Jory on referendum and political future

20 08 2016

Patrick Jory is senior lecturer in Southeast Asian History at the University of Queensland in Australia. He has a new short commentary at Asian Currents, which is not always widely seen.

He observes that:

The real aim of the draft constitution is to weaken the authority of any future elected government and to constitutionally protect the political influence of the military and its conservative backers.

Jory says that “[w]hile no evidence of electoral fraud has been uncovered, this was in no sense a free and fair referendum.” We agree that the referendum was rigged. We are not so sure that there was no fraud. At least we should be able to see the results of the referendum (as is usual in non-junta Thailand, but that hasn’t happened (as far as we know).

We completely disagree with Jory’s view that:

It is important to acknowledge that, unlike during the period from the 1950s to the 1980s, the Thai military today does not rule in its own right. It has a substantial social base of support. It is backed to varying degrees by middle and upper-class Thais, the powerful bureaucracy, the judiciary, university administrations and faculty, and large Sino–Thai corporations.

We suggest that the military has always had a social base. We’d also say that the sources of that base haven’t changed much although the classes mentioned have grown in numbers. His view leads him to resurrect the 1950s notion of a bureaucratic polity as if nothing much has changed. That’s a fallacy.

He is on firmer ground when he observes:

There is also an ethnic dimension to this Bangkok–provincial political cleavage. As historian Chris Baker has pointed out in a recent article, the predominantly Sino–Thai middle class has ‘almost no affinity with rural Thailand’… For many Sino–Thai, the countryside is ‘unknown and hence fearsome’.

Ethnicity has been overlooked for too long. Others have noted the Sino-Thai relation with rural areas but not necessarily in fear but in terms of seeking a cultural base for an immigrant class that lost its roots in and links to China.

Jory concludes with a view that “it is unlikely that this constitution will last much longer than its predecessors.” This constitution will last as long as it is useful for the military, monarchy and the rest of the ruling elite.