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Update 1: The Nation has a 2-part interview with one of those providing royalist advice mentioned below, Stephen B. Young. It begins with “National divide mystifies an old friend of Thailand” (9 September 2009). It is good that both New Mandala (here and here – from comment #30) and Bangkok Pundit have picked up this interview and its subject and highlighted it. This saves PPT having to take up the various questions raised in the interview by the “old friend” of the elite in Thailand, his lack of knowledge of Thai history and his inability to comprehend Thai politics while pontificating on the failure of others to understand Thailand.
It has become a trait of royalist ideologues to seek out foreign academics who are royal friendly and Thailand lite in order to promote their position. For example, recall when on-again off-again Privy Councilor General Surayud Chulanont was picked to head the military junta’s government following the 2006 coup. When the royalist premier promoted sufficiency economy (SE) as an ideological and political device and it came under scrutiny, loyal academics were asked to run an international conference on SE. They collected a bunch of big name foreign speaker who knew nothing about SE and nothing about Thailand. What was important was academic name and credential, not knowledge or even commitment to SE (on this see here and here).
Wheeling out Young is a similar exercise, although he is not a big name. His CV at the Caux Round Table is not particularly academic and indicates his conservative and Republican aspirations (e.g. in 1992 he was a founder of the Center of the American Experiment, which promotes conservative and free market ideas as think-tank in Minnesota. He also serves right-wing causes such as the International Committee for a Free Vietnam).
The Caux Round Table, where he is Executive Director, is an organization that was originally established by some business leaders to promote free trade and now promotes “moral capitalism” and corporate social responsibility. It is not a particularly well-known advocacy group, but has Thailand connections through twice-appointed prime minister and staunch royalist Anand Panyarachun, who has spent a number of years translating the royalist project for foreigners. The Caux Round Table’s chapter in Thailand was led by none other than Kasit Piromya.
Young fits the royalist ideological needs rather nicely even if his knowledge is limited.
Updates 2 and 3: Anyone who wants to read Young’s travesty of a paper from April 2009 can go here. PPT can’t resist a few comments because this paper is just so bad and yet so revealing.
Young, a U.S. Republican (read his blog on the 2008 presidential campaign), has the audacity to comment on how politics should not be “bought or stage-managed with well-funded, narrow-minded emotionalism…”. Just look at the Republicans in the last few days to see how silly this statement seems. Look at the money being poured into U.S. political campaigns. According to some sources, it was more than $1 billion on the last presidential campaign.
He says his college roommate was a “Finance Minister for the Democratic Party [sic] who saved the country financially after the 1997 economic crisis…”. Really? Who remembers that “save”? Does he mean Tarrin Nimmanhaeminda? If he does, see Tarrin’s legacy see here and here.
Young resurrects a term that was invented at the end of the 1940s to describe Thailand as a “loosely-structured social system” in a journal article that came out in 1950. Resurrecting this terminology is a part of an ahistorical effort to place the monarchy at the center of Thai society; the royalist task.
When he writes of current politics, Young is awful. The red shirts are all paid and the yellow shirts were always peaceful demonstrators – he obviously gets his material from Kasit. The only part of the Kasit story left out was a comment on the quality of the entertainment at the airport.
And, finally, the current conflict is an elite conflict – forget all that social movement stuff – pitting the horrid, money-grubbing Thaksin against those nice royals who favor “traditional moral codes” and act like gentlemen. Of course this part of the elite are money-grubbing (think of the royals billions and how they rake it in every day) and corrupt too, but don’t let such little details impose on the story of such good chaps.
Democracy can be brought down (he cites Aristotle but seems not to understand him) by the corrupt but such good people around the Democrat Party and the palace couldn’t possibly be such self-serving oafs. PPT is interpreting, of course, but this is really terrible propaganda.
Update 4: The Nation has now published both parts of the interview with Young. PPT has to say that it only gets worse, with tinges of racism and shovels full of elitist nonsense about what “small people” in Thailand think and believe. Examples: Thaksin can’t be truly popular because “in Thailand the small people have always looked up to somebody. They always have some sort of a patron.” So this is just the patronage of moneybags Thaksin who is Chinese (so is the king, but is somehow Thai-ified more than Thaksin; must have been through the years in Switzerland) enamored of the “idea is a cosmic Chinese idea about ‘I’m a magical person’.” He adds: “If you continued with Thaksin, you would end up with this notion of Chinese dictatorship.” In the U.S. racism is usually taken very seriously and is a big story. So what is he doing here?
Moneybags Thaksin didn’t have true loyalty: “Everyone worked for Thaksin. That’s not American loyalty. That’s just saying that if you are a powerful man, and have lots of money and you’ll give me some money, then I’ll take the money.” PPT realizes that some of the more ideological yellow shirts actually believe this dross, but the Nation is claiming that this guy knows what he is talking about. It just gets worse and worse. Elections? “It proves nothing. The communists have elections. Stalin had elections. Hitler had elections.” Eeven a quick look at Wikipedia would have shown Young that he was inaccurate on this.
Who gets the blame for the 2006 coup? Thaksin of course: “It wasn’t the military, it wasn’t Abhisit. It wasn’t Privy Council Chief Prem; none of these people. It was one guy and his team.”
