The threat of “royalist democracy”

13 02 2012

A few days ago PPT used the term “royalist democracy” in a post. We used it much as we would use “Thai-style democracy,” a term that has been in wide circulation for several decades.

At the Bangkok Post today we see that noted historian Thongchai Winichakul has used “royalist democracy” to define “a regime whereby elite groups exploit the monarchy for their political legitimacy.”

In a talk, Thongchai observed that “royalist democracy” as a system “took root as a result of fear of communism during the Indochina War in 1970s, followed by the dilution of military prowess after Black May in 1992.” This brought a longing for absolute monarchy.

“From the hysterical hyper-royalism seen during 1975-1977 emerges the indulgence of loyalty through divinisation of the monarchy and marketisation of royalism,” he said. “This has resulted in prevalent sentiment towards the monarchical institution as religiosity.”

He describes “Hyper royalism” as “a cult and a hallucinogen for Thais through education and media machinations, resulting in self-censorship, hypocrisy, fear, and rumours…”.

Thongchai characterizes “royalist democracy” as dangerous because its “resistance to social change would lead to clashes between the institution of monarchy and democracy…”.

While mentioning royalist (non-)democracy, some readers might also be interested in a further review of King Bhumibol Adulyadej: A Life’s Work by Grant Evans in the Bangkok Post. It is rather more critical than an earlier review in The Nation. It also comments on resistance to change and democracy:

… Changes across the social spectrum manifest themselves politically in the refusal of a huge swathe of the population to comply with pre-existing norms concerning their place in society.

There is no going back to “traditional” Thailand.

If there is one clear lesson for monarchies from the 20th century it is that they cannot be seen as an obstacle to democracy. The defenders of lese-majeste in its present form are today in danger of forcing people to make what would be a fatal choice between monarchy and democracy.

It seems that the decision on whether a country should sustain a monarchy or be a republic can be fatal for a monarchy when it resists the tide of history.

The Army’s election campaign: Vote monarchy!

13 04 2011

It seems PPT’s earlier post on lese majeste charges against red shirt leaders has underplayed the extent of Army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha’s efforts to “protect” the monarchy by using the lese majeste law against political opponents.It is far worse and far more sinister than our post indicated.

If The Nation report is to be believed, Prayuth has gone nuclear on the monarchy. He is now actively campaigning in an election period for the monarchy. In essence, for the royalists in the Phum Jai Thai Party and the Democrat Party.

Prayuth wants a high voter in an election as he thinks a high “turnout is the key to safeguarding the monarchy and bringing about change under a democracy…”.

Getting the number of eligible voters wrong by quite a way, he says: “”I believe if all 60 million [eligible] Thai citizens come out to cast their votes, they can change the country…”. He seems to mean changing Thailand to be a Thai-style democracy where the monarchy rukes.

Prayuth thinks that an election “could end the political turmoil that had gripped the Kingdom.” He seems to mean that if the Democrat Party wins, it can finally claim electoral democracy. And as the party of the royalist elite, the “people” would effectively be safeguarding “the country’s revered institution by weeding out ill-intentioned politicians…”. He means any politician who are in the opposition, associated with Thaksin Shinawatra, the Puea Thai Party and the red shirts.

Commenting on offensive remarks about the monarchy, Prayuth “said he saw no justification for certain individuals to try and fault the King, adding that politicians should not allow their political rivalry to spiral out of control and tarnish the monarchy.”

He continued, “urging voters to punish the instigators of last year’s riots through the ballot box.” He added: “Everyone knows the culprits behind the lost lives and the injuries incurred…”. PPT is sure he doesn’t mean the military! He means those who are in the opposition, associated with Thaksin Shinawatra, the Puea Thai Party and the red shirts.

Although the instigators tried to attribute the blame to anti-riot forces, the crowd-control measures had been activated as a last resort and in a defensive manner due to the provocation, the Army head said. Prayuth then got really nasty, when he “pointed out that troops and protesters suffered high casualties while the rally organisers themselves had come out unscathed.” Perhaps he forgets that most casualties were to those wearing red shirts. Or perhaps he remembers and is simply a liar or perhaps he doesn’t care.

The Nation says this is “a veiled attack on red-shirt leaders.” It isn’t. It is a direct threat and the army chief is up to his thick neck in political campaigning for the current regime. Nothin g much else could be expected from the army chief. What is really very sinister is that this political figure who happens to be army chief has the temerity to criticize “red-shirt leaders for trying to link the military to politics in a bid to sway the crowds.”

Related, the political police at the Department of Special Investigation have “launched an investigation into 10 red-shirt leaders, including Pheu Thai MP Jatuporn Promphan, on suspicion of their having offended the monarchy during the April 10 rally last year at Democracy Monument.” Do they mean this year?

DSI director-general Tharit Phengdit revealed yesterday that his team of investigators was preparing to charge Jatuporn and rally organisers for lese majeste, as evidenced by their recorded rally speeches.

