Liberal authoritarianism

25 03 2016

An aged former prime minister who served twice but was never elected seems like an unlikely source for advice on democracy. That he served a military junta and then was put in place by the king in an arguably unconstitutional move should add to considerable doubt about his credentials.

Anand

But this is the Teflon-coated patrician Anand Panyarachun, sometimes seen as one of Thailand’s “liberal” royalists. So it is that the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand decides to invite the old liberal royalist to give his views, yet again. Some journalists have tweeted and gone on social media making out that Anand is someone who must be taken seriously while posing with him in photos as if he is a celebrity.

The Straits Times refers to Anand as “Thailand’s elder statesman…. Today, he remains among a handful of people with the stature to be able to speak his mind even under a military government.”

What the article should probably have stated is that he is one of the few to be able to speak and not fear detention. Others speak their mind, but are harassed because they say things that are interpreted as critical of the junta. Anand is essentially a junta supporter. He supported both the 2006 and 2014 military-palace coups. He doesn’t say anything that is likely to get the junta steamed up.

The truth is that Anand is a royalist authoritarian who seeks to cloak his anti-democratic perspectives in a language of “transparency,” “anti-corruption,” “human rights” and a decidedly technocratic language for Western audiences is interpreted in Thailand as the code of a supporter of the anti-democrats.

Anand’s speech is reproduced at the Bangkok Post. Interestingly, the only persons cited in it are the king – ho hum – Gandhi and a rightist libertarian (rather than a liberal).

It is a Khaosod report that shows the anti-democrat authoritarian. Anand declared that “people [he means Western critics and the journalists he spoke to] should not see coups and their makers in black or white, adding that those in Thailand are different from those in Africa or Latin America.” He defended the “unique nature of [Thailand’s] military coups.”

Ignoring the military’s repeated use of war weapons against its own people, “Anand said coups in Thailand are bloodless and nonviolent…”. He went further:

They are not brutal and bloody,” Anand said of the 12 “successful” coups in the eight-decades of modern political history. “I am not proud of that, but the damage is relatively insignificant.”

We understand that he needs to dissemble in order to support the 2014 coup, but he does this by ignoring mass murder. He ignores 1976, the attempts by the military to stay in power in 1973 and 1992, and the more generalized use of deadly force against civilians, most recently in April and May 2010. This is crude elite justification of military rule and its murderous past.

FDIHe also went into liar mode when he said “the most recent coup that installed the military regime of Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha in May 2014 hasn’t deterred foreign investment.” The real picture is in the graph.

If on looks at Board of Investment data, the declines following the coup are even sharper, as shown in the graphs from the Nikkei Asian Review.BOI

He defended the current junta:

At one point Anand was asked by a Singaporean journalist if the current military regime is capable of pushing for reform.

“Just because because they are a military government, it doesn’t mean they are stupid or always stupid,” he said.

Asked about democracy in Thailand, he said: “I’m not apologetic about the slow pace of the development of democracy.  I am sure I will not live to see it. I am 83.”

It is clear that the talk of human rights, rule of law, transparency and so on are not elements of a democratic Thailand but of a technocratic and authoritarian Thailand. When “liberal royalists” preach it is self-interested class warfare.

He even blames the “people” for the longevity of the military: “I think in a way that helps the present military regime to survive, because quite a number of people still give them credit for restoring peace and order.”

He does not blame his own class as the ones who cheer the military and benefit from its repressive power, again and again. He may not want a military regime for years to come, but he knows his class needs the military.


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