The struggle for hearts and minds

5 03 2011

Prachatai has an article by Pravit Rojanaphruk in conversation with Thammasat University political scientist Prajak Kongkiarti. Prajak points to the ideological dimensions of the struggle for political change in Thailand.

In PPT’s view, Prajak challenges royalist ideology when he argues that the “middle class and well educated Thais” need to jettison outdated “tales” that are the bedrock of Thailand’s ruling ideology. He refers to beliefs (or is it hops?) that “rural folks being politically naive, of all Thais loving one another and coexisting in harmony under a benign father figure…”. Prajak, who has written “about the issue in an anthology on red shirts which was published by Open Books Publishing House, argues that such notions are redundant for the progress of politics and change. In general terms, he seems to be saying that these people risk being left behind by the forces of change.

For PPT it seems that such a message is going to be like water off a duck’s back. Why? Because these people consider themselves at the center of change and innovation in Thai society. The middle class and elite are used to being praised as somehow “progressive.”Now they are told they are well behind the forces of change in “their” society.

Prajak takes aim at the mainstream media, declaring that it “perpetuates the ‘tales’ that rural folks are either naive or corrupt.” He adds: “[The mainstream mass media] have become conservative to the point where they do not wish to see change…. I don’t think they’re naive about it. The role of the mainstream mass media is to perpetuate the old tales.” For a recent and apposite comment on this, see Bangkok Pundit.

Prajak takes aim as “national artists recognised by the state” who “paint the picture of Thai society as being in harmony, mutual love and under benign guidance.” Likewise, Prajak says:

the education system presented rural Thai society as idyllic where farmers live off the rice field with water buffaloes in isolated tranquility and with no conflicts with others in society while in fact conflict exists and farmers are politically active and connected through mobile phones, physical mobility and other means. As for ritual, Prajak said December 10, the Constitution Day is one good example as people’s struggle for a constitiution has been deleted from the public’s memory and replaced by King Rama VII having bestowed the first charter without any people struggle.

He adds: “The [Constitution Day] is now commemorated by paying respect to Rama VII statue [at the parliament] instead of going to Democracy Monument] so democracy is about a personality, a good king or a good leader.”

He sees these groups as being fearful: “I think they’re afraid of change and is satisfied with this old world.” But he warns that these groups risk being overtaken by a “new discourse on the ground and on the internet is fast changing.” The new “tales” are born out of the post-2006 coup crisis:

The new tales challenge the old ones about the rural folks, about the white knight and it’s recognised not just by educated people but ordinary folks too,” he said, adding that new tales haven’t fully formed itself to replace the old ones yet, however. “The on-line world is creating new tales though the new tales haven’t been fully articulated yet.”

PPT agrees and notes that the conservatives are not about to give up easily. We have seen several times how they are prepared to do almost anything to protect “their” Thailand.


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