Tharit said Jatuporn Promphan “had contacted him via telephone to inquire about surrendering to face a lese majeste charge. Other red-shirt leaders likely to face the same charge include Weng Tojirakarn, Nattawut Saikua, Korkaew Pikulthong, Suporn Atthawong, Kwanchai Praiphana and Laddawan Wongsriwong.

The Army chief has already filed a police complaint against Jatuporn, Suporn and Wichian Khaokham forlese majeste.

So is that 13 accusations of lese majeste in 2 days? Maybe the U.S. State Department can review its so-called human rights report now that the political intent of the use of lese majeste is so clear that a blind monkey could see it.

Kasit at the U.N. Human Rights Council

6 03 2011

PPT can’t find a copy of Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya’s speech to the 16th session of the U.N.’s Human Rights Council, so we rely on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs statement. We have an earlier post here.

Kasit Piromya

Kasit delivered a speech where he advertised Thailand “as a leading country in pushing forward human rights at the international level…”. PPT is tempted to add that he wasn’t suggesting this for the domestic situation on human rights situation, which is a record of repression and abuse. However, Kasit did make most of his points pertinent to domestic issues, so of course some corrections are required.

Kasit stressed that  Thailand, as current chair of the HRC, has great hopes for the Council at a time when “the world is witnessing the call for freedom, peoples’ right of ownership and participation.” He adds that Thailand hopes the Council will promote and protect human rights and “address human rights challenges in an even-handed manner.”

In Thailand, those who seek freedom have been met with the army’s boot, censorship and repression. Thailand under the Democrat Party-led government continues to lock up political opponents and exercises power through laws and courts that are politically biased (see here, here and here). While the regime recently released seven red shirt leaders on bail after X months incarcerated, other remain imprisoned and refused bail. An unknown number – probably in the hundreds – of political prisoners remain in prison on charges of lese majeste, computer crimes and violating an emergency decree. Thailand’s political police, the Department of Special Investigation has announced plans for more arrests.

Kasit lectured on the “importance of promoting democracy, tolerance, avoiding extremism and support for the cohabitation of multi-ethnic groups in society are all crucial factors in the development of human rights.”

Of course, there is none of this in Thailand. “Democracy promotion” in Thailand revolves around a “Thai-style democracy” that must have the king held in a revered position. Any attempts to change this system are consider illegal and unconstitutional. The status quo is all that is acceptable. For a critique of Thai-style democracy, which is not democratic at all, see here. As for tolerance, perhaps the political death toll is not the only measure of the low-bar in Thailand as much as the intolerance of border-crossers and asylum seekers (see a selection of PPT’s posts here and here).

Kasit is said to have claimed:”human rights promotion and protection continue to be one of the top priorities of the Thai Government.” While PPT can think of no evidence for such a claim, Kasit went on to claim “progress.”

He pinpointed “[i]nvestigations into the violent incidents during the protests last April are still on-going with a view to bringing the perpetrators to account.” Few seem to think this is likely in Thailand (see here).

Kasit also confirmed that “progress had also been made with regards to reducing the disparity within Thai society and pushing forward the implementation of the 5-point national reconciliation plan which aims at ensuring basic rights and needs for all persons on an equal footing.” That’s a bold but false claim. The reconciliation plan was never more than a political proclamation of how the current coalition and its army partners would seek to fix an election. Kasit might have also have trumpeted the current regimes huge efforts to pour funds into the electorate – at least this might have some impact on short-term income inequality – but he probably recognizes that this too is about winning an election at all costs.

Kasit also “declared Thailand’s readiness to undergo review under the Universal Periodic Review mechanism in October this year in the spirit of constructiveness and openness to improve the human rights situation in Thailand.” While PPT doubts that anything will come of this Review, it is an opportunity for revealing the current regime’s human rights abuses. Will any of the so-called human rights defenders in Thailand be prepared to stand up? Will anyone dare challenge lese majeste repression?

Review of “Saying the Unsayable” on the monarchy

13 12 2010

The Bangkok Post has a review of Saying the Unsayable: Monarchy and democracy in Thailand, edited by Soren Ivarsson and Lotte Isager (Nias Press, 278 pp, 795 baht ISBN 978-87-7694-072-0). It is reviewed by Chris Baker:

Half way through this book, one of the contributors asks, “Is Thailand primarily a democracy protected by a constitution that guarantees rights, or is primarily a monarchy with authoritarian structures that prevent democratisation?” Not so long ago, such a question was unimaginable. The standard formula is that Thailand is a constitutional monarchy, a parliamentary democracy with the King as head of state. But ever since the People’s Alliance for Democracy swathed themselves in yellow and announced “We fight for the king”, cracks have appeared in that formula. The mantra that the monarchy is “above politics” has never made much sense since monarchy is nothing if not a political institution. The claim that monarchy is beyond discussion or debate falters because the institution is too important to ignore. As Thailand’s economy has become so rapidly and drastically globalised, more and more outsiders want to understand the country’s key institutions because it matters to their business profits and personal lives. In academic writing on Thai politics, monarchy is now the prime focus of attention.

