Mad authoritarianism

23 04 2021

There’s been considerable discussion in recent days of a draft law that would allow state monitoring of NGO funding and supervision of their activities. This amounts to a predictable deepening of control by an authoritarian regime. At the same time, it is reflective of a quite mad authoritarianism as the regime has increasingly come under the influence of ideas of conspiracy that dominate the “thinking” of mad monarchists.

Thai PBS reports that the effort to strictly control civil society organization and dominate political space by limiting NGOs by the “monitoring of NGO funding and supervision of their activities” through the Bill on the Operations of Not-for-Profit Organisations “stems from fears of foreign intervention in local politics and adverse impacts of NGOs’ foreign donations on national security.”

That report cites Amnesty International as saying that other states have also introduced “restrictive laws and policies, and stigmatising rhetoric…”. The examples provided include “Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, India, Hungary, and the Philippines.”

In the Thai case, the bill appears to reflect the increasingly frenzied deep yellow shirt conversations about CIA (meaning the USA) and Jewish (meaning George Soros) conspiracies to undermine the monarchy. There’s no evidence for such conspiracies, just an ever-mounting social media gnashing of teeth and tan ever-higher piling of buffalo manure, some of it egged on by organized anti-Western bloggers and “news” outlets. Such sources have waged a campaign against “colour revolutions” and, since the rise of the red shirts, have increasingly focused on Thailand. In Thailand, their deeply conservative narrative has been couched in “radical” terms, railing against “American imperialism.”

This narrative caught on among yellow shirts who themselves had dealt in fictious notions of conspiracy against the monarchy that constructed accounts of the Finland Plot to bring down the monarchy and of Thaksin Shinawatra’s anti-monarchism.

Such conservative fictions were easily imbibed by military monarchists. One result is this bill to control civil society groups. It was the post-junta cabinet, dominated by military monarchists that “in late February approved in principle the Bill on the Operations of Not-for-Profit Organisations, which would require NGOs to report their financiers and amount of funding, to have their accounts audited, and to ensure that their activities are lawful.”

Thai Enquirer refers to the Bill as the “Operation of Non-profit Organizations Act,” and notes that the “legislation was proposed by the Council of State…” which cited the concerns that resulted in the draft bill, including that NGOs “receive funding from foreign persons or entities.” Nothing new there; it has been a standard operating procedure for decades. However, in these reactionary times, there’s a view that this “might adversely affect the relationship between Thailand and that of other countries.”

Thai Enquirer explains what the Bill will do:

This draft bill, if passed into law, would require NGOs to register themselves with the Director General of the Department of Provincial Administration, prior to commencing its activities in Thailand. Once registered, they will be additionally required to comply with rules and conditions prescribed by the Minister of Interior, in addition to those requirements set forth in the legislation.

In addition, NGOs would be subject to an annual disclosure viz-a-viz sources of funds and must file an annual tax report to authorities. And, more horrendously, the NGOs can only receive funding from foreign persons, entities, or groups of persons, only for the purpose as prescribed by the Minister of Interior. Failure to comply with these requirements would subject the NGOs to criminal sanctions. Potentially imprisonment for persons involved.

It is unclear whether receiving funds to engage in political advocacy such as calling for the amendment of the constitution would be one of the permissible purposes. However, given the government’s track record and how the government MPs have reacted to iLaw’s requests, it is reasonable to fear that the purpose of political advocacy would not be permitted.

The article continues, noting that the regime:

does not wish to appear subtle about its motives either. It includes as material substance of the law that the bill would effectively ensure that NGOs are operating in Thailand without “Tai-ya-jitr” (hidden agendas). It remains unclear what “hidden agenda” means in this context. Is advocating for democracy … under the authoritarian regime regarded as a “hidden agenda?” … One might therefore reasonably conclude that this law is aimed at curtailing the activity of liberal NGOs….

The regime “has provided numerous hints about how it intends to use the law,” citing “a senior intelligence official specifically cited a statement signed by 13 human rights organisations … as demonstrating the need for further control over organisations working in Thailand.” That statement by human rights groups “condemned the government’s use of force against protesters.”

