constitution.

In doing so, I shall first turn to Mahatma Gandhi who articulated the organic nature of democracy, "The spirit of democracy cannot be imposed from without. It has to come from within." Indeed, people have to want democracy.

In most of Europe, the evolution of democracy was slow and non-linear. European history is a chronicle of civil wars, revolutions and dictatorships. Yet democracy took root and today no rival political system challenges it in Europe.
If we take universal suffrage as the key event in western democracy, we find that the broad, inclusive participation of all citizens is little more than a hundred years old.

In the course of political natural selection, we all adapt to new technologies, as well as problems such as climate change and natural disasters. Over time, a democratic system is best able to adapt in the evolutionary process if its basic pillars are strong enough.

A contemporary metaphor for democracy is that of a software algorithm that produces the best possible political outcomes for any society. The intellectual code for this political software stretches back centuries, with Britain's Magna Carta of 1215 as a convenient starting point.

There is an implicit premise that democracy is inherently better, more stable, rational, beneficial and legitimate than other forms of government. Winston Churchill aptly states that, "No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except all those others that have been tried from time to time."

The political process must be viewed along with the level of development. As development is uneven, so too is the state of democracy. Democracy and development are two sides of the same coin.

In my experience, there are a minimal number of pillars or key algorithmic modules that are needed to support the infrastructure needed for democracy. If you wish to build a bridge, there are principles of engineering that must be followed. Democracy, unlike bridge building, isn't just science; it is also the art of the possible.

Education and Knowledge Sharing
Democracy starts with the wisdom of the voting public, however that wisdom is acquired. By that I mean a voting public that understands the issues it must deal with and the options it has. The voting public must also understand its responsibilities in a democracy and have access to the means to exercise choice in the democratic process.

The heart of democracy beats only with the participation of all citizens in exercising their rights --- first to raise for inclusion in the political agenda issues of concern to them and second to choose those whom they feel would best address their concerns in the political process.

In addition to responsible citizenship through participation in voting, democracy requires that citizens be well-informed of the issues that their communities and societies face in an increasingly globalizing and interconnected world.

A struggle in many developing countries is to channel resources to make education more relevant to the tasks of daily life, to change the emphasis from rote memorization to creativity and independent thinking and to extend the reach of education programmes, especially to girls and women in poverty. I am pleased to note the silver lining of progress in gender equality in the promotion of universal education. Such progress augurs well for creating the critical mass of informed voters needed to fuel democratic processes.

Asia has the distinction of being a region that has produced a significant number of democratically-elected women Heads of Government and State. An encouraging development in recent years is South Asia's efforts to ensure gender parity in the democratic process, with the requirement that a significant proportion of all elected functionaries must be women. We must now accelerate region-wide the advancement of girls and women for wider grass-root participation.

ducation and the sharing of knowledge as a public good are important means of supporting the process for a strong countervailing force, to deter those who govern from abusing power.

In Asia as in the West, democracy is won not just through the ballot box. The real struggle is fought out on the streets by students, farmers, workers and other ordinary citizens who come out en masse to express their dissatisfaction. It was in Asia that Mahatma Gandhi crafted non-violence as a movement for political change. Subsequently, there have been street protests over the course of five decades in the Republic of Korea, and people's power has swept across Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, as well as other countries. The flame of democracy also continues to burn brightly in South Asia, which has the largest and most active voter populations.

For democracy to live, citizens must resist the temptation of being complacent. Each community, workplace and school needs programmes for promoting grass-root democracy. An apathetic electorate is easy prey for any organized group to seize power by force or fraud, giving rise to totalitarianism.
In much of Asia where harmony is a core value and conflict avoidance a first response, our challenge is to embrace criticism, the weighing of pros and cons and disagreement, as part of the maturation of the democratic process in the Asian context.

Pillars of Democracy
In my view, there are seven main pillars of the architecture of democracy, namely, elections, political tolerance, the rule of law, freedom of expression, accountability and transparency, decentralization and civil society.

First, free and fair elections lend legitimacy to democracy by preventing one person or a small group in society from imposing certain vested interests on the general population. No one person or group should exercise a monopoly of power over the election process.

