Protecting the politicized constitutional court

27 11 2017

Prachatai reports that the junta’s puppet lawmakers have approved a junta law that will give “more power and protection to the Constitutional Court.”

Why would 188 of the dutiful National Legislative Assembly members vote as a block (with just 5 abstentions and not a single opposing vote) for this law?

From Ji Ungpakorn’s blog

Apart from the fact that the NLA slavishly slithers after the junta, the Constitutional Court is considered an important bulwark of conservatism, royalism and anti-democracy. Since King Bhumibol’s political activation of the courts in 2006, the Constitutional Court has often played a king-like role, being the institution to “sort things out.” Its decisions have been highly politicized.

 

Giving the Court more powers is in line with ideas about establishing an interventionist institution that can proactively and retroactively punish political oppositions challenging the established order.

The NLA also “protected” the Court from “people who make ill-intentioned criticism of the Constitutional Court, including those who post such criticisms online.”

There has been criticism of the NLA’s work.





What Trump can learn from the military dictatorship

11 11 2016

In a recent post at New Mandala, a supposedly populist Donald Trump – now U.S. president-elect – was compared with another said to be a populist, Thailand’s  Thaksin Shinawatra. The comparison was a little silly, with the differences seemingly to far outweigh the similarities.Udomdej

Such comparisons might include bad hair and the wide public acceptance of comb-overs. Trump has heinous hair, but so too do many leaders in Thailand. Think of the failed and corrupt General  Udomdej Sitabutr.

Trump can learn that one should never allow that comb-over to get out of control. One must maintain the orderliness of one’s appearance, for appearance can be considered to overcome a dark heart, ignorance or boorishness.trump1

This kind of comparison is no less silly than the one mentioned above. However, we can take this further and consider the characteristics of quite different political leaders.

General Udomdej’s carefully sculpted comb-over and his inability to allow any greying to appear has a lot to do with conceit and arrogance, and the forever orange-tanned and “blonde” Trump certainly displays such characteristics by the truckload.

In a list of characteristics of Thailand’s military regime, and of The Dictator himself, one that ranks high is arrogance.

General Prayuth Chan-ocha has demonstrated remarkable arrogance, dominating the media, as all dictators do, and establishing his “values” as those for the nation. He even “pens” songs that Thais are forced to hear, again and again. The Dictator demands that Thailand be more like him. Narrow, loyalist and conservative.

Trump can learn a bit more about narrow nationalism and enforcing conservatism from the draconian actions of the military dictatorship. Of course, Trump is well known for his arrogance and remarkable hubris. This derives from privilege, wealth and the loyalty of jellyback servants in a hierarchical and dictatorial business organization. For the military dictatorship, loyalty and subservience also rank high. However, The Dictator’s arrogance derives not so much from wealth as from a surplus of power at the head of a murderous and hierarchical organization. The Dictator has shown how to enforce that jellyback subservience by weeding out “opponents” in the state’s organizations. Trump may seek to do similar things in the U.S.Prayuth angry

Related, as we emphasize through our labeling of General Prayuth as The Dictator,  narcissism and egoism drive him. These characteristics are most certainly defining of Trump. Some argued that he has shown the symptoms of Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Yet narcissism is not just a “disorder.” It is a political style that emphasizes authoritarianism and a personality cult.

One characteristic that The Dictator has taken to a remarkable level is disingenuousness. Just lie. Whenever anything mildly disturbing to The Dictator personally or is considered “threatening” to the regime, just lie. We are sure that Trump will have no difficulty following this example. Making stuff up is the essence of an authoritarian regime.

The Dictator and his regime also show the way on double standards. Under this military dictatorship, there are no standards that are not double standards. Again, we have no trouble believing that Trump can quickly adapt this when he becomes president.