As The Interpreter observes:

Since a military coup in 2014, however, civic space and fundamental freedoms have taken a beating in Thailand. Authorities have harassed activists, cracked down on protesters and obstructed the proceedings of civil society. But these actions have failed to fully extinguish dissent, and Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha’s government has now proposed a draconian new law governing associations and organisations, which, if passed, would do more to crush civic space and undermine Thailand’s role in the region than any other effort by the Thai government in the past decade….

Under the proposed legislation, any group engaged in non-profit activities – no matter how small, informal or unorganised – would be required to register with the ministry. Student groups, community organisations, protest movements, artistic collectives, social clubs and short-lived associations would all fall within the remit of the law.

It establishes a “mandatory registration scheme overseen by the Ministry of Interior” and gives “authorities expansive powers to control and monitor groups of all sizes and types.”

Under the current authoritarian regime, the proposed law’s “broad terms and steep penalties would likely be wielded arbitrarily against independent-minded individuals and organisations.”

It imposes harsh penalties for failing to register: “individuals associated with an unregistered group could be punished with up to five years’ imprisonment.”

…The law would give the Ministry of Interior sweeping powers to determine the conditions under which registered groups operate. Activities backed by foreign funds would require pre-approval by the ministry, with foreseeable consequences for groups that frequently come into conflict with the government. More worrying still, the law would allow officials to inspect a registered organisation’s office and access its emails without justification or judicial oversight. It provides no safeguards against governmental misuse or arbitrary application of the law.

…Moreover, the selection of the Ministry of Interior as the ministry responsible for enforcing the law is telling. The Ministry of Interior oversees local administration and internal security within Thailand. As a result, it frequently comes into conflict with community associations, non-governmental organisations and other groups that would be governed by the law. The surveillance and enforcement powers granted by the law would bolster the ministry, to the detriment of those seeking to hold government officials accountable for corruption, human rights abuses or other misdeeds.

Such requirements and such intrusive surveillance mean that the government would determine which NGOs could register and what they could do, if they receive international funding.

The Interpreter further observes:

Adding to the law’s recklessness, the timeline set forth for registration – 30 days from the date of enactment – does not provide enough time for the ministry to register the thousands of currently unregistered groups operating in Thailand. If it were passed, numerous organisations would be forced to cease operations, and many would never reopen.

That is likely one of the aims of the legislation.

Each of the reports mentioned in this post reports on responses from NGOs. Among many issues, they note that the law is in conflict with several provisions of the constitution – not that such matters have ever bothered this regime – and that the law would allow “authorities to harass civil society groups and activists critical of the government by categorising them as NGOs.”

The Interpreter concludes:

If enacted, the proposed law would devastate Thai civil society and could lead to an exodus of international organisations currently based in Thailand.

Clearly, the regime’s support for the monarchy and the need to suppress anti-royalism puts it in alliance with all kinds of mad monarchists. For them and the regime, only conspiracy theories can “explain” attacks on their beloved monarchy and monarchist ideology. When mixed with the regime’s military-induced love of hierarchy and order, the outcome is a political system that is deeply authoritarian. The threat is to make Thailand forever authoritarian.





Double standards on display

27 08 2018

Thailand’s political elite practice a form of politics that is underpinned by double standards.

Double standards are about the only standards observed by the politicized judiciary.

As the junta thinks about its people winning its rigged election, all parties are banned from political activities. That is, unless the party or proto-party happens to be pro-junta. The double standard also applies to the junta’s own campaigning.

Political parties are only one element of the political system, and the double standards extend far and wide and into what remains of a shattered civil society.

In seizing power in 2014, one of the main self-appointed tasks of the military junta was to destroy the red shirt movement. That involved the deep militarization of areas identified as red shirt supporting and the arrest and jailing of scores of red shirt leaders.

It has to be said that the military’s tactics have been quite successful in suppressing red shirts.

Today, the treatment of civil society is riddled with double standards. Groups and even protesters who are not considered a threat to the junta’s politics are tolerated whereas those considered red shirts are forbidden from any kind of activism.

These double standards have been on display in Chiang Mai over the last couple of days.

