Zen journalist’s latest

8 11 2013

Long-time readers will know that PPT has long been happy to enjoy the fruits of Andrew MacGregor Marshall’s research in the archives, which has produced some choice images at his Zen Journalist blog.

His latest piece there is very long. We printed it off and had 152 pages, which we’ve had no time to read in any satisfactory way, and can only claim to have skimmed. This huge “post” covers the present, the past and bits in between, and feels a bit undisciplined to us, but makes four scandalous hypotheses that the author believes “are essential to making sense of Thailand’s era of insanity.” These are:Marshall

  1. At the elite level, Thailand’s intractable political conflict does not revolve around Thaskin Shinawatra, although he is a central character in the drama. The conflict among Thailand’s elite is essentially a succession struggle…. In particular, most of Thailand’s elite are implacably opposed to the prospect of Vajiralongkorn succeeding his father, and are prepared to go to extreme lengths to sabotage the succession.
  2. Both broad factions in the elite succession struggle have failed to understand that Thai society has fundamentally changed, with the rural and urban poor becoming increasingly assertive and informed. As a result, Thailand’s unacknowledged succession struggle has become entangled with a social conflict that encompasses the whole country, leading to a crisis of legitimacy for the monarchy and the deep state.
  3. Thaksin Shinawatra is a fairly traditional Thai royalist, albeit one who — unusually — has few qualms about the crown prince. Otherwise, his views are very similar to the large number of elite Thais who … in fact have limited intrinsic loyalty or love for the monarchy, beyond the extent to which they can harness royal barami to serve their own interests. Moreover, elite Thais opposed to the crown prince have a particular incentive to pretend to be staunchly ultra-royalist while the current king remains on the throne, to help shield them against accusations of treachery or anti-monarchism when the succession takes place.
  4. It’s somewhat misleading to regard the network monarchy model as demonstrating that the monarchy controls or guides the network. In modern Thai history, the network has mostly controlled the monarchy.

Because we haven’t examined the book-length post in any detail, PPT can’t comment on Marshall’s argument or the evidence he collects in support of his claims. We do note that public criticism of the prince has been around since at least 1976, and became especially virulent around 1986-88, leading to several lese majeste charges.

We’d also add that claims about soaking up barami have been around in academic works since the early 1980s. It always strikes us – and hence we post on it as often as we have information – that one of the under-emphasized aspects of the monarchy is its role as a capitalist conglomerate and all that implies. If we go back to the leading studies of capitalist development in Thailand – Skinner, Suehiro, Hewison – the monarchy is central, certainly for the pre-1932 period. That emphasis has dropped out of view a little, and we think more can be made of it.

Still, as we say, we haven’t read this new book closely and we encourage readers to find the time for a serious perusal.

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