The eleven contributors to this book of essays include seven foreigners and four Thais. Two of the Thais have elected to use a nom de plume. Yet this is a careful book which has nothing personal or strident, no whiff of revolt. The nine essays and the deft summary in the introduction present analyses of the meaning of the Thai monarchy in the present and the recent past. Although this book claims its subject is “the Thai monarchy”, in fact it’s focus is rather narrower. The words “queen”, “prince” “princess”, “crown” and “succession” do not appear in the index. Only two of the essays stray into history. This book is a study of one reign.

The first section focuses on the current image of the monarchy, and the contrast between the two essays highlights how complex the topic is. Peter Jackson argues that the monarch is seen as magical and semi-divine. The palace entourage have promoted an old idea that the monarch is a sammuti devaraja, a “virtual god-king”, not an actual god-king but capable of being imagined as one. Yet, Jackson argues, over the course of the reign the word “virtual” in this formula has tended to fade. The adulation of the monarch is one of many cults promising prosperity and security which have flourished all over the world in the context of globalisation and its insecurities. People started to worship the Fifth King as an ancestor spirit capable of granting prosperity, and the Ninth has become associated with the cult.

By contrast, Sarun Krittikarn argues that the distinguishing feature of the present reign is the accessibility and evident humanity of the royals. Rather than being cloaked in mystery and ritual, they appear every day on television doing very human things. From this inspection, “it is obvious that the family has gradually adopted middle-class values and lifestyles”. The people gaze at them constantly, and the monarch gazes back from pictures, banners, statues and banners which seem to be everywhere. He watches over his subjects constantly. “Under his gaze, we are turned into a child in need of security.” Of course, the sheer multiplication of images runs the risk that the image overwhelms the reality behind it. Moreover, Sarun suggests, while the royal image is supposed to serve as the focus of nationalist loyalty, viewing the image has rather become a form of entertainment which arouses feelings of comfort.

In the official version of history, King Prajadhipok welcomed the transition from absolutism to democracy, thus ensuring that democracy and monarchy could comfortably coexist, and earning for himself the title as “father of Thai democracy”. Two essays attack this history head-on. Nattapoll Chaiching marshals all the evidence showing that Prajadhipok fought bitterly to reverse the 1932 revolution, and that after his abdication committed royalists took up the same cause until they succeeded with Field-Marshal Sarit’s coup in 1957. Kevin Hewison and Kengkij Kitirianglarp take up the story from there, tracing the idea of “Thai-style democracy” from Sarit to the present. Since 1932, royalists had argued that the Thai people were not ready for democracy or not suited to it at all. Sarit claimed that strong leaders who responded to popular needs were a better form of “democracy” than that contrived by elections. Kukrit Pramoj imagined that there was a virtual bond between king and subjects which meant that kingship was a perfect form of representation, somehow “natural” for Thailand, and indispensable for peace and prosperity. Since then “Thai-style democracy” in which the monarch acts as a moral balance against wicked politicians has been a cornerstone of royalist thinking. Hewison and Kengkij argue that Thaksin was found so frightful because he was beginning to show that democracy could work, an elected leader could deliver prosperity to the people and be rewarded with unprecedented popularity.

The 2006 coup hangs heavily over the book. Almost every essay refers to it. David Streckfuss notes the epidemic of lese-majesty cases since the coup. He draws a comparison with the last epidemic of comparable scale – in Germany in the late nineteenth century. In one six-year period, 248 people were convicted. Yet the result was only to make more people more defiant. Eventually in 1904, the Emperor himself told the judiciary to desist, and issued pardons to those still undergoing punishment.

The last two essays focus on the sufficiency economy. Soren Ivarsson and Lotte Isager put the idea in the context of a worldwide enthusiasm for “etho-politics”, theories in which greater self-discipline by the individual does away with the need for such a great political superstructure. The ideal is a community which can exist without conflict. But in truth, they argue, this is always a dream. Andrew Walker adds that the image of a self-sufficient local rural economy may never have existed in Thailand and is certainly far removed from present-day realities. One large portion of the rural population does not have enough land or other assets to be sufficient, and survives by migrating away from the village in search of work. Another large portion finds that the best way to deal with the risks and insecurities of small-scale agriculture is to invest more, play the market, and diversify risks rather than retreating into a shell of sufficiency.

As the editors note in the Introduction, a monarchy like any other institution is constantly being made and remade. The immense changes over the present reign make that abundantly clear. This book is a valuable contribution to a growing literature that helps to make this institution and its complex dynamics more understandable.

General Prayuth, the Chinese and democracy

11 11 2010

Reasons to fret about Thailand’s political future:

1) Prayuth Chan-ocha is quoted by Suthichai Yoon as saying this: “Let me pose a question. Who wants to stage a coup right now? Thailand has a democratic system under the Monarchy. This is the best system in the world. We are different from other countries. They only have a democratic system. Why do we want to go in search of another system then? That won’t solve our problems….”.

The best system in the world? Perhaps it has been for those in the elite who benefit from the power of hierarchical institutions to repress the subaltern classes. PPT would hope that this system’s days are numbered.