There the authorities “had promised not to block the protest based around Tha Phae Gate in Chiang Mai’s old city”targeting the judiciary’s housing cutting into a forest on Doi Suthep. The junta and military sees this protest, dominated by middle-class activists, as non-threatening.

But what happens when it learns that a solitary red shirt leader based locally had joined the rally?

The media reports that Third Army Region commander Lt Gen Wijak Siribansop became annoyed at “the presence of a local red shirt leader in a rally …[believing it] may spoil the protest movement…”.

That local red shirt leader was Phichit Tamul, with the Army saying his participation “could undermine the objective of the protests…”.

If one is identified as red shirt or anti-junta, then you are effectively banned from any political activism, even as a solitary figure, even when others are permitted to engage in activism.





An “election” that cannot be free or fair

27 06 2018

We at PPT have long pointed out that notions of Thailand’s junta delivering a free and fair election are ridiculous. In several posts we have shown why this is impossible. There has been relatively little discussion of this so far, but as the “election” becomes a site of debate, there’s more discussion of the nature of the junta’s rigged “election.”

One recent report worth noting is of a human rights activists speaking at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand and reported at Khaosod has delivered a similar conclusion: “Democratic elections next year will be meaningless under the existing political and legal conditions imposed by the military government…”.

One aspect of the report worth considering is the conclusion that “the next elected government could become a puppet of the military, even with the junta out of the picture…”.

According to Sirikan Charoensiri of Thai Lawyers for Human Rights, that puppetry can only be avoided if there is a strong civil society:

Civil society can strongly support the new government to fulfill the wishes of civilians under democratic rules. In this way, civilian authorities could disconnect from the absolute power of the military junta….

That strikes us as grasping at straws. One of the main tasks the military dictatorship gave itself was the atomization of civil society, disciplining some, crushing others and supporting anti-democrat elements of civil society.

Another assessment is by academic James Taylor at East Asian Forum. He argues that the current military dictatorship is just one more authoritarian government:

… throughout its history and in the years since the 2014 coup, Thailand’s fascistic tendencies have emerged through the crevices of an imaginary democratic state. Thailand was never able to establish its democratic bearings and has been constantly held back by military–monarchy interests.

He points to the most basic facts of the post-coup regime and its tasks:

Upon seizing power … the military junta was quick to suppress dissent, limiting rights and freedoms. The coup makers replaced officials at all levels with hand-picked senators and lackeys emplaced in all public sectors, administration, courts and so-called independent bodies. Aside from the implications of the 2017 military constitution, this would make it difficult for a new freely elected party to implement institutional or policy reforms.

Taylor thinks the way forward is for “new movements and sites of struggle must emerge…”.

Such movements and sites are only likely to emerge from principled opposition to military authoritarianism.





When the military is on top XII

19 01 2018

It is some time since our last post with this title. There’s a general air in the press and on social media that the political tide may be turning.

For example, commentator Thitinan Pongsudhirak says he can see “civil society noises, together with political parties, are now on rise and may build into a crescendo of opposition to the military government.” Others are pleased to see the detestable Abhisit Vejjaiva “damning” the military government with language that is advisory in tone on General Prawit Wongsuwan’s large collection of luxury watches. On social media, many have lauded the dropping of yet another lese majeste case against Sulak Sivaraksa.

While there is some cause for cheer, it might be noted that much of this criticism is coming from yellow shirts and anti-democrats, many of whom were strong supporters of the 2014 military coup. This suggests that that coalition of anti-democrats is unraveling as the junta seeks to embed its rule. The unanswered question is what they propose as an alternative to the junta. Do these critics propose using the junta’s rules and having a military-dominated administration post-“election” – a Thai-style democracy – but where that dominance is not as total as it is now. That is, a simple refusal to allow General Prayuth Chan-ocha to hang on as head of a selectorate regime? Nothing much that any of these “opponents” have proposed since 2005 has looked much like an open political system.

What we can also see, and this also deserves attention from those cheering these developments, is that the junta continues to crackdown on other opponents.  One case involves the National Anti-Corruption Commission, criticized on Prawit, but widely supported by anti-democrats in an action to “determine whether … 40 [elected and pro-Thaksin Shinawatra] politicians submitted the [amnesty] bill with ‘illegal’ intent” back in 2013. If found “guilty,” they would all be banned from the junta’s “election,” decimating the already weakened Puea Thai Party.

