MP Autonomy and Political Party Weakness

When one looks at the substance of the new Constitutional draft, one cannot help but think that politicians who look set and ready to become Members of Parliament (MPs) after the upcoming general election must certainly be among those who support the draft. This is because several constitutional draft provisions reflect the intention to allow MPs, as peoplersquo;s representatives, more autonomy and freedom in fulfilling their duties without having to toe the strict lines of their respective political parties.

Some of these provisions seek to give MPs more freedom from their parties in posing questions, opening debates, and giving no-confidence votes (Section 158, paragraph two). Other clauses will enable a group of at least 20 MPs to submit a legislative bill without having to obtain prior consent from their political parties (Section 138(2)).

It is true that giving MPs more autonomy and leeway is giving them opportunity to make decisions based on their own conscience in serving the people. However, it is also worth pondering if such an approach would result in weaker political parties.

For one thing, by turning MPs into lsquo;individualsrsquo; with rights, autonomy, and freedom from the influence of their political parties and who are not beholden to the partyrsquo;s administrative control, one makes it seem as if political parties do not matter much, possess no significant ideological substance, wield little power to back a policy direction, and have little say in making their MPs toe the management line. The people and the MPs themselves would certainly come to view political parties as insignificant and dispensable.

In a way, the autonomy of MPs from their political parties indicates that Thailandrsquo;s political parties often lack ideological strength and party platforms. Attempts to amend the Constitution in this regard are hence often justified on the grounds of public interest. It is hoped that MPs will be able to fulfill their roles in solving constituency problems without facing administrative or financial restrictions from their parties, which in the past have been seen as obstacles to the implementation of MP duties.

Practically speaking, one may have to admit that the present circumstances offer some justification to giving MPs more autonomy. This is because Thailandrsquo;s political parties remain little more than groupings of vested interest owned and managed by financially influential figures. These political parties do not reflect any particular political ideologies or policy standpoints and do not sufficiently represent the mutual decision-making among their members.

Having said that, in the long run the Constitution will eventually have to recognize the value and importance of political parties as groupings of MPs responsible for national administration. The internal consistency and unity within political parties is certainly crucial in ensuring smooth and efficient policy implementation. Political parties also need to have leaders and their management corps to make decisions on issues and define party platforms. Legislative proposals, for example, should be derived through a consensus or mutual agreement within the party and reflect that partyrsquo;s policy positions. In this way, allowing a group of 20 MPs to propose legislative bills may cause policy disunity within political parties and make it difficult for party leaders to efficiently control party management direction.

Therefore, although giving more autonomy to MPs in acting as peoplersquo;s representatives and freeing them from the cumbersome influence of political parties may render some benefit to the public, it is imperative that emphasis also be given to supporting the development of ideologically based political parties in Thailand. Ideally, these political parties should be lsquo;publicrsquo; in the sense that they are owned by the people and have ideological standpoints and clear party platforms on how they intend to bring the country forward. The public should know what they will gain from electing MPs from these particular parties, while MPs should know what policy decisions to make in order to keep in step with the policy lines of the parties under whose banners they had chosen to run.

If Thailandrsquo;s political parties had advanced to that stage, Section 138 could have been done without. On the contrary, the Constitution should instead contain provisions requiring that MPs submit bills that are consistent with their political party lines and that prior approval be obtained from their respective political parties before any bills can be submitted, as have been stipulated in the previous Constitutions since 1978 onwards.

Nevertheless, it can be expected that Thailandrsquo;s political parties in the future will remain as they are. Giving MPs autonomy in fulfilling their representational roles without the cumbersome attachment to political parties may perpetuate the weakness of these political parties, but it may be a worthwhile approach if the public stands to benefit from such enhanced MP autonomy.

* picture from