Recent academic publications on Thailand’s politics

13 08 2019

Every so often, PPT scans academic journals to see what has been published over the past 12-18 months. Here’s a list of politics-focused research that we located. Some of them are very much better than others. Unfortunately, most are behind paywalls but we have found that authors will often send a copy if requested:

‘Long Live Ratthathammanūn!’: Constitution worship in revolutionary Siam in Modern Asian Studies and by Puli Fuwongcharoen

New Wine in an Old Bottle: Female Politicians, Family Rule, and Democratization in Thailand in Modern Asian Studies and by Yoshinori Nishizaki

Ironic political reforms: elected senators, party-list MPs, and family rule in Thailand in Critical Asian Studies and by Yoshinori Nishizaki

Gold diggers and their housewives: the gendered political economy of Thai labor export to Saudi Arabia, 1975–1990 in Critical Asian Studies and by Katie Rainwater

Dictatorship, Monarchy, and Freedom of Expression in Thailand in Journal of Asian Studies and by Tyrell Haberkorn

Subjects of politics: Between democracy and dictatorship in Thailand in Anthropological Theory and by Eli Elinoff

Thailand: an old relationship renewed in The Pacific Review and by Kevin Hewison

Haunted Past, Uncertain Future: The Fragile Transition to Military-Guided Semi-Authoritarianism in Thailand in Southeast Asian Affairs 2018 and by Prajak Kongkirati

Crisis of Democracy in Thailand and the Network of Monarchy in Paradigma and by Aryanta Nugraha

Thailand’s Traditional Trinity and the Rule of Law: Can They Coexist? in Asian Studies Review and by Björn Dressel

Thailand 4.0 and the Internal Focus of Nation Branding in Asian Studies Review and by Petra Desatova

Uneven development, inequality and concentration of power: a critique of Thailand 4.0 in Third World Quarterly and by Prapimphan Chiengkul

The Iron Silk Road and the Iron Fist: Making Sense of the Military Coup D’État in Thailand in Austrian Journal of South East Asian Studies and by Wolfram Schaffar

Alternative Development Concepts and Their Political Embedding: The Case of Sufficiency Economy in Thailand in Forum for Development Studies and by Wolfram Schaffar

Agents, Principals, or Something in Between? Bureaucrats and Policy Control in Thailand in Journal of East Asian Studies and by Jacob I. Ricks

The never changing story: Eight decades of the government public relations department of Thailand in Public Relations Review and by NapawanTantivejakul

Proud to be Thai: The Puzzling Absence of Ethnicity-Based Political Cleavages in Northeastern Thailand in Pacific Affairs and by Jacob Ricks

Politics and the Price of Rice in Thailand: Public Choice, Institutional Change and Rural Subsidies in Journal of Contemporary Asia and by Jacob Ricks

Anti-Royalism in Thailand Since 2006: Ideological Shifts and Resistance in Journal of Contemporary Asia and by Anonymous

Coloured Judgements? The Work of the Thai Constitutional Court, 1998–2016 in Journal of Contemporary Asia and by Björn Dressel and Khemthong Tonsakulrungruang

Is Irrigationalism a Dominant Ideology in Securing Hydrotopia in Mekong Nation States? in Journal of Contemporary Asia and by David J. H. Blake

Drivers of China’s Regional Infrastructure Diplomacy: The Case of the Sino-Thai Railway Project in Journal of Contemporary Asia and by Laurids S. Lauridsen

Thailand’s Public Secret: Military Wealth and the State in Journal of Contemporary Asia and by Ukrist Pathmanand and Michael K. Connors

The Unruly Past: History and Historiography of the 1932 Thai Revolution in Journal of Contemporary Asia and by Arjun Subrahmanyan

Worldly compromise in Thai Buddhist modernism in Journal of Southeast Asian Studies and by Arjun Subrahmanyan

Memories of collective victimhood and conflict in southern Thailand in Journal of Southeast Asian Studies and by Muhammad Arafat Bin Mohamad

The Prayuth Regime: Embedded Military and Hierarchical Capitalism in Thailand in TRaNS and by Prajak Kongkirati and Veerayooth Kanchoochat

Thailand Trapped: Catch-up Legacies and Contemporary Malaise in TRaNS and by Veerayooth Kanchoochat