2) Xinhua reports on “China and Thailand [having] … underlined their commitment to deepen parliamentary ties.” Top Chinese legislator Wu Bangguo, chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress (NPC), “said the NPC would like to seek closer ties with the Thai Senate in all fields, step up experience sharing on democracy, legal system, legislation and supervision, and keep consultation and cooperation in international parliamentary organizations.” Wu was a guest of the President of the National Assembly of Thailand Chai Chidchob.

There have been some scuttlebutt regarding discussions amongst the business elite in Bangkok about the feasibility of a Chinese system – authoritarian politics with a capitalist economy. Is this what is meant by discussions of “democracy”? Chinese-style democracy meets Thai-style democracy?

Abhisit at CFR I

26 09 2010

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva recently spoke at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. PPT has some commentary on the talk, and we will provide further commentary on the Q&A in another post, when we can get to it:

He is introduced as speaking on the current situation in Thailand. The first thing that strikes a well-informed listener is that he says very little that is new, and sticks pretty closely to the furrow that the regime has plowed since it came to power and especially since the violent 19 May crackdown. As PPT has long pointed out, what Abhisit says and does are often diametrically opposed, so his statements require contextualization.

Regular readers will recall that PPT referred to Abhisit then as the Butcher of Bangkok because his government was responsible for the largest-ever official number of deaths in political protests in Thailand. Note we emphasize “official,” and readily acknowledge that earlier protests probably resulted in more deaths at the hands of authoritarian and military governments. Twice in the speech, Abhisit refers to “regrettable losses of life” but says nothing at all of his government’s role in the events, the fact that the military slaughtered and maimed protesters or anything else that would suggest true regret.

Likewise, he says absolutely nothing about people locked up. He says nothing about political prisoners, whether red shirts or victims of the lese majeste or computer crimes laws. It is as if they do not exist for this prime minister. He seems to wash his well-manicured and soft hands of the grime and blood of his struggle to remain in power.

Abhisit makes no mention of the monarchy, the judiciary, the elite, the military, double standards or any other issue that would be suggestive that he gives any credence to his opponents.

Abhisit does say the word “democracy” several times, perhaps anticipating that an American audience will lap up this rhetoric. Perhaps they do, but well-informed listeners will notice a hollow ring as democracy is defined in terms that the regime chooses and relies on rule of law language that would suit most authoritarian regimes. Thaksin Shinawatra is always accused of having a disdain for democracy, seeing it as a means to an end rather than an end in itself. Abhisit, however, strips the term of much of its meaning. The result is his penchant for authoritarian politics and repression.

Abhisit claims he did not anticipate the events of April and May 2010, but now views them as part of a process that has Thailand building on the “foundations of our democracy.” Despite “challenges” he is confident that Thailand will win through a “long and difficult process.” Given that the Democrat Party and Abhisit himself were essentially supportive of the 2006 coup, are wrapped like Siamese twins with the major repressive forces in Thailand, and have implemented repression in all political arenas, the meaning of “democracy” for him and his supporters is no more than “Thai-style democracy,” which is no democracy at all.

One of the lessons of April and May, he says, is that when “trying to develop a democracy, there will be clashes of values, clashes of opinions, but the key thing … is to find a way to … avoid violence and and illegal means to …political ends…”. The government, Abhisit opines, is “determined to embark on a process of reform and reconciliation…”. He speaks of “reaching out” to “all parties” in this process. He says this is to “build the right values that support our future and stronger democracy…. respect the law, good governance, accountability and transparency.”

PPT is sure that there will be many who will read this and need to get their jaws off the floor. Yes, he says it all the time, but he does nothing meaningful.

Justifying the use of the emergency decree in Bangkok since April this year, the premier jauntily asserts that: “If you are in Bangkok you’d hardly notice the effect of the state of emergency…. Ordinary people are not affected…”. As many ordinary people have stated, along with intellectuals, journalists and human rights activists, this is fundamentally wrong. Abhisit knows it, so he is dissembling yet again. In fact, the emergency decree (and earlier uses of the internal security laws) is central top  political control for his government.

The prime minister then speaks in self-congratulatory terms of his efforts for reconciliation: “What I have done is set up a number of independent commissions…”. He repeats this word “independent.” He says Anand Panyarachun’s is the most important commission, to “look at some of the structural issues that give rise to inequalities,” admitting that “for some” that such inequalities gave rise to the violence of April and May. Abhisit has generally rejected this latter line, but sees the Anand commission as a PR exercise to change the views of others on this. As PPT posted recently, the Anand commission seems remarkably reluctant to do much at all.

Would it only be PPT that finds Abhisit’s statement on the media threatening?: “We are engaging the media so that they go through a process of reform as well.” It seems Abhisit wants them to “retain freedom of expression” while reporting news with responsibility and accountability. The mainstream media have been reluctant to participate. However, the most striking issue is that while Abhisit’s regime has closed almost all of the opposition media, it mollycoddles the yellow shirt media such as PAD’s

As might be expected from the leader of a political party that was manipulated into parliamentary leadership, Abhisit tries to normalize the backroom dealings and extra-parliamentary forces that catapulted an unelectable party to the head of government. He says the the parliamentary system is “fully functioning.” He complains that there are misconceptions that the political crisis arose from a “somehow undemocratic process.”

