Democracy needs work

It is such a pity the impeachment bill which quietly passed the House’s first reading this week rarely merited a mention in the media and has been out of the political spotlight. If signed into law, the legislation would promote direct democracy and give teeth to local voters to keep their elected administrators and mayors in check.

The draft law aims to enable local voters to use their signatures to initiate impeachment probes against elected local officials such as members of local administrative offices and the mayors and governors of Bangkok and Pattaya. Local voters would also be able to gather signatures to propose local laws.

Drafted by the Interior Ministry, the bill will be deliberated again in parliament in the months to come, and will likely get the green light.

However, its smooth sailing does not mean it is free of conflict or perfect.

On Tuesday, the National Municipal League of Thailand (NMLT) lobbied Bangkok governor Chadchart Sittipunt to join its movement to have the bill killed.

The group, led by Yala municipality mayor Pongsak Yingchoncharoen, the following day went to parliament to submit a petition to Capt Thamanat Prompow with the same goal.

Mr Pongsak warns the draft law will empower the central government while weakening locally elected administrations, such as the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA), and disrupt the work of more than 5,000 tambon administrative organisations, some 2,000 municipal offices and 75 provincial administrative organisations nationwide.

The bill says if 10% or more of total eligible voters in a constituency sign a petition, an investigation must be launched into allegations of abuse of power or criminal wrongdoing.

After the probe, if there are grounds for charges, the case will be forwarded to either the provincial governor or the interior minister to decide whether to proceed with impeachment.

The group said current laws are sufficient in keeping elected local politicians in check or having them impeached.

Indeed, the country’s first impeachment act has been in place since 1999, but it has succeeded in removing few officials. This is because regulations have put off local voters from exercising their rights. Voters must first gather many signatures to initiate a civic impeachment and deliver a 75% vote to recall politicians from office.

The ministry last year drafted a new law with the aim of making gathering voter signatures, launching an impeachment process and proposing a new law easier. Despite the ideology behind this law being noble, lawmakers need to beware of pitfalls and listen to critics.

Prasertpong Sornnuvatara, a list MP for the opposition Move Forward Party (MFP), wants to amend the draft law’s provision requiring petitioners to reveal their identity — which may subject them to intimidation.

A research paper by a political scientist at Sukhothai Thammathirat Open University, Ekkawee Meesuk, says the proposed legislation is half-hearted because it only aims to let voters launch impeachment, and the process of conducting probes and deciding on outcomes is left with officials.

A similar approach used in Peru, India and Germany lets voters launch impeachment hearings and take part in deciding the outcome, the paper said.

Lawmakers need to listen to critics and debate this bill further. Without discussions of its pros and cons, this valuable bill cannot serve its purpose and will ensure democracy is held back, instead of moving it forward.