Expansion of Women’s Political Participation through Social Movements: The Case of the Red and Yellow Shirts in Thailand in Journal of Asian and African Studies and by Duanghathai Buranajaroenkij and others

Constitution-Making in 21st-Century Thailand: The Continuing Search for a Perfect Constitutional Fit in The Chinese Journal of Comparative Law and by Andrew James Harding and Rawin Leelapatana

The political economy of state patronage of religion: Evidence from Thailand in International Political Science Review and by Tomas Larsson

The conundrum of a dominant party in Thailand in Asian Journal of Comparative Politics and by Siripan Nogsuan Sawasdee

Generals in defense of allocation: Coups and military budgets in Thailand in Journal of Asian Economics and by Akihiko Kawaura





Updated: Prem dead II

27 05 2019

As mentioned in our earlier post, buffalo manure is to be piled high for the deceased Gen Prem Tinsulanonda. That said, there are some interesting accounts emerging. We link to some of them here and comment briefly on some of them.

The Bangkok Post has a couple of stories and will probably have more. One of these is a listing of Prem’s “achievements” and refers to him by the kindly term “Pa Prem.” In fact, Prem’s career was of an ambitious right-wing military leader. A second item in the Post is an editorial. Like the previous king, Prem is said to be “revered.” It would be more accurate to say that some rightist, royalist Thais revere Prem for his “loyalty” and steadfast opposition to elected government. Indeed, many Thais hated Prem as an unelected politician and incessant political meddler.

The main error in this editorial is the mistaken view that Prem decided of his own volition to leave his unelected premiership in 1988. The editorial states:

Gen Prayut[h Chan-ocha] and the regime would do well not to forget Gen Prem’s wise decision to relinquish power before the tide turned against him. The regime has been accused of trying to hold on to power at any cost, which is at odds with the example set by Gen Prem.

This view is mistaken as it ignores the long and intense political struggle that eventually forced Prem out. Indeed, that is what will be needed to force out out the Prem-ist junta and its illegitimate political child, the Palang Pracharath-manipulated coalition.

AP has a sound obituary that appropriately links Prem and Prayuth. It also makes a useful point via academic Kevin Hewison:

That coup [2006] was probably Prem’s last major political intervention, and it was one where he misjudged…. He expected elation and praise for his open role in getting rid of Thaksin. Instead, his intervention lit the fuse of a political polarization that continues to haunt Thailand’s elite.

The New York Times obituary is useful and forthright, with another academic, Duncan McCargo noting Prem’s long alliance with the last king:

The king trusted Prem absolutely … seeing him as an incorruptible figure who shared his soft and understated approach, but who was a skilled alliance-builder and wielder of patronage.

We are not quite sure how McCargo knows Bhumibol’s views, but his comment recalls his coining of the term “network monarchy” that describes Prem and the king’s manner of meddling in all manner of things in Thailand.

Reuters mentions Prem’s political meddling and the rewards he received from the conglomerates that benefited from his promotion of monarchy. Prem provided the links – the network – for Sino-Thai tycoons to connect with the palace and his politics provided considerable protection for the ruling class and its profits.

BBC News quotes its correspondent Jonathan Head on Prem’s role in making the monarchy more overtly political:

He will be remembered as an ardent royalist who helped to cement the monarchy’s place at the very top of modern Thailand’s power structure….

AFP has a measured account of Prem’s political meddling and the rise of the monarchy:

Hailed as a stabilising force by allies but loathed by critics as a conservative underminer of democracy in the kingdom, General Prem was a top aide to the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej and helped cement the unshakeable bond between the monarchy and the military.

It adds that “General Prem became a figure of revulsion in Thailand’s pro-democracy camp.”

Update: Bloomberg’s story on Prem’s death hits the nail on the head: “Royal Aide Accused of Plotting Thai Coup on Thaksin Dies at 98.”





Analysis of recent events

15 02 2019

PPT has refrained from mentioning much of what passes for analysis of the events of the past week. One reason for this is that most of it has been highly speculative and bound in rumor.

Some self-styled analysts and quite a few academics have produced speculative accounts. Several managed to come up with different interpretations of the same events. Some have seemingly reproduced other accounts. Some of the more careful have come up with possible scenarios, allowing readers to choose the version that suits their perceptions and biases.

