Authoritarianism in Southeast Asia

20 05 2019

New Mandala has posted a series of videos from a recent conference on Entrenched Illiberalism in Mainland Southeast Asia,” recorded at the Australian National University on 8–9 April 2019.

Coming a couple of weeks after Thailand’s “election,” means that there’s something of a focus on that country. Thai participants included Sunai Pasuk, Pasuk Phongpaichit, Aim Sinpeng, Prajak Kongkirati, and Naruemon Thabchumpon.





Political networks

14 05 2016

Readers may be interested in a special issue of the University of Kyoto’s latest number of Journal of Southeast Asian Studies on political networks in Asia. All papers can be freely downloaded.

SEAS

There are two articles on Thailand:

Very Distinguished Alumni: Thai Political Networking by Pasuk Phongpaichit, Nualnoi Treerat and Chris Baker. The abstract states:

The creation of elite networks can be explicit and deliberate, especially as a strategy to sustain an oligarchic political system. In Thailand, because of rapid economic and social change, there are few of the established, seemingly natural frameworks for networking found in more settled societies. Those hopeful of joining the power elite come from widely differing backgrounds. Paths through education are very fragmented. There are no clubs and associations that can serve as meeting places. Alumni associations have been brought into existence as one major way to meet the demand for a framework for power networking. This particular associational form is familiar and comfortable because it draws on aspects of collegiate life that most of the participants have experienced. The military pioneered this strategy in the 1960s. When the military’s power and prestige waned in the 1990s, several other institutions emerged to fill the gap. One of the most successful was the Stock Exchange of Thailand, which created the Capital Market Academy (CMA) in 2006. CMA offers academic courses, but its main purpose is to create an alumni association that serves as a network hub linking the main centers of power—bureaucracy, military, judiciary, big business, politicians, and select civil society. Such networks are critical to the rent-seeking activity that is one feature of oligarchic politics.

Contending Political Networks: A Study of the “Yellow Shirts” and “Red Shirts” in Thailand’s Politics by Naruemon Thabchumpon. The abstract is:

This essay investigates two bitter antagonists in the turbulent politics of contemporary Thailand: the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD), with its members labeled the “Yellow Shirts,” and the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD), or the “Red Shirts.” Each of the two foes, typically regarded only as a social movement, actually has a vast network connecting supporters from many quarters. The Yellow Shirt network is associated with the monarchy, military, judiciary, and bureaucracy. The Red Shirt network, organizationally manifest in a series of electorally triumphant parties, is linked to exiled ex-Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, his “proxies,” and groups and individuals who opposed the military coup that ousted Thaksin in 2006. The significance of the two antagonistic networks can be gauged from their different influences on democratic processes over several years. Using concepts of political networks to examine the PAD and UDD within the socio-political context in which they arose, the essay focuses on several aspects of the networks: their political conception and perspectives, their organizational structures (for decision making and networking), and the strategies and activities of their members. The essay critically analyzes key and affiliated characters within the PAD and UDD, as well as the functional mechanisms of the networks, in order to evaluate the positions of the two networks in contemporary Thai politics.





Sour wine and old green bottles

13 01 2015

Tan Hui Yee at the Straits Times has a useful discussion of the constitution drafting charade. We at PPT felt that it was a good follow-up to our earlier comments on the charade where we were disgusted by the political toadying of Somchai Wongsawat.

Recall that Somchai babbled about lawyer-for-royalist-hire Bowornsak Uwanno being “respected” and about the military dictatorship’s “sincere effort” to “take care of the country, solve the conflicts, and lead our country forward.” When he asserted that: “We accept and understand it. I want everyone to think of the country, so that the international community will not look down on us…”, he was wrong on every count.

Tan explains why he is so very wrong.

Thailand’s 19th Constitution (depending how you count them) is “being penned under the close watch of the military government, with martial law shielding the drafters from the most contentious of debates.”

While there will be some debates, this is mostly a facade of squabbling amongst a narrow set of options acceptable to the military dictatorship.

As Tan says, the “Constitution Drafting Committee plans to hold public hearings from this month. While the final version will be tabled only later this year … its broad strokes are already apparent to most observers…”.

What is broadly acceptable? “It will crimp the power of erstwhile dominant political parties and make it easier for an unelected person to assume the helm of the country.”

Borwornsak wants “an unelected premier as a last resort that can be used to break a political deadlock and avert military intervention.” This is nonsense, but then that his his stock in trade.

Chulalongkorn University political scientist Naruemon Thabchumpon says “This is a ‘retro’ Constitution,” that many know will “usher in a period of unstable coalition governments that dominated Thai politics more than a decade ago.”

PPT has been saying this for several months. And Tan agrees that it is “the 1980s, [when] military strongman Prem Tinsulanonda was prime minister despite being unelected” that seems like the model. He notes that it is “Prem, who now heads the Privy Council … [who] remains an influential elder to the current crop of coup-makers.”

He’s the boss, but is gradually being eased out. Despite this, his ideas a widely accepted by the royalist military, in the palace, by the Sino-Thai tycoons and other members of the elite who know they must rule to protect their wealth and political power.

Academic prostitutes like Panitan Wattanayagorn, who is now advertised as “an adviser to Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan” – he does have many patrons all of them right-wing fascists – sounds exactly like Somchai when he asserts the “ideas being discussed by the Charter drafters ‘far exceed expectations’… saying, “everybody needs to compromise…”. By “everyone” he means all who do not agree with the rightist military fascists.

Tan concludes with a note on the uncertainties of succession, pointing out that “some wonder if the drafters would work in a clause or two that would legitimise a role for the junta even after elections.”

We know the answer: yes. The result will be, in Tan’s words “a shiny new Constitution, but exactly the same powers pulling the strings.” Even the wine being poured into the Army’s green bottles is sour.





Updated: Truth?

15 10 2014

Readers who can get access may find this academic paper of some use:

Wreck/Conciliation? The Politics of Truth Commissions in Thailand

By Duncan McCargo and Naruemon Thabchumpon

Abstract: More than ninety people died in political violence linked to the March–May 2010 “redshirt” protests in Bangkok. The work of the government-appointed Truth for Reconciliation Commission of Thailand (TRCT) illustrates the potential shortcomings of seeing quasi-judicial commissions as a catch-all solution for societies struggling to deal with the truth about their recent pasts. The 2012 TRCT report was widely criticized for blaming too much of the violence on the actions of rogue elements of the demonstrators and failing to focus tightly on the obvious legal transgressions of the security forces. By failing strongly to criticize the role of the military in most of the fatal shootings, the TRCT arguably helped pave the way for the 2014 coup. Truth commissions that are unable to produce convincing explanations of the facts they examine may actually prove counterproductive. Following Quinn and Wilson, we argue in this article that weak truth commissions are prone to politicization and are likely to produce disappointing outcomes, which may even be counterproductive.

Update: While we were looking around at recent academic articles, we noted updates at a blog maintained by Kevin Hewison. Back in April, we linked to an article by him on inequality and Thailand’s politics. That article is now available here. We also noted a link to a recent interview with him at the cultural studies blog’s podcasts.