Still seeking political voice

27 07 2016

Various groups continue to ask/request/demand that the military junta allow/permit/sanction some/any open discussion of the military’s draft charter prior to the referendum. That referendum is only 11 days away….

One of the recent demands has come from the “United Nations Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression, David Kaye, today condemned the alarmingly high number of arrests and charges over public and social media expression brought under military orders and the Constitutional Referendum Act in Thailand.”

He stated:

I am seriously concerned that military orders and the Constitutional Referendum Act restrict expression and access to information about the draft constitution…. The idea of a referendum is to allow for full debate followed by public vote, and particularly where the subject is of extraordinary public interest, a wide range of opinions should be encouraged, freely expressed, and open to rigorous debate.

Kaye is a little confused; the junta’s idea for a referendum is about manufacturing legitimacy, not allowing debate or discussion.

The notion that the “Thai government [he means the junta] should encourage an open environment for public discourse to ensure an informed participation during the constitutional referendum,” is outside the regime’s comprehension. No such idea has ever been countenanced.

Thailand’s inequality extends well beyond the discussion of income and wealth. Political inequality has been re-entrenched under the junta, most notably through the suppression of political voice for those at the bottom of the social hierarchy.





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.





Reviews and reads

9 03 2016

Readers might be interested in two more reviews of Andrew MacGregor Marshall’s A Kingdom in Crisis. We posted on earlier at least eight earlier reviews of the book, and these reviews can be found here.

The first is probably already widely known as it is by Andrew Walker at New Mandala. In a lengthy review, Walker states:

It certainly is a myth-busting tour-de-force showing how Thai kings, and the elites that surround them, have regularly generated political crises, which also reflect competition between narrow sectional interests.  However, whether or not the book will achieve its myth-busting objective is hard to tell. Most readers, I suspect, will already be converts to MacGregor Marshall’s position. By contrast, those who subscribe to the royal mythology will probably be confirmed in their view that unsympathetic Westerners like MacGregor Marshall are determined to slander the royal institution.Kingdom in crisis

Walker concludes:

… Marshall’s preoccupation with the succession points to a broader problem with this book.

Despite its provocations and iconoclasm this is very much a royalist account of Thai history. Like Thailand’s royalists, MacGregor Marshall places the king at the heart of the Thai polity. In A Kingdom in Crisis, contestation over royal power is the engine room of 21st century Thai politics, as it has been over the past millennium (p  213).

The mass of people sometimes do feature, but they are peripheral to MacGregor Marshall’s central purpose. When they do enter into the narrative, it is as an undifferentiated mass of “ordinary  people” who are struggling against the elite in pursuit of “greater freedom and a fairer society” (p 109).

This two-dimensional and a-historical model — a cut-throat elite ruling over a repressed population — is classic orientalism and contributes little to an understanding of the complex and cross-cutting social and economic forces that have brought Thailand to its contemporary political impasse.

The other review is by Jim Glassman in the journal Pacific Affairs. The review can be freely viewed. The review begins:

The publication of Andrew MacGregor Marshall’s A Kingdom in Crisis has been a much-awaited event among Thai scholars. Marshall, a Scottish journalist who used to work for Reuters, has been releasing large pieces of this study for a number of years now, at his “#thaistory” blog. The book adds something to this material but will not be a huge surprise to those who have read his work at the blog site.

Glassman adds that the book is stre

Given the relative paucity of accessible and critical English-language writing about the Thai monarchy, and the risks that such writing entails, A Kingdom in Crisis should be considered a significant accomplishment, and Zed Books should be given credit for being willing to publish it….

For many scholars and people fairly familiar with Thai politics, some of Marshall’s analysis will nonetheless prove fairly thin gruel. It is not only that there has actually been a string of books in recent history that raise telling issues about the monarchy and challenges of succession—for example, the works by Benedict Anderson, Paul Handley, Soren Ivarsson and Lotte Isager, William Stevenson, David Streckfuss and Thongchai Winichakul, which the author cites, as well as works by Kevin Hewison, Rayne Kruger and Somsak Jeamteerasakul, which he doesn’t cite—but Marshall’s explanation of the current crisis is somewhat one-sided.

Acknowledging shortcomings in the book, Glassman concludes:

A Kingdom in Crisis is a useful read, particularly for those unfamiliar with the roles of royalist-military elites (and their international allies) in shaping Thailand’s ongoing struggles for democracy. It will certainly find its place on the bookshelves of Thai democracy activists—provided they do not live in Thailand.

