“Uneducate” them

19 12 2016

We at PPT are not education specialists. However, we did see something in a story on Thailand’s poor PISA results.

The story explains how Thailand languishes in the bottom quarter of the 70 countries that have their students tested every three years on science, math and reading. It then asks why Singapore and Vietnam have been successful.


Royalists show the poor what they think

Finally, the story gets to Thailand: what’s wrong? An academic from Chulalongkorn University’s Education Faculty observes that “the PISA results reflect serious disparities between students in well-known schools and students in rural areas.” In other words, a lack of equity.

New Education Minister Teerakiat Jareonsettasin “admitted he was also disappointed with the performance of Thai students.” He agreed that the results “reflected a huge gap in ability between students in elite schools and those in underprivileged schools.”

Teerakiat only just got his position. Until a couple of days ago, the Ministry was headed by a general with Teerakiat and another general as deputy ministers. Today, there’s one general as a deputy minister.

Inequality in schools and generals go together.

We say this because Thailand’s elite doesn’t really care about education except as a means for imparting propaganda and instilling notions of hierarchy and order.

The rich don’t send their kids to the average school. They go to expensive schools or get into the top-ranked public schools (which are essentially reserved for the elite). The rich, like the military, prefer average schools to beat hierarchy and order into the population. Most important, they expect the lower classes to be trained to respect and honor their “betters.”

PISA results reflect this desire to control Thailand so that the royalist elite can exploit, dominate and luxuriate.

Updated: Keeping royal secrets

28 07 2016

Update: We added the missing link.

Thailand’s elite and the elite’s regimes keep many secrets. According to Freedom of Information Around the World 2006 (clicking downloads a 200-page PDF) the best kept secrets are royal secrets:

Information that “may jeopardize the Royal Institution” cannot be disclosed. There are discretionary exemptions for information that would: jeopardize national security, international relations or national economic or financial security; cause the decline of the efficiency of law enforcement; disclose opinions and advice given internally; endanger the life or safety of any person; disclose medical or personal information which would unreasonably encroach upon the right of privacy; disclose information protected by law or given by a person in confidence; other cases prescribed by Royal Decree. Information relating to the Royal Institution is to be kept secret for 75 years. Other information should be disclosed after 20 years which may be extended in five years periods (p. 147).

Reading this assessment, we can only ponder just how deep and dark are the secrets of the royal family.

A call for US sanctions

24 03 2016

The New York Times had an op-ed by Tom Felix Joehnk, who writes for The Economist from Bangkok and  Ilya Garger, the founder of Capital Profile, a Hong Kong–based business research service.

The piece is right to observe that “since seizing power, the [Thai] junta has become increasingly erratic, incompetent and repressive.” It is right that the “economy is stagnating.” It may be right that the “threat of social unrest is rising.” It is right when it says that The Dictator wants to “ensure real power remains in the hands of the military even after a formal return to electoral democracy.”

Most of all, the authors are correct that getting “Thailand back on track is a matter largely for Thais.”

It is wrong to suggest that “America, which has been the dominant foreign player in Thai politics since World War II, can help rein in the junta’s increasingly dictatorial ways by isolating it from its support base among traditional Bangkok-based elites.”

That time has passed. The US is widely viewed in the elite as part of the Thaksin problem. The more conspiratorial among them think that the US and Thaksin want to bring down the monarchy.

But here’s a neat twist in the story, which would confirm a conspiracy for those who already distrust the US, but which says something unexpected:

Washington instead should isolate the Thai military from its traditional backers to deprive the junta of a crucial source of legitimacy and support. Acting with the European Union, Japan and other allies, America should penalize not only the generals involved in the 2014 coup, but also the civilians the government has appointed to its rubber-stamping institutions.

We have to say that we were bemused at this point, but then this:

The United States is in a strong position to do so. Wealthy Thais have shoveled assets overseas at an astonishing rate since Mr. Thaksin was brought down in 2006. Their annual investments abroad have increased twelvefold, according to the Bank of Thailand….

The call is for sanctions a la Burma. There are lots of issues with sanctions, but the authors suggest “that such measures work better when their goal is moderate and when they are used to pressure otherwise friendly governments, rather than enemies.”

We guess the question for the elite is whether the US is now an enemy or a friend?

Revised: Warning the conservative elite I

1 03 2016

In an editorial at The Korean Herald, Thailand’s conservative elite gets a warning on media freedom. The editorial begins:

Thai policy makers, dictators, military leaders or what have you, have never learned how to handle criticism from the international press and the recently issued regulation for foreign media reflects that long-standing mindset.

