The land of dictators

19 07 2015

Readers may find a post on Thailand by Craig Moran at the Fair Observer, a site new to PPT, of some interest.

Moran sets out the rise of military domination since the 2014 coup, observing;

There is a stark difference between the government’s proclaimed good intentions and the tangible results of its authoritarian rule. According to iLaw, authorities have called in 712 people for “attitude adjustments,” 159 others for “political offense” and detained hundreds of journalists since the coup. With this in mind, one can imagine why Prayuth [Chan-ocha]’s self-proclamation as a “soldier with a democratic heart” was met with derision.

Derision indeed, although we at PPT still wonder and worry about The Dictator’s mental state, for a delusional authoritarian “leader” is a dangerous one.

Interesting too are Moran’s comments on political paternalism:

Thais are eerily familiar with paternalist figures assuming power—the pinnacle of which is their monarch … whose “divine” image is enforced with one of the toughest lèse majesté laws in the world.

Rulers with fatherly attitudes are not new, as dictators have had similar approaches in the past. However in Thailand, this traditional style often goes hand in hand with the monarchy and, even if reluctantly so, it is still widely accepted. This is why admirers refer to Prayuth as “Uncle Prayuth,” a name triggered by his “happiness campaign” that includes a commissioned soap opera and a pro-junta pop song called “Return Happiness to Thailand,” which he penned himself.

The claim, however, that Prayuth took power with ease “points to a resigned population and a weak political culture where coups are almost accepted as facts of life” is rather too simplistic.

For one thing, Prayuth’s royalist coup was not easy. The anti-democrats needed to be mobilized for months to destabilize electoral politics and create the circumstances necessary for yet another coup, and this followed from several other probing anti-democrat efforts that began from the time of Yingluck Shinawatra’s election. The military also sent a considerable time preparing for the coup, identifying opponents and those who could mobilize resistance.

In addition, the Yingluck government was stymied by the alliance of military, monarchy and business elite opposition. Finally, the continuous palace propaganda always presents the king as a reliable alternative to elected politicians at the same time as portraying it as “unifying” and support for the monarchy, rather than elected governments, as “loyalty.” In other words, the monarchy has been constructed as an alternative to the sovereignty of the people.