Thailand’s future politics II

2 11 2017

In our previous post we looked at two articles considering possible futures for Thailand’s politics. Here we look at two more.

Christina Larson is a Beijing-based reporter who has written for the New Yorker, Foreign Policy and Bloomberg. Her guess that the “respect felt by most Thais for their monarchy” is “genuine” is married to an appopriate observation that this is “besmirched by the growing enforcement of the world’s strictest lèse-majesté law…”. She adds that ” use of the law has allowed the government to persecute critics and to create a widespread fear while maintaining a veneer of legality.”

She observes that the “fate of the law has been inextricably tied up with the image of Bhumibol himself.” That’s a point that others have often missed. At the same time, the increased use of the law and its justification has been “protecting the monarchy.” Larson notes that the image of the monarchy that is protected is of the ninth king and adds: “But the burnished image of the ‘People’s King’ — as a crusader for little people, a camera-toting investigator and promoter of public works – was shaped and reinforced by a supremely successful 70-year-propaganda campaign.”

It is that propaganda image that has been reinforced again and again over recent years – not least because the incumbent was mostly hidden in a hospital – and because that image was challenged. The funeral pushed the image again to supreme heights. But it is constructed:

According to Thailand’s constitution and school textbooks, the monarch is above politics, separate from the spheres of government and business. But nearly every public and private establishment in Bangkok was marking the official mourning period. Black-and-white memorial photos of Bhumibol in full royal regalia were on display at major airports, on highway billboards, at restaurants and hotels, even on the screens of ATMs. Liquor sales were prohibited during the cremation ceremonies, and the city’s ubiquitous 7-Elevens closed early on Thursday. That speaks to the power of the monarchy – and the fear of causing offense – that’s opened up a wide venue for persecution.

Larson quotes Benjamin Zawacki on the monarchy and lese majeste. (As a former representative of Amnesty International, he spent a lot of energy arguing that the reign of the dead king promoted human rights! He and AI neglected lese majeste in Thailand.)

Zawacki makes a rather odd comment: “If the cremation shows us nothing else, it is that the depth of respect and adoration for the monarchy in Thailand renders the lèse-majesté law redundant…”. Clearly it wasn’t, and the palace and military used it whenever there were political crises or whenever it saw threats to the grand concocted image of the monarchy.

Thitinan Pongsudhirak seems to contradict Zawacki, saying:

With the new reign, the enforcement of the [lèse-majesté] law will likely only increase, not decrease, for two reasons. The new monarch does not command as much love and respect as his father on an individual basis, and the monarchy will be under pressure to structurally adjust to new democratic norms.

Thitinan sees a continuation of the monarchy’s anti-democratic politics and a deepening of fear and intimidation. That seems entirely consistent with what we know of Vajiralongkorn and The Dictator. The symbiotic relationship mentioned in our previous post is important. At the same time, the  junta benefits enormously from the lese majeste law.

Kasit

The final article is an op-ed by the Democrat Party’s Kasit Piromya titled Thai political transformation needs ‘third force’. He believes an “alternative exists to military rule and entrenched political elite.”

Given that Kasit seems to have supported two military interventions throwing out elected governments, was a long-serving and senior official of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, filled with members of the elite who are deeply royalist, we can only marvel at his idea of a “third force” and his call for “full-fledged democracy.”

He asks: “How much longer must Thai society accept the military’s involvement in politics?” Perhaps the answer is when persons like Kasit stop supporting those who are responsible for the coups.

He’s not keen on electoral politics, with PAD-like anti-democrat finger-pointing at the “dominance of vested interests in the political landscape led to countless numbers of abuses of power and corruption” along with “a power-hungry civilian political elite that engaged in rent-seeking with its majority rule.” He means the Thaksin regime.

And the “third force”? It is a PAD “solution” based on its usual false premises.

Kasit declares a pox on all houses (not his own): “One cannot rely on the military to voluntarily return to and remain in the barracks, nor on the political class to change its exploitative ways.”

The citizens must take the lead. But, of course, only after this “uneducate,” duped, misled and paid among them “educate themselves by gaining full access to information about government services and tasks, including how the national budget is spent, how decisions are made and how they can have input.” Does Kasit do this? We doubt it.

PADistas like Kasit believe that the citizenry is fodder for Thaksin-like politicians because they are “uneducate.”

Somehow the “Thai democratic citizenry” will be achieved “with the advent of modern telecommunications that enable convenient and fast connections with the public through mobile phones, social media and other internet-based vehicles.” Internet-based vehicles?? He’s making this up as he writes.

But what of the “third force”? Kasit reckons it “could consist of like-minded people” who come “together to agree on a course of action and draw up a list of priority issues so that a national consensus can be reached on taking Thailand forward.”

We think he’s serious, but who knows. When he calls the “get together” we’ll be sure to attend. Oh, but hang on… we are not “like-minded” with Kasit (thankfully!).

That said, he is right that when old ruling classes in some places have “reached a consensus with society at large to agree on a transitional approach toward democracy.”

In Thailand, however, the ruling class has repeatedly demonstrated that it will not compromise. Kasit can ramble on about a “third force” but the problem is the ruling class. They need to be overcome.


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