Thitinan in the Guardian

8 11 2009

Thitinan Pongsudhirak, one of the most frequent commentators in English on Thai politics has an article in the Guardian (8 November 2009: “Thailand’s urban-rural split”). Readers of this blog will find the analysis of interest.

PPT recognizes that the article is meant to explain a highly complex political situation to outsiders and that this necessitates a little simplification. However, we consider that Thitinan has made it just a little too simplistic.

Take, for example, his initial claim that the “country’s wrenching political struggle over the past several years has, at bottom, concerned what will happen after the … king’s reign … comes to an end.” We think this devalues the struggles and debates of the past decade. Sure, some analysts tried to say that the 2006 coup was, at base, about managing succession. But the evidence has been that the coup was one part of a broader reactionary agenda to maintain the political and economic status quo in Thailand politics. So, at bottom, the struggle is about power and control, not about what happens when the king dies. What is at stake is not “the soul of an emerging Thailand” but control of political and economic power in Thailand.

Further, the claim that “Thailand’s colour-coated crisis pits largely urban, conservative, and royalist “yellow” shirts against the predominantly rural “red” columns of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra” might have some validity but PPT would hope for an  analysis that explains the complexity associated with such a rural-urban characterization. Just one example. What are we to make of the working class? There’s been a tendency to say that their “connections back home” make them rural and “red.” These connections may be important, but they operate in a different social and political milieu born of industialization and urbanization. It may be that there class location is what is significant.

Thitinan makes much of inequality, and this is an important issue. Readers may well want to look at the recent Chang Noi column (2 November 2009: “Politics and Thailand’s wealth gap”) that has some data on the astounding income and wealth inequality in the country. The struggle is on, not necessarily for a “share” but for a different allocation of wealth and associated political power.


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