Political parties constitute a major instrument of constitutional democracy in which fundamental norms govern the political community and determine relations between the legislature, the people and the interactions among the centres of power. In a democracy, political parties can be formed and can campaign without intimidation. Some countries require political parties to have a minimum level of popular support before they can participate in elections. All political parties must also have access to a free media and other means to broadcast their election manifestos. The electoral process is supervised, monitored and carried out by a neutral body, often an election commission.

However, elections may be rigged and votes bought. Politicians who only appear in their constituencies to enhance their patronage power, to be photographed and filmed distributing largesse are sadly a familiar phenomenon in many countries.
A political establishment that ceases to reflect the aspirations of the citizens loses its political legitimacy. Once that happens, the political establishment could call for new elections. However, it may instead resort to the use of force, fear and intimidation to cling to power. And elections may be suspended or subverted.
Although elections are necessary and may be the most visible aspect of a democracy, there are many examples of the manipulation of election processes to aid and abet autocracy and tyranny. In themselves, elections do not suffice to ensure democracy.

Political Tolerance
The second pillar is political tolerance. Free and fair elections do not give a mandate to oppress or sideline those who have voted against the government. It also does not mean that the majority have the right to rob the minority of its civil liberties, rights, property or life. Tolerance is required for democracy to be sustained over the long run. If minority groups do not benefit equitably from the election process, there can be no peace. That absence of peace would make a mockery of efforts to be democratic.

In many countries, there are examples of rewards being given only for those voters who supported the ruling party, with neglect or punishment for those who voted for the opposition. The distribution of food, water supplies and development resources has been used as a weapon of control to win elections.
Post-election politics can be punitive on the losers. This happens when the elected government views the minority's participation in government as an obstacle, rather than finding a way to include the opposition in reasoned debate and, where appropriate, incorporate opposition positions into government policy.
Tolerance has to do with acceptance of diversity in society. It begins with the way children and young people are brought up. If we teach the young to believe in the principle of winner takes all, we impede the development of democracy. Instead, young people must learn that in an election what the winner earns is an on-going duty to strike a balanced consensus in society. Striking that balance is an art. .

Rule of Law
The third pillar of democracy is the rule of law. There has been much debate on the meaning of this. What is clear, though, is the close connection between the rule of law and democracy.
When the political process is subject to laws and a regulatory framework, it enables citizens to judge the lawfulness of the government. They can find answers to some key questions:
- Does the government govern according to the law or does it take the position that it is exempt from some inconvenient rules?
- Are procedures of government stable and within the law or does government act in an arbitrary fashion, arresting people who challenge its policies and depriving them of their liberty without due process?

I mentioned in my opening remarks the importance of the Magna Carta. That historical document enshrined due process of law. Habeas Corpus is one of the most cherished concepts contained in the Magna Carta. Habeas Corpus prevents arbitrary arrest, imprisonment and execution, by requiring such government action to be justified under law and ensuring the right to due process of the person detained. A political class, which accepts that official actions must comply with the law, is more likely to embrace democracy. Proper application of the rule of law puts a brake on any attempt to destroy liberty, seize property, or violate human rights. It also means that such rules apply across the board to all citizens.

When application of the rule of law is weak, corruption flourishes. Bribery, kickbacks, bid rigging, policy favours for family and cronies are well known in many countries. In these situations, those who seek enforcement of the law may face intimidation or reprisal.

Democracy becomes dysfunctional when the bureaucracy, the judiciary, the legislature, the private sector, the police and the military all use their power to enrich themselves and advance their own interests at the expense of civil society. Laws notwithstanding, corruption undermines the rule of law.
Judicial neutrality is a key premise of the rule of law. If judges apply one set of rules for those with wealth and influence and another set of rules for those without these assets, the entire political and judicial system falls into disrepute, eroding public trust in government institutions to deliver justice.
The rule of law is rooted in a system of moral values. In South Africa, for decades, the rule of law existed within an apartheid system. The law was based on the colour of one's skin. In a properly balanced political and legal system that protects the rights of citizens, those with a particular skin colour cannot use it to obstruct justice. Justice and equality are directly linked with the sustainability of democracy. Generally, once the rule of law is compromised, a regime, despite what it may otherwise profess, slips on its democratic credentials and loses its legitimacy.