Perhaps that’s why PPT found New Mandala’s “Q&A: Supalak Ganjanakhundee on Thailand’s week of chaos” useful. Supalak is editor of The Nation. We highly recommend reading it, and we only present some highlighted bits and pieces here.

Supalak says that both Thai Raksa Chart and Puea Thai are under threat and the former will be dissolved by the Constitutional Court according to the so-called Royal Command:

The court will probably rule against the law, as the courts often do—the appeal to something outside the law, to make judgements on the law. If we are to make a clear argument, there is no legal status to the royal command.

The “election” campaign will now be dominated by the junta’s party attacking the pro-Thaksin Shinawatra parties as disloyal:

[Palang] Pracharat will try to create a political discourse against the Thaksin camp, by arguing that he brought the royal family into Thai politics—this is a dirty thing in Thai society. It’s not appropriate to have high society running in dirty politics. Now Pheu Thai is in a very awkward position indeed.

It is noted that Thaksin’s gambit was  not supported by many progressives who believe that there’s no place for royals in democratic politics. Supalak doesn’t rule out a pro-royalist alliance between Palang Pracharat and the Democrat Party.

The comment that “Thaksin underestimated the King” seems self-evident:

the royal command on Friday night was not a law. A royal command can only be applied within the [royal] house, not to people outside the house and particularly not in the political sphere. So it was logical for Thaksin. He might have calculated that this outcome was possible, but he underestimated the King. The other possibility is that the King changed his mind—otherwise Prayuth might not have shown his confidence by jumping into the game.

Later Supalak adds:

The royal command is an interpretation of the law…. The royal command has implied that if you’re born into the royal family, you cannot resign. I think that’s a very ambiguous interpretation to establish the monarchy above the law.

Supalak dismisses analysis that has the king commanding the military and opposed to the junta:

I don’t buy the theory that the King is so strong. I understand that he is trying to build the influence of his faction in the military…. His power is not—well, he could not have consolidated his power already. It will take time to have everything under his control. From my understanding, the military wants to have their own voice…. Now we live in a situation where the monarchy and the military are in tension over who will control who. It will take a few years for a clear picture to emerge….

The King commands loyalty from some factions of the military but people like Prawit and Prayuth want to be like people like Prem—middlemen between the palace and the military. They’re building their own regimes but this might also take time as they each hedge their bets.

In moving forward, Supalak is, in our view, making a good point in observing:

If you combine the idea of network monarchy and the deep state together, we might say that the overall effect is the emergence of some new regime that combines the military, the monarchy and capital. Big capital is always willing to support the monarchy, willing to support the military. Pracharat is the perfect model for combining royalty, the military and capital. The difficulty [in consolidating a model] is the unpredictable character of the King.

On the king’s politics:

… the monarch is not interested in institutionalising its power, working through laws, custom, norms and tradition. We cannot simply say—refer to the constitution for the role of the monarchy. Every constitution in recent history has been designed to enhance, not limit, the role of the monarchy. The trend is towards a direct form of rule. The people surrounding the King are not trying to institutionalise the monarchy.

On the future of free and open discussion:

The trend will not be an opening up [of discussion]. It will be a closing. Look at what the King has done since he took the throne—the message has been that he wants the country to be in order, disciplined. Look at the way he dealt with the constitution. He amended the constitution after the referendum—that’s the standard by which he exercises power. It’s not the rule of law. I really have little hope and will be pessimistic that our country will be ruled by the rule of law…. We are living with fear.





How to “win” an “election” III

13 08 2018

On its webpage, the Bangkok Post says: “Unnamed, influential power holders tell legislature members to be quiet and stop attempts to change the selection process of election monitors.”

In its story, the Post states that those National Legislative Assembly (NLA) members who are “seeking a legal amendment on the selection of inspectors is being lobbied to back down…”.

Who could the ” influential power holders” be? After all, The Dictator supported them. Or at least he did a few days ago.

Now, someone or some people are telling the NLA members “to review their move out of concerns that it will trigger criticism because the amendment plan involves an organic law.”

We are not sure we follow the “argument” being made, but it seems that this is not about worries that the junta’s “election” may be delayed.

