Monday, February 19, 2007

Deconstructing Chang Noi and Anek Laothamatas in The Nation: Two Scary Undemocratic Bigots

A prophet on Thailand's political future

A bigot for Thailand's future?

Prophets are people whose insights into the present make them shapers of the future.

Bigots like Anek are people who have insights that are universally condemned in civilized countries.

We listen because their predictions match our own hopes and fears. By subtly acting on their suggestions, we help to bring about the future they predict.

I couldn't have said it better myself. Chang Noi is admitting he shares Anek's hopes and fears for an socially and politically stratified Apartheid State for Thailand.

In the murk stirred up by Thaksin and the generals, prophets have a place. Usually we don't think of political scientists as prophets, but Anek Laothamatas fits the bill. Just over a decade ago, he asked a question which clicked with middle-class anxieties over the drift of Thai politics. How come the rural majority selects governments at the ballot box, and the urban minority throws them out by protest and scandals, resulting in chronic instability? His answer was that the rural electorate was trussed up by the patronage of local bosses. The solution was to tighten up rules to keep the bad guys out of Parliament, and get rural issues onto the agendas of political parties. This was not just political science but prophecy. The first solution inspired the 1997 constitution (chief drafter Borwornsak Uwanno acknowledged Anek's influence), and the second solution inspired the activists who compiled Thaksin's rural programme for the 2001 election.

This makes absolutely no sense at all. Chatichai, Barnharn, Chavalit, Chuan were chosen by the masses? I don't think so. And were they drummed out of power by the Bangkok middle class? First of all, all those politicians came to power through corrupt means, such as vote buying and intimidation by political canvassers. Not only that, they emerged as winners from party coalitions that were fragile. The masses weren't exactly clammering to make them Caesars. One could make the argument that only Thaksin has been the only person ever chosen by the masses and thrown out by the old elite.

So when Anek writes again, it's worth paying attention - not because we necessarily believe him, but because he senses middle-class hopes and fears, and has the power of the prophet to make his predictions come true.

If Ajarn Anek was a prophet he would have shown Mahachon the road to victory.

The question he asks this time is an old one, but brilliantly captures the mood: in a democracy, how can you prevent the tyranny of the majority?

This is a stupid question. The majority have never had power in Thailand, and to even suggest so is pure idiocy. But if it was a serious question in a serious context, then there must be a separation of powers. Why not get rid of the parliamentary system? Do it American style. Have three separate but equal branches of government: an executive, a legislative and a judiciary. Also, federalize the state and devolve power back to the provinces. Let them raise their own taxes and allow them to make their own policies. The best way to break up the power structure is to dilute power with a federal type system. Everybody is talking about sufficiency theory. Maybe it is about time to give the people their own political power and make them responsible for it instead of relying on all the so-called experts in Bangkok to act.

In his book, "Thaksina-prachaniyom" (Thaksin-style populism) Anek worries that Thaksin could be a signal of even worse to come. Thaksin gave people things they wanted, and was rewarded with massive support at the polls. Even if Thaksin and the Thai Rak Thai Party vanish from Thailand's political map, this populism will stay. Other leaders will copy it. Once one party offers people the moon, then its rivals must offer the moon and the stars. But Anek fears the risks are massive. The people become dependent on state handouts. The bureaucracy is politicised. The economy dives into the same kind of economic crises as populist Latin America. Society is sharply divided between the lower-class who benefit from populism, and the middle and upper classes who have to pay for it.

God, this is even more idiotic. First of all, these writers act as if the Thai tax payer has no right to the services that he works hard for. The politicians aren't giving away freebies. The government is providing services that every advanced industrialized country offers to its citizens. As for Latin America, most of those formerly troubled economies are booming now. And what pisses me off about this condescending attitude of providing basic government services for the peasantry is that the middle classes and the elite have been ripping off the Thai state for years with their corrupt ways. And what about the price supports that have subsidized food for Bangkok at the expense of the poor farmers who aren't getting the proper price for their goods.

Anek is not just working from theory. He left academia, joined the Democrat Party, and headed the team trying to craft a policy platform to rival the Thai Rak Thai Party. He switched to lead the Mahachon Party which was annihilated by Thai Rak Thai at the 2005 polls. When he argues that "Thaksin-type populism is very difficult to oppose", he knows what he's talking about.

That is cute. Anek is an expert because he is a consistent loser. Gotta love Thai logic at work.

Anek tries to avoid saying that rural people are just stupid and so are easily fooled. But in the end he compares populism to a magic spell (sakot) which renders people stunned, mobile, and unable to resist.

Anek says the peasantry is not stupid, yet says they are fooled by populist programs like magic. More Thai logic for you.

How then does one combat such populism? Anek's first answer is to advocate the modern welfarism of third-way thinkers like Anthony Giddens, using self-help systems and market mechanisms rather than state handouts. But he seems to lose heart in the prospect that such ideas could dazzle people at polling time. Instead he goes straight for a political solution.

What the fuck does this mean?