The rule of law also has a final function. In a constitutional democracy like Thailand, the constitution defines the institutional arrangements that govern in a democracy. Democracy works best when its institutions and officials operate in a system with checks and balances. The rule of law defines the limits to political interference in decision-making processes. With the rule of law, the system is owned in common by all citizens who are subject to the same laws; those governing do not "own" the system.
To ensure the functioning of the rule of law, it is vital that the integrity and independence of the judiciary and the entire justice system are not subject to undue influence and illegal intervention.

Freedom of Expression
The fourth pillar that sustains democracy is freedom of expression. What people in civil society are allowed to say, print, distribute and discuss is indicative of the democratic nature of a political system. A free press is a measure of the freedom of expression in a society. An Internet that is untrammeled by state control is another.

Few governments, democratic or otherwise, have a genuinely easy relationship with a free press. Yet, despite all its shortcomings, a free press, supported by open Internet access, is indispensable to keeping the public well informed as part of a functioning democracy. Even in an established democracy, government may seek to manipulate a free press into serving its own ends. Governments often conduct spin campaigns, to advance their agenda and dilute the power of independent media.

New technology is unleashing powerful new forces through quantum expansion of information dissemination and space for public discourse. The Internet has revolutionized participation in political debate and action and fostered the formation of e-communities. Mobile phones serve as critical means of facilitating rapid communication.

In countries with authoritarian practices, freedom of information is high on the government's danger list. Such freedom, as represented by the new media, is a few clicks away on websites such as YouTube and on numerous subject-specific blogs. These new forces have made it much harder for governments to control the flow of information.

The fact remains that even democratically-elected governments will go to great lengths to manipulate public opinion whether on TV, in the print media or the Internet. State influence and control over the flow of information should give us pause. The trappings of democracy may appear healthy, but if freedom of information and press freedom are hollowed out, then democracy is compromised. Constant public vigilance remains instrumental in performing a check-and-balance role. This is not always easy, as the law in many developing democracies is neither supportive of freedom of information nor does it favour the press.

Freedom of expression was thought important enough to place in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Article 19 of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights provides, "Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; the right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media regardless of frontiers."

Unless citizens have the right to express themselves in the political process, no government can be made accountable for its actions. However, no democracy has absolute freedom of speech.

The key is to balance national and societal interests to create and maintain the level of discussion required for participation in democracy to be meaningful, while drawing lines that take into account a country's history and cultural milieu. Each country places its own limitations on freedom of expression. What matters is that those limitations are not misused by political forces to limit public scrutiny of policies and actions that impact on the integrity of public goods. For example, if criminal libel laws effectively thwart whistle blowing on irregularities or corruption, democracy is diminished.

Democracy is about multiple voices. These may be contradictory; some may be more informed than others, while others may be personal opinion, gossip or speculation. That is a marketplace of ideas. As in all marketplaces, not everything is of equal value. So long as our institutions enable people to understand how to assess ideas in this marketplace, selecting the rigorous and rejecting the shoddy, democracy is not only sustained, it thrives.

With the Internet, globalization and mass communications, the marketplace of ideas draws from far beyond the borders of any single democracy. While such a marketplace can no longer be easily crafted and controlled by government, no single government can feel quite comfortable in invoking the means to silence dissent or whistle-blowers.

Accountability and Transparency
The fifth pillar of democracy is accountability and transparency. This means that institutions of government and individuals in those institutions must be held accountable for their actions. A government must be accountable to the people who elected it into power. Furthermore, it must be accountable to an independent judiciary or other impartial institutions established to check government action. Be it agricultural policy, fuel pricing or health care services, decisions must not advance the agendas of vested interest groups over the public interest.

Accountability and transparency essentially have the same purpose: to protect citizens against misguided policies or decisions that enrich a few at the expense of the many. When these two guardian angels are compromised, it is an alarm that good governance is at risk, and the democratic process has stalled.

The sixth pillar rests on local or provincial political empowerment. The closer the government is to the people governed, the more responsive the government is likely to be. At the same time, for decentralized democracy to work, there must also be a decentralization of funding, material and human resources and institutional capability.

Decentralization of the political process is another way to curb the concentration of power and influence exercised by political forces. Citizens become more aware, interested and willing to participate in democracy when they see their officials as neighbours and what is at stake as something close to home.
It is at the local level that we see the best example of how democracy is connected with the daily lives of citizens. The physical proximity of the neighbourhood has the same benefits as the online community of practice in a knowledge economy: people with common interests and shared values express and exchange views and insights, influencing one another. Citizens' right of assembly and participation at the local level nurture the longevity of democracy in a society.