And Pa Prem is a bit of a hero: “The contributions of General Prem in the 1980s were very constructive. I think General Prem deserved some appreciation and respect. He’s an older man now but he moved Thailand in the period of half democracy. He took over from a tradition of violence, military dictatorship, and moved Thailand towards half democracy. It’s an evolution. It’s an important evolution.”
Mr. Young has dropped his marbles all over the place.
Earliest post: The Bangkok Post (7 September 2009: “Thailand still has to struggle to achieve democracy”) has more on royalists giving advice on Thai politics. For earlier comments, see here.
A recent seminar is discussed in this report and begins nicely with this: “During social and political upheaval, there is no better way to go forward than through a sincere soul-searching on sensitive but important issues such as the role of the monarchy, military and civic/political movements.” PPT firmly agrees and would like to see more. However, as Michael Nelson says later in the report, the debate needs to be broadened to include more voices, not just intellectuals and the elite.
PPT has been critical of Charnvit Kasetsiri recently, but we commend him for these excellent and insightful comments: “instead of spreading propaganda without pragmatic solutions on such subjective issues as ethics, unity, and reconciliation, the Thai middle class should face the political division that has become a fact of life and stop blaming the rural people and the grass-roots as uneducated. They should stop singling out politicians as the only culprits for the country’s political quagmire as well.” He goes further, with the report commenting that “While many so-called elite groups continue to blame Thailand’s political conflicts on nothing more than an attempt by bad people to cause trouble, Mr Charnvit believes the contention belies a deep rift that can’t be bridged by acts of preaching.”
After this, the report gets into the royalist material.
Stephen B Young, Caux Round Table Global executive director, said “democracy could only work in an environment that is ruled by law and a fair justice system.” Young is profiled at New Mandala. We’ve checked, and the details there are correct.
Young believes that “Thai jurisprudence has standards for judging the actions of leaders and rulers.” Trawling up old ideas about Thai-style democracy, he says that “Thai democracy” has standards like “barami (charisma) of a good patron who holds the trust and care of the people at his or her heart, and Tosapitratjatham, the 10 virtues for ethical leadership as well as the principle of sufficiency economy emphasising the middle path, foresight, rationality, self-responsibility and compassion.” This is called “Thai-style democracy.” For different interpretations on this see here, here, here and here.
Young doesn’t see “Thailand [as] now greatly divided between the elite and grass-roots.” He says, “There are only differences in opinion. All people have the right to vote. Look at Isan, say, in the early 70s and how it is now. Before there were few roads, now there is development and they are like Bangkok.” Young seems to have been to a different Isan. Just like Bangkok? Thankfully not. But the comment on voting is classic. Yes, you can vote, but if some – the elite perhaps? – don’t like it, then they can overturn it several times. You can vote, but it doesn’t make any difference.
Young then makes an interesting assertion about “the challenge” (to whom?) of “ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra for Thailand was serious because Thaksin does not ‘think like a Thai’.” The evidence for this is said to be this: “Other Thai leaders who had political problems at home – Pridi Banomyong, Plaek Pibulsonggram and Thanom Kittikachorn – they did not fight back nor try to restore their power after living in exile. But Thaksin is defiant.”
Not good history here. Phibun might not have played a political role once he was in exile, but that is wrong for Pridi and Thanom. Young seems to have conveniently forgotten that Pridi came back from his first exile in 1932 and after he was escaped the 1947 coup he came back in 1949 and amidst great turmoil, fled again that year. In the remainder of his time in exile, Pridi remained engaged with various pro-democratic and progressive forces in Thailand. Thanom, of course, came back as a novice monk at the royal temple, Wat Boworniwej. His return in October 1976, triggered student protests which eventually led to the rightist violence at Thammasat University where, with police and the military perhaps hundreds were massacred on 6 October 1976. The coup brought the military back, with the king’s man, the horridly right-wing Tanin Kraivixien made prime minister. Tanin remains a privy councilor today. It is interesting that it was Democrat Party Prime Minister Chuan Leekpai who attempted to fully rehabilitate Thanom in 1999.
Apparently sharing Young’s views was royalist legal scholar, Borwornsak Uwanno, a fellow of the Royal Institute, who “said although the 2007 constitution put an emphasis on civic education and political ethics, it was still not adequate as Thai society’s attitude remains based on the hierarchy system. Paying gratitude to phuyai was still imperative.” But then this observation: “You can see from recent polls that people from the urban areas and Bangkok place good economy before politics, while rural people choose election before good economy. Why? Because the middle class have access to resources while rural people rely on their MPs for irrigation, infrastructure, education and jobs…”.
As a liberal royalist (see here), he wants to wean the poor rural masses off Thaksin through “justice for all,” and a “reform of the tax system.” This is a compromise that might come to mean more as political dissent continues, but how thorough-going can it be when the monarchy is left out of the very concepts Bowornsak promotes? There is no equality for the monarchy and no taxation of the bulk of their assets. It will be interesting to see if Bowornsak’s “liberalism” gets any traction amongst the conservatives who dominate the palace and its political agendas.