“Moral people” or democracy

18 03 2014

Charles Keyes is a professor emeritus at the University of Washington and the author of the brand new book Finding Their Voice: Northeastern Villagers and the Thai State. He has an op-ed at Aljazeera America that will have quite a few arguing that this old hand and respected academic has somehow “sold out” to the “dark side.”

In fact, Keyes has recognized that Thailand has undergone great changes and is alerting others to this fact and its political meanings.

Keyes begins with a simple point: “For nearly a decade there have been large-scale protests, primarily in the capital, Bangkok, with supporters of royalist elites confronting those who favor representative democracy.” The most recent street politics are explained as having very high stakes: “whether Thailand can remain a democracy and, if so, what kind of democracy.”

On anti-democracy leader Suthep Thaugsuban and his movement: “Despite constant references to democracy, Suthep and his followers are far from seeking democratic reforms.” As most observers know, “Suthep and his … PDRC are insisting on Yingluck [Shinawatra]’s withdrawal from politics and for her democratically elected government to be replaced by a royally appointed committee…”.

The professor says the anti-democrats want “rule by moral people — appointed by the king.” As he points out, this is in opposition to all recent elections, and is justified by what PPT would see as a nasty racism:

The Democrat Party and its middle-class and royalist backers dismiss Yingluck’s Pheu Thai Party supporters as ignorant peasants whose votes were bought primarily through populist government programs.

Having spent five decades studying Thailand and the Northeast, he dismisses this perspective:

In contrast, villagers in the north and northeastern parts of the country — Pheu Thai’s stronghold — are committed to democracy and believe they should have an equal say in determining Thailand’s political order.

Of course, they should have an equal say. However, PPT points out that this is anathema for the anti-democrats because they also reject notions of equality.

Keyes points out that economic change, education and migration for work means former peasant households have “become cosmopolitan villagers, with a sophisticated understanding of the larger world.” In other countries they are farmers, often with political clout, but not in Thailand.

The change came with what PPT has designated the “Thaksin revolution.”

The result, as Keyes explains is:

Unfortunately for these constituents, Thaksin and his family, including Yingluck, have generated widespread disapproval, even hatred, from the old royalist and bureaucratic elite, the middle class and many nongovernmental organizations.

Much of the chronology that Keyes explains will be known to PPT readers. He does, however, comment on the current political crisis: “The current stalemate threatens to degenerate into tit-for-tat violence, if not civil war.” He thinks the “country’s future hinges on the manifestation of … differences in electoral democracy, not confrontations on the streets.”

The silence on the monarchy is deafening. Yet that silence by this old hand is doing away with the manufactured notion that the “revered monarchy” has a role in solving the current crisis in contemporary Thailand. Of course, the palace, its hangers-on and the hierarchical lot in the military will disagree, but it is the people that matter.

Updated: Same old yellow-shirted “academics”

30 01 2014

More on the tired and those who pose as “academics” but who are simplistic ideologues for royalist, yellow-shirted causes at the Bangkok Post where they have formed yet another group with a name that fools nobody:

A group of 194 academics, former cabinet ministers, community leaders, business figures, civil servants, members of the media and writers and artists have set up a network to push for reform through peaceful means.

Prominent academic [sic.] Thirayuth Boonmi yesterday announced the formation of the Network of Servants for Reform through Peaceful Means.

We know that Thirayudh thinks that the only problem for Thailand is Thaksin Shinawatra. It is that simple for him. He has long lived on his reputation as an “activist”, 40 years ago, and publishes books that are usually a bunch of pretty incoherent “thoughts.”

Other “members” of the so-called “network” are reported to include “former Bank of Thailand governor and former finance minister MR [joined at the hip to the junta] Pridiyathorn Devakula, former Siam Commercial Bank president Khunying Jada Wattanasiritham, archaeologist Srisak Vanliphodom and former public health minister Mongkol Na Songkhla.” Pridiyathorn and Srisak are long-standing anti-Thaksin activists. Jada headed the king’s bank.

Others are of the same ilk: Rapee Sakrik, rabid yellow-shirt ideologue Chai-Anan Samudavanija, “media guru” Somkiat Onwimon, and a bunch of singers and artists, all with long yellow-shirt connections.

Thirayuth, comes up with the obvious:

Thailand has been plagued with corruption, political crises, social disparity and injustice…. The education system is inefficient and media organisations use freedom of expression irresponsibly, which has contributed to social divisions….

