Interviewing Anand

11 02 2014

PPT is about to embark on yet another critique of a boring but influential old royalist. We thought that such old men would have gone to pasture by now and would have given up interfering in the affairs of state. However, that doesn’t seem to happen in Thailand. Put it down to “Thai culture” or just a remarkable ability to put up with the same old men saying the same old things again and again.



So here we go, with Anand Panyarachun intervening yet again for the royalist position on the way politics ought to be. If only the plebs would listen to the patriarchs, things would be better….

Yet, even if we are dismissive, we think we detect an elite attempt to draw back their street troops a bit, to seek “discussions,” and to seek what PPT might call a traditional royalist compromise that protects the old elite.

Earlier efforts by Anand on politics that have been this kind of “royalist best outcome” include his 1991 appointment as premier by the coup junta, in 1992 when he was brought back by an arguably extra-legal intervention by the then speaker and king on premier, taking control of the 1997 constitution along with fellow royalist Prawase Wasi, and those two teaming up again for Abhisit Vejjajiva’s government to run reform and reconciliation talkfests. He supported coup-making in 1991, 2006 and apparently also in 2008. He’s recently made statements supportive of the anti-democrats.

In other words, Anand is the “go-to guy” when the royalists want an intelligent and Western-savvy face for “reform.”

He’s got a cultivated chat about democracy, but he is also promoting a particular and limited version of democracy, which is sometimes seen as the royalist compromise position on democracy.

Asked how he would you describe Thailand’s overall political situation, Anand complains that crises in the past were solved quickly. Often this was because the fight was within the elite. When it wasn’t, the elite was usually prepared to sort things out before they got too complicated. Anand says the current situation is way too complicated:

But this time the unrest has been going on for years…. Now there are two, five or six opposing sides – you never can tell. But the issues now are multifarious and the players are far too many…. And I think that we have now reached an impasse. I do not see a quick end in the near future. And if this is allowed to continue much longer I fear that the economic and financial situation in our country will become much worse.

The unrest has been extended because the royalist elite has been unwilling to accept the electoral system that returns governments they can’t abide.

Anand makes much of the threat to the economy, a point recently made by Philip Bowring when he talked of an economic crisis forcing compromise. Interestingly, Anand doesn’t talk of compromise in this situation but of crisis, which he seems to sheet home to the caretaker status of the current government:

But I think we cannot be complacent…. What is crucial is the impact on the current account deficit. If the current account deficit is six per cent of the GDP, that would be a grave crisis. Now that would mean, or it would imply, that the country is deep down in the pit. And that would bring down everything.

Perhaps he is thinking of the 1997-98 crisis that nearly undid the entire business class and damaged the monarchy’s wealth quite substantially. That crisis allowed Thaksin Shinawatra to emerge, initially to save the economy and local business with expansionary policies, a dose of nationalism and political concessions to the poor and ignored classes. Maybe that is what nearly brought down everything. He continues:

I am not a doomsayer but I think we should be alert to the possibilities of some kind of grievous deterioration of our national economy that will affect unemployment and reduce incomes…. The farmers are suffering. The more well to do are not spending as much as they should.

We continue to be amazed at how the royalist elite and other anti-democrats have suddenly “discovered” the concerns of farmers!

Anand worries because “the issues that are being debated now about politics, democracy, reform will be automatically relegated to the background, which is a shame. That would be another lost opportunity for Thailand.”

It seems to us that he’s on the anti-democrat “reform” bandwagon. He’s then asked for his take on the status of Thai democracy. He immediately goes into anti-democrat stage-speak:

Before I answer that let me say that even though the political warfare started many years ago, it only became very serious and critical in the past eight or nine months with the push for the Amnesty Bill. That opened the Pandora’s box. And on top of that people had been questioning the validity and effectiveness of the rice support programme…. That had the effect of imploding by itself. The farmers who are supposed to be the beneficiaries of the programme, many of them have been suffering.

As we mentioned above, it is amazing that the royalist elite, after speaking for years about rural people as a bunch of thick-headed buffaloes, have all suddenly embraced them!

Anand continues on the problems of democracy:

the general feeling is that there has been a lack of transparency, accountability and a mismanagement of policies. All these reasons have had a multiplying effect.

He is again speaking of the middle class paranoia and claims made. PPT has been waiting for the anti-democrats to actually produce some verifiable evidence. There is a spreadsheet on the rice scheme circulating, claiming to show corruption, but PPT hasn’t seen it. On the stage, claims and assertions seem sufficient. Indeed, Anand seems right when he says there is a “general feeling.”

He declares:

During this political warfare, it is obvious that neither side can win. And neither side is in the position to govern the country. No side would be able to function in a full and proper manner because of legal and political restrictions. Some are self-inflicted and some are not. But that’s beside the point. The point is Thailand needs a government that can function normally, fully and effectively. We cannot afford to continue to live in limbo like this much longer.

The point here is to accept the activities of the anti-democrats for it is they who have made the country “ungovernable.” Or at least, through legal nonsense, parliamentary shenanigans and now street politics they have been determined to send yet another elected and popular government down the drain. Anand should rail against that. He doesn’t but he goes on to make what we consider a useful point to the anti-democrats: “You need two to do a tango.” Indeed, politics requires compromise, but the anti-democrats refuse all opportunities for compromise and simply demand the ousting of the government. Anand fibs a bit:

I do not have any inside information or know what is going on behind the scenes, but apparently the two sides are not prepared to see and meet each other in a more placid and reasonable and objective manner.