The junta’s demand is that:

foreign media representatives must demonstrate their attitude towards the monarchy and political development in the country – eats into one’s personal space…. It is like the government is trying to delve into the heart and soul of a person and make it a requirement before they be granted visa and permit to work in the kingdom.

The military dictatorship is seeking to “prevent negative reporting about Thailand.” The editorial observes that “to try to engineer this outcome is somewhat absurd…”.

It continues:

A free and independent media environment generates a positive atmosphere for the country.

But sadly, Thai policy makers, especially the current junta, do not have the sophistication to deal with criticism. So the bottom line of this absurd regulation is that if you’re not going to be nice to me, I’m not going to let you live here.

Sadly, when the editorial states, “We really hope that is a temporary thing and that soon the authorities will come to their senses, and realize that what they are doing will cause more harm than good,” we think they misunderstand the junta and its backers. When it comes to the monarchy and maintaining elite rule, there’s no sense, just nonsense.

Countercurrents, Vltchek and Marshall

6 09 2014

If readers haven’t seen it, they will find an interview between Andre Vltchek and Andrew Marshall at Countercurrents.org of interest. Titled “Thai Elites And Coups: It is All About Controlling The People,” there are some choices bits:

On the coup: … an old elite that has monopolized power behind the scenes; really behind the scenes, having the last gasp battle to hold on to its power.

Politics as an intra-elite struggle: I think what we are really seeing is a showdown and a final battle between these two elite groups, and neither of them is particularly admirable. We have an old entrenched Thai elite that believes the poor should know their place. They don’t believe in economic development; they believe in traditional obsequiousness to authority and deference to royal family. On the other hand we have Thaksin who is a modern capitalist, with all the benefits and problems that that brings.

There’s more, of course.



A Japanese take on events

16 01 2014

Yuriko Koike is Japan’s former defense minister and national security adviser. She was Chairwoman of Japan’s Liberal Democrat Party and currently is a member of the National Diet. She comments on current events in Thailand and implications for the region. PPT reproduces almost in full:

Thailand, Southeast Asia’s most developed and sophisticated economy, is teetering on the edge of the political abyss. Yet most of the rest of Asia appears to be averting its eyes from the country’s ongoing and increasingly anarchic unrest. That indifference is not only foolish; it is dangerous. Asia’s democracies now risk confronting the same harsh question that the United States faced when Mao Zedong marched into Beijing, and again when Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini ousted the Shah in Iran. Who, they will have to ask, lost Thailand?

Much of the world is wondering how such a successful economy could allow its politics to spin out of control. What accounts for the armies of protesters – distinguished, gang-like, by the color of their shirts – whose mutual antipathy often borders on nihilistic rage?

The roots of the current unrest extend back more than a decade, to former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s first electoral victory in 2001. Thaksin’s triumph did not represent the normal alternation in power that one finds in a democracy. Instead, his victory heralded the political rise of the country’s poor, long-silenced rural majority. Bangkok’s entrenched elite recoiled in alarm.

But, instead of learning to compete with Thaksin for the votes of Thailand’s rural poor, the country’s urban elite (including the powerful military) sought to delegitimize his rule.

For much of her term in office, Yingluck garnered praise for her pragmatism, and for seeking to ameliorate the antagonism of her opponents. But that praise and success appears to have bred a form of hubris. She proposed an amnesty law that would have not only pardoned opposition leaders, including Abhisit Vejjajiva, her predecessor as prime minister (who faces murder charges), but allowed her brother to return to the country….

The opposition, sensing that its moment had arrived, launched a wave of street protests. Yingluck, in an effort to defuse the situation, called for a parliamentary election in February. But the opposition has rejected this and says that it will boycott the vote. It fears – rightly, most people suspect – that the Thaksin camp will be returned to power in any free and fair vote.

So, in essence, what is happening in Thailand is an attempted nullification of democracy by the opposition and the country’s entrenched elite. Unable to compete successfully with Thaksin for votes, they now want to dilute Thai democracy in order to prevent the electorate from ever again choosing a government that goes against their will.

If Thailand were an insignificant country with little geostrategic weight, its problems might not matter as much as they do to the rest of Asia. But Thailand is Southeast Asia’s lynchpin economy. It is a key partner for Myanmar (Burma) as it makes its own political and economic transition, and it is a hub for trade with neighboring Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam.

The rest of the article is speculative and elaborates a thought that China might gain from these events, but there is no evidence of Chinese understanding of events in Thailand, so we leave this out.