Rather, it seems that the unnamed powers worry about “precedent.” The concern is that if this NLA can change an organic law, nasty politicians may have a precedent for “seeking to amend the election of MPs law to do away with election primaries.”

As we understand it, even under the junta’s anti-democratic constitution, MPs are empowered to do this. However, the “unnamed powers” don’t want this to be morally possible.

So the “unnamed powers” sound like those who have had “independent agencies” and the puppet judiciary bring charges against MPs under the Yingluck Shinawatra government for engaging is constitutional activities such as seeking to change the charter.

Is this the Deep State, some form of the “network monarchy” or some other group that can bring enormous pressure?





2006 military coup remembered

19 09 2017

2006 seems a long time ago. So much has happened since the palace, led by General Prem Tinsulanonda, the military and a coterie of royalist anti-democrats (congealed as the People’s Alliance for Democracy) brought down Thaksin Shinawatra’s government on 19 September 2006.

Yet it is remembered as an important milestone in bringing down electoral democracy in Thailand and establishing the royalist-military authoritarianism that has deepened since the 2014 military coup that brought down Yingluck Shinawatra’s elected government.

Khaosod reports:

Pro-democracy activists are marking the 11th anniversary of the 2006 coup on Tuesday evening on the skywalk in front of the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre.

Representatives from the police and BTS Skytrain were ordering them to clear the area because it belongs to the rail operator.

The location, frequented by commuters and tourists in a highly visible location, has become a de facto location for protests since the 2014 coup.

“It’s unbelievable how far back we’ve gone for the past 11 years,” said Siriwit Seritiwat, the prominent activist known as Ja New. “The country doesn’t suck by itself, but it sucks because of the wicked cycle.”

The 2006 coup was no surprise given that Thaksin had faced determined opposition from PAD and from General Prem, who reflected palace and royal household dissatisfaction with Thaksin. The coup came after Thaksin had been re-elected in a landslide in February 2005 with about 60% of the vote.

Thaksin had many faults and made many mistakes often as a result of arrogance. The February 2005 election reflected Thaksin’s popularity and this posed a threat to the monstrous egos in the palace. Of course, they also worried about Thaksin’s combination of political and economic power and his efforts to control the military.

Thaksin’s reliance on votes and the fact that he accumulated them as never before was an existential threat to the powers that be. The elite feared for its control of political, economic and social power.

Behind the machinations to tame Thaksin lurked the real power holders in the military brass, the palace and the upper echelons of the bureaucracy who together comprised the royalist state. Some referred to this as the network monarchy and others identified a Deep State. They worried about their power and Thaksin’s efforts to transform Thailand. Others have said there were concerns about managing succession motivating coup masters.

We are sure that there were many motivations, fears and hallucinatory self-serving that led to the coup. Wikileaks has told part of the story of the machinations.

Coup soldiers wearing the king’s yellow, also PAD’s color

A way of observing the anniversary of the military-palace power grab on 19 September 2006 is to look again at Wikileaks cables that reflect most directly on that coup. Here they are:

There are more cables on the figures circling around the coup and the events immediately before and after the coup, giving a pretty good picture of how the royalist elite behaved and what they wanted the U.S. embassy to know.

The royalist elite came to believe that the 2006 coup failed as pro-Thaksin parties managed to continue to win elections. The result was the development of an anti-democracy ideology and movement that paved the way for the 2014 coup and the military dictatorship that is determined to uproot the “Thaksin regime” and to eventually make elections events that have no meaning for governing Thailand.





A story gone missing

3 06 2017

An interesting story seems to have gone missing. We do not know who the author is. Thanks to a reader for capturing it and sending to us:

Charismatic monarch, unstable institution

King Rama VII himself said that a system of absolute monarchy relies on a good king. However, nobody can guarantee the existence of good monarchs forever. Systematic over-reliance on one individual creates irresolvable insecurity in all absolute monarchies (and constitutional democracies where monarchies are above politics).

So we try to build political institutions that do not rely on individuals, such as democracy, so that we may enjoy lasting stability. One failure of our current system is that such institutions have failed to take root.

The transition from Rama 5 to Rama 6 was one of a few instances where, at first, succession seemed to pass smoothly, with little opposition and all arranged in advance. But with the hindsight of five to ten years, the transition proved to be a turbulent one: the new King was not a good fit with the system, causing a split amongst elites.

