An “unnecessary bloodbath” or sufficiency economy?

11 10 2009

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A few days ago The Nation (9 October 2009: “Academic warns of ‘bloodbath'”) reported on a speech made by former Chiang Mai academic Nidhi Eowsriwong. A well-known historian, Nidhi was one of those associated with Midnight University and is often considered to take a radical political position. In fact, though, his position is a mix of classically conservative ideas about the organic growth of society and liberal ideas about political organization. It is not necessarily paradoxical that this perspective leads him to views that contradict those of authoritarian elites.

He warns that “a chronic social division could eventually lead to a clash and bloodbath if no attempts were made to avert it.” He believes that the division is deep-rooted and may even be seen as dating to changes under King Chulalongkorn, which saw an “unbalanced society” emerge.

Nidhi considers that the “on-going social division does not involve only the elite, the middle class and the grassroots, as in the past, but also a large portion of the lowest group that has become a lower middle class both in the rural and urban areas.” He worries that the latter group wants “more participation in public policy-making” but that their demands for political equality and participation “will cause further stress in society” as he has doubts the “the middle class will be able to accept it…”. The historian believes that a failure to accommodate  the demands will mean a “terrifying spectre” of “unnecessary and unreasonable bloodshed.”

Nidhi asks: “Are we going to prevent that from happening? Thai people will kill each other unreasonably. What [is] to be done now is to reduce factors that can lead to bloodbath in the short and long terms…”. He feels that the way out of this is, in the short term, to develop a “stronger system of political scrutiny to give the people more power to scrutinise politicians, in addition to allowing more freedom of expression.” In the longer term, Nidhi said a “genuine rule of law and a welfare state should be established to provide security for the lower middle-class people.” Interestingly, Nidhi also “expressed opposition against issuing a law to regulate public gatherings.”

Pisit Lee-ahtham, formerly a deputy finance minister, agreed that “the government should spend more money on social projects in order to build up security for people in the middle and lower tiers of society.”

As mentioned in an earlier post, this position indicates a royalist strategy for addressing the deep issues confronting Thai society and politics that is not absolutely reactionary. That is, it is not a call for “unity” based on mythical ideas about Thainess and the monarchy and nor is it a call for the use of repression and blunt force. This is not to assert that Nidhi is a royalist; it makes good political sense for liberals to support this position.

A different take, more politically conservative, was provided by Visanu Krua-ngam, a former secretary-general to the Cabinet. Visanu once served Thaksin Shinawatra, but jumped ship and went over to the military side for the 2006 coup and espoused royalist political positions. He claimed “Thai society should adopt His Majesty the King’s philosophy of sufficiency economy to maintain social equilibrium.” He said that this approach would mean “There should be no extremes, no surplus and no shortage.” And he added that the “philosophy must be adopted in a reasonable way…”.

Both perspectives represent a further discussion of “moderate” approaches to politics. They indicate a recognition that repression seems incapable of overcoming the political problems of recent years and that more radical alternatives might flow from uncontrolled political competition.

These are important discussions as more liberal alternatives to repression and authoritarianism are proposed. While PPT’s header indicates two alternatives, this is not the case. These discussions are a recognition that more radical, grassroots-based, republican and vaguely leftist alternatives have taken root. The elite is being warned: compromise or it risks being pushed aside.



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12 10 2009
แผนใหม่ “ไม่จำเป็นต้องนองเลือด” หรือเศรษฐกิจพอเพียง « Liberal Thai

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