Fighting nepotism in Thailand requires one national standard: The Nation

hailand Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha walks through Sanam Luang park, where people have been gathering in large numbers to pay respects to the late King Bhumibol Adulyade on Oct 19, 2016.
hailand Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha walks through Sanam Luang park, where people have been gathering in large numbers to pay respects to the late King Bhumibol Adulyade on Oct 19, 2016. PHOTO: AFP

In its editorial on Oct 20, the paper reminds that no one should be above public scrutiny to protect the best interests of the country

It's a positive sign that Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha is being scrutinised for suspected nepotism.

The premier may not be personally involved, but the allegations of wrongdoing levelled against his younger brother, Defence Ministry Permanent Secretary Preecha Chan-o-cha, if well-founded, point to political nepotism at the highest level.

In addition, charges of conflicts of interest and "unusual wealth" have emerged against the powerful clan.

The bad news is that all of this sounds depressingly familiar.

Also, the political barrage launched by the clan's opponents is anything but a guarantee that Thailand has finally woken up to the scourge of nepotism.

At best, the attacks are meant to highlight the gap between words and deeds of a military dictatorship that has enshrined political reform as its top priority.

The critics have condemned alleged nepotism by Prayut's family, but not nepotism as a whole.

It seems like a vicious circle more than a change in mindset for Thai society. In this country, nepotism is what your opponents do - not what you do yourself. Nepotism thrives precisely on this attitude.

When we put our family members in exclusive, much-sought-after positions, it's because they are the most qualified people. When others place their kin in those positions, it's unacceptable.

Society must scrutinise Prayut, but it must do so with the right mentality.

Politicians, meanwhile, must stay out of it, because the more they talk, the more hypocritical and ridiculous they look.

Over the years, cases are legion of political office holders placing "their people" in major positions despite the availability of more qualified candidates.

The beneficiaries have often been caught returning the favour, sometimes in blatant violation of the law.

There have also been cases of good people being punished simply because they stood in the way of nepotistic scheming.

Democracy must not allow nepotism for one simple reason: all political ills begin with it.

The practice facilitates corruption. It weakens checks and balances and strengthens conflicts of interest.

It unsettles the bureaucracy and instils a very counterproductive, if not entirely destructive, mindset among those who are supposed to serve the public.

It discourages good people and promotes bad partisanship. It leads to cutthroat politics.

What differentiates democracy and dictatorship is not the ballot box. The biggest difference is the ability to put the right man or woman in the right job, for the best interests of the public. And he or she is unlikely to be a relative or family member of the prime minister. Without that difference, the two systems are pretty much indistinguishable.

In the end, a democracy that tolerates nepotism will become dictatorial itself. An elected government that doesn't appoint, say, a defence minister or finance minister according to the principle of serving the public, but does so just to protect its own interests, will not have an efficient administration.

If key government positions treated as a means for payback or considered part of a ploy to enhance political or financial power, the government will not be able to function for the whole country.

Sooner or later, such an administration will be doomed. But doomed governments come and go.

Even this Prayut government - as well as his future administration, if he manages to take the political helm after the next election - will go some day, too.

What stays is the destructive political attitude of the whole nation. And that attitude will leave Thailand stuck in a vicious cycle for a very long time.

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The Nation is a member of The Straits Times' media partner Asia News Network, an alliance of 21 newspapers.