Well, perhaps the latter isn’t the obvious, but suggests a chilling willingness for control and re-education. This lot have long had opportunities to address such issues, but they hardly seemed to worry about them until the “Thaksin revolution” which attempted to drag Thailand into the modern world.

Thirayuth says: “Unlimited greed and arbitrary power have led the country into an absolute catastrophe…”. He adds: “The last thing which has already started to collapse is morality and ethics as killings and violence now take place on the streets but many people appear to be indifferent, which is very worrying…”.

As Thongchai Winichakul long ago pointed out, these people promote a royalist notion of morality that damns all politicians as the fount of all of these problems. Not the conservative elite or the military or the police and Ministry of Interior. Not the feudal ideology the imbues most institutions. Not the monarchy and its anti-democratic ideology and not rapacious Sino-Thai capitalists, including those at the palace.

When “[a]cademic” and junta constitution boss Meechai Ruchupan said “he threw his support behind the move,” you know that this group is fake. No wonder there is no mention of elections. The slogan should be: Reform now! Change the rules to our rule! Maybe have an election!

The “Thaksin revolution” really did shake up the elite.

Update: Actually, we were wrong in our comment on Meechai. He has  been reported as encouraging people to vote. Why? He wants the anti-democrats to vote no. He explains that voters should:

… show their disapproval of the government rather than refusing to go to the polls….

He said social media campaigns have been launched suggesting that if the voter turnout is less than 50%, Sunday’s election will become null and void.

Mr Meechai said this is a misunderstanding because even if the turnout is only 10%, the poll is still legally valid.

Whether the election is made invalid does not depend on the number of voters. but on whether or not it can be held nationwide on a fixed day, he explained.

The caretaker government and the Election Commission (EC) must know this but it appears they have still not discussed the matter seriously. If the poll cannot take place nationwide on Sunday, the government and the EC must take responsibility and they could both risk having criminal and civil suits being levelled against them, Mr Meechai said.

If there are many no-shows at the poll, the outcome of the election could be interpreted in a way that suggests that 100% or nearly 100% of voters support the government, Mr Meechai said.

But those who disagree with the government could tick the “vote no” box to show their disapproval.

You get the picture.

Elites fuck up Bangkok

30 01 2014

That’s one of the headlines for an article on current demonstrations in Thailand at the leftish Counterpunch online magazine by Andre Vltchek who is said to be a novelist, filmmaker and investigative journalist.

He begins, off the headline with this: “They really do, do it! And they are hard at work.”

As usual, PPT doesn’t agree with everything in the article, such as the identification of Thailand as feudal rather than capitalist (recalling the CPT of yore) or the 1970s characterization of neocolonialist dependent development. Even so, readers will be interested, so here are some quotes of interest:

Sukumvit Road, the main commercial artery of the capital, is totally blocked. ‘Protesters’ are camped in the middle of it, basically taking it over, their tents, shops and eateries are spread all over the pavement.

In most true capitalist societies it would never come to this. Local businessmen, the city administration and the government by now would be worried silly about all those huge losses – of hundreds of millions of dollars disappearing because of the irresponsible actions of the ultra-conservative minority political movement….

… the most feared and revered ‘father’ was that man whose name we cannot even mention, that’s if we want to stay out of prison.

He was born in the United States, brought back, implanted into Thailand, when the institution of the monarchy by then had almost disappeared as a real force and as an alternative. The West needed him. It generously rewarded him and lifted him up to a divine level….

This, one of the most feudal systems in Asia, was glorified as a democracy, while the man at the top (one of the richest monarchs in the world), was only described by the disciplined Western press as a ‘revered’ demi-god, and, a ruler ‘loved by his people’….

So what is really happening now in Bangkok?

It is simple, but it is not supposed to be spoken about.

Thaksin Shinawatra, the former Thai Prime Minister, a business tycoon of Chinese origin, committed the most unforgivable crime in the eyes of the Thai elites: Some years back he actually attempted to convert Thailand from a backward feudal nation, into some sort of a modern capitalist state….

Mr. Shinawatra was not an angel….

But, he did some things, unimaginable….

He introduced universal health care, virtually free, and excellent. He reformed education dramatically and so well that many of my friends, left-wing educators, were actually deeply impressed. He began housing the poor.