He states: “That is not true,” and goes through the usual explanation of how his coalition came to power without mentioning the role of a politicized judiciary or of the military, People’s Alliance for Democracy, Newin Chidchob or the palace. Oddly, Abhisit places some emphasis on the fact that the PPP did not get a majority when elected…. The Democrat Party have never had a majority, and the only party ever to have a majority in parliament was thrown out by the military….

Abhisit seems to welcome “the opposition” saying they want to be involved in the reconciliation process – although, in reality, he is the one who has been suspicious of these overtures. Abhisit rejects debate on “who did what, who’s right and who’s wrong” in favor of him, as a “true democrat,” being confident that the government is addressing the “real issues that matter to the people.”

Abhisit demonstrates his toughness when he says he will not “cave in” to “some demands” as he gets the country “through this crisis.” In fact, though, this is nothing more than his personal hatred and fear of Thaksin Shinawatracoming to the fore. He makes the claim that one unnamed person or small group has placed their interest above that of the nation – Thaksin , of course. One should “never allow the use of force, violence,  or intimidation to effect political changes.”

That might sound reasonable, but then the U.S. used violence to gain independence and fought a civil war on political rights. The French Revolution involved considerable violence, and we could go on and on. Members of the elite is always opposed to violence, except when they are perpetrating it.

On early elections, Abhisit is boringly repetitious: “Over the last two years, I have never rejected calls for early elections. But my conditions that I have set are set for the best, for the country’s interests…”. He has not moved on this for months. Back in March, we posted this:

What was striking, however, was Abhisit’s insistence on constitutional change before an election. He has a patchy track record on this. There have been statements from him on constitutional reform, but these have all fallen into the usual traps. He has made no personal commitment to meaningful constitutional reform and has not personally been engaged with the agenda. It’s the talk but … no action problem again.

The government’s other line is to say that “elections will solve nothing” while also saying that dissolving parliament is not off the agenda. Many in the middle class and elite will agree with the rejection of elections because they fear the outcome will bring politicians they view as pro-Thaksin back to power. Abhisit may have angered some in his right-wing support base by talking, but nothing he said is going to immediately cause concern for his yellow-shirted supporters in the Democrat Party or more broadly.

Nothing’s changed. Abhisit lists the reasons he has opposed early elections. First, the economy needed time to recover. Second, he says he doesn’t want to see an election resulting in a weak government and a process like 2007-08. Third, and most important “I have always said that elections should only take place under peaceful and stable conditions…”. He says “he does not believe in elections where there continues to be intimidation, threat of the use of force or violence against candidates or parties…”. Only if the red shirts can guarantee this, will he go for an early election. He believes he has a right to stay in power until the beginning of 2012. After all of this, he blames the red shirts for rejecting his conditionality.

The closest he gets to accepting red shirt “demands” is to say that average red shirts “have been exploited by some political leaders” and it is this that led to the “unfortunate and regrettable events of April and May.”This is the “villagers are ignorant” claim so often repeated by Democrat Party leaders and the yellow shirts. Even if the red shirts have legitimate gripes, they are “manipulated” by the evil Thaksin and other nasty politicians. Only yellow shirts and government supporters are not manipulated and remain clear-eyed…. This is elitist nonsense but also a necessary rationalization to de-legitimize political mobilization by the under-classes.

This is Abhisit unchanged, using his English-language skills to sell his authoritarian government to U.S. investors and government. Military dictators and the king have long done the same. Abhisit fits that model ever so neatly.

Updated: Kasit on politics

30 03 2010
Update: In the comments PPT made below, we noted how Kasit makes much of being anti-populist and anti-money politics. PPT wonders how he’s feeling on Wednesday morning as his government makes another move that is drawn from the Thai Rak Thai play book – a debt moritorium for farmers. This is just one example of the Democrat Party’s policy plagiarism.
There’s nothing particularly wrong with a policy on this, but the Democrat Party-led government is doing exactly what Kasit claims to abhor. Presumably he was a part of that cabinet decision. Will he now hold his priciples high and resign from cabinet? We seriously doubt that principles matter to Kasit, but after making a public statement of his opposition to this kind of “populism” shouldn’t he now have lost too much face to continue as a minister? Or does he really have no real principles?


Foreign Minister and former People’s Alliance for Democracy protester and speaker Kasit Piromya has been pretty quiet during recent events. His main comments have related to the much-heralded hunt for Thaksin Shinwatra, which seems to be Kasit’s prime role as foreign minister. Maybe he’s been told to pull his head in as comments from him are only likely to be seen as PAD speak, confirming the Democrat Party’s close links with the yellow-shirted PAD.

In The Nation (30 March 2010), he has an op-ed where he writes of broader politics. There’s a lot to comment on in the piece, but PPT will keep it short.