Authoritarianism defines the military dictatorship. Liberal values and liberal patience for dissent are expunged. They are expunged from law, practice in the bureaucracy, in the media and educational institutions. In Thailand, this was made easy by the “tradition” of military authoritarianism and interventionist feudalism in the form of the monarchy. In the U.S., Trump will surely build on an illiberalism that has been built in civil society, much of it fostered by religious fundamentalism and conservative nationalism or “patriotism.” We can see him moving against institutions identified with U.S. liberalism. trump2

Anti-liberalism and authoritarianism in Thailand has long been associated with a deeply conservative emphasis on orderliness. This fetish has been fostered by the hierarchy of military and monarchy. Trump is unlikely to rely on the military, although many in the military will be ideologically drawn to him. He may seek to make his family more monarchical, just as The Dictator has adopted characteristics of the dead king.

Misogyny and boorishness have been defining elements of The Dictator’s personality and regime. As we know, Trump has little to learn from The Dictator on these scores. Yet we might understand that these characteristics are a part of a conservatism that allocates privilege to selected groups in society.

Ignorance is another central characteristic of the military dictatorship. The Dictator and his closest colleagues have little knowledge of the world.This group gained its leadership position based on royal posterior polishing and adherence to hierarchy. They have no experience of a real world, even in the military. Trump, for all of his investments, is essentially a New York property developer. He can learn from the military dictatorship that such narrowness simply doesn’t matter when your constituency is boorish and narrow too.

The final characteristic is an inability to “fail” or “lose.” The military dictatorship is never wrong and never gets anything wrong. The problem is “others” who are undermining the regime, opponents of the regime or duped by nasty politicians. Trump can learn from this. He certainly knows that even defeats must be reworked as “wins.” However, the targeting of opponents will likely become his excuse for all kinds of nastiness.

Thailand has demonstrated that authoritarianism is a slippery slope. The country is now at the bottom of the slope. The U.S. is no liberal heaven but Trump can easily knock away some of the remaining checks and balances and the slope gets steeper and the slide down it accelerates.





Warning the conservative elite II

1 03 2016

PPT has never had much respect for former ambassador, anti-Thaksin foreign minister, defender of human rights abuses and lese majeste, PADster, coup supporter, anti-foreign media, etc. Kasit Piromya. He’s often sounded lazy, bizarre and loopy. So what can we make of an op-ed he is said to have penned at the Nikkei Asian Review that actually seems to make some sense?Kasit

We suggest it be read because, if he wrote it, he seems to have had a light turned on, at least for a moment. He begins:

Thailand’s conservatives, the real power behind the country’s military-backed government, have neutralized the political opposition and consolidated their authority behind a facade of constitutional reform. But they should beware. New proposals to entrench their position permanently risk conflict and perhaps chaos. The people cannot forever be denied a role.

He goes on to identify a power structure that he seems to fit into:

Thailand’s political structure can be characterized as a bureaucracy with a military spearhead, supported by an entourage of place seekers and hangers on such as academics, media personalities, white-collar workers and professionals.

Has he been reading PPT and like-minded blogs and articles? It seems so when he says:

These modern aristocrats are conservative in their thinking, their perceptions and their behavior. They seek order and stability in society: these are their top priorities in the affairs of the state. They perceive themselves as the natural leaders and rightful protectors of national institutions, especially the three main pillars of Thai society — the nation, the Buddhist religion and the monarchy. They adhere to a belief in the unique characteristics of Thailand, reflexively embodied in what they call the “Thainess” of traditional values, of discipline, and of authority relationships. Most importantly, they sit at the apex of the system…. They love the authority they have, and the discretion it conveys to use power as they see fit, and they shy away from concepts of transparency and accountability.

He might have added that they hate electoral politics, and always have. As a “good” anti-democrat, Kasit reckons that “[c]omprehensive reforms of political and social structures are being canvassed; a new constitution is proposed that will supposedly lay a firm foundation for democracy to take root and more forward in a sustainable manner.”

He’s worried that these anti-democrat reforms are being derailed. Somehow he’s forgotten that this is what he and his ilk supported and wanted. To suggest that he and his mobs wanted to “reform” in a way that was “about sharing of power, a more equitable distribution of wealth [and] access to equal opportunities.”

This was never the aim, and if he thinks it was, the light is off again.