The creation of political parties at the local level facilitates the building of a representative democracy. Local participation by voters and candidates drawn from the same district or province gives credibility and legitimacy to the democratic process. The local administration becomes a training ground for future national leaders.

Civil Society
Civil society is the vital seventh pillar. An active civil society begins its engagement at the grassroots. Community forums, clubs, issue-focused activist groups, charities, cooperatives, unions, think tanks and associations fit under the broad umbrella of civil society. These groups are the participatory vehicles for sustaining grass-root democracy. There is a strong degree of volunteerism, shared interest and common values around which information is gathered, analyzed, views formed and advocacy pursued.

The health of a democracy may be measured by the authenticity of its civil society and the extent of citizen participation in public policy making. Civil society provides an important source of information for intelligent debate on matters of public interest. Civil society also provides a mechanism whereby the collective views of citizens can shape and influence government policy. By bringing into the public domain arguments and information as a context for examining policy, a democratic government is forced to present counterarguments or to modify its position. Such exchange is healthy for democracy. Finally, it is clear that when the deliberative process within a political system accepts the role played by civil society, it also implicitly agrees that citizens have a role to play in checking government decision-making. A vibrant civil society thus makes for more thorough decision-making in a democracy.

In many countries, there is a history of political patronage. The head of a political entity builds up a personal following whose loyalty is to the individual rather than to a political party or creed. When that happens, democracy cannot be easily sustained.

Leadership Qualities
The pillars of democracy that I've outlined above are necessary but insufficient without leaders to build and maintain the pillars of democracy.
They qualities of leadership for sustainable democracy are to be found in those who act in an honest, transparent and accountable manner. They are consensus builders, open-minded and fair. They are committed to justice and to advancing the public interest. And they are tolerant of opposing positions. Of course, it is often said that democracy is a messy way of governing and that the human condition is flawed. There is truth in both statements. But in admitting our limitations, let us strive to avoid the mistakes of the past and look forward to a new generation of leaders who can build on the lessons of the struggles of ordinary citizens for democracy.

I've shared my observations of pillars that hold up the architecture for sustaining democracy.

To foster a sustainable democracy, a nation must focus its efforts on building a system that empowers people not only through the right to vote, but also through norms, institutions and values that support that right and make it meaningful.
What will sustain democracy is the shared realization that although democracy is far from perfect, the alternatives are even further from perfection. Some societies come to this realization sooner, others later. Some are experimenting to see if only parts of democracy, such as good governance and accountability, can be enjoyed without the burden of full-fledged democracy.

I wish them well. As long as they demonstrate a commitment to the larger welfare and well-being of the people and deliver public services, the majority of their people may well be content with the status quo and not protest.
One point in their favour in some fledgling democracies may be a sense of disappointment with representative democracy. Elected officials, instead of serving and protecting the public interest, serve their own interests and those of their cronies. They arrogate the right to dictate in the name of the majority, while riding roughshod over the minority. They become "the public" and are no longer "representatives".

For the past three decades or so, there has been a trend towards more direct, participatory democracy. In established democracies, this may be an incremental change. However, going from autocracy to mass participatory democracy is a big leap.

What is important is that the seeds of democracy must be homegrown, for it to be accepted and to function. Each society must work out its own contradictions, its own competing priorities.

Experience everywhere highlights the fragility of democracy. Even when seemingly well established, democracy can be subject to tampering, especially in times of crisis. I do not believe there is a democracy so strong that it is invulnerable to the greed and ambitions of men. To nurture and sustain democracy, its beneficiaries must also serve as its guardians; the common people must be ever vigilant and wise. For most of humanity, history has not ended. The struggle for and against democracy will continue far into the night.

วันพุธที่ 11 มิถุนายน พ.ศ. 2551

[17] Streets and other spaces for democracy

Streets and other spaces for democracy

Bangkok Post, 11 June 2008

Apart from Makkhawan Rangsan Bridge which has been taken over by the People's Alliance for Democracy these past three weeks, many other streets have been used as venues for protest. Some of them were completely sealed off, others partially opened to allow a bit of traffic through. Public streets have been used as demonstration sites thousands of times from Oct 14, 1973 up to the present. All types of caravans _ demonstrators on foot, pickup trucks or rot e-tan _ were marched through public streets in and outside Bangkok to make a political point, often with very loud loudspeakers.