In the same issue of Pacific Affairs there is an article which is of interest because it is based on a survey of serving military officers. The authors of “Professionals and Soldiers: Measuring Professionalism in the Thai Military” are Punchada Sirivunnabood of Mahidol University and Jacob Isaac Ricks of Singapore Management University. The abstract states:

Thailand’s military has recently reclaimed its role as the central pillar of Thai politics. This raises an enduring question in civil-military relations: why do people with guns choose to obey those without guns? One of the most prominent theories in both academic and policy circles is Samuel Huntington’s argument that professional militaries do not become involved in politics. We engage this premise in the Thai context. Utilizing data from a new and unique survey of 569 Thai military officers as well as results from focus groups and interviews with military officers, we evaluate the attitudes of Thai servicemen and develop a test of Huntington’s hypothesis. We demonstrate that increasing levels of professionalism are generally poor predictors as to whether or not a Thai military officer prefers an apolitical military. Indeed, our research suggests that higher levels of professionalism as described by Huntington may run counter to civilian control of the military. These findings provide a number of contributions. First, the survey allows us to operationalize and measure professionalism at the individual level. Second, using these measures we are able to empirically test Huntington’s hypothesis that more professional soldiers should prefer to remain apolitical. Finally, we provide an uncommon glimpse at the opinions of Thai military officers regarding military interventions, adding to the relatively sparse body of literature on factors internal to the Thai military which push officers toward politics.

Meanwhile, at the Journal of Contemporary Asia, a third paper from the forthcoming Special Issue, Military, Monarchy and Repression: Assessing Thailand’s Authoritarian Turn, has been published. “Inequality, Wealth and Thailand’s Politics” is by well-known political economist Professor Pasuk Phongpaichit of Chulalongkorn University.

The abstract for the paper states:

Acemoglu and associates argue that resistance to democratisation will be stronger where inequality is high. Piketty shows that shifts at the upper end of the distribution may be historically more significant than overall measures of inequality. In Thailand, the high level of income inequality has eased slightly since 2000, but there is a ‘1% problem’ as peak incomes are growing faster than the average. Newly available data show that inequality of wealth is very high. At the top of the wealth pyramid, family holdings of commercial capital are growing. A significant proportion of top entrepreneurs have emerged within the past generation. A second tier of the wealth elite has developed over the past generation from rising property values, financial investments and professional incomes. Although their individual wealth is much less than the corporate elite, their numbers are much greater. The existence of the prospering ‘1%’ and the emergence of the second-tier wealthy may corroborate Acemoglu’s proposition, but there are tensions within the wealth elite which may favour democracy.





Opposing the junta and its repression

28 12 2015

red candleAt Khaosod, Pravit Rojanaphruk reports on resistance to the military junta. Resistance to this regime is no simple matter when its watches and threatens all those it sees as opponents.

The New Isaan Movement brings together around 500 like-minded people from seven provinces in the northeast. It is reported that:

Members of this new region-based umbrella movement include the Dao Din student group, NGO activists as well as rural villagers. Those involved are from different backgrounds, they’re all from the much-neglected northeastern region and share a common pain and vision. Long regarded as inferior and poor, once again people

Broad notions of inequality underpin the movement.

Khornchanok Saenprasert, a “coordinator and a trained human rights lawyer from Khon Kaen province” declares: “We aim high, to rise up and fight politically…”.

On 10 December, “a declaration announcing the formation of the New Isaan Movement was publicly read out.” Yet the movement existed prior to this, being formed in March.

Khornchanok declared:

 Being Isaan people is to be condemned to being second-class citizens and having no meaningful participation in politics. It also means being at the receiving end of [the adverse effects of] development projects. We have no part in determining our own future….

He added that the coup has made the situation more acute with those opposing development projects in the region unable to even properly exercise their basic rights to protest.

The group “will launch their own people’s draft constitution just ahead of the junta’s draft charter.”

“We hope to make society realize that the current [junta-sponsored] charter drafting process was not done by the people. We want to show what local people really want in their constitution. We don’t expect the junta to listen though.”

The movement has refused to participate in the junta’s charter drafting process “saying they see the whole process as undemocratic.”

