Elections vs. the patronage system

11 04 2017

The Puea Thai Party may think it has a chance of doing well in an election, even if it is the junta’s “election.” We have serious doubts that they could win another election under the junta’s rules. Even if they did, the junta’s constitution will stymie them as a government.

In line with their faith in electoral democracy, the Puea Thai Party has demanded a “general election early next year, revocation of ‘unconstitutional’ orders of the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) [the military junta] and freedom to express opinions about legislation.”

Somewhat oddly, at least in our view, the party sees the “promulgation of the 2017 constitution last Thursday started a process to restore democracy…”. We see it as the beginning of a period of military-backed government.

Meanwhile, the enemies of electoral democracy met with General Prem Tinsulanonda, the President of the Privy Council. The now frail Prem beamed as he accepted the obeisance of some members of the junta (who was missing?), cabinet members, military commanders-in-chief, the national police chief and other top officials.

General Prem “wished Prime Minister [General] Prayut Chan-o-cha success in his handling of the country’s administration and advised him not to be discouraged by problems he has encountered.” For the grand old political meddler, “success” involves “returning happiness” to “the Thai people.”

The Dictator was puffed up and proud, praising General Prem, “who he said was a role model for everyone in the country in terms of loyalty to the nation, religion and the monarchy.”

Readers will be amused to learn that The Dictator “presented a vase of flowers and a basket of gifts to Gen Prem, who in return distributed a CD on the tribute to the late King … and a book of prayer to everyone present.”

Just the thing for men who were responsible for the attacks on red shirt demonstrators seven years ago to the day that eventually left scores dead and thousands injured.

Meanwhile, it seems that Prayuth has decided that as The Dictator, he deserves Prem-like obeisance. He will “open Government House on April 12 for cabinet members, members of the National Council for Peace and Order, armed forces commanders and other officials to perform a rod nam dam hua [water-pouring] ceremony for him to mark the Songkran Festival.”

The juxtaposition of these political positions is defining of Thailand’s political present and indicative of its futures.





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.





Listening to yellow-shirted opinion

26 03 2010

A meeting was held at the royalist-dominated Chulalongkorn University that claimed to be on the topic “Why Society Must Listen to the Little People,” and is reported in the Bangkok Post (25 March 2010). While the meeting did include two red shirt representatives, PPT wants to look at the yellow-shirted opinion.

The Post summarizes the meeting as saying that red shirt demands for a dissolution of the lower house of parliament will achieve very little for democracy until politicians can be kept in check and made accountable for their actions.

Niran Pithakwatchara from the government’s tame National Human Rights Commission, claimed that “true democracy had never existed in Thailand and people on the lower rungs of society were mere pawns in the politicians’ games.Sonthi Limthongkul used this same line repeatedly.

So don’t get rid of the government says Niran, but exercise the “rights” provided by the military’s 2007 Constitution to “keep tabs on the holders of power.Niran calls for “civic networks” to watch the politicians. But who might watch the military, the privy council and the monarch and family? Are politicians reflective of the structure of their society or are they the only problem? Niran goes on to claim that the red shirts should somehow fight for equal benefits from state policies. In fact, though, he sees them as fighting for Thaksin Shinawatra. His comments show why PPT refers to the NHRC being the government’s tame body. Currently it seems to fight for no one.

Senator Rosana Tositrakul, a staunch promoter and defender of the People’s Alliance for Democracy, decided to explain that “a dissolution of the House or a general election would not dispense with the system of the bureaucratic elite, or amataya, which is a key platform of the UDD movement.” As PAD intellectuals have argued, the problem for the senator is that politicians are a part of the so-called patronage system. The “people elect MPs who then use their popular support to negotiate seats in the cabinet.” She’s right on this.

Bringing back that system was critical for those who drafted the military’s 2007 Constitution that the senator has cheered. Like many others, she asks what the red shirts want after a dissolution. PPT’s understanding is that the red shirts have called for a dissolution and then an election. Presumably each party would promulgate an electoral platform. We suspect that is not what the senator wants.

Surichai Wankaew, a political scientist at Chulalongkorn who worked for years to develop grassroots politics and then jumped into the military junta’s appointed parliament when the chance came, noted that the “highly partisan” political divide allows the “urban population to dictate national priorities.

