One of the unfortunate consequences of the junta running down and keeping him in custody for a couple of days has been that attention has been diverted from the ruling family’s nepotism (see here, here and here).
Fortunately, Supalak Ganjanakhundee at The Nation has an op-ed that makes some excellent points.
He begins: “Those Thais who still believe in the junta’s pledge of national reform obviously haven’t been heeding the words of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, his brother Preecha or the draft charter.”
Well, it might depend how one defines “national reform.” Supalak has a middle-class notion of reforming for the better in mind. Well, it might depend how one defines “better.” There’s undoubtedly a group of anti-democrats who appreciate the military dictatorship’s regressive and repressive regime, and they may even consider it “reform.”
But, we get Supalak’s point.
As he puts it: “Prayut, his clan and his crew have embarked on a mission to re-establish a … polity of patron-client bonds and nepotism.” He sees that as a problem with the “deeper structures of culture and society,” essentially unchanged since 1932. We don’t agree, but we do get the point. Culture is not unchanging, and Thai culture has changed substantially over the decades. It is the structures that matter, and these have been sites of struggle. The victors have become the elite and they now defend their decrepit system tooth and nail – or should we say with baht and bullet.
This is why there is some truth in the claim that while “the Thai people have indeed elected governments, … the country has in the main continued to be run by a bureaucracy and a feudal elite.”
It isn’t true, however, that “[p]olitical struggle before the 1973 uprising mostly comprised power plays among the elite.” Think of students, workers and peasant leaders being murdered, the communist rebellion that went on for two decades, separatism in the south over two centuries, the struggle against military dictatorship in 1991-92 and the red shirt rebellions of 2009 and 2010.
But, again, we get Supalak’s point.
He’s right that the “military has been a constant presence in Thai politics throughout modern history. Although the uprisings of 1973 and 1992 directly challenged its power, they did little to shake the foundations of military authoritarianism.” This is a very interesting observation:
The Thai army was established more than a century ago by the monarchy and run by aristocrats familiar with patron-client system. The Army looked modern, but the blue-bloods who took charge of its units, barracks and camps treated it as their personal fighting force – just like old times. Thai commanders have a tradition of employing soldiers and military resources for their personal use. Low-ranking privates, for example, routinely serve their bosses as house boys, cleaning, cutting the grass and washing clothes….
Nepotism is tolerated in the military….
Supalak concludes: “If it has been decided that nepotism and the patron-client system are okay, why maintain the attitude that Thailand needs reform?”
Again, we get the point. However, it is mainly anti-democrats who have been shouting about the need for “reform.” What they mean is that the old system has to be maintained and strengthened.
What he couldn’t say is that the monarchy is the keystone of this old and decrepit system of nepotism and hierarchy.