Thailand has regressed on freedom of the press and judicial independence over the past decade, which offset its progress on administrative simplification, fiscal transparency and e-government. The country has been struggling for a while to move from a connections based society to a merit based one and its overall IPI score shows that incremental progress across the board has been made, despite the difficulties of holding governments accountable. The way ahead is though more e-government, more e-participation and more social accountability, as the country has a fair number of e-citizens. It needs to achieve a gradual reduction of rents and a universalization to access to public services and positions. It is of vital importance that ordinary people can daily report on corruption without fear of consequences, on social media or anonymized call numbers at control agencies Traditional media also needs to be allowed to cover corruption.

Democracy in Decline

What is the state of global democracy? According to renowned democracy expert Professor Larry Diamond who spoke last week at Berlin’s Hertie School of Governance , democracy around the world continues to decline largely because of a lack of good governance.

During the event, chaired by ERCAS Director Alina Mungiu-Pippidi, Professor Diamond presented evidence that between 2005 and 2014, Freedom House scores (assessments of political rights and civil liberties, both of which are reported every year by the organisation) consistently declined. While 5 new democracies (Fiji, Kosovo, Madagascar, Maldives, Solomon Islands) were added to the global tally, the overall trend is shifting away from democracy.

Diamond highlighted the breakdown of democracy in Russia, Nigeria, Venezuela, Philippines, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Thailand and Kenya. In Africa, 25 nations declined in their Freedom House scores, 11 improved, and democracy overall on the continent eroded. He argued that the situation in Venezuela is continuing to deteriorate, and pointed to the incipient populist authoritarian leadership in Bolivia and Ecuador as further cause for alarm.

Shifting focus to the Middle East, Diamond looked at what he dubbed an “Arab Freeze”, arguing that the hope of the Arab Spring has in fact failed to deliver democratic gains, with the exception of Tunisia where democracy is slowly taking hold.

Why have so many democracies broken down? Diamond argues that in all instances there is a weak rule of law coupled with executive abuse of power. Many fragile or failed democracies are also quite complicated countries; they are quite ethnically or religiously or linguistically diverse.  If, as Diamond pointed out, effective institutions are not developed and if broad and inclusive political coalitions are not developed, the results (for example in Ukraine) can be disastrous. Poor economic performance can also have a detrimental effect on democracy, but Diamond argues that government performance and perception of legitimacy by citizens is sometimes as or more important than mere economic success.

With many established democracies mired in legislative deadlock, and authoritarian countries gaining global influence, there seems to be little hope of inspiring new democracies. The rise of China for example as a global economic power could have negative impacts on leaders of non-democratic states who could argue that authoritarianism has produced good economic results. On a slightly more upbeat note, Diamond did point out that there is a real possibility (even in China) of economic success leading to more citizen demands for democracy. When these happen in countries that are already high-functioning, there is a a hope for democracy taking hold.

Anti-Corruption Network in Thailand Receives UNDP Support

The Anti-Corruption Network (ACN) in Thailand, a watchdog initiated by the private sector, and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) have signed a partnership declaration to strengthen the emergent coalition against corruption. The purpose of the new partnership is to promote collaboration within the network, share best practices in fighting corruption, raise awareness, develop advocacy campaigns and empower the participating organisations, states UNDP.

The Anti-Corruption Network in Thailand is led by the private sector and consists of a consortium of Thai businessmen and more than 42 agencies and organisations, both public and private, including the Thai Chamber of Commerce, the Federation of Thai Industries, the Stock Exchange of Thailand (SET) and the Thai Bankers’ Association.

Since its launch last year, ACN has been very active as a watchdog group. Previously, the network has sought public support for fighting corruption by participating in the monitoring of the government speeding of approximately Bt800 billion, in the aftermath of the September 2011 floods that devastated the country’s infrastructure.  Earlier this year, they urged the prime minister to cooperate with the network in addressing the problem of corruption regarding these expenditures. “The government should […] follow our outline for closely monitoring huge government spending under flood-relief measures, as the projects could lead to big losses if there’s any corruption”, stressed ACN chairman Pramon Sutivong. ACN members also called for public support in the anti-corruption campaign “Clean Thailand DIY” for 2012.

This partnership will complement UNDP’s efforts in fighting corruption in Thailand. UNDP cooperates with the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) and other public institutions as well as with the civil society and the general public. Moreover, it is actively involved in raising awareness about topics of relevance for democratic governance. In UNDP’s reporting of the partnership they call attention to the fact that corruption is a systemic problem in the country, and that a recent survey showed a great majority (63.4 per cent) of Thai people still claiming that corruption in government is acceptable as long as they also benefit from it. Even of greatest concern were data from the same survey showing that a majority of young people also increasingly shares this view. Some activities in the country have focused on addressing that problem. From June to September 2012, for instance, over 500 Thai university students have been engaged by UNDP in anti-corruption camps organised in cooperation with the College of Local Administration (COLA) at Khon Kaen University.

Yuxue Xue, UNDP Deputy Resident Representative in Thailand stated: “This partnership signals that every sector in Thailand is now actively engaged in fighting corruption […] and the raw energy of young people is a powerful force — one we hope will break corruption’s hold on Thailand.”

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