Maybe the professor has lost his spectacles, for this domination has been in place for a very long time and hardly seems the product of recent “partisanship.” Apparently the professor thinks the House should not be dissolved until after the people have set conditions to improve the political system, which the holders of power must adopt.” This seems to involve some kind of PAD-like notion of politics.

It is as if politicians are the only cause of political problems in Thailand. This is a myopia that seems to prevent these yellow-shirted politicians – each has been or is a politician – from getting beyond slogans about “the people,” and recall that they are the ones saying that it is the red shirts who are all about slogans and lacking substance. Each also has a claim to grassroots activism. It seems, though, that the grassroots has abandoned them.





Royalists complain, offer advice, launch websites

7 02 2010

 

PPT has kind of thought that the royalists would be pretty happy with the Democrat Party-led coalition they maneuvered into power with the help of the military a year ago. While the government hasn’t dealt a death blow to Thaksin Shinawatra and the red shirts, in terms of being royalist, the Abhisit Vejjajiva government would seem to have done the right things.

 

The government has jailed critics on lese majeste and Computer Crimes charges, blocked tens of thousands of critical website, had millions brought out to demonstrate “loyalty” and “love” in various ways, and it has spent millions if not billions on royal propaganda and other royal things.

 

But it seems this may not be sufficient. The Bangkok Post (7 February 2010) reports that Privy councilor Air Chief Marshal Kamthon Sindhavananda has said that the Abhisit government appeared to be “on the defensive” when it came to preventing insults against the monarchy. Kamthon complained that the government was way to slow in responding to attacks and insults aimed at the monarchy.

 

PPT foolishly imagined that the palace might have been grateful that the government seems to have shifted the bad press regarding lese majeste off the front pages of newspapers. Apparently not. It seems the old guys at the privy council want even more people locked up.

 

When asked about Kamthon’s comment yesterday, Abhisit looked uncomfortable, but said he would listen to the honorable one’s advice and he “pledged to improve mechanisms to safeguard the royal institution. The premier reaffirmed that “protecting the monarchy is the government’s top priority.

 

It seems that the privy councilor may not be happy with Abhisit’s new “committee charged with providing advice on lese majeste cases to make sure the monarchy is not embroiled in politics.

 

In the same report, there is a photo of gleeful banned politician Newin Chidchob displaying his great love for the monarchy by launching the Bhum Jai Thai Party’s king lover’s website. Newin said the website will give Thais another channel to express their love and allegiance to the King.One of hundreds. Expecting challenges, Newin said that his “website staff will continually monitor and filter out messages posted on the website that are deemed inappropriate.

 

The site is actually a mess, so maybe he should have had someone update the website before “launching” it. But that isn’t really the point as Newin simply wants to be seen as a staunch royalist.

 

In a related Bangkok Post (7 February 2010) story Privy Council president General Prem Tinsulanonda is reported to have made a speech at Rangsit University (where there are strong royal, yellow shirt and Democrat Party connections) calling for “good” leaders.

 

Taking a leaf out of Jakrapob Penkair’s 29 August 2007 speech to the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand (FCCT), Prem claims that “nepotism, cronyism and the patronage system are key factors in making Thai leaders ignore justice and the rule of law.

 

Jakkrapob said essentially the same thing, and got charged with lese majeste because he linked the system to the current monarch and his flunkies, including Prem.

 

The Post states: “Without identifying any leader, Gen Prem said that forms of relationships in Thai society – relatives, friends, and those who do someone favours – are key factors in shaping the mindset of Thai leaders.” Of course, a monarchy is a prime example of nepotism and everyone knows that an “in” with the palace is exceptionally powerful, so maybe Prem is living in a very large and well-appointed glass house.

 

Prem’s solution is to look to the military – what a thing to say when coup rumors are everywhere! The old general disparages politicians when he says: “many people have volunteered to be leaders but they lacked the charisma needed to lead people.” Prem urges a search for “charismatic [barami] leaders to work for the good of the country.

 

Prem seems to support Abhisit when he states: that “good leaders [must] be able to differentiate between the good and the bad and uphold justice. They must have moral integrity and must make sure their colleagues also maintain those standards.” That’s exactly the image Abhisit tries to portray.

 

And, of course, leaders “must be loyal to His Majesty the King and act in the best interests of the country.” Good old-fashioned Thai-style democracy, repacked from the late 1950s.

 

Regular readers may remember that about a week ago PPT said that, as the political heat rose we could expect more noise from the palace. It seems to have begun in earnest.