PAO elections: old politics?
The results of the recent Provincial Administration Organisation (PAO) elections, with so many incumbent leaders making a comeback, may give the impression that was a victory of old politics and that local people still do not care much about change.
About 40% of the winners of the PAO elections, Thailand’s first local elections in some seven years, are old faces, with the ruling Palang Pracharath Party making a big sweep in more than 20 provinces, followed by Bhumjaithai, almost 10, and Pheu Thai, nine. The Democrats, who limited their fight to the southern region, made satisfactory gains. Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit’s Progressive Movement, which focused on changes to politics as its flagship policy, did not perform so well.
Mr Thanathorn said the group did not work hard enough and it experienced some obstacles in campaigning for the Dec 20 poll. Despite zero seats for PAO chairs, the Progressive Movement may not be such a big loser, given that it was able to maintain its political base, as shown in its 2.6 million raw votes, even though there was no advance voting or voting for Thai expats abroad. Unlike those incumbent local leaders, who have an advantage in the fact that they can respond to voters’ needs better, the group needs time to expand its base.
However, it’s too early to conclude that voters prioritise tangible benefits — offered by old-time politicians — over change. Some caution that such election results show that even after the country’s move towards high political awareness in national politics, this year’s pro-reform protests have not spilled over into local politics.
Yet, such election results may be attributed to the low voter turnout of 62.3%, against what was forecasted to be 80%. Some analysts blamed the low turnout on bad timing as the poll date, a Sunday between long weekends, meant that many voters, particularly those who don’t live in their home provinces, missed out on voting. More importantly, some analysts alleged that the government had ulterior motives in fixing such a date, fearing that active local politics could hurt the status quo.
It must be said that fewer people are connected to their PAOs, when compared to other levels of local administration, like mayors or Tambon Administration Organisations (TAOs), whose work in local development is more tangible and solid. For this reason, PAO chairs must do more to prove that they are relevant and instrumental in improving public services, showing they encourage local development and oversee income-generating projects.
At the same time, it’s equally important that graft busting agencies focus more on the performance of those in PAOs and tackling corruption and conflicts of interest. This rings true especially when it comes to collusion between local politicians, particularly the old faces, and local businesses in development projects, as it’s easier for them to wield power due to the local monopolies they have had for years, if not decades. Such ill-gotten gains have hindered local development significantly.
The PAO elections were just the start of the resuscitation of local politics after years under the military regime. The next elections at tambon and municipality levels will be a real fight, with much fiercer contests, given that the scope of work of tambon administrators and mayors is clearer. By then, the Election Commission must accommodate more eligible voters so as many as possible can vote.
BANGKOK POST EDITORIAL COLUMN
These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.
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