Kasit and his buddies got what they wanted and now get what they deserved. Those who suffer are the people who just wanted a chance to vote and have that respected. The elite, conservative and fascist, can’t get their heads around this notion.





Wheel of crisis in Thailand

23 09 2014

PPT was sent a link to an online set of papers on Thailand in Cultural Anthropology. The special is edited by by Ben Tausig, Claudio Sopranzetti, Felicity Aulino and Eli Elinoff.

For decades, Thailand has been entangled in a cycle of political turmoil that oscillates between elections, street protests, and coups both military and judicial. Although this dynamic has dominated in Thailand since the end of absolute monarchy in 1932, what we term the “wheel of crisis” has increased its rotational speed since the 1997 Asian economic collapse. This Hot Spot series inquires into the underlying conditions of Thailand’s recent political upheavals, with sections focusing on legal and political stuctures (Hewison, Haberkorn, Streckfuss, Sinpeng, Chachavalpongpun, and Winichakul), social divisions and citizenship (Mills, Elinoff, McCargo, and Arafat Bin Mohamad), the turning of civil society against democracy (Phatharathananunth, and Sae Chua), and larger structure questions (Tausig, Sopranzetti, and Aulino).

The list of papers and titles, all available for free download, is:Cultural Anthropology

Introduction: The Wheel of Crisis in Thailand by Ben Tausig, Claudio Sopranzetti, Eli Elinoff and Felicity Aulino

Judicial Politicization as Political Conservatism by Kevin Hewison

Article 17, a Totalitarian Movement, and a Military Dictatorship by Tyrell Haberkorn

The End of the Endless Exception?: Time Catches Up With Dictatorship in Thailand by David Streckfuss

The Cyber Coup by Aim Sinpeng

Academic Freedom Under Siege by Pavin Chachavalpongpun

Thai “Royalist Democracy”: From Nineteen Eighty-Four to The Great Dictator” by Thongchai Winichakul

Questioning Thailand’s Rural-Urban Divide by Mary Beth Mills

Like Everyone Else by Eli Elinoff

Double Trouble: Thailand’s Two Souths, Thailand’s Two Conflicts by Duncan McCargo

Red Shirts, Yellow Shirts, Same Difference by Muhammad Arafat Bin Mohammad

Civil Society Against Democracy by Somchai Phatharathananunth

Revisiting “People’s Politics” by Bencharat Sae Chua

Party Anthems by Ben Tausig

Political Legitimacy in Thailand by Claudio Sopranzetti

Hierarchy and the Embodiment of Change by Felicity Aulino





Royalist calls for capitalists to be overthrown

7 04 2012

Royalist Amorn Chantarasomboon, a former secretary-general of the Council of State, seems the wrong person to be calling for capitalists to be ousted. And yet he has been consistent in blaming capitalism for Thailand’s ills, including its political crisis.

Of course, while his call may sound radical, it is actually based on a deep conservatism. What they want is not some form of socialism but a monarchy presiding over commoners working away in sufficiency economy villages where people are kept well away from political decision-making.

Back in 2009, Amorn joined with a gaggle of royalists and People’s Alliance for Democracy-aligned sham academics to call for “comprehensive political reform. This was a “call for [the] removal of root causes of problem haunting the country” and to reassert that Thaksin Shinawatra is “funding unrest.” At that gathering of royalists, Amorn declared the political system “a dictatorship by capitalists…”.

Amorn, like many royalists, stated that “political reform should be undertaken by politicians, because they had a conflict of interest…”.

Nothing much has changed for Amorn, and at the Bangkok Post he now declares that the “courts of justice are facing mounting pressure from political parties that wield dominance over parliament…”. He referred to a “parliamentary dictatorship” of “parties which in turn are controlled by financiers.”

Here Amorn is being careful to denote a particular type of capitalists, but if “financiers” is the term used, we wonder if there are flutters of concern at the major financial institutions such as the Bangkok Bank and the Crown Property Bureau-controlled Siam Commercial Bank?