Conflicts are part and parcel of a democratic society. That is why conflict resolution through a process of political negotiation is crucial for the regime to survive. It is more important than an election, the parliament or media freedom.
For democracy to thrive, conflicts must be allowed to come out in the open freely. For that to happen, a public ''space'' must be made available. It will serve as a forum for the minority to air their ideas. It will be a pressure valve to reduce discontent. It will be a medium for public proposals to be heard and hopefully turned into public policy.

Public streets are one such type of ''space''. They are quite effective, too, when used to generate pressure _ again a given in the process of negotiation.
Still, public streets are not the ''only'' space where negotiations under democratic rules can take place. The point, however, is if a society allows no other public space for negotiation, the street will always be used and closed for protesters to put pressure on policy-makers and to make their point, like the way things have been here in Thailand.

The imperfection of Thai-style democracy is caused not only by money politics, vote buying or public apathy. A large part of it is from a lack of ''space'' for public participation.

It's true that the system has some channels available for the public to use but most of these do not work. Most of these formal channels actually allow very little or no room for negotiation at all.

For democracy to work, I can think of at least seven spaces apart from the street that must be open for people to push forward their ideas, disagreements or discontent and to give them access to the making of public policy.

1. The Media
The situation is that electronic media have been co-opted by the state and business to the point that they no longer serve as an open space for the poor or a tool for them to have leverage. Even the printing press, which arguably enjoys more freedom, doesn't lend itself to serving as a forum for people outside of the state or financial power.

Is there a possibility for these small people _ labourers, small-scale entrepreneurs, farmers _ to make use of this ''space'' and hike up their negotiating power?

2. State Mechanisms
These include such independent bodies as the National Human Rights Commission, the National Economic and Social Advisory Council, Ombudsman or Administrative Court, among others.

Although these independent organisations provide important space for negotiation, and indeed members of the public have utilised it to their success in the past, they cannot be said to be highly efficient. The main reason is inaccessibility, especially when it comes to poor, rural villagers.
Also, these organisations were probably designed to serve more as a counter-and-balance mechanism than a tool for negotiation by the public.

3. Political Parties
At present, Thai political parties are groupings of national or local elite. They have no base among the masses, nor do they have an ability _ or intention, for that matter _ to represent anybody except their financiers. Under the circumstances, it is of no use for villagers to pressure their representatives to take action on their behalf. There is thus no way for these parties to be a stage for policy negotiation by the general public.

A party dissolution, thus, has little effect on the general public. Even though the Constitution Court does not order a dissolution, the party's owner can do so at any time and set up a new one.

4. Professional Organisations
Although the main purpose of these professional organisations, namely the Law Society of Thailand, Medical Council or Press Association of Thailand, is to prevent malpractice or abuse of power, their lines of work are actually interrelated with public policy. They should not limit their work to only protecting the interests of people in the profession. Instead, they should consider public benefit first when it comes to issues that are related to what they are doing.

The contribution has, sadly, been nil. That is why we have to live with the fact that there are doctors willing to cut off a child's testicles or media that consistently take the liberty of violating other people's rights and privacy.

5. Unions
In modern society in which the interests of many groups can be intertwined, the union can be a handy and effective tool for negotiation at the policy level. And it should work for larger issues than the immediate benefits of its own members.
There are times when the public and members' benefits are not the same. When that happens, the union usually stands by its members and turns into an anti-change factor. We have seen this happen with attempts to reform the education system or public enterprises. When that happens, the public is virtually pushed off from this space.

6. Academic Institutes
Schools, universities, museums or grant providers must open themselves up and study problems faced by members of the public more. They should not limit themselves to studying only what would benefit the state or business. A research institute may try to come up with an instrument to measure humidity in paddy that is both cheap and reliable. At the same time, it should invest in how to help farmers reduce the humidity in the paddy they are to sell to millers, too.

7. Local Administration Organisations
Although these local bodies come from direct election, they have hardly functioned as the frontline defenders of local people's rights and interests. Instead of bringing input from the grassroots to central policy-makers, these local organisation representatives mostly spend their time thinking how to make the most for themselves. For example, before they agree to buy certain books to distribute to school children in their areas, these local administrators should have asked people in the community whether they liked the books that the ministry prescribes? Do they want to add others to the list? If they did so, they would open up a real space for public participation in the country's educational policy.

