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.