We doubt it, as these are royalist banks are unlikely to be included in Amorn’s attack on renewed attack on Thaksin. But it is interesting that the attack on capitalists – and Amorn is only one of the yellow extremists making this call – ignores the largest capitalist conglomerate in the country that is the CPB. That’s because Amorn has long called for royal powers to be increased. But then Amorn’s convoluted logic also includes a call for “the judiciary to … ensure their verdicts can benefit people and protect the private sector.”

Amorn had a role in the drafting of the 1997 constitution, and PPT has to wonder why Amorn is so unhappy with the 2007 constitution, which the military junta ensured that the judiciary had more power and an vastly expanded political role. Did their “fixing” of the constitution not go far enough or did they screw up?

As far as we can tell, the answer for Amorn is that any constitution that allows an electorate to choose their politicians is a problem. Amorn has been unable to believe that an electorate can consistently elect pro-Thaksin parties if they are not stupid, duped or paid.

The thing that motivates the diehard royalists is a political position that is based on a desire for rule by a few. They can’t abide any notion that the ruled should count, for they believe there are great and good ones who know best how a country should be administered. Amorn would have felt at home in the nineteenth century, and his pocket watch seems broken at about midnight on 23 July 1932.





Anti-democratic academics and others

26 03 2012

PPT has been reading some of the recent commentary by an apparently reinvigorated bunch of yellow-hued academics and we have found, all too  predictably, that nothing much has changed for those who seem to delight in acting as the anti-democratic mouthpieces of the royalist elite.

A few days ago the aging and often theoretically incomprehensible middle class “radical” Thirayudh Boonmee came out with statements reported at the Bangkok Post that seemed to trouble the military (because he mentioned a coup) and some of Thaksin Shinawatra’s acolytes (because, as ever, the crumpled academic was critical).

Thirayudh

The academic is director of the Sanya Dhammasak Institute for Democracy at Thammasat University. Sanya was a prime minister appointed by the king in October 1973 and never held elected office. PPT notes that this is yet another institute in Thailand commemorating “democracy” as a royalist invention rather than a result of long political struggles.

Thirayudh is reported to believe that “the ongoing political conflict in Thailand derives from the fact that people do not respect the opinions of others who belong to a different political colour.” Well, yes, there is a “lack of respect,” but this tells us nothing about the interests that underlie “different opinions.” It is a fallacious position influenced by postmodernist positions that consider opinions, ideas and ideology the basis of politics. It is as if ideas float in thin air, disconnected from material interests. In other words, such Thirayudh’s observation is useless to any deep understanding of Thailand’s politics.

Thirayudh’s main point, though, is a critique of electoral politics. He says Thailand is “dominated by former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, grass roots politics and populist policies.”

He may be partly right to identify Thaksin as “one of the three most influential political figures since 1957.  The other two are former military strongman Field Marshal Sarit Thanarat and Gen Prem Tinsulanonda,” but forgets the king and the palace as a major political actor.

Thirayudh seems disturbed that “political parties under Thaksin consecutively won power,” because he sees Thaksin as having “no true intentions of building democracy for the grass roots.” This is because he think the “grassroots” are a bunch of dullards who are vulnerable to Thaksin as “a marketing leader” rather than “a democracy leader.” They can be mobilized by Thaksin for his purposes. Like many middle class academics, for Thirayud, “Thaksin’s aim is more to make the grass roots his clients than to make them a sustainable foundation of the Thai economy.”

Part of that marketing push involved elections and “populist policies.” For him, “populism” is some kind of political sin as it makes electoral popularity paramount and what Thirayudh sees as necessary is to “uplift Thai society to be democratically strong, with strengthened rights, freedom and responsibility in which the people respect the feelings of others.”

While few would disagree with some of this, the point is that this is a deeply politically conservative position that hankers for some kind of “united” people, free of conflicts. Think here of the king’s repeated calls for unity and order. Essentially the ideas expressed by the king and Thirayudh spring from the same conservatism.

That same conservatism prompts Thirayudh to see the “current conflict in the country derives from Thaksin’s insatiable desire for wealth and power…”. In other words, the “desires” of the people are ignored.

