Back, way back

17 06 2014

Originally from the Financial Times, this article by Reuters correspondents Michael Peel and David Pilling escaped our attention when it came out. It is a slightly schizophrenic article, beginning with some odd material and then becoming quite good.

The article begins with a rather strange claim: “stasis has reached such a pass that even some Thais who consider themselves democrats and are instinctively uncomfortable with military intervention speak of their relief, given what they see as the lack of alternatives to an increasingly violent political battle…”. We can think of no true democrats who could ever condone a military coup. The “political battle” was not “increasingly violent.” Indeed, the highest levels of violence were instigated by the military in 2010, and over the past 6-7 months, there had been low-level violence. much of it instigated by anti-democrats and, we suspect, military provocateurs. Our latter claim is based on the fact that post-coup there has been no violence.

Those matters corrected, PPT was drawn to a quote from a “medical student.” He stated: “Foreign people don’t do coups but Thai people do because they want better politicians…. A little time in the future, the army should stop ruling and create a new group of politicians, who can be peaceful like 10 years ago.” This is classic anti-democrat nonsense. “Thai people” do not “do coups.” The military does coups and plenty of them. The military are not the people but rather murder people they disagree with. They intervene in politics to establish military dictatorships that protect their interests and those of the Sino-Thai business elites. The people are abandoned or attacked. That is the narrative of Thai history in the reign of this king.

This is why the claim that “[t]urning the clock back to a simpler age shorn of ideological disputes…” is silly. Ideological disputes are not shorn, they are crushed by an intensely ideological military boot.

When a “senior politician opposed to the ousted government blames his own political class for forcing the military’s hand and likens it to a national ‘reset’,” we suspect this is someone like Korn Chatikavanij, and as a supporter of two military coups in recent years, he merely recycles the “reset” claim from the same decrepit anti-democrats congealed around the yellow shirts and Democrat Party in 2006. This record is stuck in a deeply anti-democratic groove.

Turning to the other “side” of the story, the claim that “this coup … shows signs of developing into something less neutral than that term implies” is the most obvious point that any observer could make. That this coup is conservative is also obviously correct but deserves repeating. And we will. This is:

a conservative counter-revolution against forces assaulting the old paternalist certainties of southeast Asia’s second-largest economy. Thailand now stands not so much at a crossroads as on the verge of a full-scale U-turn. With each day, the gap grows wider between its reputation for liberal openness and the military’s rule by arbitrary detention, censorship and diktat.

More importantly, this is a “campaign by coup supporters to curb the influence of Thaksin Shinawatra” that has broadened “into an effort to force the politically awakened rural Thais who support him — and civil rights campaigners who do not — to unlearn their new ideas and return this formerly feudal absolute monarchy to an age when everyone knew their place.” Absolutely! The FT is spot on.

They quote an astute academic who is afraid to be identified – who can blame anyone for such fear when criticism is banned? That academic rightly observes that: “[c]ertain groups in society have come to the conclusion that democracy is not going to suit them…. They’re unreconstructed. They think they have a natural right to rule.” The military is meant to deliver this for them. If elections are ever held again, they will be by the military’s rules:

The junta’s plans for change are likely to prove the most sweeping gerrymandering yet of a system changed repeatedly to stifle the influence of elected representatives and bolster the power of the courts, regulators and appointed bodies of the great and the good. Asked what the military means when it speaks of re-form, a political analyst says: “I know exactly what they mean. It will mean some sort of rigging of the rules in favour of the political establishment.”

Coup supporters, anti-democrats, the military and “the establishment” blame Thaksin for changes in Thailand that are deeper than his influence, but they “see him as a demon whose influence can be exorcised, rather than a cipher for change…”. As a businessman cited by the FT correctly observes,  “[Bangkokians] think he … mesmerises the people…. Get rid of him and the people will become nice and subservient again.” They are simply wrong not least because their heroes and saviors are all of the past:

This nostalgic view sits comfortably in a country where the “deep state” has grown increasingly gerontocratic. The 18 members of the privy council, an influential but opaque royal advisory body of former armed service chiefs, judges and politicians, have an average age of 78. General Prem Tinsulanonda, the 93-year-old president, spent his junior school years under an absolute monarchy that lasted until 1932. A prime minister from 1980 to 1988, General Prem has played a powerful role in moulding Thailand’s political landscape for decades.

The suspicion that the dictators and the Dictator “are trying to recreate a Thailand of their imagination…” is a fact.

 


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