Thursday, January 19, 2012

Yingluck 2 Cabinet: Catch me if you can

Premier Yingluck Shinawatra says her first Cabinet has “already” been in office six months. It’s time to review, evaluated and shake things up.
Opposition leader Abhisit Vejjajiva says this government started working “only” six months ago. If the premier feels the need to reshuffle her Council of Ministers, it probably means the Cabinet has missed its targets.
That’s how divergent the views are on the political scene. It all depends on where you stand and whom you speak to. In other words, reactions to the new Cabinet line-up (which has yet to be officially announced when I am writing this in the morning of Wednesday, Jan 18) are not only mixed, but are extremely subjective and partisan.
The strange thing about low expectations is that “bad” becomes “passable” and “mediocre” is automatically upgraded to “good” and the usual “acceptable” grading becomes “fantastic.”
Informed public discourse on the quality of politics has been banished from the conflict-ridden political landscape. If you are on one side, your reactions to everything that emerges from “your side” can’t be anything but positive. On the other hand, if it’s the other party that initiates certain activity, it would have to be downright ridiculous and terrifying.
I found it, therefore, rather amusing to hear those in the middle – trying to be “objective” about the whole political happenings – telling interviewers that the leaked list of the Yingluck II Cabinet “poses some very interesting challenging” to the prime minister.
That, of course, amounts to saying nothing. But trying to sound like saying something about nothing seems to be the new trend in a highly divisive society. You don’t want to be seen to be taking sides because you believe in “national reconciliation.” But when real reconciliation doesn’t happen, most people avoid making their opinion known.
They aren’t really members of the “Silent Majority.” Rather, they constitute the new class of “Muted Majority” who sit and watch in despair, hoping against hope that things will turn the corner, realizing, as Einstein once said: “You can’t solve problems using the same thinking as when they were created.”
The vocal commentators on the one side, not surprisingly, will tell you that Premier Yingluck is reshuffling her Cabinet to improve the performance after a six-month “probation.” That’s what a good CEO does in a successful business concern. That’s how her brother Thaksin had done before. You put more qualified personnel into the Cabinet to replace those proven unsatisfactory by the premier or the public. That’s call responsive government. That’s what every good prime minister should do.
Those on the other side cry foul, as expected. They immediately said in many cases, the choices of the new ministers reflect the usual “horse-trading” gimmicks. Political debt has to be repaid and favours have to be returned. So, it’s the qualifications of the individuals who count. It’s how the premier or her brother repays political debts that’s the main criteria for the new line-up.
They charge that the frequent Cabinet shake-ups doesn’t necessarily mean constant improvement attempts on the part of the prime minister. Rather, it shows just how much political debt has piled up on Thaksin whose main task these days is to pacify those who feel that the former premier owes them Cabinet, civil service and advisory positions for services rendered earlier.
And because you know that another Cabinet reshuffle may be effected again in May when some members of the 111 executive of the disbanded Thai Rak Thai Party are due to re-emerge from the five-year hiatus, there is little need to remember the names of some new Cabinet members, especially those named as deputy ministers. New names will soon replace the current ones anyway even before you have time to find out what their job descriptions are.
It’s therefore much more productive to ask who will be in charge of solving the major tasks facing the Yingluck government -- and how she goes about giving the public a regular score-cards of the performance of each Cabinet member.
Some of the main assignments for the Yingluck II Cabinet:
1. Who is in charge of measure to ensure that the Big Flood won’t recur?
2. Who’s responsible for the government’s economic policies to cope with the highly volatile international financial situation this year?
3. How does the new Cabinet implement the national reconciliation scheme which, despite all the promises, hasn’t taken any substantial shape in her first Cabinet.
If the premier could tell us who in the new Council of Ministers will carry out these major tasks (all clearly stipulated in the Policy Statement upon her taking office) and how we can grade their performances on a monthly basis, then we don’t even have to bother memorizing the names of the new Cabinet.
If we want to be realistic about it, the Thai public will just have to live with the fact that we will from now on have a new Cabinet every three to four months.
I know why this strategy will work brilliantly for the government. It’s the classic “Catch us if you can” gimmick all over again.

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