More recently, and more obviously royalist in perspective, are the recent comments by the deep yellow-hued Chulalongkorn University political scientist Chaiyan Chaiyaporn. Chaiyan has long been a People’s Alliance for Democracy supporter and anti-Thaksin activist.

Like his colleagues in PAD, Chaiyan has a warped notion of electoral democracy. At The Nation he adds to the long history of PAD’s and his own anti-democratic cravings. There, Chaiyan makes the extraordinary proposal that any “national referendum on the Constitution should require the backing of two-thirds of voters before the charter can be adopted.”

Chaiyan

For PPT, the idea of a referendum on a constitution is silly and suggestive of exceptionally shallow thinking. Take the 2007 constitution and the military junta’s idea of having a referendum on it. Voters got to cast a vote of Yes or No for the draft constitution. That basic law contained 309 articles. What was a voter who had read the thing to do if he or she strongly objected to one article but kind of liked 308? Vote No? What would the voter who agreed with 155 articles but disagreed with 154 to do? Vote Yes? In any case, the junta’s team made constitutional change a task for parliament.

But politically, Chaiyan is doing something else. He is proposing the two-thirds requirement simply because it “is not easy to achieve.” The proposal he makes is to prevent the current government changing the constitution. He makes this crystal clear:

The Pheu Thai and government coalition did not get that many votes in the 2011 election. They will have to campaign more to get approval for the new charter while the opposition might campaign for people to oppose or abstain.

Chaiyan is anti-democratic to the core. But we guess his anti-Thaksin panelists found such proposals just fine and dandy.

We are not suggesting that all academics are simply the ideologues of the elitist royalist regime. For alternative perspectives, this story at the Bangkok Post is worth reading.

Retired Thammasat University history professor Thanet Aphornsuvan said:

We know that there is social inequity in our country, but what makes the people no longer tolerate this and why are the factors that used to make them accept the situation not being sustained anymore. It’s clear that of late the authority of those in power is being questioned….

PPT doesn’t agree that people “tolerated” inequality previously, but Thanet’s questions are worthy of consideration.

Porphant

At the same event, Sukhothai Thammathirat Open University Professor Porphant Ouyyanont noted that mammoth economic structural changes had “created a new political economy in Thailand,” and that, post-1997, “old capitalist groups, such as the banks, seeing their share … [in the economy] reduced while new businesses in telecoms and media have emerged.” He also noted the integration of farmers with markets and a range of new provincial players. He observes that: “New economic players have new political demands.”

But, as Attachak Sattayanurak of Chiang Mai University’s history faculty notes, the current power structure has not been giving way to new demands. Attachak refers to “capitalist groups colluding with the military and aligning their legitimacy with the monarchy…”. He added:

The co-operation between the military and capitalists in controlling the socio-political landscape in the country has clearly been featured with a monarchy-loyalty flavour. The monarchy has been issued a new role of sustaining and legitimising the political entities in the country….

Pruek Taotawil of Ubon Ratchasima University also picked up on new economic groups that “have challenged the traditional conservative power structure…”. He adds that:

The old power groups have created new political discourse that the king is the community leader and anything opposite or against the discourse is not legitimate or accepted. The recent political conflicts are clashes between the networks of old and new powers galvanising grass roots masses as their support….

Pruek warned that the new political players would “not tolerate being only cosmetic accessories to the power structure.”

The future is clear, even if the conservatives – academics, military bosses, politicians and royalists – can’t accept it.





With a major update: Red Siam

3 09 2010

Ambika Ahuja has a Reuters story worth reading. It focuses on lese majeste accused Surachai Danwattananusorn or Surachai Sae Dan. Surachai is described as a “former communist and political prisoner,” and is said to have “a dramatic solution to fix Thailand’s political crisis: a ‘democratic revolution’ to end what he sees as a monopoly of power by the royalist elite.”

This solution – a more democratic society – is likely to be seen as “revolutionary” in highly conservative Thailand. Indeed, the story claims that the “Red Siam” group “comes dangerously close to republicanism…”. Even the mainstream red shirts distanced themselves from Red Siam for being too radical earlier in the year.