Wall Street crackdowns

6 11 2011

It is fascinating watching the ruling elite in the U.S. and elsewhere beginning to behave like the Abhisit Vejjajiva regime when it was faced with dissident red shirts.

While the Battle for Wall Street, London, Sydney and so on hasn’t reached the level of violence seen in the Battle for Bangkok, it is interesting to hear the rhetoric beginning to edge towards class warfare as the state’s repressive agencies are used to crackdown on peaceful protesters, provoking them to violence as a means to “justify” a more violent state response.

See how the ruling class rules and how desperate they become to protect their money, land, trinkets and palaces!

Red shirts condemned, yellow shirts praised

26 01 2011

There’s and interesting story in the Bangkok Post that says a lot about the context of Thai politics.

Democrat Party MP Attaporn Ponlaboot has broken ranks with the official regime line and has publicly supported the yellow-shirted demonstration. Attaporn has said that the People’s Alliance for Democracy has “a constitutional right and they had the freedom to promote their cause.”

He cautions them that their protest might lead to “war with Cambodia,” but that seems not a problem for yellow-shirt supporters. His worry is that such a clash would provide “ill-intentioned people opportunities to create unrest or generate unplanned benefits for the Thaksin [Shinawatra] cause.”

Just in case people were missing his message, Attaporn “accused red-shirt leaders of exploiting their supporters in a desperate bid to achieve their outdated, hidden political agenda.” Of course, this accusation could not be leveled at the lovable yellow-shirted war mongers….

Further, Attaporn accused red shirts as being led by people who are  “outdated leftists” out to attack the monarchy. He seems to associate red shirts with Maoism.

PPT thinks this is tripe, but if it wasn’t, then one might want to ask if jingoistic monarchism isn’t even more “outdated,” having origins well before the alleged “leftism” of red shirts.

When the yellow shirts are being touted as a major threat to Abhisit Vejjajiva and his government, Attaporn turns to attack the red shirts. Obviously, Attaporn is one of quite a few in the Democrat Party who respect and align with the PAD, recognizing that the yellow ones did a heck of a lot to get the Democrat Party into power.

The problem for Attaporn and others like him, is that the regime’s backers are suspicious of yellow shirts for some of the same reasons that they hate the red shirts. The elite and royalists hate the idea of any political mobilization where they fear they are not in control. So when the yellow ones are working for obviously elite interests, they are welcomed. When there is another form of mobilization, the elite worries and sometimes panics.

Divisive politics, dumb perspective

13 01 2011

PPT ‘s attention was caught by a recent East Asia Forum post, written by Chalongphob Sussangkarn, listed as “Distinguished Fellow,” but in fact an economist at the Thailand Development Research Institute. East Asia Forum is a usually pretty conservative blog that claims to be a “platform for the best in East Asian analysis, research and policy comment on the Asia-Pacific region and world affairs.” It is from the Australian National University’s College of Asia and the Pacific.

In his post, Chalongphob, a nearly invisible Minister of Finance in Privy Councilor General Surayud Chulanont’s military junta-appointed government in 2007, says:

The Red Shirts’ protracted occupation of a central Bangkok area and the eventual violent and deadly end in May 2010 reiterated the highly divisive situation in Thai politics.

This protest, like the Yellow Shirts’ closure of the Bangkok airport toward the end of 2008, had the potential to have extended negative impacts on the broader economy, particularly on foreigners’ confidence. Luckily, the impacts have so far been short-term, partly because these protests and the associated violence were not directly targeted at foreign interests.

To be fair to his readers, Chalongphob might explain that this was not his (politically-motivated) claim at the time of the protests. Back then, TDRI and Chalongphob warned that the red shirt protest would “cause a cut in economic growth of more than 0.5-1 percentage point…” and “Tourism, retail trade and part of transportation have already been hard hit by the political crisis.” Chalongphob himself said: “persistent conflict could suffocate both exports and foreign direct investment. The government has to get rid of the violence initiated by underground armed forces. If violence drags on, foreign investors will move their target to other countries and orders of goods from abroad could dry up…”.

So, at that critical time,  Chalongphob could be considered to be calling for a crackdown. He was also off target on the economic impacts . Long-time readers of PPT will know that, at the time, PPT questioned the dire economic warnings (here, here and here). Yesterday, we also commented on some of the reasons why foreign investors like Thailand.

In his recent article he also states this:

Many have tried to link the political divisiveness to socio-economic disparities. This is highly misleading. The divisiveness is really only around one person, Mr. Thaksin Shinawatra, the currently fugitive former Prime Minister.

