Anti-democratic academics and others

26 03 2012

PPT has been reading some of the recent commentary by an apparently reinvigorated bunch of yellow-hued academics and we have found, all too  predictably, that nothing much has changed for those who seem to delight in acting as the anti-democratic mouthpieces of the royalist elite.

A few days ago the aging and often theoretically incomprehensible middle class “radical” Thirayudh Boonmee came out with statements reported at the Bangkok Post that seemed to trouble the military (because he mentioned a coup) and some of Thaksin Shinawatra’s acolytes (because, as ever, the crumpled academic was critical).

Thirayudh

The academic is director of the Sanya Dhammasak Institute for Democracy at Thammasat University. Sanya was a prime minister appointed by the king in October 1973 and never held elected office. PPT notes that this is yet another institute in Thailand commemorating “democracy” as a royalist invention rather than a result of long political struggles.

Thirayudh is reported to believe that “the ongoing political conflict in Thailand derives from the fact that people do not respect the opinions of others who belong to a different political colour.” Well, yes, there is a “lack of respect,” but this tells us nothing about the interests that underlie “different opinions.” It is a fallacious position influenced by postmodernist positions that consider opinions, ideas and ideology the basis of politics. It is as if ideas float in thin air, disconnected from material interests. In other words, such Thirayudh’s observation is useless to any deep understanding of Thailand’s politics.

Thirayudh’s main point, though, is a critique of electoral politics. He says Thailand is “dominated by former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, grass roots politics and populist policies.”

He may be partly right to identify Thaksin as “one of the three most influential political figures since 1957.  The other two are former military strongman Field Marshal Sarit Thanarat and Gen Prem Tinsulanonda,” but forgets the king and the palace as a major political actor.

Thirayudh seems disturbed that “political parties under Thaksin consecutively won power,” because he sees Thaksin as having “no true intentions of building democracy for the grass roots.” This is because he think the “grassroots” are a bunch of dullards who are vulnerable to Thaksin as “a marketing leader” rather than “a democracy leader.” They can be mobilized by Thaksin for his purposes. Like many middle class academics, for Thirayud, “Thaksin’s aim is more to make the grass roots his clients than to make them a sustainable foundation of the Thai economy.”

Part of that marketing push involved elections and “populist policies.” For him, “populism” is some kind of political sin as it makes electoral popularity paramount and what Thirayudh sees as necessary is to “uplift Thai society to be democratically strong, with strengthened rights, freedom and responsibility in which the people respect the feelings of others.”

While few would disagree with some of this, the point is that this is a deeply politically conservative position that hankers for some kind of “united” people, free of conflicts. Think here of the king’s repeated calls for unity and order. Essentially the ideas expressed by the king and Thirayudh spring from the same conservatism.

That same conservatism prompts Thirayudh to see the “current conflict in the country derives from Thaksin’s insatiable desire for wealth and power…”. In other words, the “desires” of the people are ignored.

More recently, and more obviously royalist in perspective, are the recent comments by the deep yellow-hued Chulalongkorn University political scientist Chaiyan Chaiyaporn. Chaiyan has long been a People’s Alliance for Democracy supporter and anti-Thaksin activist.

Like his colleagues in PAD, Chaiyan has a warped notion of electoral democracy. At The Nation he adds to the long history of PAD’s and his own anti-democratic cravings. There, Chaiyan makes the extraordinary proposal that any “national referendum on the Constitution should require the backing of two-thirds of voters before the charter can be adopted.”

Chaiyan

For PPT, the idea of a referendum on a constitution is silly and suggestive of exceptionally shallow thinking. Take the 2007 constitution and the military junta’s idea of having a referendum on it. Voters got to cast a vote of Yes or No for the draft constitution. That basic law contained 309 articles. What was a voter who had read the thing to do if he or she strongly objected to one article but kind of liked 308? Vote No? What would the voter who agreed with 155 articles but disagreed with 154 to do? Vote Yes? In any case, the junta’s team made constitutional change a task for parliament.