Surachai claims that democratization that gets rid of elite dominance is the only way for the country to avoid becoming a “failed state under the current power structure…”. For Red Siam, that includes an ” end what it sees as a royalist power structure.”

While that may seem a dream, it is clear that there is now a broad questioning of the rich and grasping elite and also of the monarchy. Some of our recent posts attest to this. So long as the Abhisit Vejjajiva regime fails to promote real democracy – and it is genetically unable to do this – the more likely it is that the royalist elite will face further challenge.

Update: Thanks to 2Bangkok.com, readers can have access to some of the most recent issue of Red Power, which links post above and here. Maybe this (right) is the reason the Democrat Party leadership is up in arms about the issue. There is much more here.

There is a lot more available on earlier red shirt publications at the same website, which has a yellow hue, but remains an excellent resource.





Lubricating the military

24 07 2010

The Abhisit Vejjajiva government owes its genesis and its continuation in power to the military. Not only did the military brass act as a collective midwife in the birth of the Abhisit government and then protect it with its guns, but it is also the essential force that has molded the Abhisit regime as an authoritarian order that has rolled back democracy and human rights gains made over the past three decades.

Some would argue that the civilians – Abhisit, his deputy Suthep Thaugsuban, Finance Minister Korn Chatikavanij and so on – are puppets for the military. PPT thinks this is a misinterpretation. In fact, this government might be fronted by Oxford graduates like Abhisit and Korn presenting liberal exteriors to the world, but they are deeply elitist and authoritarian in their political actions. They are deeply committed to conservative and hierarchical institutions like the modern Siamese twins, the monarchy and military. They have demonstrated a lust for dictatorial rule.

In this sense, they are not puppets but the civilian arm of a regime that merges the interests of the conservative elite in the palace, military and business. Hence it is no surprise to see the civilian government rewarding its military wing and bowing to the elders who have created, saved and developed this regime. The Bangkok Post story of the day is about how much that bowing and gratitude will cost the taxpayer.

The latest “requests” from the government’s brothers with arms are for: a new infantry division in the North said to cost about 10 billion baht over several years, a 5 billion baht procurement for 121 armoured personnel carriers (see PPT’s recent post on this); the continuing request for the 350 million baht reconnaissance airship that PPT has repeatedly posted on; 134 million baht to order 1,200 Mini Tavor rifles for special warfare soldiers and the 1st Army; and 16 Enstrom 480B light helicopters costing 1.2 billion baht. On the latter, the report says that the army will order these, but other reports say the order was placed in February.

Defence Minister General Prawit Wongsuwon is said to have approved army chief Anupong Paojinda’s request to allocate 10 billion baht “developing a new infantry division in Chiang Mai to secure the northern border with Burma and Laos, suppress drugs and cope with red shirt protesters…”. Note the last phrase. The army considers the crushing of the red shirts to be ongoing and wants a further 25,000 soldiers in the North. It is worth noting that the army has a remarkably dismal track record in border skirmishes with other nation’s forces.

On the failed and leaky zeppelin, only this week, an army committee “accepted the cameras and downlink system of a 350 million baht reconnaissance airship even though many problems have emerged with the imported airship.” The warranty is about to expire, but the army wants to continue shoveling money down a known rat hole. But rat holes also provide commissions and under-the-table lucre.

PPT commented on the army’s order for 96 BTR-3E1 armoured personnel carriers in a recent post. The new order for 5 billion baht comes without a single delivery of the 96 ordered years ago and from the very same supplier.

According to a source, Gen Anupong plans to ask the cabinet next week to approve in principle another order for 121 more BTR-3E1 APCs worth nearly 5 billion baht from the Ukraine. The total spent is likely to be more than 9 billion baht, but so far, not one is on the ground. The first delivery, of just two vehicles, is expected in September. (PPT wonders if their usefulness might be as artificial reefs, joining the Chinese tanks that filled military pockets but were essentially useless purchases in the late 1980s.)

Of course, the first order originated under the military-appointed government of General Surayudh Chulanont, the on-again-off-again privy councilor in a totally opaque deal, later approved by prime minister Samak Sundaravej, who tried his best to get the military on-side with his elected government, and largely failed.