While the aura of the revered late King Bhumibol Adulyadej still casts its light on the new King, this shadow is a double edged sword. At first, memories of the late king linger in a ‘honeymoon period’ where the populace welcomes his successor, with the expectation that he will continue the greatness of his father. But as the honeymoon period comes to a close, citizens will compare Vajiralongkorn with Bhumibol, and find him sorely wanting. It is not possible for the new King to be comparable with the late King — because hyper-royal enchantment with the late King causes him to transcend reality, to the point of being super-human.

Dissatisfaction and opposition is inevitable.

Or do we still live under absolute monarchy in disguise?

I think that most Thai people believe that succession impacts their lives. What does this mean? It means that a great number of Thai people share an understanding that we do not allow to be expressed — in other words that we are fooling and lying to ourselves. Though we may think this and that, we say out loud the opposite: that the King is not relevant to politics, only important to our lives. Yet that everybody is so concerned and questioning [about succession] shows that succession affects life, society and politics more than Thai people will admit.

I wish to request everybody reading to please ask yourself this question: What is the King’s role and importance to the country? If he is of little importance and his role is of little importance, then he doesn’t have to adapt much, because he doesn’t affect us. But that everybody is so concerned [about succession], it’s because he affects us all. So, please answer yourself: what influence does his have and why does he possess such influence?

The other questions I want to pose are: didn’t Thailand evolve beyond absolute monarchy a long time ago? Then what kind of system are we living under now? What is the actual role of the monarchy, such that it has such a large influence on society and politics? Or are we still living under absolute monarchy in disguise?

The network monarchy

One important characteristic of the monarchy is what many call the ‘network’. When I speak of the monarchy’s role in politics, ‘monarchy’ refers to more than just one individual or the monarchy itself — I am referring to the many people who benefit from the monarchy, who have vested interests, whose ideology is tied to the existence of a strong monarchy. The people who make up this network are many, and are not merely the King’s family. The network includes ordinary people just like us — with ideologies, beliefs, good intentions, bad intentions. Some are enchanted, infatuated with the monarchy while others have material interests. Whatever it is, they all desire a strong monarchy who has a role in the country’s political affairs.

In other words, if a King does not have sufficient charisma, engages in poor behavior and activities, or has a personality that causes people to doubt his virtue, the ‘royal hegemony’ will cease to exist. There is no ‘core’ that can form the foundation for the network, and which can provide the legitimacy needed to grow royalty’s influence in Thailand’s politics. So full circle back to this over-reliance on one individual — now we can see why succession is rising in importance. It’s not just about the King alone. The behaviour of the King is connected to the political system, to other institutions and on and on.

To sum up, succession would not be fatally important were it not for the current political context, and the conditions of Thailand today.

The king and the constitution

I think that the latest constitution makes it clear that we now live under a system of governance that is exactly what Rama VII wanted, but which the People’s Party opposed. What should we call this system? (laughs). More than 80 years later after the reign of Rama VII, he finally got what he wished for.

In conclusion, Thailand’s current political system depends on the monarch having great charisma. The constitution as it stands is based upon a king, whose own legitimacy is based on the belief that kings must be good. But nobody can guarantee this. As such, there is inherent contradiction in the system.

Will this contradiction erupt? Of course it will, one day. But nobody can say when.

This is an excerpt from an interview published in Prachatai’s new book A Molten Land: The Mandatory Transition. The book can be purchased here. It is in Thai.





The patronage system

24 12 2016

The puppet National Legislative Assembly’s (NLA) has been allocated a series of tasks by the junta, all meant to uproot the so-called Thaksin regime, meaning all remnants of the electoralism of the period 2001 to 2006.

Anti-democrats and the military dictators believe that Thaksin Shinawatra established an extensive patronage network in business, politics and the civil and military bureaucracy that needs to be abolished if the royalist elite and “network monarchy” is to maintain its ascendancy. They often linked patronage and vote-buying.

We at PPT had not previously heard of what The Nation calls an NLA “ad-hoc committee on how to fight the deeply-entrenched patronage system,” led, of course, by one of the top brass, Admiral Saksit Cherdboonmuang.The committee was the Admiral’s idea and was established in February.