The elites in Bangkok hated this. The majority of them are not just after profits. They need to feel exceptional. They need ‘respect’. They need admiration and fear. They need weak, prostrated people; they need their feet to be kissed. They need to feel that the majority of the nation exists only in order to please them….

But the elites felt that if the ‘plebs’ got all those privileges, the gap between them would shrink, an unimaginable and most horrifying outcome!

And so they forced Mr. Shinawatra out from office, from Thailand, and in the end, they massacred those that demanded his return….

I asked Mr. Yamdee [a hotel boss], what impact had Shinawatra’s reforms on his hotel chain had, on the employees, on the life of ordinary people in Thailand?

“Huge”, he replied. “The minimum wage was elevated to US$300 dollars a month. For instance, the receptionists used to make that amount in the past, and most of the receptionists belong to the middle class. We matched the wages of the cleaning ladies, to comply with the new minimum wage regulation, so suddenly everybody was making the same amount of money. Of course that was unacceptable for those who came from wealthy families… You see, it was not about receptionists making less money, but about others, those from the lower class, suddenly making the same wages.”…

And the conclusion: “It is sickening. Once again, local elites are raping the country, in broad daylight, in front of the world.”

Royals and politics

22 01 2014

Some quotations from recent articles:

The Economist explains Why Thai politics is broken:

For Mr Thaksin’s supporters … the problem is that he has threatened the interests of the old Thai establishment, represented by the civil service, the army, the judiciary and the monarchy. They portray the protests as an anti-democratic backlash from a privileged class under threat.

Large, influential sections of Thai society find rule by the [Shinawatra] family simply intolerable. They will use almost any tactic to unseat it, including accusing it of disloyalty to the much-revered king, Bhumibol Adulyadej. That the king is 86 and frail, and his presumed successor, the crown prince, is unpopular, and seen as perhaps susceptible to Mr Thaksin’s influence, fuels the sense of panic in the opposition.

Council of Foreign Relations on Thai Royalty Becomes More Openly Involved in Politics:

Thailand’s royal family has, during the reign of King Bhumibhol Adulyadej, always been far more closely involved in Thai politics than any constitutional monarch would be. However, until the past decade, the royal family usually conducted its interventions behind the scenes. The king and his allies normally acted behind at least a veil of deniability, so that in times of crisis, the king could potentially play the role of mediator and neutral-broker.

The article then refers to an article by Pavin Chachavalpongpun who, at New Mandala, rounded up material that had been widely circulated on social media and made it available in English. The final quote from the CFR article is:

To some observers of Thai politics, the open politicization of the royal family is a disaster—a shift that further undermines civilian, democratic leaders and reduces the monarchy’s ability to play a neutral, mediating, above-politics function. But, in the long run, this politicization, combined with the eventual reign of a king who enjoys far less public trust and love than Rama IX, could actually be a net positive for Thai democracy. As the monarchy loses some degree of public trust, other democratic institutions eventually will have to assume the role of mediator and crisis-solver, and a real constitutional monarchy can develop in Thailand.

Nothing new in this – see here and here – but always worth saying again and again.

A “ridiculous movement” and its self-deception

24 12 2013

A couple of days ago, the New York Times had a useful story on the anti-democratic movement’s refusal to allow an election in Thailand. Of course, this is congruent with the Democrat Party government’s response to red shirt protesters in 2009 and 2010, when it repeatedly refused an election.

One section of the report struck us as being an interesting reflection of the inability of Thailand’s urban elite and middle class to understand their own country. In commenting on the “threat” posed to this disconnected group, one Saran Seedum, who claimed to be “a 24-year-old university student from southern Thailand” stated:

“Our country is an agricultural society — we are not ready for democracy…”.

It seems to PPT that Saran is speaking of a Thailand that existed around the time of his birth! While household registrations still have two-thirds of Thais in rural areas, no demographer believes this, and agriculture has not the largest source of GDP since the mid-1980s. It also seems that this student knows little of democracy or its history. In fact, democracy in America was strong when it was an agricultural society, as Alexis de Tocqueville noted in 1835. India is a highly populous country that has utilized elections and democratic politics since independence. We won’t go on.

Even if Saran is ignorant of democracy and the world, he has strong opinions:

“I think we need to restore the absolute monarchy,” he said, echoing a surprisingly common sentiment among protesters. “Let the king appoint good people to run the country.”

