The Election commission of Thailand has a constitutional duty to conduct civic education and encourage political public participation which have been nowadays mobilized by a mechanism of quality citizens so called “Sub-district Democracy Development Center (SDDC)”. The center is established for proceeding any activity by strong citizens in order to promote and develop democracy in their own villages and sub-districts.
Herein, you are presented with the following four issues:
1) the Thai political situation that has crucially contributed to building of quality citizens in Thailand ;
2) the major contents of the curriculum “Good Citizens on Democracy Way” that the Election Commission of Thailand has used to strengthen and enhance political public participation ;
3) the establishment of the SDDC and the civic network to be enter for proceeding any activity of citizens ;
4) the roles of the SDDC and the civic network in participating in the 2016 referendum on the Draft Constitution.
The Kingdom of Thailand has had the democratic government regime with the King as head of state since 1932. For the past 85 years, the Thai democracy has so far risen up and fallen down. Therefore, context and condition of the Thai democracy including election have its own blueprint and quite differ considerably from others. That is a reason why mere election is not enough for supporting fully-fledged democracy in Thailand, while being good citizenship in democracy society of all eligible voters must be included in election simultaneously.
For the past 2 decades, electoral frauds and irregularities, particularly votes buying, was widespread in Thailand until we got the 1997 Constitution, which has been cited the best ever Thai constitution. It provided people with the wide ranges of liberty and participation. Governments could work effectively and stably under the strong check and balance system.
Many independent organizations were established including the Election Commission of Thailand or the ECT. The ECT has duties to control and hold any election to be proceeded in an honest, free, and fair manner. Since then is has been 19 years. Even though, it could punish plenty of corrupt candidates and politicians, electoral frauds and irregularities still exist and become even more complicated to handle.
The Thai have the pros and cons towards behavior of politicians and some state officers leading to serious conflict in the society by which they cited themselves of being democracy and others were not.
Some scholars call this phenomenon “Vicious Political Cycle” that has occurred repeatedly in Thailand.
So when there is an election, votes buying is an investment in order to get political power. When they form the government, they will corrupt as a divestiture and raise money for the next election. This makes people reproach the government and finally lead to the parliament dissolution or resignation or the worst coup d’etat. The new constitution is after that drafted and an election will be held, followed by votes buying. The “Vicious Political Cycle” shall then occur again and again.
As the ECT is a statutory body responsible for managing election in order to recruit politicians. The ECT has been often reprimanded that unable to screen the quality politicians and to stop votes buying.
The recent team of ECT is aware of restriction in different aspects such as regulations, duties and authority. However, personal consciousness not only of politicians, but also political parties, government officials, ECT officers and eligible voters, who are in position to arbitrate the election result, is the most important thing.
Therefore, the first top priority that the current ECT shall do is to strengthen citizens who are eligible voters by creating the “Good Citizens on Democracy Way Curriculum” and providing the participatory facilitators, who are the ECT officers, as a multiplier in order to widely educate the people.
The “Good Citizens on Democracy Way Curriculum” applies participatory learning technique or PL by which it commences with sharing experiences, discussion, applying knowledge, summary and exchanging new experiences for further discussion amongst the participants.
This technique emphasizes the participants as a learning center and promotes them to participate in every activity in order to get new knowledge, increase their skills, and change their attitudes and behaviors.
There are four subjects in this curriculum which are: 1. Life and Politics; 2. Democracy Tree; 3. Good Citizens on Democracy Way; and 4. Sub-district Democracy Development Center (SDDC)
The first subject, “Life and Politics”, aims to change people’s thought to pay more attention and participation in politics.
The facilitators will provide vocabulary cards for participants in order to analyze how the recent political situation of the country is. The answers show a wide range of problems relating to economy, society, education and corruption.
Millions of participants are from various target groups for instance, students, soldiers, government officials, police officers, monk, Muslims living in the southern border area, ethnic groups in the northern part and the sea gypsy in the southern part. They are all enthusiastic to express their opinion independently.
For the next step, after people realize and are willing to participate in political activities, they should know the principles and the process of democratic political participation. Our curriculum uses tree as a learning tool so called the “Democracy Tree” because it is an easy way to learn democracy by comparing the components of tree with the significant components of democracy.
