Ten point plan for devolving power in Thailand to the regions

By The Rational Actor. Seriously.

The following offering to Thailand’s established and new political parties is a 10-step plan for restarting the devolution of power in Thailand (presently governed by the 1999 Autonomy Act) while respecting national sovereignty. It is adapted from the UK’s own devolution process, which began in the first half of the twentieth century, made considerable progress in the second half of the same century, and is ongoing. The 10-step plan is followed by an illustrative narrative on the devolution of Wales.

Step 1: Following the principles of uniqueness and ethno-development, establish a Minister for the North, for the Northeast, and for the South. The Minister shall be an elected MP of the region and shall represent the special interests of the region in the Cabinet.

Step 2: Following the principle of devolved responsibility for planning, create a basic ministry structure for the North, for the Northeast, and for the South, based on the example of the Welsh Office, based in Chiang Mai, Nakhon Ratchasima, and Nakhon Si Thammarat, respectively.

Step 3: Following the principle that devolved power is democratic and responsive, transfer into the regional ministries the following nine responsibilities:

1. Agriculture

2. Transport planning

3. Environment management

4. Health issues

5. Economic development

6. Finance, education (including language and culture)

7. Industry and training

8. Legal affairs

9. Local government.

One aim of the offices shall be to encourage the provinces in the regions to assume devolved responsibilities such that the Autonomy Act’s target of local revenues consisting of 35% of the national budget be achieved by 2021, the original target being 2006.

Step 4 (Note that this step could come first): Set up a ‘Royal Commission into Devolution’, with Terms of Reference to investigate the issues of elected governors, regional assemblies, and regional ethno-planning beyond the nine responsibilities.

Step 5 (If approved by the Royal Commission): Hold a referendum in each region on the three main issues in step 4.

Step 6 (If approved by the Royal Commission): Following the principles of democratic representation and national bureaucratic standards: Introduce elected governors, drawing on a pool of centrally approved candidates.

Step 7 (If approved by the Royal Commission): Following the principle of democratic representation, create regional assemblies that shall comprise the MPs of the regions together with the governors.

Step 8 (If approved by the Royal Commission): Following the principle of devolution of power, transfer the following 20 responsibilities to each region:

1) agriculture and fisheries,

2) forestry and rural development;

3) ancient monuments and historic buildings;

4) culture;

5) economic development;

6) education and training;

7) environment;

8) fire and rescue services and promotion of fire safety;

9) food;

10) health and health services;

11) highways and transport;

12) housing;

13) local government;

14) public administration;

15) social welfare;

16) sport and recreation;

17) tourism;

18) town and country planning;

19) tater and flood defence;

20) language.

One aim shall be that local revenues consist of 50% of the national budget by 2030.

Step 9: Close down the Ministries of the North, of the Northeast, and of the South.

Step 10: Close down the Ministry of the Interior.

The Decolonization of Wales

Wales, the land of a Celtic people, was completely conquered by the English, an Anglo-Saxon and Nordic people, as of 1282 and was incorporated into the English legal system by the Laws in Wales Acts of 1535 and 1542. It has been symbolically ‘governed’ by the English throne by the Prince of Wales since 1301, thus it can be seen symbolically as a principality. However, it is at present semi-autonomous and governed by a National Assembly for Wales.

Wales was largely assimilated by England via its legal system until the nineteenth century, when Welsh nationalism – the belief that Welsh people form a separate group from the English and should be governed with a degree of autonomy – rose. Welsh nationalism had its own form of liberalism and was focused on the language and especially the songs of the Welsh people, as well as its coal mining and rugby playing. Wales has its own national sports teams but participates under Great Britain at the Olympics. It has its own symbols – the Welsh dragon, the daffodil, and the leek, as well as its own national anthem, which is sometimes played alongside the UK national anthem.

A Welsh nationalist social democratic party – Plaid Cymru – was founded in 1925. This lobbied for autonomy. Then, at the same time as the British Empire was considering decolonizing, after the Second World War, there was a realization that Britain would have to grant more autonomous rule to Wales. This led to an appointed Council for Wales (and Monmouthshire) in 1949. The 27 members were appointed from local governments in Wales, the University of Wales, the Welsh Tourist Board, and a council responsible for annual Welsh cultural festivals.

The continuing discussion over internal decolonization led to a Minister of Welsh Affairs post being created in 1951. Then, the post of Secretary of State for Wales and the Welsh Office replaced this structure in 1964-1965, leading to the abolition of the Council for Wales. The Welsh Office was an important step in recognizing the uniqueness in the needs of the governance of Wales.

As such, the Welsh Office was also an important stage towards devolution. It built on earlier developments recognizing Welsh uniqueness, including a Welsh Department of the Board of Education in 1907, the Welsh Board of Health in 1919, and the Welsh Department of the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries in 1922. By 1998, the Welsh Office was responsible for agriculture, transport planning and environment, health, economic development, finance, education, industry and training, legal affairs, and local government.

However, considerable internal political disagreement existed in England over the extent to which Wales should become autonomous, as it involved sovereign power. To resolve this, there was a ‘Royal Commission on the Constitution’, set up in 1969 to consider the devolution of Wales and Scotland. This led to the 1974 White Paper on Democracy and Devolution: Proposals for Scotland and Wales, which proposed the creation of a Welsh Assembly. However, voters rejected the proposals by four to one in a 1979 referendum.

The Welsh nationalists did not give up. A second referendum was held on 18 September 1997 in which voters approved the creation of the National Assembly for Wales with 50.3% of the vote. In 1998, the Government of Wales Act was passed by the United Kingdom parliament, establishing the Assembly in 1999. The Assembly has 60 elected seats, with elections every four years. Following the Government of Wales Act 2006 and Welsh devolution referendum of 2011 (63.49% approval), the Assembly passes ‘bills’ on 20 local governance policy areas. Notable exceptions are defence and foreign policy. Before 2021, the Welsh Assembly will rename itself the Welsh Parliament.

“The Rational Actor. Seriously” is the pen name of an author living in Thailand.