Khornchanok  made this important observation:

Having a dictatorial state means they can’t make a political move and they don’t much dare to challenge autocratic powers. For us, New Isaan Movement, we start with defending our communities [from the adverse impacts of development projects]. Our backs are against the wall and if we don’t fight we will end up dying anyhow….

What we would like to say is that we’re for equality and are against dictatorship and we are friends and allies to all those who share our values.





Unequal Thailand

2 12 2015

Readers may not have noticed the publication of a new book called Unequal Thailand. Aspects of Income, Wealth and Power. Published by NUS Press, this book is a collection edited by Pasuk Phongpaichit and Chris Baker.

The blurb states:Unequal_Thailand

Extreme inequalities in income,wealth and power lie behind Thailand’s political turmoil. What are the sources of this inequality?  Why does it persist, or even increase when the economy grows? How can it be addressed?

The contributors to this important study—Thai scholars, reformers and civil servants—shed light on the many dimensions of inequality in Thailand, looking beyond simple income measures to consider land ownership, education, finance, business structures and politics. The contributors propose a series of reforms in taxation, spending and institutional reform that can address growing inequality.

Inequality is among the biggest threats to social stability in Southeast Asia, and this close study of a key Southeast Asian country will be relevant to regional policy-makers, economists and business decision-makers, as well as students of oligarchy and inequality more generally.

There are chapters on land, education, wages, capital markets, tax, networking and local power.





Selling the dictatorship

27 09 2015

Self-appointed Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha, The Dictator, is not the best salesman for his military regime.

There were some protests about his visit, with a series of red shirt TV programs showing some of it. The YouTube video below is one of three:

One of the Prayuth’s speeches to the U.N., on poverty and sustainable development, was a rapid-fire reading of a script in Thai.  He appears uninterested and so do most of the delegates around him. We wonder if this is a preview of an equally execrable speech to the U.N. General Assembly.

According to a report at the Bangkok Post, The Dictator has made various undertakings in New York, including a promise of an election in 2017. Speaking to a bunch from the “US-Asean Business Council in New York on Friday night,” Prayuth said that the poll would be held “with no detour of the political roadmap.”

He did not explain that the roadmap is regularly redrawn.

Prayuth told the business group that the junta:

will spend time until the new polls to increase competitiveness, improve infrastructure, upgrade labour skills, and revise rules and regulations to be in tandem with international standards to facilitate investors…. Clamping down on corruption was also high on its to-do list….

He might have added that the military regime is going to spend time repressing opponents and ensuring that it gets its political way going forward.

The Dictator did his royalist duty, opening a propaganda exhibition on sufficiency economy hocus pocus.

Furthering his own bizarre understanding of democracy and sufficiency economy, Prayuth said “poverty was the root cause hampering democracy in Thailand as it put the poor on the sidelines and gave the middle class and the rich an opportunity to manage the country and resources.”

Of course, the sufficiency economy ideology does nothing to challenge inequality as it tells people to be satisfied with their lot in life.

The notion that Thailand’s democracy is hampered by poverty is military sleight of hand. In fact, it is the military that is the main obstacle to democracy, especially as it is allied to royalist elite and Sino-Thai tycoons.

Prayuth’s view of Thailand and democracy is about as accurate and real as a VW emissions test.





Ruling inequality

15 09 2015

Bundith Arniya or Jerseng Sae Kow faced an ongoing case of lese majeste for several years. He was eventually found guilty on 17 February 2014. However, he was again charged with lese majeste on 19 February 2015 for an alleged offense following his suspended sentencing on the first case. Thai police officers detained an elderly writer after he made comments about the new constitutional draft, which they said might affect national security.

Prachatai reports that police have again dragged this 74 year-old off. On 12 September 2015, he was detained “after he made suggestions at a seminar on the new constitution drafting process at Thammasat University…”.

More lese majeste? Apparently not. It seems Bundith made a statement that the military dictatorship considers heinous.

Bundith suggested that any “new constitution should contain the idea that Thai people of all classes shall be equal and all are equal owners of the country.”

After this blasphemy, “several police and military officers at the event, reportedly including some in plainclothes,” who claimed to be maintaining “security,” demanded that the old man attend the Chanasongkram Police Station when the seminar ended. Bundith “was detained at the station for the about three hours…”.

He was eventually released without charge vowing to keep his mouth shut, probably as ordered by the authorities.

It seems that Thailand’s military dictatorship and its ruling class are petrified by the notion of equality.








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