While Bangkokians have been waiting for nine years to be able to finally elect their governor anew due to the disruption caused by the May 2014 coup, people in all provinces have been waiting for over a century now. And the wait is far from over for non-Bangkokians.
This is a clear testament to the continued centralization and distrust of local people by the Thai state. Governors were appointed by the national government during the time of absolute monarchy beginning during the reign of King Chulalongkorn, or Rama V, and yet, a century later and even after the country ended absolute monarchy in 1932, it continued to be the case. What defense can anyone cite to defend the indefensible continuation of the centralization of power? Nothing.
It all boils down to deep distrust of the local populations and the thirst to concentrate powers with the national government based in Bangkok.
It is telling that when King Chulongkorn introduced administrative reform a century ago, his model was that of colonial administrations in Dutch-controlled Indonesia and British-controlled Malaya. In effect the provincial parts of the Siam were internally colonized, not by foreign powers but by the absolute royal powers rested in Bangkok.
Basically, the rest of Thailand became an internal colony of the state with its centralized power in Bangkok.
As Bangkokians consider which candidate to best represent them, depending on their campaign platforms, their political association, and other factors, people in the provinces have to make do with a governor appointed by the Interior Ministry in Bangkok.
No policy platform, nor right to choose…no, no, no. And all Thai citizens supposedly have equal political rights. That is one of the greatest lies fed by the state that most Bangkokians are unconscious of or oblivious to and many people in the provinces simply accept it as the way things are. But it need not be and should not be in the 21st century.
A decade and a half ago, while down south on a work assignment in Pattani province, I spoke to the then chief police of Pattani province about the aspiration of the local Thai-Malay Muslims to be able to elect their own governor.
The senior police flatly confide with me that he believes the day Thai-Malay Muslims are entitled to elect their own provincial governor is the day that the eventual secession of Pattani from the rest of Thailand begins.
Such deep distrust is telling and not reserved to the deep south with a distinct Thai-Malay populations but in the northeast where local rebellions rose against the central powers in Bangkok in the past and the north which only came under direct control of Bangkok in the late 19th century during Chulalongkorn’s reign.
It may be 2022 now, but those in power and even some ordinary Thai citizens, including some of those in the provinces, still think local people are not capable or mature enough to elect their own governors.
The distrust reinforced the unspoken truth that Thailand has a lot more to do in order to truly guarantee equal political rights for all Thais. We need all the help from Bangkokians who will exercise their rights next weekend, on May 22, to elect their own governor and city council members, to ensure that this long denied political rights for their brothers and sisters upcountry are finally realized.
Any political parties that claim to truly represent the people and stand for their political rights and democracy should make it a priority to push for decentralization and devolution.