Apparently, it has been at work developing a “367-page report with detailed proposals on how to end the domination of the patronage system in Thailand’s bureaucracy.” PPT hasn’t seen the report, but the Admiral says the ” patronage system causes damage in various dimensions. For example, it discourages many talented people from working in the government sector…”. Patronage, he says, leads to corruption.

Saksit reckons “that when it came to the delivery of government services, people … will think they just can’t go through normal channels of service delivery. They will think they need to find personal connections to get good services…”.

Anyone who has dealt with the bureaucracy will recognize this. That said, quite a few departments were much better following changes that began with the 1997 constitution. For example, getting a passport became a standardized procedure without the need to pay extras or to know someone.

The Admiral also “lamented that patronage had long been a part of the bureaucracy, pushing civil servants to prioritise personal relationships over a merit-based system.” He added:

It encourages junior officials to kow-tow to senior officials, who in turn bow to political-office holders so as to maintain beneficial relationships. In this cycle, businesspeople have also lobbied government officials and political-office holders.

Again, everyone will recognize this pattern. Having many minions makes life comfortable and is a display of power. It is also well-known that senior bureaucrats, police and military become very wealthy by their positions and their control of bureaucratic knowledge, rules and hierarchy.

None of this is new, being described long into the past by historians who describe favoritism, nepotism and corruption.

It starts when they are young

It starts when they are young

Saksit said his committee had compiled guidelines on how to stop the patronage culture from damaging the bureaucracy. These include a “ban free gifts, feasts, and bribes.” Government officials will also be “advised to avoid playing golf with people who may pose a conflict of interest.”  Reportedly, the recommendations include advice that “senior officials should reduce the number of assistants, because close work relations can also foster patronage feelings.”

Like many things in Thailand today, under the military dictatorship, this is doublespeak. There’s good patronage and bad patronage. Bad patronage is associated with nasty elected politicians. Good patronage is unmentioned, because it is a system that is based in hierarchy, military and monarchism.

It continues for university students and military recruits

It continues for university students and military recruits

As one commentator observed:

The patronage system is deeply ingrained…. The government is the parent. The people are the children…. The parent naturally has a fascist tendency to demand that the child not do this, not to do that.

This brief description fits the military dictatorship like a glove.

The last person who criticized this system of “good” or royalist patronage in any detail was probably Jakrapob Penkair.

Jakrapob, a former spokesman for ousted Prime Minister Thaksin, made a speech at Bangkok’s Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand (FCCT) on 29 August 2007. Royalists declared the speech anti-monarchy and he had to resign as a minister in May 2008. Under pressure from the Abhisit Vejjajiva government, on 22 March 2010 the case was sent forward for consideration for prosecution. Jakrapob had fled Thailand a year earlier. While the lese majeste case was reportedly dropped, Jakrapob remains in exile.

And continues to the top

And continues to the top

In that speech [opens a PDF that may be considered lese majeste in Thailand], Jakrapob stated that the then (2007) political crisis represented a “clash between Democracy and Patronage system directly.” He added: “It’s a head on clash.” He traces the history of patronage in Thai history:

One of the noted examples was that Great Father Ramkamheang … proposed to have a bell hung in front of his palace and anybody with specific problems could come and ring that bell and he or his people would come out and handle the problems. That was one of the first lessons the Thai students learnt about Thai political regime that you have someone to depend upon.

When you have a problem turn to someone who can help you, so before we know it, we are led into the Patronage system because we asked about dependency before our own capability to do things.

The lesson for today is that loyalty is paramount: “If you have loyalty to the King, unquestionable loyalty to the King, you would be protected, in order to show this protection more clearly, people who do otherwise must be punished.” Hence, under the military dictatorship of royalist generals, lese majeste is considered a more dire crime than premeditated murder.

Jakrapob talks of the modern era where the “[p]atronage system is problematic because it encourages unequality [inequality] among individuals. And that’s a direct conflict to Democracy. It encourages one person into thinking of depending on the other or others. It breeds endless number of slaves with a very limited number of masters. It prevents Thailand from coming out of age.”

That’s why Thailand has so many coups; the idea is to prevent the royalist patronage system being changed or overthrown.

We don’t think the Admiral is talking about this patronage system. After all, he and all his junta buddies and every single member of the military’s officer corps benefit greatly from royalist-preferred patronage.