Helicopters have been high on the list of purchases. The Post report says that when “red shirt protesters rallied last March, Gen Anupong sought cabinet approval to import six Mi-17 helicopters worth about 2 billion baht from Russia…. Last year the army chief ordered three Black Hawk helicopters worth 2 billion baht.” The report states that the army will shortly seek “cabinet consent to import 16 Enstrom 480B light helicopters worth 1.2 billion baht from the US.” Estrom list their Thailand representative as M Landarch Co., Ltd.

PPT wondered if Aria International, the penny company in the U.S. that supplied the airship was somehow involved in helicopter deals with the Thai army. Suspiciously, the site is down and “under construction.” However, see some details of the zeppelin deal here and here, but no helicopters are mentioned other than upgrades to existing army ships to allow use with the deflated airship.

All of this adds up to just under 25 billion baht. That’s not small change and handsome reward for crushing the opposition and maintaining repression. As the Post says, “The military helps the government confront protesters and is rewarded with opportunities to order weaponry…. Controversies over the wisdom of the purchases tends to be ignored, such is the government’s eagerness to please.”

Expect the military to continue to be an internal security force for several more years. Repression will continue.





Updated: What now? Ultra-royalism? Democrat Party dissolved?

12 04 2010

Pravit Rojanaphruk has an important post at Prachatai. It begins: “Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva addressed the nation in the afternoon of Monday April 11, 2010 stating that ‘terrorists’ have infiltrated the red-shirt movement seeking to bring about a ‘major change’ to Thailand.” Pravit explains the significance of this: “The new terms: ‘terrorists’ and ‘major change [to Thailand]’ is chilling enough already but could this be a prelude to an all-out allegation in order to justify another brutal crackdown? As I type these words, rumour[s] spread widely about a possible ultra-royalist coup.”

Pravit points out that Abhisit appears to be aligning his language with that of the extreme yellow shirts, “by blaming red shirts for seeking to establish a ‘new Thai state’ as the yellow-shirt People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) and a number of conservative ultra-royalist media have long been accusing then much blood will be spilled…”. In fact, PPT has seen that the ultra-royalist machine has been pumping out all kinds of stories to justify the blood-letting, ranging from “terrorists” to blaming all of the deaths on the red shirts who sought to have bodies to display.

He ends ominously: “I dread to think what may happen in the coming days but what little democracy, liberty and equality Thais have gained as a result of decades of struggle and sacrifice must be assiduously protected. The time to prepare for the worst is now.”

Update: Abhisit is under real pressure. The Election Commission has, according to AP, ruled that the Democrat Party should be dissolved. This brings the military to center stage yet again. How will they deal with this, the blood shed and the massive loss of credibility for the ruling coalition of interests?





King, country, chaos? – Part I

19 03 2010

The Economist (18 March 2010) includes a leader on politics and succession and a feature story called “The battle for Thailand.” As several other blogs have already said, this issue will not be available in Bangkok. However, the electronic links noted here were still working as PPT wrote this. If they become blocked, readers should let us know, and we’ll post the stories in full. In this post, we comment on the leader, and we’ll follow-up on the longer article later.

PPT agrees entirely with the view that for “decades Thai politics suffered from a surfeit of pragmatism. Indeed, grimy compromises were dignified as ‘Thai solutions’.” So we wonder why the editorial argues for this: “Thailand urgently needs to rediscover its lost flair for pragmatism and to rebuild a functioning political system.” Why rebuild the grimy politics of the past? With the Economist, those academics and Thailand watchers lamenting the apparent loss of the slimy compromise seem oddly conservative and lost for ideas. That said, a sleazy compromise remains possible in the current circumstances.

PPT notices that Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has blinked. There are now widespread calls for “talks,” even with ex-prime minister and Montanegran, Thaksin Shinawatra. Even the largely discredited National Human Rights Commission has come out offering to “mediate”. Quite why the red shirts would want to have NHRC head and Chulalongkorn University professor Amara Pongsapich mediating talks with the government is unclear. She has a long been known to pop in and out of General Prem Tinsulanonda’s army-provided residence.