Even when criticizing Prawit’s horology obsession, some critics are tolerated and others not. For example, Abhisit and yellow-hued “activists” can criticize, but what about Akechai Hongkangwarn? He’s identified as an opponent, so when he was critical, “four police officers … turned up at [his]… home … to serve a summons.” The “charge” seems to be “posting obscene images online…”. An obscenely expensive watch perhaps?

Then there’s the warning to critics of the junta that there call for The Dictator’s use of Article 44 for to not be made into law. Maj Gen Piyapong Klinpan “who is also the commander of the 11th Military Circle, said the NCPO [junta] is monitoring the situation. He said the NCPO did not ban the gathering on Monday since it was held in an education institute where academics were present to share knowledge. The NCPO merely followed up the event and tried to make sure those present would not violate any laws.” In other words, watch out, you’re being watched. It’s a threat.

Amazingly, Maj Gen Piyapong then “explained” these political double standards:

Commenting about political activist Srisuwan Janya, who has criticised the regime, Maj Gen Piyapong said there is no need to invite the activist for talks as he still has done nothing wrong, but the junta will keep tabs on his movements. “Currently, there is still no movement which is a cause for concern,” Maj Gen Piyapong said.

And, finally, if you happen to be one of those unfortunates – a citizen in the way of military “progress” – you get threatened with guns. At the embattled Mahakan community, where a historical site is being demolished, Bangkok Metropolitan administrators called out the military to threaten the community. The deployment of troops was by the Internal Security Operations Command.





Military roles in a repressive society

21 07 2017

One of the defining characteristics of a military dictatorship is its tendency for totalitarianism.

Totalitarianism “is a political system in which the state recognizes no limits to its authority and strives to regulate every aspect of public and private life wherever feasible.” This means the diminution of civil society and the expansion of military roles in areas formerly considered the domain of civilians.

Two stories in the media today have reminded PPT of the many ways in which the military junta has pushed aside civilians.

The first story is about mass murder in Krabi. It can’t only be PPT thinking how curious it is that the military have become the police. Sure, Thailand’s police are distinguished by their corruption and almost non-existent policing skills. Yet the military are hardly much better.

So why is it that the “[e]ight suspects for the mass killing in Krabi province were handed over to police on Friday after their detention by soldiers was due.” As we recall, it was the police who arrested the suspects. But they then handed them over to the military.

It was only after seven days that the “Royal Thai Army at the 15th Infantry Battalion in Khlong Thom district turned over …[the] alleged killers to national police chief Chakthip Chaijinda at the provincial police headquarters in Muang district.”

Given that it is the police who arrest, “interrogate” and charge, it does seem odd that the military holds the suspects for a week. Why is this? It could be that the military has something to cover up or that this is another example of the military infiltrating areas usually considered the preserve of civilians.

The second story is not so odd, but reflective of the same processes of the military recognizing no limits to its authority. In this tale of totalitarianism, “[s]oldiers have visited the school of a student activist” intimidating Sanhanutta Sartthaporn, the Secretary General of education reform group Education for Liberation of Siam (ELS), and ordering him to cease criticizing The Dictator.

Two plainclothes soldiers – thugs – showed up at Sanhanutta’s school this past Wednesday morning and “asked him about a recent ELS statement that condemned junta head Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha for his excessive interference in Thai education.”

Finding that Sanhanutta had drafted the statement, a soldier ordered him to stop criticising “his boss” and quoted Lt Col Burin Thongprapai who has declared: “I will catch them all, those who condemn the honorable Prayut and the NCPO. I’m a soldier. Slaves like you can meet me at anytime if you have guts…”.

The visiting thug-soldier stated: If you don’t stop criticising my boss, I will pass on your name and I don’t know what will happen to you…”.

Harassing school kids is becoming standard military practice. Recall how they harassed and killed Chaiyapoom Pasae and how the evidence was covered up and the “investigation” gone silent.

No one is too young when political subjection to the military is required of all.





