Updated: No populism here I

3 10 2014

When reading the extensive political science literature on populism it soon becomes clear that there is little agreement on exactly what it is and how the term is to be used. It is agreed that it has to do with appealing to a mass. It is unclear why being popular amongst the masses is so often considered a negative attribute amongst politicians.

There are certainly negative examples of politicians who have been identified as populist. There are also plenty of examples of very poor politicians who are not identified as populist.

In Thailand, the royalist elite has spent a lot of time, supported by tame “academics,” who have denigrated popular and even the mild redistributive programs associated with Thaksin Shinawatra-aligned political parties as being “populist.” Indeed, so powerful has been the ideological link have made between “populism” and “evil, corrupt and self-serving” civilian politicians that “populism” is now a dirty and denigrating word in politics. We should emphasize that the denigration of civilian politicians is a long royalist discourse that goes back to the 1930s, meant to establish a political position for the monarchy as somehow morally superior. Ipso facto, populism is toxic for royalists and their supporters.

This fact is seen in a report at the Bangkok Post where, when the military dictatorship’s “cabinet” approves an economic stimulus package valued at more than $100 billion [Update: sorry, one too many zeros], it trumpets this as “not populism.”

Yes, it “includes 40 billion baht in aid for farmers” and “129 billion baht … to create jobs through investment projects across all ministries,” but that is described by military servant minister Pridiyathorn Devakula in these terms: “This is not a populist policy. It simply helps stimulate the economy and helps farmers to cope with their burden…”.

The Dictator, General Prayuth Chan-ocha pointed to “economic indicators [that] had been less than ideal over the past few months in the wake of the sluggish world economy.” He might also have more truthfully pointed to the military coup and the junta’s repression as causing economic problems as investment, confidence and tourism has seen declines.

Most of the “stimulus funding” actually goes to the middle class, creating government jobs, so this might well be described as middle-class populism. Farmers get very little and it is tied to land ownership, limiting the impact to families who are members of the “rising peasantry.” Apparently, the poorest farmers get nothing.

Update: At Khaosod, Pridiyathorn makes our point above when he says “This is not populism, because I am not doing it for votes…”. I only want to stimulate the economy. Do you accept that right now that the economy is suffering a slowdown? If we don’t stimulate it this way, what are we supposed to do?” Recall that both Thaksin and Yingluck said very similar things. By Pridiyathorn says he can’t be a populist because he is appointed by a military dictatorship. For him, a populist can only be elected.


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4 10 2014
Military, the rich and control | Political Prisoners in Thailand

[…] course, having recently posted on this, PPT agrees. At the same time, we think that the royalist ideology of venal politicians needs to […]

4 10 2014
Military, the rich and control | Political Prisoners of Thailand

[…] course, having recently posted on this, PPT agrees. At the same time, we think that the royalist ideology of venal politicians needs to […]

4 10 2014
No populism here II | Political Prisoners in Thailand

[…] said the military junta was proposing populism for the middle class. It seems that the coup is for the rich […]

5 11 2015
Junta populism and promoting business | Political Prisoners in Thailand

[…] is smoke and mirrors. PPT has posted on the junta’s populist-inspired policies for some time. Back in October 2014, we posted on a considerable sum earmarked for programs labeled “not populism.” This included […]

5 11 2015
Junta populism and promoting business | Political Prisoners of Thailand

[…] is smoke and mirrors. PPT has posted on the junta’s populist-inspired policies for some time. Back in October 2014, we posted on a considerable sum earmarked for programs labeled “not populism.” This included […]

15 08 2018
Remember the “ban” on populism? | Political Prisoners in Thailand

[…] the junta struggled with the sluggish economy, the serial failure economic minister Pridiyathorn Devakula tried a little economic stimulus, but declared it “not populism.” He made the important […]

15 08 2018
Remember the “ban” on populism? | Political Prisoners of Thailand

[…] the junta struggled with the sluggish economy, the serial failure economic minister Pridiyathorn Devakula tried a little economic stimulus, but declared it “not populism.” He made the important […]




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