Networks

28 03 2014

With all of the discussion recently regarding “neutral” prime ministers and “neutral” cabinets, we want to point to a recent article on networks in Thailand’s politics.

In the context of kicking out another elected government, “neutral” meaning a bunch of royalist flunkies hoisted into position by opaque power structures that operate beyond public scrutiny as networks.

In a new article by Boston University sociologist Joseph Harris, “Who Governs? Autonomous Political Networks as a Challenge to Power in Thailand.” The abstract for his article states:

Recent scholarship examining political contestation in Thailand has emphasised concepts such as “network monarchy,” while pointing to the populism and enduring political influence of Thaksin Shinawatra. While this descriptive work has helped shed light on the architecture of governance in Thailand, it has not been embedded in a broader theoretical approach that might help to train our attention on other powerful actors that play important roles in shaping Thailand’s political and institutional landscape. In this article, I outline one such approach and advance the term “autonomous political networks,” to refer to collections of people who share strong value commitments and political goals and who operate in the space between the country’s dominant political institutions – often straddling positions in the state and civil society simultaneously. This theoretical discussion is grounded empirically in a description of one such network whose power is derived from sources other than electoral legitimacy or long-standing historical tradition. The article discusses the enormous influence this network has exercised in reshaping Thailand’s political order, all while remaining largely invisible to the public eye. It suggests the need to use this approach to elaborate other hidden political networks that play important roles in governance in Thailand and beyond.

Of course, it was Duncan McCargo who used the notion of “network monarchy” that has gained considerable currency in academic writing on Thailand. PPT has pointed out previously that the notion of networks in Thailand’s politics and economics goes back to G. William Skinner’s work from the 1950s.

Harris tries to be more theoretical in the use of “network” and “networked governance” by examining the Dusit 99 network and Prawase Wasi and the Sampran Forum. Both have been political players. Dusit 99 included a bunch of future premiers, military brass and top business people, many with links to the monarchy and Crown Property Bureau. Prawase’s network may be seen as having links to the “network monarchy.”

Unfortunately, the article is behind a pay wall, but open to those who subscribe or are at an institution that subscribes.





Zen journalist’s latest

8 11 2013

Long-time readers will know that PPT has long been happy to enjoy the fruits of Andrew MacGregor Marshall’s research in the archives, which has produced some choice images at his Zen Journalist blog.

His latest piece there is very long. We printed it off and had 152 pages, which we’ve had no time to read in any satisfactory way, and can only claim to have skimmed. This huge “post” covers the present, the past and bits in between, and feels a bit undisciplined to us, but makes four scandalous hypotheses that the author believes “are essential to making sense of Thailand’s era of insanity.” These are:Marshall

  1. At the elite level, Thailand’s intractable political conflict does not revolve around Thaskin Shinawatra, although he is a central character in the drama. The conflict among Thailand’s elite is essentially a succession struggle…. In particular, most of Thailand’s elite are implacably opposed to the prospect of Vajiralongkorn succeeding his father, and are prepared to go to extreme lengths to sabotage the succession.
  2. Both broad factions in the elite succession struggle have failed to understand that Thai society has fundamentally changed, with the rural and urban poor becoming increasingly assertive and informed. As a result, Thailand’s unacknowledged succession struggle has become entangled with a social conflict that encompasses the whole country, leading to a crisis of legitimacy for the monarchy and the deep state.
  3. Thaksin Shinawatra is a fairly traditional Thai royalist, albeit one who — unusually — has few qualms about the crown prince. Otherwise, his views are very similar to the large number of elite Thais who … in fact have limited intrinsic loyalty or love for the monarchy, beyond the extent to which they can harness royal barami to serve their own interests. Moreover, elite Thais opposed to the crown prince have a particular incentive to pretend to be staunchly ultra-royalist while the current king remains on the throne, to help shield them against accusations of treachery or anti-monarchism when the succession takes place.
  4. It’s somewhat misleading to regard the network monarchy model as demonstrating that the monarchy controls or guides the network. In modern Thai history, the network has mostly controlled the monarchy.