The junta’s assault on political expression

8 02 2017

Yesterday we posted on United Nations Special Rapporteur on the promotion of freedom of opinion and expression, David Kaye and his denunciation of the military dictatorship’s political repression and especially the political use of lese majeste.

We later added the junta’s asinine response.

Today, the Bangkok Post reports on another critique of the junta and is warping of law in order to wipe out all political opposition. This is a 36-page report from Amnesty International.ai-report

Read it and weep for Thailand:

… Thai authorities have targeted political activists, human rights defenders and others as part of a systematic crackdown on government critics.

Thailand’s military government has frequently resorted to arbitrary detention and criminal proceedings to silence those criticizing the government or raising concerns about political developments in the country. However, it is not only political activists that have been targeted. Human rights researchers have also been investigated for their work on rights violations, lawyers for defending their clients, land rights activists for supporting communities at risk, journalists for reporting on sensitive topics, and academics for expressing opinions on academic freedom.

We haven’t read the whole report yet, but a couple of points might be made.

The first is that the report fails to mention the case of Burin Intin, a welder and a protester, who was arrested in late April 2016 and recently sentenced to more than 11 years for lese majeste. We are not sure why this is, and would appreciate some advice about this omission. Has he been “disowned” by the activists? If so, why?

The second point refers to the emphasis on “civil society.” We know this is AI’s bread and butter, but one thing that mangles Thailand’s politics is the fact that civil society there is politically sliced and diced in much the same way as the whole of political society. Civil society groups do not all support freedom of expression or progressive politics.





Academics on post-coup Thailand

8 05 2016

PPT has snipped this post from the Journal of Contemporary Asia. We have previously posted on a couple of these articles. Most are behind a paywall, with two articles being free:

RJOC_COVER_46-02.inddIssue 3 of Volume 46 (2016) has gone to print and the issue is available electronically at the publisher’s site (with two articles available for free download). This is a Special Issue titled: Military, Monarchy and Repression: Assessing Thailand’s Authoritarian Turn. The details are:

Introduction: Understanding Thailand’s Politics” by Veerayooth Kanchoochat & Kevin Hewison (free download).

The 2014 Thai Coup and Some Roots of Authoritarianism by Chris Baker.

Inequality, Wealth and Thailand’s Politics by Pasuk Phongpaichit.

The Resilience of Monarchised Military in Thailand by Paul Chambers & Napisa Waitoolkiat.

Thailand’s Deep State, Royal Power and the Constitutional Court (1997–2015) by Eugénie Mérieau (free download)

Thailand’s Failed 2014 Election: The Anti-Election Movement, Violence and Democratic Breakdown by Prajak Kongkirati.

Rural Transformations and Democracy in Northeast Thailand by Somchai Phatharathananunth.

Redefining Democratic Discourse in Thailand’s Civil Society by Thorn Pitidol.

The issue includes five book reviews.





Platitudes on the military dictatorship II

25 09 2015

One of the striking aspects of the formation of the People’s Alliance for Democracy a decade and more ago was the involvement of “civil society,” and particularly the leadership of several NGOs. The link between anti-democratic movements and those who were then leading NGOs and managing the national NGO bureaucracy has not been seriously challenged.

Of course, civil society everywhere is reflective of the society in which it exists, meaning that the calls to develop civil society or to listen to civil society are rather blunt and politically naive as civil society includes some very nasty groups indeed. In Thailand, some of the space of civil society has been filled by noxious rightists and fascists.

Over the past 20-30 years, there has been a kind of competition for control of NGOs, with royalists like Prawase Wasi seeking to domesticate NGOs after the elite feared that many of the early NGOs were falling under the control of returnees from the jungle after the defeat of the Communist Party of Thailand.

More recently, as Sanitsuda Ekachai at the Bangkok Post points out, when Thaksin Shinawatra “was looking for innovative policies to launch his Thai Rak Thai Party, he looked for inspiration from activists leading social movements…”.

As is well known, he “was not disappointed.” He was delivered ideas on universal health care and community funds that “became his landmark policy successes…”.

Sanitsuda points out that, now, self-appointed premier and the country’s dictator, General Prayuth Chan-ocha is moving down this path. It is no accident that The Dictator has turned to “civil society movements” for an “innovative policy product to win the hearts and minds of people on the ground,” and that this coincides with his hiring of former Thaksin minister Somkid Jatusripitak.