To be honest, we are not sure that Saran even knows what an absolute monarchy, but we are sure that, like the last absolute monarch in Thailand, he like to see the heads of those he thinks oppose his politics on pikes outside the palace.

Adding to this, the Times quotes “Darunee Kerdkhao, 48, a teacher who lives in Bangkok…”. She claims to have:

… joined the protest because the governing party had a lot of money and she feared that the votes of “simple minded” citizens in northern parts of the country could be bought.

She adds:

“The protesters here are all educated people…”.

These interviewees are representative of the anti-democratic and status-oriented attitudes and remarkable self-deception of many of those demonstrating against democracy and elections. Thankfully, the Times also cites an enlightened observer:

But watching the protests with disdain was Som Srisuwan, 48, a motorcycle-taxi driver who said he was grateful that Mr. Thaksin had introduced universal health care and that the governing party was forging ahead with plans for high-speed trains in the country.

Everyone in his village in northeastern Thailand planned to vote in the elections, he said….

He dismissed the protests as a “ridiculous movement.”

It is indeed, but it is probably the most threatening and dangerous anti-democratic movement Thailand has seen in recent decades.

Thaksin’s gift to his opponents

29 10 2013

The politically daft decision by Thaksin Shinawatra and the Puea Thai Party hierarchy to support a ludicrous amnesty bill does nothing for the “Thaksin revolution.” A week or so ago, while not using this description, PPT commented:

… the combination of economic crisis, new constitution and the resulting advance of electoral politics saw Thaksin Shinawatra and his Thai Rak Thai Party “sleepwalking into history,” [clicking opens a PDF] offering national political-electoral platforms that came to be seen as a challenge to the royalist status quo. Voting for a party that promised and delivered opened people’s eyes to the possibilities offered by electoral politics that far exceeded the old “money politics” model.

… this is not an outcome we expected at the time Thaksin was first elected. We’re pretty sure that Thaksin didn’t expect it either…. Nor did Thaksin imagine that the palace and associated elements of the capitalist and royal hangers-on elite would find his politics such a challenge. That opposition pushed Thaksin even further to so-called populism and a political alliance with voters in rural and working class electorates.

Puea Thai logoThat has been the Thaksin revolution: whether he wanted to or not, his election and all that followed has pushed Thailand in directions that cause the royalist elite deep concern. Yet even they have had to accommodate the “new Thailand” of electoral representation and challenges to the hierarchical and feudal institutions that the royalists say they cherish.

But by supporting this amnesty Thaksin and Puea Thai are betraying those who have supported Thaksin and his parties.

Worse, Thaksin and Puea Thai Party are handing their opposition a chance for a political victory that they could not have conjured themselves. They can then set about (again) turning back the political clock.

Look at the list of those lining up to oppose amnesty. Of course, the Democrat Party opposes it as does it allied factions of People’s Alliance for Democracy-associated ginger groups. They are organizing street-based opposition that will be funded by the same business, military and old elite money of the earlier iterations of the yellow shirt rallies.

Then there is the royalist-dominated Anti-Corruption Organisation of Thailand (ACT) that is said to include:

finance and business organisations such as the Board of Trade, Federation of Thai Industries, Thai Bankers Association, the Securities and Exchange Commission, Thai Institute of Directors, Federation of Thai Capital Market Organisations, the Thai Listed Companies Association, and the Association of Thai Securities Companies.

While we might question the anti-corruption credentials of this group – think of all the corrupt deals of these businesses! – that isn’t the point.

The army brass is also now opposed:

Army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha has insisted he and his soldiers do not want a reprieve under the amnesty bill….

Gen Prayuth said he had talked to his soldiers to hear their views on the amnesty bill offering a blanket reprieve and they insisted they did not want an amnesty.

He said the army was not a party to the political conflict and soldiers are officials of the state who perform their duties under the law.

Gen Prayuth said he himself did not want an amnesty either.

As ever, the Army brass expects its usual impunity when it kills citizens, but the stated opposition is a significant political statement by Prayuth.

This opposition also allows the Bangkok Post, in the same article, to repeat the “men in black” claims:

“Men in black” were accused of firing bullets and grenades at soldiers in April and May 2010, leading to a score of injuries and deaths among troops. They were believed to have received military training.

The opposition may look weaker than it has been for several years, yet we think that gifting the opposition an issue that will unite the opposition and help it to grow is not just politically foolish but demeans the “Thaksin revolution.”

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