For all the criticism on the blogs, in the mainstream media and from weak-kneed academics concerning the red shirt “blood sacrifice” (that the Economist depicts as “was a creepy stunt”), one thing is clear: it has had an impact on the political climate and gained huge media coverage. Perhaps more challenging for the government has been the widespread support provided to the red shirts by Bangkok’s working class and elements of what might be considered the lower middle class.

The Economist ties contemporary events and the longer-term malaise of Thai politics back to the monarchy and succession – hence its “banning”: “Presiding over a messy but largely functioning polity has been a revered king, Bhumibol Adulyadej, whose admirers have no difficulty in reconciling the contradictory ideas that he is both ‘above politics’ and also the guarantor of stability.” With the king in hospital for unknown reasons, it states: “Thailand needs to start thinking about what will come when his reign ends.”

Actually, some of what’s going on now is about this thinking. And some of it is thinking that is certainly out loud. Almost everyone talks of the palace, privy council and aristocrats as integral players in current events and wonders what it all means for the future. The army seems to want to control the period of succession, but in doing so has opened a huge can of worms that includes a republicanism that does not, as the Economist says, “lurk in the wings” but is now more highly visible than at any time since the 1970s.

On the red shirts, the Economist states: “the red shirts do enjoy considerable popular support, and not just in the poor north-east from which so many hail.” For PPT, one of the things that was noticeable at last Sunday’s rally were the large contingents from the central provinces.

On a way forward, it says: “the political system has all but broken down, as the government itself tacitly admits when it argues that an election would not solve Thailand’s problems. It may well be right. Democracy works only when the parties that lose an election accept the outcome. And if, as might well happen, Mr Abhisit’s government lost an election to proxies for Mr Thaksin, the same alliance of military and civilian elites that toppled him in 2006 and his allies in 2008 might again reject the popular verdict. Instability would persist.”

On succession: “The king, who has reigned for six decades…. His anointed successor, the crown prince, is … widely disliked and already shows signs of meddling in politics. Although, in theory, the monarchy inhabits a realm far above the murk of daily government, it has been an important source of legitimacy for the unelected prime minister.” The paper continues to state: “the king’s death will remove a moderating influence that has kept irreconcilable political differences in check.”

This view is commonly expressed but there are also many who see such statements as merely part of the monarchy’s myth building. Critics suggest that active participation in several major and less than moderate political events tell a different story. Most especially, these critics point to the king’s role in the horrendous events of October 1976 and the extremism foisted on the country by the king’s privy councilor made prime minister Thanin Kraivixien, who proved too extreme, right wing and divisive even for the military. The events of 2006 and since do not demonstrate a moderating influence. Rather they suggest a protection of interests. PPT wonders if the government has been keeping track of movements of money out of Thailand? Has the palace been salting loot away in the event of a worst-case scenario for the monarchy? How much?

Of course, the Economist is right to point yet again to harsh lese majeste laws that ensure that the “future of the monarchy is a matter of private gossip, not public debate. This leader, and our article considering the succession in some detail, could not appear in Thailand. Indeed they will cause great hurt and offence in some quarters there. We regret this. But to discuss Thailand’s future without considering its monarchy is itself to belittle an important national institution.” It is added: “to endure, the monarchy has to win a debate, not suppress one.”

The Economist then looks to a way out of the “present political quagmire.” It argues for an “early election, producing a government with popular legitimacy. It would probably also entail a decentralisation of power away from Bangkok so that citizens of regions such as the north-east feel less alienated from their rulers—a sense of alienation that, more than ethnic or religious tensions, underpins the long-running, bloody insurgency in the Muslim-majority southern provinces. And a true ‘Thai solution’ would also imply a monarchy genuinely above political meddling or manipulation.” That’s a huge agenda that would undo much of the control of the establishment and may well prove impossible. After all, when they were convinced that they were challenged by a moderate but highly flawed Thaksin, they panicked and went for the guys with guns. Can they ever be convinced to share power in a system of representation?