Kasit claims to be writing about “questions being raised about ideals, what is right and wrong, and one’s responsibilities to society, and he believes he can summarize the issues and current divisions. Why he is doing this has to do with current politics and perhaps also with some unhappiness in the Democrat Party-led coalition with Abhisit Vejjajiva’s performance.

Somewhat surprisingly, the first – presumably most significant – division Kasit nominates is “Democratic constitutional monarchy vs. Republicanism.” His assessment, however, is highly partisan and remarkably flawed.

The first sentence is simply wrong: “Ever since the transition from absolute monarchy in 1932, Thailand has been a parliamentary liberal democracy under a constitutional monarchy: A system with independent executive, legislative and judicial branches, and with His Majesty the King as head of state, who is above politics and is non-partisan.”

For a considerable periods Thailand operated without a constitution and the idea that military regimes were “liberal” is fantastic. Of course, the king and palace have seldom kept their hands off politics. His discussion of the monarchy is little more than schoolbook propaganda. His discussion of a republican form of government is likewise infantile. PPT assumes that when Kasit writes of democracy he actually means the authoritarianism of so-called Thai-style democracy.

Kasit includes a discussion of “Multi-party system vs. Single-party system.” PPT is not sure why this is an “issue.” As far as we can tell, there is no credible voice in Thailand (or any voice?) calling for a one-party system. Presumably Kasit thinks that Thaksin’s Thai Rak Thai Party was headed in this direction. It does indicate a large measure of paranoia on Kasit’s part.

When writing of “Meritocracy vs. Cronyism,” of course he believes that Thaksin practiced cronyism. Indeed he did, but the Democrat Party seems equally good, if not better, at this. The purge of the civil service has been pretty thorough and nepotism is clear in several cases.

When writing of “Issues-based politics vs. Money-based politics,” it is clear that Kasit sees his Democrat Party as practicing the former and TRT as having practiced money-based politics. In fact, the distinction is not clear. Kasit seems to think that TRT did not have policies. He’s wrong. Even the most critical accounts of Thaksin and TRT acknowledge the remarkable policy initiatives implemented by TRT. Many consider TRT the first political party to move in this direction. TRT was “populist” in Kasit’s terms. His complaints about short-term populist policies to garner votes” better fit the Democrat Party-led administration. While the Democrat Party says its policies are not “populist” they have clearly been designed to “drum up immediate political support.” In any case, the Democrat Party government took over most of the TRT’s so-called populist policies.

Politics, he says, is everyone’s responsibility, and participation or non-participation both have consequences for the nation. It is the responsibility of members of the public to keep abreast of the issues, monitor the performances of the government, politicians, civil servants, media, academics and other interest groups, and make their voices and view heard. A vocal and responsible public is the surest deterrence against injustice and abuse of power.”

Well, yes, but is this the track record of his government? Is the media anything other than biased against certain interests? Hasn’t this government been engaged in extensive political censorship? Readers can look back through PPT files to see all of the examples.

He then makes the absurd claim that “Thai society, which has developed through the ages, has many egalitarian characteristics, foremost being the potential for anyone, regardless of status, having the capacity to advance and prosper in society based on their own merits and entrepreneurial abilities.” Thailand is, in fact, one of the most unequal societies in Asia in terms of wealth distribution. Land distribution is equally skewed. Access to higher education remains the preserve of the already rich and powerful. His government’s own data show this.

But the nasty red shirts are distorting Thailand’s egalitarianism, making the horrid claim that “Thailand is a class-based society, with clear separations between the upper and lower classes, between the rich and poor.” Heaven forbid that anyone could imply such a thing, even if it is obvious on a daily basis. The damned red shirts are held responsible for having “incited divisions in Thai society and hatred between Thais, which are being used by certain persons to further their political ambitions.Kasit seems to have imbibed of the Republican Party political cocktail while in Washington. Class should be a dirty word!

And then we have Kasit the bureaucrat and now politician taking the PAD-line that all of the problems facing Thailand have to be laid at the door of self-serving politicians. Kasit speaks of Thaksin but does not name him.

Kasit assures his readers that “Thailand has a head of government who strongly believes in the parliamentary system with the King as the head of state, who has no conflicts of interests and has the utmost faith in the ideals of liberal democracy, meritocracy, good governance, egalitarianism and social welfare for the population.” He means Abhisit Vejjajiva but doesn’t name him. He forgets to mention that Abhisit has surrounded himself with favorites, protected his government with tens of thousands of troops, allocated huge budgets for security and regularly uses draconian laws. That’s leaving aside the tawdry nature of the government’s ascent to power in the arms of PAD, the military and the palace.

Kasit pleads for the triumph of his government’s light over its opponent’s darkness. There is only his definition of black and white and good and evil. Only Kasit’s buddies are morally right and able to deliver the country from evil. His is a call to fight for the government: “One must no longer stand idly on the sidelines, but instead do what is and stand up to what is wrong – namely the attempts by the opposing side to distort and undermine the core issues at hand, as outlined above, in order to regain power and influence.

