Good Governance Attitudes in a Clientelistic Polity:Thailand as a Case Study

2 September 2016, 11:09 am
Published in Faculty Research

By Associate Professor Dr.Suchitra Punyaratabandhu,Graduate School of Public Administration(GSPA NIDA) 

Behavioral norms in clientelist political systems such as Thailand may run counter to the good governance paradigm which assumes the existence of a democratic, egalitarian, pluralistic, and participatory society. This article presents survey findings on citizen attitudes toward four dimensions of governance: rule of law,accountability, transparency, and participation. The findings are based on a probability sample of 3,033 respondents drawn from 19 provinces in the north,northeast, central and south regions of Thailand (excluding Greater Bangkok). The findings indicate that while Thai citizens are on the whole supportive of the notion of good governance, support varies for the different dimensions. The transparency dimension received the greatest support, followed in successive order by rule of law,accountability, and participation. Significant regional variation exists. The northeast region ranks last on the composite governance scale as well as on many governance dimensions. Implications for dissemination of information and initiatives to raise public awareness are suggested.

Behavioral norms in clientelist political systems such as Thailand may run counter to the good governance paradigm which assumes the existence of a democratic, egalitarian, pluralistic, and participatory society. This article presents survey findings on citizen attitudes toward four dimensions of governance: rule of law,accountability, transparency, and participation. The findings are based on a probability sample of 3,033 respondents drawn from 19 provinces in the north,northeast, central and south regions of Thailand (excluding Greater Bangkok). The findings indicate that while Thai citizens are on the whole supportive of the notion of good governance, support varies for the different dimensions. The transparency dimension received the greatest support, followed in successive order by rule of law,accountability, and participation. Significant regional variation exists. The northeast region ranks last on the composite governance scale as well as on many governance dimensions. Implications for dissemination of information and initiatives to raise public awareness are suggested.

The two key objectives of this article were to present survey findings on citizen attitudes toward good governance, and to investigate regional differences. Based on
the survey findings, we conclude that Thai citizens by and large are supportive of good governance. A word of caution, however: it is likely -- or at least possible-- that the responses favorable to good governance are to some extent inflated, insofar as respondents may have given answers they thought they were expected to give, or
were taught to give. For instance, many leadership training programs conducted by Thai government agencies contain content designed to instill concepts and precepts
of good governance. Participants in such programs are expected to retain and disseminate this information when they return to their local communities. Be that as it
may, allowing for some degree of inflation, the findings indicate receptivity to the concept of good governance. What is evident is that support varies for the different dimensions of governance. Of the four dimensions investigated, the transparency dimension received the greatest support, followed in successive order by rule of law, accountability, and participation. We note that both the transparency and rule of law scales used in this study were based on items that were not immediately connected to respondents’ daily lives (e.g. “The government must inform the public how it spends its budget,” “It’s all right to sometimes bribe government officials, in order to receive better and more efficient service from them”), whereas respondents could probably relate more closely (in terms of everyday experience) to items on the participation and accountability scales (e.g. “Politics is for politicians. Ordinary people shouldn’t interfere,” “Politicians whose performance you approve of shouldn’t be subjected to scrutiny”). One inferenceone may draw from this is that although respondents favor good governance in principle, they tend to give less favorable responses to good governance items which may directly affect them and where they may have a vested interest. It is also possible that some responses may reflect respondents’ assessment of the reality of their lives and the relationship to government.Regional differences exist: respondents in the north and south score highest on good governance attitudes, followed by the central region, and lastly, by the northeast. The northeast region, the poorest region in Thailand, ranks last both on
the composite governance scale, as well as on many sub-dimensions.Successful implementation of governance reforms requires mutually supportive and cooperative relationships among stakeholders. Implicit here is the assumption that citizen stakeholders are in fact supportive of good governance. What our findings indicate is that in the four regions surveyed, while there is general support for good governance, the northeast region lags behind the other regions. Programs and initiatives to raise public awareness and dissemination of information and educational materials should therefore focus on this region.A more salient question raised by the findings is whether good governance should be treated as a unitary construct, or whether separate consideration should be accorded to each of its constituent components. Transparency, rule of law, accountability, and participation are only weakly correlated (although the correlations are statistically significant). The central region, for example, has the highest mean score on participation attitudes, but the lowest mean score on transparency of all the regions. The northeast and south regions have the lowest mean scores on rule of law.The northeast also has the lowest mean score on accountability attitudes. One implication that may be drawn is that programs and initiatives to promote good
governance attitudes should differentiate among the components of good governance,and should vary their emphasis according to regional needs. Thus, for example,
programs targeting central region citizens should place emphasis on the transparency component, whereas programs targeting south region citizens should emphasize rule of law and participation. Programs targeting north region citizens should emphasize participation, while programs targeting northeast region citizens should emphasize all four components of governance.