Pavin on Thaksin, deals and the future of democracy

18 04 2012

Pavin Chachavalpongpun, an associate professor at the Centre for South-east Asian Studies, Kyoto University, has yet another newspaper op-ed that deserves attention. Pavin has been one of the most prolific of media commentators on Thailand over the past 2-3 years after a kind of conversion away from the Democrat Party.

In our view, his most significant contribution in recent years has not been his writing but his innovative lese majeste-focused Ah Kong fearlessness campaign. At the time, Pavin’s action was brave and much needed,

Of course, as we at PPT well know, when one writes a great deal, there are many opportunities for getting things wrong in the murky world of Thai politics. Pavin’s latest piece is titled “End seems near for Thaksin saga,” and PPT thinks Pavin gets it wrong on several scores.

First, there is the issue of deals done and deals contemplated between Thaksin’s camp and the amart side. Pavin reckons that there must have been a deal because “the Yingluck government seems to lend credence to such reports through some of its actions.” But then there have been as many actions that would be deal killers by the same government. If a supposed deal was just about making the monarchy feel good about itself and letting the military play by itself, that would seem one-sided. But Pavin believes the deal includes Thaksin’s “enemies agreeing to allow him to return without facing any charges.”

Of course, no one has presented any evidence for a deal and there has been so much talk about deals done and deals broken that PPT can’t help but think that political deals are about as solid as a quicksand. We tend to think of strategies and pressure and counter-pressures rather than deals.

Related to the deal scenario, Prime Minister Yingluck’s government:

has made clear that it will not support calls to amend Article 112 of the Thai criminal code, which makes it an offence for anyone to insult or defame the monarchy.

That’s true, and this is our second point, we disagree that: “For the country’s traditional elite, Article 112 is the key to the survival of the royal institution and thus, to their position of power.”

That is a remarkable exaggeration that misses, for example, a whole range of symbolic and remarkably expensive symbolic nonsense that supports the monarchy and its lifestyle of living luxuriously at the taxpayer’s expense. It also ignores the most basic fact that monarchy is not just a bunch of welfare recipients living in grand style but the country’s largest capitalist conglomerates. That makes the monarchy more complex and more powerful.

Our third disagreement is more straightforward: Pavin says that Hun Sen’s “support to Thaksin and the Red Shirt movement” is the “first time in modern history that a Cambodian leader has openly taken sides in Thailand’s internal conflict.” Of course,Hun Sen has been doing this for several years now, so recent events are hardly novel.

We do agree with Pavin that the “traditional elite simply could not compete with Thaksin in the game of electoral politics.” That’s partly why we’d say that the monarchy as we have known it is finished.

And we also agree that Pavin raised the right question when he asks what the will be “the future direction of Thai democracy amid this power rearrangement among the elites?” In other words, what does Thaksin have in mind? His record in power was mixed and while he paints himself as a democrat now, his incapacity to disengage his own interests from those of the state seems likely to continue and to undermine those claims.

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