Technocrats have relied on military dictators over the past five decades to push for their preferred policies, but this is not sustainable due to the lack of legitimacy, Thammasat University economist Assoc Prof Apichat Santitniramai said.
"[Technocrats] are ready to work with those in power without considering the issue of legitimacy," Apichat said yesterday. He was speaking as keynote speaker to mark the 99th anniversary of the birth of the late Puey Ungphakorn, former rector of Thammasat University and former Bank of Thailand governor. The event was organised by the Foundation for the Promotion of Social Science and Humanities Textbook project at the university's Tha Prachan Campus.
Apichat said Thailand's five decades of history shows that technocrats have been closer to military regimes instead of elected governments, because they don't care about political legitimacy. As long as they have the ears of those in power and if they can achieve their goals, then they have no qualms about working for military dictators, the macro economist said.
He said technocrats found it easier to work with dictators because they do not need to compete with policy advocates in an open system, in which the electorate has the final say. Apichat said technocrats were essentially sceptical and distrustful of the electorate, often looking down on them as lacking in democratic conscience.
Apichat said history from the time of military dictators like Field Marshal Sarit Thanarat in the 1960s proved that corruption and policy manipulation usually occurred under military regimes, and technocrats failed to successfully oppose it. However, he pointed out that though Puey was a technocrat, he was a rare example of someone who fully backed democracy. He also said that technocrats working for military dictators could not avoid politics, though it was suppressed in Sarit's time, when union leaders and journalists were imprisoned.
However, he said, the times are changing despite the existence of Thailand Development Research Institute (TDRI), which he cited as a top organisation for technocracy considering its long history of serving numerous unelected regimes.
Apichat said soon after the coup last year, TDRI's incumbent president Somkiat Tangkitvanich allegedly told his staff that anyone wanting to take up a position at one of the junta-appointed panels would have to quit the institute first. Yet, despite that, four of TDRI's 25-member board of directors accepted places at the National Council for Peace and Order. Now, he said, TDRI was trying to advocate its policies publicly to win support. Yet, change is irreversible regardless of what technocrats may want, Apichat warned, adding that working with military leaders is not sustainable due to the lack of legitimacy.
"They cannot reverse the clock of democratisation. Thai society and economy have opened and become more complex. Since the Chatichai Choonhavan administration [in the early 1990s], we can no longer be considered an agrarian society, not to mention the country's gender diversity. It's impossible to avoid difference in thought," he said, adding that the electorate would increasingly be the deciding factor in public policy.
"This is in line with what Puey advocated, adhering to democratic principles in which justice is the power and not power is justice."