Apart from sounding like he is an op-ed writer for The Nation, Chalongphob is simply wrong on both counts. The view that the red shirts are only about Thaksin is one that was common amongst yellow shirts, the army leadership, and the Democrat Party-led government. It seems they learn nothing from the resilience of the red shirt movement and the huge support it has.

More puzzling is the claim that socio-economic disparities are meaningless for politics. PPT would have thought that the government’s own “populist” policies, handouts, and other actions had debunked this view.The various reconciliation committees,set up by the government, also appear to confirm the political salience of inequality.

We wonder about Chalongphob’s politics and assume that he is an unreconstructed supporter of the regime when he says:

Talks of reconciliation are just red herrings. How can one reconcile black and white?

PPT has never been much encouraged by the Abhisit-directed PR exercise in “reconciliation.” However, Chalongphob seems to think that there can be no political peace. We think that’s a pretty accurate reflection of the establishment’s unwillingness to make the historic compromise demanded of it. The establishment seems to have no conception of compromise for it sees it as a loss of its privilege, power and wealth.

Then there is this odd comment:

Fortunately, there will be a general election in 2011. This should reduce the risk of another major protracted street protest….

Now isn’t that exactly what the opposition called for, time and again, since this government was placed in its present position? Why now and not then? Clearly because Chalongphob and his ilk didn’t think their party had a chance back then.

PPT was provocative in our headline because Chalongphob’s political perspective is not so much dumb as revealing of his ideology and that of so many in his one-tenth of the population who are very privileged.

For a more interesting perspective in the same forum see Nicholas Farrelly’s contribution.

The current conflict and succession

29 11 2010

PPT readers will be interested in the article by long-time Thailand watcher W. Scott Thompson and colleague Oliver Geronilla in The Korean Times. The article claims a kind of mislabeling of the current political conflict and seeks to correct this view. There is much to disagree with.

It says that the “last six months” of “urban warfare and sullen politics” has “conveniently seen as a play-out of two sets of forces with distinct labels, even colors. The ‘Yellow Shirts’ have represented the rich Bangkok elite and the long revered king, Bhumipol; the ‘Red Shirts’ were stand-ins for the ousted premier, Thaksin Shinawatra, a populist politician who built a base on the backs of programs for the poor concentrated in Isan, the Northeast region that has historically been the least developed.”

They say this is “worse than simplification; it’s a distortion of what has been occurring.” They see the rise of Thaksin as unleashing “forces that would take the decade to put down.” Putting them down, PPT would add, has been the task of the royalist old guard, protecting itself and the rest of the elite.

They claim that the Red Shirts “have as their banner the growing inequality between Bangkok and Isan” rather than a focus on Thaksin, while the “Yellow Shirts are less about the monarchy and the privileges the elite enjoys in the city.”

Both claims are as shallow as the claims the authors think they are breaking down. Yes, the red shirts are about inequality, but in far broader terms than suggested here – they are about inequality of wealth, political and economic opportunity, double standards, the amart,and so on, and not just in the Northeast. It should not be forgotten that Thaksin’s support in 2005 was widespread, with the exception of the south. The yellow shirts are about monarchy and elite, and the shibboleths of old, right-wing and hierarchical Thailand.

The authors also claim that the current political dispute is not about “the division between military and civilian, a distinction barely visible in the Thai historical consciousness.” We’re not certain which histories they read, but this distinction is certainly one of the most most critical divisions that has driven social and political conflict in Thailand.

But then they get to what seems like the point of the article: “But in some ways the essence of Thailand hasn’t changed. A new army commander ― traditionally the ultimate source of power in the kingdom ― General Chayuth Chan-ocha ― has risen in the ranks faster than anyone in living memory. He has made clear that he will protect the monarchy, which undoubtedly means that he will protect the transition to the wildly unpopular crown prince…”. The authors then add: “The problem for Prayuth is that in ‘drawing a line in the sand’ around the monarchy … the general could bring down the house ― the house of Chakri, the ruling dynasty…. His enemies are too legion even for as powerful a man as Prayuth to protect him from them. The biggest problems of Thailand have perhaps only been postponed.”

PPT agrees that succession is an issue, but we remain uncertain that the current regime of civilian and military royalists is simply about managing succession. We think the conflict is far broader than than that. Think 1932-3, 1957-58, 1973-76, 1991-2 and 2000-2010, and it is clear that royalism is important but as an element of the establishment and maintenance of a conservative and hierarchical status quo as economic and political power has moved to rely on capitalist models.