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.


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.

Further updated: Good news, bad news

13 01 2014

So far the anti-democracy shutdown seems a relatively quiet and peaceful affair. The Bangkok Post reports reasonably good news:

The rallies on the first day of the People’s Democratic Reform Committee’s Bangkok shutdown are generally normal without any untoward incidents and it is not necessary to invoke the emergency decree, Deputy Prime Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul said on Monday.

Mr Surapong, who supervises the Centre for the Administration of Peace and Order, said Capo had monitored the rallies at all seven locations, particularly the Lat Phrao, Victory Monument and Asok intersections.

There were a few traffic problems, but no reports of violence, he said.

“Capo would like to thank the Thai people, both in Bangkok and other provinces, for having exercised restraint in the present situation. We hope the rallies will continue to be peaceful and non-violent,” Mr Surapong said.

He said it was not predictable for how long the rallies would continue, but police had initially prepared to handle the situation for one week.

The bad news seems to be that this quietness may be cause for more extreme action by militant protesters. Khaosod reports that protesters have tried to block more intersections than the seven their leaders claimed they’d blockade. More worryingly, the Bangkok Post has reported that protesters have threatened airports.

This threat is not to the airports themselves, but to air traffic control:

… protesters from the Network of Students and People for Reform of Thailand (NSPRT) promised to blockade the entrance to Aerothai (Aeronautical Radio of Thailand) unless caretaker Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra steps down by Wednesday.

Aerothai is in sole charge of communications between aircraft and air traffic controllers in Thailand. Their offices on Soi Ngam Dupli in Bangkok’s Sathorn district act as a networking centre for computer systems linking air traffic control posts across the country.

Of course, blocking these communications would shut down all airports and potentially impacts flights traversing Thailand’s air space. Bangkok Pundit points out that the leader taking responsibility for this action is Nittithon Lamlua.

Indicating the control of extremists in the anti-democracy movement, the “Stock Exchange of Thailand (SET) has also been singled out as a target by protesters.”
Clearly biting the hand that feeds it and probably scaring their financiers as much as the government, the NSPRT is enamored of the faux radicalism of U.S. anti-capitalists. These pretend leftists campaign against a worldwide Wall Street conspiracy and who usually attract a tiny audience of neo-Nazis, Tea Party types, hill-dwelling libertarians and other strange radicals. NSPRT leader Uthai Yodmanee said:

the group plans to shut down the stock market because Thai investors are ignoring the current political situation. He said protesters believe the stock market is the heart of the “Thaksin regime”, since former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra is still able to manipulate markets in the country from overseas.

That these claims are without evidence is because they are daft. But people who are attracted by such rumors and nonsense are unpredictable. At one moment they are making horrendous and barbarous sexual commentary on Yingluck Shinawatra because she is a women and they despise her with sexist references, and the next they are attacking police and other authorities in order to defeat “the system.”

Update 1: Readers might be interested in the International Crisis Group’s alert on potential conflict in Thailand.

Update 2: Despite the fact that several news outlets had direct quotes from NSPRT leaders regarding their intentions (as cited above), the main anti-democracy protest group denies everything: PDRC spokesman Akanat Promphan “gave assurances that they would not seize the airport, key transportation systems and the stock market…”. It looks remarkably like a struggle between regular extremists and ultra-extremists has broken out in the ranks of the anti-democrats.


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