But politically, Chaiyan is doing something else. He is proposing the two-thirds requirement simply because it “is not easy to achieve.” The proposal he makes is to prevent the current government changing the constitution. He makes this crystal clear:

The Pheu Thai and government coalition did not get that many votes in the 2011 election. They will have to campaign more to get approval for the new charter while the opposition might campaign for people to oppose or abstain.

Chaiyan is anti-democratic to the core. But we guess his anti-Thaksin panelists found such proposals just fine and dandy.

We are not suggesting that all academics are simply the ideologues of the elitist royalist regime. For alternative perspectives, this story at the Bangkok Post is worth reading.

Retired Thammasat University history professor Thanet Aphornsuvan said:

We know that there is social inequity in our country, but what makes the people no longer tolerate this and why are the factors that used to make them accept the situation not being sustained anymore. It’s clear that of late the authority of those in power is being questioned….

PPT doesn’t agree that people “tolerated” inequality previously, but Thanet’s questions are worthy of consideration.

Porphant

At the same event, Sukhothai Thammathirat Open University Professor Porphant Ouyyanont noted that mammoth economic structural changes had “created a new political economy in Thailand,” and that, post-1997, “old capitalist groups, such as the banks, seeing their share … [in the economy] reduced while new businesses in telecoms and media have emerged.” He also noted the integration of farmers with markets and a range of new provincial players. He observes that: “New economic players have new political demands.”

But, as Attachak Sattayanurak of Chiang Mai University’s history faculty notes, the current power structure has not been giving way to new demands. Attachak refers to “capitalist groups colluding with the military and aligning their legitimacy with the monarchy…”. He added:

The co-operation between the military and capitalists in controlling the socio-political landscape in the country has clearly been featured with a monarchy-loyalty flavour. The monarchy has been issued a new role of sustaining and legitimising the political entities in the country….

Pruek Taotawil of Ubon Ratchasima University also picked up on new economic groups that “have challenged the traditional conservative power structure…”. He adds that:

The old power groups have created new political discourse that the king is the community leader and anything opposite or against the discourse is not legitimate or accepted. The recent political conflicts are clashes between the networks of old and new powers galvanising grass roots masses as their support….

Pruek warned that the new political players would “not tolerate being only cosmetic accessories to the power structure.”

The future is clear, even if the conservatives – academics, military bosses, politicians and royalists – can’t accept it.





Updated: Red shirts remember the coup I

18 09 2011

Red shirts have not forgotten the 19 September 2006 palace-military coup that set in train a series of events that has seen a continuing struggle over the nature of Thailand’s politics. The Bangkok Post reports that a “large number of red-shirt supporters of the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) have occupied the Ratchadamnern Avenue in a rally at the Democracy Monument to mark the fifth anniversary of the … coup.”

A series of speakers has included UDD leaders such as Jatuporn Promphan, Natthawut Saikua, Korkaew Pikulthong, Weng Tojirakarn, and UDD chair Thida Tawornsate Tojirakarn.

Update: Achara Ashayagachat writes about the coup anniversary at Prachatai. She observes, “Thailand remains divided over the issue of Thaksin five years after the 19 September 2006 putsch.”

Thanet Aphornsuvan, a retired Thammasat University history professor, noted “that there has been no historical anti-coup sentiment as strong as that of today.” He adds: “The last coup has somehow created a complicated consequence of debates and contemplations among people of all walks of life over key issues including the divisions of powers and the importance of constitution—in short, in a manner to strive against the invisible hands or the unconstitutional powers…”.





With 5 updates: High tension in Bangkok

24 04 2010

Further to our two most recent posts, PPT has had a flurry of emails suggesting that talks have broken down as the Abhisit Vejjajiva government has decided to crush the red shirts. Tension is very high and the red shirt leadership is urging supporters to be prepared.

Abhisit has personally rejected negotiations: “Thai TV says Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has rejected protesters’ demand he dissolve Parliament in 30 days to end a political crisis that has paralyzed the country.”

Update: “Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva on Saturday rejected scaled-back demands that he dissolve Parliament in 30 days, prompting anti-government protesters to pull out of negotiations to end the political crisis gripping the country. The breakdown dashed hopes for an imminent peaceful resolution to the deadlock, which has been punctuated by increasing hostility and bloody street violence.”