As mentioned earlier, these seven spaces in Thai society are either dysfunctional or not allowed to work fully. It is thus no surprise why our streets have frequently been occupied for purposes other than traffic.

The problem is, without other open spaces which the public can make use of easily and freely, the street can become a forum to advance vested interests of power groups.

Without accountability, street politics can work in closing off other open spaces in a democracy.

Pushing protesters off public streets, either by force or persuasion, is not the gist of democracy. The main issue is how can we push open other democratic spaces so that they work in promoting our democracy.

Professor Nidhi Eoseewong is a historian who started the alternative educational forum, the Midnight University.

วันจันทร์ที่ 9 มิถุนายน พ.ศ. 2551

[16] วงจรความทุกข์ที่ทำชีวิตให้พินาศ

The cycle of misery that is ruining lives
By Ekarin Bumroongpuk

The NationPublished on June 10, 2008

Banks urge debtors to let them help out

Suchart and Jongrak Karndee never realised marriage would be this tough. Shortly after tying the knot, the couple (we are not using their real names) started borrowing money from Bangkok Bank.

Suchart is an employee at a private firm and had never faced financial problems until their child was born. Jongrak needed to quit her full-time job to be a full-time mother.

Suchart became the sole provider. As their child grew up, their financial burden became heavier as tuition fees for schooling became a new outlay.
Suchart became more stressed. Each day, he worried about how to make ends meet. The couple applied for personal loans and many credit cards in order to manage their cash flow.

With higher debts, stress led to a miserable relationship. After several quarrels, Suchart and Jongrak are on the verge of divorce.

They are not alone in terms of the difficulties they are facing as rising oil prices have increased overall living costs.

A credit official from a large bank said couples were divorcing because of their financial problems. Banks' customers facing a liquidity shortage and unable to pay debts on time should go to the bank and ask for help.

Bankers said there were bad signs about people's financial problems. The default rate is higher, while instalments are paid every other month rather than every month or not paid at all.

The steady rise in inflation is increasing living costs, banks are raising interest rates and incomes can't cover increased expenditure.

The credit department manager of Bangkok Bank said more customers, wage earners and business people, cannot pay their debts on time.

The general problems of business people are higher costs and difficulties in collecting money from customers.

"One customer sells automobile spare parts and offers high credit. But when the economy is not in good condition, he can't collect money from his customers. Therefore, he has no money to pay bank debts," said the manager.

After four to five months of no payment, the interest will be calculated at a default rate of 15 per cent, compared to the current minimum loan rate (MLR) of 7.25 per cent.

If a customer has to pay interest of Bt200 a day, that amounts to Bt6,000 a month. Over five months, the figure is Bt30,000.

Banks need to talk to customers about debt restructuring and how much they can afford to pay each month. If they can't pay all at once, the bank may let them pay by instalments without interest.

Banks may provide loans to refinance debts and offer a lower interest rate with smaller instalments, the banker said.

But customers should tell the truth to bank staff. Some customers hide their problems. For example, some claim to have only one credit card but actually hold 10. Or they still have to pay an auto-loan instalment but don't tell the bank.

They are afraid the bank will not help them. Actually, the greater the problems, the more likely it is that the bank will help.

People in financial trouble should share their problems with their families. When they understand the problem, they will help.

"In some families, the husband works but the wife is a housewife at home. The husband gets financial problems and asks for loans without telling his family members. He doesn't want to lose face with the family. So the wife still spends the same and doesn't try to save," said the manager.

Other large banks had similar stories.

The credit development department officer of Siam Commercial Bank said more customers were facing problems with payments. Credit-card customers need to pay at least 10 per cent of their spending amount.

"Right now, the banks help a lot of credit-card customers by allowing them to pay at least 5 per cent of the spending amount but if they still can't pay, we need to put them on the bad credit list," said the officer.

Ratanachai Nantapramote, managing director of Nava Leasing, said his company would seize a car as a last resort. "There is a solution to your problem. But first you should help yourself by not taking on new debt and saving more. Don't ignore the problem before it's too late," he warned. -->