Term Limits Among Big Changes Proposed for Local Government

Subdistrict and village headmen petition against an amendment to the law that would limit them to five-year terms Monday at the parliament in Bangkok.

BANGKOK — Term limits would be imposed on the thousands of subdistrict headmen nationwide if a Monday proposal by the junta-appointed reform assembly becomes law.

A restructuring of how local leaders are chosen that would have widespread impact, the proposal by the National Reform Steering Assembly would make the roughly 7,000 subdistrict chiefs, or gamnan, be elected directly by their constituents and impose term limits of five years.

Under the current system, the public elects a number of village headman, or puu yai baan, who then choose amongst themselves which one will represent them as subdistrict chief, a position they can hold until age 60. There are approximately 70,000 village headmen nationwide.

The steering assembly said the idea was aimed to increase the accountability and proficiency of local government, eliminate the monopolization of influence accrued by local leaders and create a more inclusive system.

Monday’s proposal would also change administrative reviews of village headmen to every three years instead of every five.

The changes would have the potential to fundamentally change traditional power structures close the ground throughout the country. For now it remains a proposal that will be reviewed by the junta’s interim cabinet. If it wins cabinet approval, it will go before the interim legislature as a proposed amendment to the Local Administration Act.

There are approximately 70,000 village headmen, from which the 7,000 or so subdistrict chiefs are selected. An association representing them all has campaigned against the amendment, saying shorter terms would disrupting the continuity of their efforts and irreversibly politicize their positions.

The steering assembly is a body tasked with proposing legislation to support the junta’s national goals. It voted 91 to 27 in favor of it Monday afternoon, with 32 members abstaining.