Al Jazeera reports: “Abhisit Vejjajiva, the Thai prime minister, has rejected an offer of compromise with so-called red shirt protesters who have rallied for the dissolution of government for the past six weeks.” It is added that: “Abhisit said that he could not accept the offer because the red shirts ‘use violence and intimidation’. He said: “The 30-day ultimatum is not an issue. The dissolution [of parliament] must be done for the benefit of the entire country, not just for the red shirts, and it must be done at the right time…”.

It looks like the hardliners have had a victory within the government and that the ever stubborn Abhisit has had his way.

Update 1: The Bangkok Post has Abhisit saying this of the red shirts’ proffered compromise: “No, I reject it.”

In The Nation,  Thammasat University historian Thanet Aphornsuvan said that “the principles of non-violence may not be enough to prevent them from ‘being crushed by the Army’,” and added that “this was because the same method – an appeal for non-violence – had never worked in the past in Thailand.”

Reflecting his pessimism on negotiations, Gothom Arya of Mahidol University said in the same article of Prime Minister Abhisit:  “Peace is in his hands. It’s up to him to make it, alive or dead…”. He seemed pessimistic however.

Update 2: The Bangkok Post reports on an important piece being put in place prior to a crackdown on the red shirts. Recall that army chief Anupong Paojinda has long said that he would reject an unlawful order to crackdown on the red shirts and that earlier in the week the Civil Court issued a ruling on the legality of a crackdown that was interpreted in different ways. Now the Post reports that to “erase public doubt, Thailand’s Civil Court on Saturday said the Centre for the Resolution of the Emergency Situation (CRES) can indeed disperse anti-government protesters now occupying Bangkok’s prime business district ‘if necessary’, but emphasised that it must be ‘carried out in line with international standards’.”

Now even when the state kills people it claims to have done so “in line with international standards.” Perhaps this provides Anupong with the legal basis for action against the red shirts.

Another part of the government’s actions against the red shirts and preparing for a crackdown likely involves unstated “evidence” against red shirts in alleged violent acts. This is a common action in previous military actions that have led to bloodshed. A member of the opponents’ camp is pushed forward, in custody, and is said to have spilled the beans. This time, it involves an actor and the Department of Special Investigation. PPT has pointed out previously that DSI has been highly politicized. Now DSI has taken to parading alleged criminals and holding news conferences and television spectacles making grand and unsupported accusations. The Nation has an account of the arrest and interrogation of Methi Amornwuthikul, who is claimed to be a “prominent red shirt.” Methi is a red shirt, but an odd character and was previously in the media for his semi-nude modeling and more recently for swinging punches at a Puea Thai Party campaign worker (see the video of the latter incident here).

With yellow shirts, now in multi-colors rallying each day in numbers as high as 10,000 to 15,000, most of the elements for a crackdown that can be “justified” are in place. The threat to crush the red shirts appears ever more likely to be put in train. PPT assumes that the okay from the palace is already in place.

Update 2: The Nation leads with the Methi story and red shirt denials. The critical point for PPT is, however, the use of the alleged confession, with Democrat Party spokesman Buranaj Smutharaks claiming that “Methee’s confession confirmed a belief that acts of sabotage on April 10 were committed by the red shirts, not a ‘third party’.” The government’s role in killings and injuries is now totally whitewashed for the Democrat Party and the public is expected to believe – and many yellow shirts will – that the red shirts killed their own.

Update 3: Like many others, PPT is hearing many rumors of what caused the proposed negotiations/compromise to fall apart. On story has to do with Sukhumbhand Paribatra talking and reaching something of an agreement with red shirts and, it is said, Thaksin Shinawatra in Brunei. That fell apart because of hardline resistance from the yellow-shirt wing of the Democrat Party including Korn Chatikavanij, some close to the palace – guess who – and some in the military who want to crush the red shirts. They see this as the final battle. Part of the agreement was said to involve a “national government” that was to quickly amend the constitution. Abhisit would not have been interim prime minister, and he is said to have opposed that.

Abhisit remains ensconced with the more militant of the commanders of the armed forces, while Anupong remains against the use of force, fearing a large body count and seeing Bangkok’s major shopping and hotel area burned to the ground. It is said that it is unlikely that he can hold out much longer against the hardliners.