She says that The Dictator has “apparent support from many civic groups” as he grabbed Prawase’s idea for his “Pracharath (citizens and state) policy drive…”.

In campaign mode, The Dictator declared that he would “strengthen the grassroots economy to bridge inequality while civil society leader Dr Prawase Wasi, the owner of the Pracharath development concept, lectured on what it takes to rescue the nation from the ‘black hole’ well beyond a massive one-time financial injection.”

Sanitsuda points out that The Dictator’s event saw “[h]igh-minded phrases such as holistic development, livelihood rights, people’s participation, bottom-up planning, environmental conservation, green farming and community banks fill… the air.”

Noting that so-called grassroots and civic groups “have been pushing every government” for many years to address what they have determined are the “people’s real needs,” Sanitsuda says that the groups are dealing with the military dictatorship and hoping it will deliver.

Elmer and DaffyIn most parts of the world, and in Thailand for most of its modern period, only a looney would think that the military would deliver for the “grassroots.” But in the Thailand where elections are “undemocratic” and where universal health care is “populist,” these self-proclaimed representatives of the people, none of them ever elected to anything, say that “[w]ith strong military blessing, many activists hope it might be possible to make community groups part and parcel of community fund management to strengthen the local economy, transparency and grassroots democracy.”

Yes, these NGO and civil society leaders think that a military dictatorship can deliver “transparency and grassroots democracy.” They can only think this by ignoring the real world and the people at the grassroots.

Sanitsuda notes that these “leaders” “risk of being attacked as coup cheerleaders.” That’s true, but many of them did cheer the coups in 2006 and 2014, so they’d hardly be worried about supporting the military dictatorship.

We agree with her that “having Dr Prawase, the respected [sic.] development guru and reformer [sic.], on its side is the best legitimacy it [the junta] could ever have hoped for.” However, it is also a fact that Prawase has joined each of the anti-democratic cabals in recent years. His views are royalist to the core.

None of these self-proclaimed representatives seems to worry too much about working with a military junta that is, every day, working against the grassroots, kicking people off their land, throwing them out of forests, supporting cowboy capitalists doing mining and timber deals, proclaiming the rights of elites, using double standards in courts and repressing every person who wants to vote.

 





Ji on theories of democratization

10 08 2014

As we often do, here is a reproduction of Ji Ungpakorn’s most recent post:

Thailand’s Crisis and Shattered Political Theories

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

The present political crisis in Thailand has shattered a number of “democratisation” myths created over the years by mainstream political science academics.

The first myth is about “civil society”, as defined by the middle-class or the “chattering classes” and Non-Government Organisations. After the end of the Cold War we were told that a well-developed civil society and a large middle class was the key to a free and democratic society. Yet we have seen the middle-classes and the NGOs take part in many anti-democratic protests and we have seen them welcome two military coups. The middle classes have organised to protect their privileges and prevent the urban workers and rural farmers from having a say in politics. The NGOs have also behaved in a similar manner for slightly different reasons.

Middle-class academics, lawyers and doctors have joined the whistle blowing anti-democrats led by Sutep Tueksuban and his henchmen.

Marxists have always seen the middle classes as being a potential base for fascism and dictatorship. We saw this in the 1930s. They can also join pro-democracy movements at other times and support working class demands. But the middle classes are too fragmented and weak to set their own class agenda. They flip flop between the interests of the business and bureaucratic elites and the interests of the working class.

Perhaps what we can recue from the “civil society” theory of democratisation is the importance of “social movements”, but not the so-called “new social movements” which were widely touted by right-wing academics after the collapse of the Stalinist regimes in Eastern Europe. We were told then that social movements were no longer class based and were about life-style politics and single issues, not about challenging state power. In Thailand the largest social movement in history is the red shirt movement. The red shirts are more or less classed based and have wide political aims involving democratisation and challenging the old state.