Because we haven’t examined the book-length post in any detail, PPT can’t comment on Marshall’s argument or the evidence he collects in support of his claims. We do note that public criticism of the prince has been around since at least 1976, and became especially virulent around 1986-88, leading to several lese majeste charges.

We’d also add that claims about soaking up barami have been around in academic works since the early 1980s. It always strikes us – and hence we post on it as often as we have information – that one of the under-emphasized aspects of the monarchy is its role as a capitalist conglomerate and all that implies. If we go back to the leading studies of capitalist development in Thailand – Skinner, Suehiro, Hewison – the monarchy is central, certainly for the pre-1932 period. That emphasis has dropped out of view a little, and we think more can be made of it.

Still, as we say, we haven’t read this new book closely and we encourage readers to find the time for a serious perusal.





Attempting to map the amart

5 02 2011

A reader sent PPT a link for a new Working Paper by Pramuan Bunkanwanicha, Joseph P.H. Fan and Yupana Wiwattanakantang entitled “Family matters: Valuing marriage in family …firms.” The paper’s abstract states:

This paper presents the fi…rst empirical evidence showing that marriage of family members can establish business or political networks for their family …firms. This research is made possible by a rare dataset of marriages held by families owning business groups in Thailand. The families’’ stocks react positively to the weddings when the partner belongs to a family from a business or political background. Abnormal returns are higher for …firms in the real estate, construction and telecoms industries, which typically depend on extensive networks. Marriage may also lead to horizontal or vertical integration incorporating the fi…rms owned by the now closely connected families.

PPT was not surprised to read a paper by economists who place so much emphasis on the models and regressions that the story is a little lost. Still, they come up with this rather nifty diagram that seems to map part of the ruling class in Thailand, based on the Lamsam family of Kasikorn Bank:

The claim that this is the first study to show the significance of marriage is a little overdone unless the emphasis is on empirical/mathematical analysis. Way back in the mid-1950s, G. William Skinner did a substantial amount of work on the Chinese in Thailand, and came up with some interesting network diagrams:

Skinner’s Leadership and power in the Chinese community of Thailand (Ithaca, Cornell University Press, 1958) was a path-breaking study of how Chinese and Sino-Thai business people had power in their own communities and developed political alliances:

Skinner isn’t the only one to have looked at power in Thai society and produced these kinds of network diagrams. Kevin Hewison wrote of these things in the 1980s. This is his summary network diagram:

Hewison’s diagram is from “The Structure of Banking Capital in Thailand,” Southeast Asian Journal of Social Science, 16, 1 (1988), pp. 81-91.

It is a great shame that the mathematically-inclined authors of the working paper (above) didn’t consult the works of Skinner and Hewison and the work of Suehiro Akira, who has examined family firms in Thailand and much more. PPT considers that more attention to these earlier works might have provided a better historical account of how the ruling class organizes and maintains its power.

Related, PPT thought that this picture from the Bangkok Post was also a revealing illustration of the ruling class’s alliances that allow it to maintain its power, political and ideological:

The picture shows a celebration for the Post Today. The caption states: “Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, fourth from left, celebrates Post Today’s eighth anniversary and gives a keynote speech at the Post Today Investment Expo 2011at the Sofitel Centara Grand Bangkok yesterday. Also joining the event were Finance Minister Korn Chatikavanij, second from left; Commerce Minister Porntiva Nakasai, fifth from right; Deputy Commerce Minister Alongkorn Ponlaboot, fourth from right; the premier’s adviser Apirak Kosayodhin, second from right; Post Publishing Plc’s board chairman MR Pridiyathorn Devakula, third from left; Post CEO Suthikiati Chirathivat, fifth from left; Post president and COO Supakorn Vejjajiva, third from right; Post Today editor Nhakran Laohavilai, left, and Bangkok Post editor Pattnapong Chantranontwong, right.

In fact, Abhisit used this occasion to unofficially launch his election campaign.








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