Monday, March 19, 2007

The Nation: Time To Condemn The Coup As The Situation In Thailand Deteriorates


More questions than answers

The Nation

Rural voters more accepting of coup, but are harshly critical of failure to honour pledges

Six months after the coup, frustration against the interim government is growing, particularly from disgruntled villagers. A return to normal democracy may have to be postponed.

Whether voting down any forthcoming constitutional referendum, or returning Thaksin-style leadership to Bangkok, community leaders tell The Nation they are becoming pre-disposed to object to any politicians whose character or initiatives are tied to the current interim government.

"I have no idea what the government is up to," says Suwat Jaiwong [a pseudonym] of Chiang Mai's Jomthong district. "They have no policies or initiatives for the rural sector that I'm aware of."

Suwat says contrary to anything that may have been said to justify the coup, farmers in his region feel the Surayud administration has little interest in doing anything other than maintaining an appearance of a government hard at work.

"The economy is stagnant, budgets to support the farming sector and local infrastructure projects have disappeared, and now we are facing what looks to be a very tough dry season with not a word from the government about relief projects."

Such frustration is nationwide right now, says leading political scientist Anek Laothamatas. He points out that the Council for National Security's failure to build its promised reconciliation bridge to surmount the political chasm dividing the interests of rural communities from the urban middle class may ultimately force a longer postponement of democracy's return to Thailand.

"This gap has grown ever larger under the CNS, and as a result will exacerbate Thailand's political instability for the foreseeable future," says Anek.

"Normally I'm not a doomsday kind of prophet, but now I fear dark times ahead if the Surayud government continues to fail the people."

Just over a decade ago, his landmark book "Song Nakara Prachathiptai" (The Tale of Two Democracies) vividly outlined what is now widely accepted as the root cause of instability in Thai democracy. Governments are elected by the rural majority only to be thrown out by the urban minority via protests and scandals.

One of his principal observations was that the rural electorate was propped up by patronage to local political bosses.

"While this still exists, rural people have become more independent in formulating political analysis and in asserting their own agendas," Anek noted.

Political discourses surrounding Thaksin at the end of his term have really stimulated political debate within the rural sector.

A Nakhon Rachasima deputy village headwoman, Sompit Jitsukho [a pseudonym], is illustrative of this shift. Although a former Thai Rak Thai supporter, Sompit took a wait-and-see attitude following last September's coup.

"We were willing to accept that maybe Thaksin was corrupt and had caused the country a lot of problems, but why has he yet to be charged?" she said.

"Besides, I fail to see why they singled out Thaksin while almost every other politician is also corrupt."

What's more exasperating, Sompit points out, is how the CNS and the government have heavily criticised politicians who lure rural supporters when they are doing the same.

During separate visits by Gen Sonthi Boonyaratgalin and Gen Surayud Chulanont to her province earlier this month, all villagers who were willing to participate received Bt80 along with their round-trip bus ride.

The villagers were also asked to bring crops to demonstrate their commitment to the sufficiency economy.

"We brought our corn, bananas and a variety of vegetables, but this was all grown under a community agricultural project initiated by Thaksin," Sompit said with a chuckle.

"Even though the government preaches sufficiency economy all the time, we've never been told what it's all about, much less received any support to practise it."

When the next general election occurs, Anek expects this growing rural dissatisfaction to yield a much higher percentage of returning politicians, something the CNS had hoped to avoid.

"At most, maybe 70 per cent of the old faces made their way back in previous elections, but we'll probably see more than 80 per cent next time," Anek said.

"Rural folks feel increasingly insulted that the military and the people in Bangkok overthrew their elected government. They have concluded that a 'clean' government does not have much to offer them."

Madamin Madaning from Yala, where the former government had few friends, says there's now widespread disappointment with the new regime as well.

Although Surayud generated tremendous support when he openly apologised to people in the South for the past government's mishandling of the growing conflict, that's ancient history now.

"It was the best thing I'd ever heard from government people, but then nothing else happened to improve our lives here. Bureaucrats are sitting at their desks managing papers. No real work is being done," he said.

Chon Buri businessman Pipat Patrapornwong echoes the frustration with the government's inaction. He cannot recall any policy that the government has announced which has not been reversed, and complained that the asset investigations had yet to net any big fish.

"The CNS and the government must be afraid of potential repercussions against them should Thai Rak Thai return to power. I suspect the military and Thaksin are negotiating some kind of deal as we speak," Pipat said.

The government's vacillation right now, Anek warns, is causing rural people in particular to be less inclined to want anything to do with those who have been involved with the CNS, or any constitution that may be put to them for a vote.

"I think the CNS is beginning to realise this, which is why we should not be surprised to see the departure of Surayud. Otherwise, there stands a very good chance the CNS will pull the plug on the whole [constitutional] drafting process," Anek said.

He said the longer Surayud remained, the more angry the public would become with his poor leadership. People have already drawn parallels between Surayud and Chuan Leekpai, the former Democrat prime minister who suffered a tremendous loss to Thaksin's Thai Rak Thai Party. Therefore, the longer Surayud stays in power, the more damage the Democrats will experience in the next election as their leadership styles are similar, Anek projects.

"There is no question that people in the villages are still yearning for the days when Thaksin steered the country. What's interesting is that the urban middle class will probably start to feel the same way.

"To fight populism, we need more statesman-like politicians to create a paradigm shift. The rural sector has been pushed into a disadvantaged position for so long by policies biased towards the urban sector. It's time the villagers got compensated, not by handouts but by what I call progressive welfarism, and became a part of the middle class."

Nantiya Tangwisutijit

The Nation

Here is another backtracking piece from The Nation. Six months ago the Thai press was in praise of the coup. Now it is condemning the CDS and Surayud government.

I've been following The Nation closely now for almost two months. I think this is the first piece where it has asked the opinions of up country folks and their opinions of the coup and Thaksin. Also, this is first piece by The Nation that has mocked this government's "sufficiency economy" policies.

Ah, the fickleness of the Thai media. I wonder if they will apologize to the foreign media for being right all along.

Perhaps we should have a pool here at Thailand Jumped the Shark.

Anyone placing bets on a) counter coup b) business as usual c) mass protests in the streets

How long will it take for a to happen?

How long will it take for c to happen?

I think by June or July things will become explosive-- especially if there is a perfect storm of a bad constitution and more terrorism.

I say within 4 months there will be mass protests against this government. Within 6 months, a counter coup.

The protests will be unlike any other in terms of size and power, because this government is committed to non-violence, which is a good thing.

A right-wing violent crack down will only happen with a counter-coup.

1 comment:

anon said...

My money is on A followed by C.