Update 4: Thailand’s Troubles has two posts on events of the 23rd and 24th.

Update 5: There’s more in the Bangkok Post on what Abhisit said of the red shirt offer to compromise. He said: “I am not sure whether it is a serious offer. But I am confident that is not an answer for the country’s problems. I don’t get it…”. Abhisit added that “[d]issolving the House in 30 days would ‘solve nothing…. I see it as an attempt [by the red shirt leaders] to create a new image for themselves, particularly among the international community given that they were engaged in violence in the past few days…”. The government was said to be “sticking by its offer that the House should be dissolved in the next nine months.”

Abhisit is not saying anything different from his comments after the first televised discussions with the red shirts. It is just that he is now surrounded by those demanding the red shirts be crushed.

The reference to international opinion is interesting, for government is busily chasing the “international community,” hoping to get time with senior U.S. State Department officials currently in the region and again enlisting Surin Pitsuwan, who is supposed to be heading up ASEAN but seems to be working for the Thai government.

Abhisit and Anupong are to appear together on television on Sunday amidst rumors that they still do not agree on a crackdown, with Anupong urging a political compromise.





The verdict, security and judicialization

28 02 2010

Continuing a theme of posts on judicialization and the enhancement of security, PPT provides these two links to stories by two of the most experienced foreign political reporters/commentators based in Thailand. Their perspectives on these matters can be read in conjunction with PPT’s earlier post.

Marwaan Macan-Markar at Inter Press Agency News (27 February 2010) points out, commenting on the Thaksin Shinawatra assets case, that the “800 million U.S. dollars, which the court did not seize on account of it having been made before Thaksin was became prime minister ... will remain frozen till other cases against Thaksin are resolved, according to the courts.

Marwaan cites historian Thanet Aphornsuvan on the judiciary: “This verdict confirms the continuing role of the judiciary in resolving political crises in the country…. The Supreme Court is being increasingly asked to play an important role, so I was not surprised by the verdict. The judges settled for a compromise rather than take all of Thaksin’s assets.” PPT remains unconvinced that this was a “compromise.” Thanet is further cited: “The judiciary is now so powerful it is almost becoming another sovereign power. It is more powerful than the legislative and executive branch of government.”

Marwaan sees the shift to the judiciary as political enforcer as “rooted in an April 2006 speech by the … monarch…”. He has a partial list of other judicial decisions that have repeatedly targeted the pro-Thaksin political forces and notes the king’s “two important speeches to groups of judges in recent weeks. He called for justice to be shaped by the spirit of ‘righteousness’.”

Shawn Crispin at Asia Times Online (27 February 2010) also has some useful comments. He observes that the “court-ordered seizure of Thaksin’s assets is in line with the gathering trend towards the ‘judicialization’ of Thai politics, an apparently royally endorsed concept where high courts and judges assume the role the monarchy has traditionally played in mediating the country’s complex and often heated political disputes. Observers noted that King Bhumibol Adulyadej symbolically addressed groups of judges on two occasions in recent weeks, urging them to adjudicate with ‘righteousness’ the cases they handle.” Crispin adds that the king “made a similar address in the lead-up to a Constitutional Tribune [sic] decision in May 2007 that resulted in the legal dissolution of Thaksin’s former ruling Thai Rak Thai party and banned 111 of the its top executives – including Thaksin – from politics for five years.

Crispin also notes the Abhisit Vejjajiva government’s increased attention to security: “The government has pre-emptively responded to the threats by mobilizing joint civilian and security force teams across 38 provinces, including in Bangkok, and the erecting of new security cameras in areas of the national capital, including this week in front of the Supreme Court.” PPT would add that several of these “threats” are largely manufactured by a non-stop barrage of accusations and often false stories emanating from within the government.

His story finishes by speculating that Thaksin may be “keeping his financial powder dry to press his case for a royal pardon after the eventual succession from Bhumibol to his heir apparent son, Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn.” While Thaksin is no Pridi Bhanomyong, he no doubt knows – not least through a family connection – that Pridi was forever an enemy of the palace and was never permitted to return.








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