Anek argues that "pure democracy", the rule of the majority, is bound to lead to crude populism. "A better democracy is a balanced compromise between three elements: the representatives of the lower classes who are the majority in the country, the middle class, and the upper class." In this democracy, the only time when everybody has equal rights is when they drop their ballot paper in the box. After that "the importance of each person depends on knowledge, ability, experience, and status".

More stupidity. Pure democracy doesn't mean "the rule of the majority." Maybe Thailand is such a fucked up country because nobody understands basic political concepts. "A better democracy is a balanced compromise..."Yeah, to other people, it is called Apartheid when you politically disenfranchise the vast majority of the population. The only time a Thai citizen has equal rights is when he votes? Jesus, this fucker is scary. And then a person's political worth depends only on their status? Seriously, this is some scary shit. If Anek applied his rules to himself, he would have to be politically ostracized for being an idiot.

That means special roles for people Anek calls ekaburut and apichon. He translates the first as monarchy, but insists this is not simply equivalent to royalty but "a few outstanding people at the highest level of society who command public trust". The latter he translates as aristocrats. It includes the middle and upper classes in general, but with a special role for people like the samurai in Japan or knights in medieval Europe who had proved themselves in battle. In the Thai case that would seem to mean the military, but Anek also mentions "top intellectuals and senior journalists".

Special roles for the elite. What exactly has changed? He is basically describing how the country has always been run. What is the difference? He is saying that the same corrupt people should run the country and the masses should go fuck themselves with unequal status.

Anek claims this mixed system has been the basis of the Thai political system since October 1973.

But, Anek concedes the political system cannot survive simply through chancy interventions. For the longer term, three things are needed.

The countryside has to be transformed to become more self-reliant. Anek argues this will "benefit the urban middle class because grassroots people will no longer provide the foundations for populism".

More bullshit. Be more self-reliant? How exactly is the peasantry dependent on the state? He is saying that Bangkok middle class should ignore the dopey peasants, because they are stupid and believe anything that the Bangkok politicians tell them. Again, more idiotic, bigoted Thai logic.

The lower classes have to be educated politically so they learn discipline and morality, and "upgrade their political demands" to be no longer merely self-interested but conscious of social and national benefit. This will ensure that "democracy does not give the opportunity for just anybody to exploit the weakness and short-term self-interest of the people to create policies which are irresponsible to society and nation".

The lower classes have to learn discipline and morality? And this is coming from an elite that continues to steal from the state in order to finance their whores, their jewels, their mansions, their trips abroad, and their expensive cars?

The two-party system has to go because this inevitably leads to competing populism.

How does a two-party system lead to populism? Thailand has never had a two party system, so what the fuck is he talking about.

The fact that this last point has already been taken up by the drafters of the constitution is proof that Anek is still a prophet worth listening to. The implication of the book as a whole is that the constitution should increase the power of the middle and upper classes.

So basically more of the same. The same idiotic intellectuals and criminal politicians will run the show at the political expense of the masses, the backbone of the country.

What is most striking about the book is what is missing. In his message a decade ago, Anek stressed that the division in Thai politics between city and village was founded on a massive, unfair, and hugely resented division in income, rights, and privilege. Closing that gap was a priority. In this book, the message is still there, but buried deep. Managing the political consequences of that gap is now the priority.

What is striking is what is missing? God, this writer is an idiot. This last paragraph contradicts the entire rest of the column. In this article, he says Anek is advocating an elite centered political system, yet says that Anek argued that elite "democracy" was the primary source of Thailand's political problems a decade ago. Seriously, this shit makes no sense at all. And then he ends the column by saying that the problem was the wide gap between the classes, but now the problem is managing the wide gap? Huh?

Government of the people, by the elite, for the middle class.

Chang Noi

By the way, a column like this would never get published in the West because it basically states that poor, brown upcountry folk are too stupid, too immoral and too undisciplined to partake in democratic politics.

But, of course, this is Thailand, where racist and fascist political notions reign supreme and nobody ever calls bigots out on their shit.

It is good that ideas like these get printed, however, because then the masses can see what the elite really thinks of them.

But Mein Kampf also got printed and being aware of what Hitler planned didn't necessarily stop his political juggernaut from happening.


hobby said...

Why did you choose to leave out Chang Noi's last sentence?

He said:
"Government of the people, by the elite, for the middle class."

Fonzi said...

I forgot. Thanks for pointing that out. It is just more evidence that proves my point.

Naphat said...

I don't read in this article any affinity with Anek's thinking from Chang Noi's part. He had this to comment for the New Mandala post on the article:

"Prophet does not mean ‘someone who thinks like me.’ It means someone who others believe can predict the future. Anek is worth reading because his thinking is a sophisticated version of the thinking of a lot of urban middle class people, and of a lot of people who are going to control the immediate political future. He’s not just a thinker, but a player, and possibly an important one. You can scorn it because you don’t like it, but so what? The point of writing an article like this is as a warning. You can imagine Thailand’s political future is how you would love it to be, or you can look for the signs."