Of course, he wouldn’t be speaking if he wasn’t a part of some behind-the -scenes shenanigans; we know that from his past public performances. He talks of “quiet talks” and this may be a signal to Suthep to step back from the no compromise position. The royalist elite are never too comfortable with mass mobilizations.

Our guess is that an interim government is desired in order to prevent the economic troubles that worry Anand:

The only thing that could prompt them, shall we say, to reform their thinking or to change their mindset is to convince them that what you are debating about today, what you are fighting about today, will no longer be relevant compared to the crisis in the future that we have to face.

He is then asked about Thailand’s democratic process and sounds anti-democrat when he says: “I don’t think we’ve had one for a long, long time.” Really? We wonder what the basis for this judgement is from a twice unelected prime minister? Is it that his preferred party can’t win? Or is it that he can’t believe that a majority would vote for pro-Thaksin parties in every national election since 2001? He explains:

To me, a democracy is not merely a matter of going into the polling booth and casting your vote. Yes, it is an essential part of the process. That is quite definite. But there are also many other aspects in democracy: be it the rule of law, transparency, good governance, independent judiciary, freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, open society, accountability.

Well at least he acknowledges that voting is a part of a democracy. And can we expect him, based on his support of freedom of expression, to campaign against lese majeste? We guess not. Clearly that is the major threat to freedom of expression. Freedom of assembly hardly seems an issue in Thailand where legal and illegal demonstrations and rallies are a daily event. On the other items, Anand needs to look in the mirror.

Rule of law has been undermined by the royalist courts and there is no independent judiciary because of this. The other aspects need work, but throwing out every government you find distasteful is not promoting any of this agenda.

He then rambles about what democracy means and should deliver, and readers can plow through that at the Post.

One remarkable question is put by the Post editor-in-chief, so bizarre that we reproduce it:

Would you say we have learnt something from the past? In May 2010 there was violence and the city was torched. There was violence, bloodshed and death. Violence and death has occurred this time around but to a lesser extent. Now we don’t take over the airport, for example. There is restraint.

Restraint? Occupying government offices is restrained? Attacking people who want to vote is restrained? Trying to prevent voting is restrained? We’d have thought that Anand would have felt some need to dispatch such nonsense, but no, and he makes another equally bizarre statement:

Yes we have learnt and must give credit to both sides. We have to give credit to the protesters who are apparently peaceful and unarmed, and have not taken over the airport and transport services.

Peaceful and unarmed? Anand must know that this is a lie. So why make such a fabricated claim? Is it his essential support for the anti-democrats that makes him a propagandist? It seems so and he rambles about reform that matches the anti-democrat rhetoric:

… You have to engage in the reform process seriously and objectively…. When I was chairing our committee we did conduct a thorough study of many aspects and areas and came up with some very positive recommendations, in particular in areas of decentralisation of power and agriculture. Of course at that time we did think it would be wise to deal with the reform of the political system. And what I mean here [political system] is the electoral reform. Since then, and now, it has become a real priority and not because the protestors want it but for the practical reasons. If you want to move to free and fair elections you need consensus and agreement on the electoral process.

Anand seems to forget that the current rules were set by the military junta’s demon seed constitution committee because they were unhappy that pro-Thaksin parties kept getting elected under the 1997 rules (for which Anand bore a great deal of responsibility). Now his lot want to change them again. We assume that the anti-democrats will only be happy with rules that make the Democrat Party the government at every election.

Anand then refers to the current government as “dysfunctional”:

The government by dissolving the House and transforming itself into a caretaker government, by law it cannot do so many things. It cannot engage in new programmes. Of course there are political obstacles and economics constraints that have been put in its path. When I say it (the government) has become dysfunctional I am not saying that it’s entirely the government’s fault but because of forces of circumstances any government that is in this circumstance … would be a dysfunctional government. I am saying this is the situation in Thailand now. And we cannot afford to have this kind of dysfunctionality continue without any end in sight otherwise we would be courting a disaster.

It seems that preventing voting and boycotting elections after demanding them is the cause of this “dysfunction.” Anand does not appear to acknowledge this. He ends with a warning: “I would like to end this conversation by saying we will be soon reaching the tipping point.”

It seems to us that the “tipping point” owes much to Anand and others in the royalist elite who are fully prepared to create and/or facilitate crises that undermine elected governments. It is they who are responsible for “dysfunction.” It is they who need to make the required historic compromises.

So far they have not only refused compromise but have been reactionary in their politics, seeking royal solutions, the maintenance of hierarchy and privilege. The old men who revel in behind-the-scenes string-pulling seem incapable of providing leadership.

Chulalongkorn University’s Thitinan Pongsudhirak once stated:

Thailand’s monarchy-based establishment finds itself hard-pressed to maintain the status quo. Yet it has too much at stake to simply give way to the challenges that Thaksin (in his faulty and not-always-democratic way) spearheaded during a premiership that began with his election in 2001 and was cut off by the coup….

That still seems correct and Anand reflects this.



2 responses

20 07 2014
“Liberals” do the junta’s work I | Political Prisoners in Thailand

[…] us that Anand supported the 2006 coup and the ousting of Samak Sundaravej. In 2014 he (repeatedly) supported anti-democrats, including boosting Suthep Thaugsuban. This was in a context where he also rejected Yingluck […]

1 11 2020
Thinking about the ruling class II | Political Prisoners in Thailand

[…] us that Anand supported the 2006 coup and the ousting of Samak Sundaravej. In 2014 he (repeatedly) supported anti-democrats, including boosting Suthep Thaugsuban. This was in a context where he also rejected Yingluck […]

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