Starting with fruit, it is compared to benefit or expected result from democracy. Fertile soil is compared to the democratic values and ideology which we have applied to cultivate youth and people. Root is an organ to uphold tree and is compared to the democratic principles which should be stable. Trunk is compared to the fundamental institutions and organizations in the country having their own duties to sustainably promote and develop democracy. The last component is branches. Branches are compared to system, mechanism, and process monitoring operation of those institutions and organizations for transparency, efficiency and without corruption.
The facilitators shall divide the participants into 5-6 groups and 10-12 persons per group. The facilitators will ask participants five easy questions. Having been asked each question, the participants get a couple minutes for brainstorming and writing answers on sticky note with different colors. They also have to clarify reason of their answers before attaching sticky note to different parts of the democracy tree. Thus, every answer comes from opinions of the participants by using tree as a learning tool. They will proceed till they finish their answer for all 5 parts of the democracy tree.
When people know well about the democracy principles and process including other inspecting mechanisms of the democracy tree, the next important subject is "Good Citizens on Democracy Way" aiming to provide knowledge and comprehension concerning different definitions between "citizen" and "people". Citizen means people who have public mind and are accountable to their society. Then, the participants of training shall learn about the 3 principles of citizenship in the democratic regime which are as followings:
1. respect human dignity ;
2. respect rights, liberty, and rules of society ; and
3. be responsible to themselves, to others, to society, and to country.
The most outstanding feature of this subject is to facilitate the participants to determine their own different characteristics of citizen behavior and present the way how to build citizenship.
After the participants have had consciousness of being citizens and been enthusiastic to participate in politics, the 4th subject “Sub-district Democracy Development Center (SDDC)” shall begin with major contents of 5 roles and duties of the center as followings:
1. to be center of developing democracy in sub-district area ;
2. to educate people and youth about democracy and election ;
3. to promote democracy activities ;
4. to build quality and strong citizen ; and
5. to participate in electoral process.
The committee of each SDDC consists of 10 members by which at the beginning members are recruited from government services at the district level working closely with community leaders. Then, people in various groups of community shall amongst themselves select the members of center who are currently representing the social groups in sub-district area; for instance, women group, public health volunteers group, village committee members, youth group, money savings group, local leaders, local philosophers, and etc.
Success of the SDDC is to make people become citizens as well as to make every village and community in sub-district area become the genuine democracy village and community. People shall abide by democracy principles as their way of lives. Whenever there is an election, it should be an honest, free, and fair election so that good capable quality representatives are elected.
The ECT and the Office of the Non-formal and Informal Education (ONIE) under the purview of Ministry of Education have mutually signed the MOU to establish the SDDC since 2014. At the first step, there was only one center for each province and then in 2015 there was one center for each district. Recently in 2017, there is one center for every sub-district that there are totally 7,428 centers throughout the country.
Prior to serving as the members of SDDC, everyone must pass the training “Good Citizen on Democracy Way Curriculum”. They will also be equipped with materials and guideline to give knowledge to different people groups in order to create civic network to support operation of the SDDC.
As for the referendum on the Draft Constitution which was held on 7th August 2016, the SDDC performed effectively by which they were assigned to create and expand the civic network to participate in the referendum; to campaign about the referendum; and to enhance the quality of voters turnout. They had target to increase the number of voters turnout, while reduce the number of invalid ballots. This was very difficult task due to the situation of political conflict and freedom of expression on political views that was not fully accommodated.
The SDDC have created the civic network by recruiting people from every village to be their support for campaigning about the referendum everywhere. Some people have modified their own vehicles to be mobile campaigning unit. Therefore, the process of learning democracy and political public participation could occur naturally in daily people’s lives, every place and time.
These are all the samples of learning process of villagers that are different from the formal education done by the state agencies. They don’t need budget, whereas knowledge, education materials, value appreciation, and certificate of being facilitators are the things they require.
For the upcoming general election under the new constitution so called “the constitution for suppressing corruption”, The SDDC and civic network shall also perform their duties as facilitators for training the polling station committee in their own district area, Some shall serves as the polling station committee. Moreover, they could be volunteers for supporting operation of the ECT in effectively monitoring election.
As a result, the future elections in Thailand must be the quality election mobilized by efforts of the real quality citizens.
by H.E. Mr. Supachai Somcharoen Chairman of the Election Commission of Thailand
Info as of 1st June 2017