If those horrid people triumph, Thailand will only have “republicanism , illiberal democracy, a single-party system, cronyism and money-based politics, while using populist policies to buy the soul of the general population.” The illogic here is obvious – why would a one-party state need to curry favor? But the extreme paranoia is obvious and is what motivates yellow-shirt activists.

He then makes the remarkable claim that the result will be a nation in which the public is told that it is normal to be poor while others are very rich,” neglecting that Thaksin actually made claims that he wanted everyone to be rich (and was justly criticized for that) and wanted a “war on poverty.” It is actually the palace and elite that urge people to be satisfied with what they have – think here of the sufficiency economy propaganda.

It is interesting that the paranoia is rising again amongst the yellow-shirted royalists. Their hatred of Thaksin blinds them to anything other than the war with the man that Kasit unsuccessfully hunts on a daily basis. It prevents them seeing the perspective of the red shirts, even if they disagree with them. More simply, those on the other side are evil. We are not. Support us. It is that simple for Kasit.

Respect for the judiciary but little else

20 02 2010

The Nation (19 February 2010) has an interview with former army chief and 2006 coup leader General Sonthi Boonyaratglin, who is now a member of the little-known Matumbhum Party.

When asked about the upcoming Supreme Court verdict on Thaksin Shinawatra’s assets case, this general states: “It is my duty to respect the court’s verdict, whatever it is. It’s the country’s highest court, and should be respected by every Thai. In fact, the judiciary system is a critical component of the checks-and-balances system in a democracy and there are always people who agree or disagree on certain issues in any democracy.”

The word “hypocrite” comes quickly to mind. This is a man who overthrew the twice elected government in 2006 and tore up the 1997 Constitution, the country’s basic law. He then wrote himself an amnesty for this illegal act. His junta also rearranged several courts in order to create courts that suited their political needs. It got the courts to apply junta laws retrospectively to dissolve the Thai Rak Thai Party. The junta, the military and the palace have done plenty to politicize the judiciary and now talk of respect.

Not only is he a fraud, he treats the public as dumbies who can’t see through his mendacity. So when he’s asked if there are double standards, the asinine response is: “Please don’t suggest such a thing…. the judgement of court cases and has nothing to do with the notion of double standards.”

He compounds this when he states: “I wasn’t the one seizing Thaksin’s assets, but an independent body that was commissioned to do the job legitimately. Personally, I stick to the truth…”. An independent body? The Assets Scrutiny Committee (or the Asset Examination Committee) was stacked with anti-Thaksin appointees and its work was only ruled legal because its work was undertaken under junta rules. PPT’s favorite example of “independence” was when its secretary Kaewsan Atibodhi claimed “evidence and witnesses are useless,with one of its panels recommending legal action without hearing 300 witnesses or considering 100 additional pieces of evidence (Bangkok Post, 9 April 2008). In any case, when the Committee’s tenure expired, the former junta members attended a farewell party at the Army Club, promising to protect its legacy (Bangkok Post, 1 July 2008).

On coups, the general states: “Sometimes, a coup can help start the process of restoring a democratic way of life.” In discussing his own coup, this military hack says, “we didn’t have a democratic way of life because there was widespread political interference in our independent agencies. Also there was political interference in the mass media, as you may remember, so we didn’t have a free press…. Without the public’s support, no coup would be successful.” Like an old actor watching his own films, he sees himself as a hero. Washed-up and serving generals now pretty much run Thailand. This is democracy, Thai-style.

Royalists complain, offer advice, launch websites

7 02 2010

PPT has kind of thought that the royalists would be pretty happy with the Democrat Party-led coalition they maneuvered into power with the help of the military a year ago. While the government hasn’t dealt a death blow to Thaksin Shinawatra and the red shirts, in terms of being royalist, the Abhisit Vejjajiva government would seem to have done the right things.

The government has jailed critics on lese majeste and Computer Crimes charges, blocked tens of thousands of critical website, had millions brought out to demonstrate “loyalty” and “love” in various ways, and it has spent millions if not billions on royal propaganda and other royal things.

But it seems this may not be sufficient. The Bangkok Post (7 February 2010) reports that Privy councilor Air Chief Marshal Kamthon Sindhavananda has said that the Abhisit government appeared to be “on the defensive” when it came to preventing insults against the monarchy. Kamthon complained that the government was way to slow in responding to attacks and insults aimed at the monarchy.

PPT foolishly imagined that the palace might have been grateful that the government seems to have shifted the bad press regarding lese majeste off the front pages of newspapers. Apparently not. It seems the old guys at the privy council want even more people locked up.

When asked about Kamthon’s comment yesterday, Abhisit looked uncomfortable, but said he would listen to the honorable one’s advice and he “pledged to improve mechanisms to safeguard the royal institution. The premier reaffirmed that “protecting the monarchy is the government’s top priority.

It seems that the privy councilor may not be happy with Abhisit’s new “committee charged with providing advice on lese majeste cases to make sure the monarchy is not embroiled in politics.

