Saturday, November 03, 2007

Reference: Kamnans to join poll fraud fight, Bangkok Post, November 3, 2007

Political candidates in Thailand buy votes in wholesale lots from local agents and it is these agents and not the candidates themselves that carry out the alleged illicit trade in votes. The candidates, without these agents, would be unable to buy votes. The agents are well known. The obvious but apparently impenetrable way to end the trade is to simply put these agents out of commission by placing them under house arrest and taking away their communication privileges including their mobile phones until the elections are over. The various indirect means being proposed by the present government are not unlike the provisions in the 1997 constitution that were supposed to end vote trading once and for all. They did not do that. Besides, there is a more fundamental question that has yet to be answered and that is whether vote trading compromises democratic principles. Even the most failed of democracies experiences a brief moment of democratic freedom during elections for it is then that every voter, however poor, infirm, or stupid, exercises his absolute right to vote as he pleases and if we demand that he not profit from those rights do we not infringe on those rights? Do we know better than he? Perhaps he only sells votes to candidates he finds acceptable. If the political financing that might otherwise go to advertising agents and pork barrels that only benefit the rich, end up going directly to poor voters through vote trading, is that necessarily bad? Are we trying too hard to live up to the expectations of the West? Are we unable to reason for ourselves? We should take note that vote trading was endemic in Britain in the 19th century and yet here they are all developed and democratic and wonderful. In time, and given better education, Thailand's democracy too will evolve after going through the growing pains that older democracies once endured.

Cha-am Jamal

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