The second myth is about “independent bodies” and the need to create political structures which act as “checks and balances” on elected governments as part of the “democratic” process. This is very fashionable among Western liberals, who favour non-elected Central Banks and a non-elected, supposedly neutral, judiciary. In Thailand we have seen these so-called independent bodies, such as the Election Commission, the National Human Rights Commission, the Anti-Corruption Commission and the courts, subverted and used by the conservative elites in order to destroy freedom and the democratic process. These bodies have place anti-democratic fetters upon elected governments. In the European Union the European Central Bank has also played a key role in trying to place restrictions on government policies in countries like Greece.

Marxists have always maintained that no group of people in society is ever neutral or independent of class interests. It is not so-called independent bodies which check and balance elected governments. It is opposition political parties, social movements, trade unions and opposition or alternative media which perform this function.

The third myth is that democracy can only become stable and well-developed if there is a political culture of democracy among the people and if political parties and political structures are mature. But what we have seen in Thailand is that the vast majority of the population have a democratic political culture while the conservative elites do not. The army is then used by the elites to frustrate the wish for democracy. We have also seen a long established political party; the Democrat Party, stand clearly against the democratic process along with various state structures and bodies.

The fourth myth is that developing globalised capitalism and the free-market somehow encourage the growth of democracy. This has not happened at all. The globalised Thai big businesses have supported the conservative elites and the junta and its friends are extreme advocates of neo-liberal free-market policies. So is the King with his “sufficiency economy” ideology. They all have a laissez faire mind-set. In contrast, it is Taksin Shinawat and his various parties which have used a mixture of state funded development and welfare (grass-roots Keynesianism) alongside neo-liberal market forces. The conservatives have attacked this as “dangerous populism”.

The bottom line in reality is that the present crisis is a result of increased political empowerment of workers and small farmers, a phenomenon that was seized upon and encouraged by Taksin and his allies for their own interests. It is a crisis of class society with the conservative elites and middle-classes resenting the rise of the working class and the small farmers.

And what this crisis clearly shows is that strong social movements from below are the critical key to building and fighting for democracy. Every inch of the democratic space will have to be fought for and taken from the elites in this struggle. Democracy will not be crafted by committees of “wise men”, lawyers and academics who are appointed by the junta.

It is a fair bet that despite all this, Thai academics at universities and in the Prachatipok Institute will still carry on spouting these shattered and discredited democratisation theories and in a climate where the questioning of authority is discouraged, they will mainly go unchallenged.





CFR on Thailand’s democratic failure

31 03 2011

Some choice quotes from Joshua Kurlantzick, a Fellow for Southeast Asia at the Council on Foreign Relations. The article is worth a read in full:

Thailand boasted a large, educated middle class, one of the best-performing economies in the world, and a relatively robust civil society. By the late 1990s, Thailand had held several free elections and passed a reformist constitution that enshrined greater protections for civil liberties and created a wealth of new institutions designed to root out graft and ensure civil rights. In its 1999 report on freedom in the world, monitoring organization Freedom House ranked Thailand a “free” nation.

Today, however, Thailand looks less like a success story and more like an example of how democracy can fail. Since a 2006 military coup, Thailand has reverted to a kind of soft authoritarianism: the military plays an enormous role in determining politics; the Thai middle class has become increasingly anti-democratic; and security forces have used threats, online filtering, arrests, and killings to intimidate opponents of a government sanctioned by the armed forces and Thailand’s monarchy. Freedom House recently ranked Thailand as only “partly free,” and the country has sunk near the bottom of all developing nations in rankings of press freedom.

Critical of Thaksin Shinawatra’s period in power and his authoritarian tendencies, the author adds:

By 2005, when Thaksin was re-elected, again with massive support from the poor, he dominated the country’s political landscape. And yet Thailand had not become Equatorial Guinea or Libya; the Thai middle classes, who had led the democratic revolution before, could have fought back against Thaksin at the ballot box, through the remaining independent news outlets or in the courts. But instead, like middle classes in many emerging democracies today, they had grown disillusioned with democracy, believing that it had delivered only elected autocracy and that it would empower the poor at their expense.

They supported the 2006 coup. Kurlantzick says: “The Thai coup, unfortunately, only triggered a total meltdown. Thaksin might have damaged the country’s weak democracy, but the military ruined it.” Indeed.