In the same report, there is a photo of gleeful banned politician Newin Chidchob displaying his great love for the monarchy by launching the Bhum Jai Thai Party’s king lover’s website. Newin said the website will give Thais another channel to express their love and allegiance to the King.One of hundreds. Expecting challenges, Newin said that his “website staff will continually monitor and filter out messages posted on the website that are deemed inappropriate.

The site is actually a mess, so maybe he should have had someone update the website before “launching” it. But that isn’t really the point as Newin simply wants to be seen as a staunch royalist.

In a related Bangkok Post (7 February 2010) story Privy Council president General Prem Tinsulanonda is reported to have made a speech at Rangsit University (where there are strong royal, yellow shirt and Democrat Party connections) calling for “good” leaders.

Taking a leaf out of Jakrapob Penkair’s 29 August 2007 speech to the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand (FCCT), Prem claims that “nepotism, cronyism and the patronage system are key factors in making Thai leaders ignore justice and the rule of law.

Jakkrapob said essentially the same thing, and got charged with lese majeste because he linked the system to the current monarch and his flunkies, including Prem.

The Post states: “Without identifying any leader, Gen Prem said that forms of relationships in Thai society – relatives, friends, and those who do someone favours – are key factors in shaping the mindset of Thai leaders.” Of course, a monarchy is a prime example of nepotism and everyone knows that an “in” with the palace is exceptionally powerful, so maybe Prem is living in a very large and well-appointed glass house.

Prem’s solution is to look to the military – what a thing to say when coup rumors are everywhere! The old general disparages politicians when he says: “many people have volunteered to be leaders but they lacked the charisma needed to lead people.” Prem urges a search for “charismatic [barami] leaders to work for the good of the country.

Prem seems to support Abhisit when he states: that “good leaders [must] be able to differentiate between the good and the bad and uphold justice. They must have moral integrity and must make sure their colleagues also maintain those standards.” That’s exactly the image Abhisit tries to portray.

And, of course, leaders “must be loyal to His Majesty the King and act in the best interests of the country.” Good old-fashioned Thai-style democracy, repacked from the late 1950s.

Regular readers may remember that about a week ago PPT said that, as the political heat rose we could expect more noise from the palace. It seems to have begun in earnest.

Links on royalist advice

11 09 2009

There has been quite a deal of blog traffic on The Nation’s interview with Stephen B. Young, PPT’s response was rather long and was rendered into Thai by Liberal Thai as  คำสั่งสอนเพิ่มเติม จากพวกคลั่งเจ้า. It is indeed remarkable that the interview has gained so much coverage, being indicative of the continuing struggle to re-establish the royalist political and ideological position. That the royalist-position-as-put-by-foreigner has to come from a conservative American is not a surprise. That the royalist cheer squad have had to come up with a virtual unknown who they have to dress up as an academic is remarkable, especially when he delivers comments that are historically inaccurate and racist.

Why give so much attention to Young’s interview? PPT thinks his views are important for he is expressing the views of those in and around the palace. PPT can’t provide absolute evidence for this, but we have to admit that we have heard very similar things from well-placed political figures close to the palace.

Here PPT provides some of the links to commentary:

Perhaps the best treatment of the Young interview is in Not The Nation, a spoof of the real newspaper which developed as The Nation became increasingly unreliable and unreal in its editorial pages. Their entertaining take is titled “Patronizing White Man With Degree Reassures Thai Elites With Unexamined Rhetoric”. The problem is that Not The Nation, which is usually humorous, really does provide a critique of this “patronizing white man” and the its conclusion is just too close to reality for its usual spoof: “Right-thinking Thais, now assured of the infallibility of their own simplified, color-coded prejudices and tautological notions about correct Thai values, can continue their half-blind savaging of pluralist government, piecemeal reversal of the 1932 revolution of which they have no recollection or interest, and gushing revisionism of past royalist dictators like Sarit, thanks to the wonderful blanket absolution of this enlightened farang, whose bright yellow tie looks so shiny and neat.”

Bangkok Pundit has a post on the second part of the Young interview and a link to another Young “paper” (really just a set of notes). BP points out that Young is promoting illiberal democracy, and this is why the Thai elite think he is useful to his cause, which, for them, revolves around “Thai-style democracy.”

As would have been expected, the most yellow of the most rabid anti-Thaksin columnists at the Nation unthinkingly and uncritically applaud Young. Thanong Khanthong has the interview pasted into his blog with some comments that fit Thanong’s usual perspective – hang the facts, but if you say anything that agrees with my lop-sided speculation and gossip, then you are great: “From the interview, you can see that he really undertands [sic] Thailand very well. His view is quite impartial, coming from a man who have spent many years in Thailand.” Impartial? Only for died-in-the-wool ASTV viewers. Young understands Thailand? Well, he can parrot the views of his right-wing royalist buddies, but even Young points out “I don’t speak Thai so well anymore…”, so he’s hardly kept up. He has almost no serious publications on Thailand that can be considered academic, and none in recent decades.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 155 other followers