It is kind of interesting to see rice farmers protesting against Bangkok-based academics. And, we think it is reflective of the way that politics has changed since the rise of Thaksin Shinawatra and especially since the 2006 coup.
Most readers will be aware that there has been quite a campaign waged against the Yingluck Shinawatra rice pledging scheme. PPT has no resident economists who can pontificate on the rice growing in fields they have never seen except in postcards, but the National Institute of Development Administration has no shortage of them. A few days ago urban-bound Veera Prateepchaikul at the Bangkok Post stated emphatically that he cheered:
Dr Adis Israngkura na Ayudhaya, dean of the Economic Development Faculty of the National Institute Development Administration (Nida), and 145 academics and students who co-signed a petition to the Constitution Court challenging the effectiveness of the government’s rice-pledging scheme and the sanity of continuing this badly-flawed and corruption-riddled populist policy.
Of course, to date there is no outstanding evidence of corruption riddling the scheme. Although such schemes have been plagued by corruption for all governments in the past, Veera is making great leaps and unsubstantiated claims. It is interesting that another report breaks down the numbers: 50 Nida lecturers, 27 Thammasat University academics, and 42 other people who were either students or members of the public who disagreed with the scheme. Sounds like a political attack rather than one based in sound economic analysis. As well, we know from past campaigning, that NIDA’s academics and students have a deep yellow-hue. And they have been joined by others who are broadly anti-Thaksin/anti-populist (whatever the latter term means), including the usual lot of appointed senators. The argument seems to be that rice and other crop pledging is anti-capitalist and unaffordable.
Readers may find Philip Bowring’s op-ed of interest in that it deals with the political economy of the schemes.
Whatever the economics, the politics are significant. A Bangkok Post report details some of this. It refers to rice farmers “threatening to step up protests against academics…”. These elite academics are used to the farmers being seen and not heard, as they first labored through decades of rice taxes that made farmers bear the burden of cheap urban prices and kept farmers poor and then have struggled to get an fair share of their price for crops that are always controlled by middlemen and women and millers.
Some 3,000 rice farmers gathered at NIDA to protest and “lambasted the academics for their move and accused them of being manipulated as a political tool against the government.” Protest leaders “said the pledging scheme helped free farmers from massive debts and improve their lives.” Another “5,000 rice farmers from Suphan Buri, Ang Thong, Pathum Thani, Ayutthaya and Chai Nat rallied at the provincial hall of Suphan Buri” and “200 rice farmers from Chiang Mai and Lamphun staged a similar protest at the Chiang Mai provincial hall…”.
Whether the scheme is flawed is a different debate as we see farmers standing up (once again) to elites and the privileged. Things have changed politically.