Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Economist on the Ugly Crisis


This may mark the definitive start to an operation to clear away tens of thousands of protesters which the prime minister, Abhisit Vejjajiva, ordered when he declared a state of emergency on Sunday. By breakfast time protesters had blocked another crossing with commandeered buses and burning tires. More Molotov cocktails were lobbed at soldiers, who loaded their automatic rifles and began to advance. But then two of the red shirts asked to talk. The army officer in charge stepped forward. The conversation ended with an exchange of mobile-phone numbers, handshakes all round and an agreement for both sides to move back. “This situation hurts me here,” said the officer later hitting his heart. “I won’t order the troops to shoot. We don’t want Thais to fight Thais. How this ends is not up to us, it’s up to Thaksin.”


As well as exacerbating class divisions in calling for revolution, Mr Thaksin is playing a more dangerous game over the rule of octogenarian King Bhumibol. Although they are supposed to be strictly above politics, members of the royal family have for long left their paw marks on politics, and appear to be sympathetic to the yellow shirts. Mr Thaksin has called for the resignation of two privy counsellors whom he says were behind the 2006 coup. Since privy counsellors serve at the king’s pleasure, the call comes pretty close to lèse-majesté in a country with draconian treason laws. On Saturday evening in the red-shirt encampment, one man loudly blamed the king for Thailand’s troubles, an act that would ordinarily mean a harsh term in jail.

I really liked these comments by a poster to the article. It was better than the article.

The redshirts are right - for too long Thai politics have been dominated by aloof patricians who have concerned themselves mainly with perpetuating their own rule. The king and the army intervened endlessly in various ways to make sure the democratic dice never rolled too far from this mediocre paternalism, with the royals protected by an archaic and all-encompassing law which should have no place whatsoever in the constitutional monarchy that Thailand purports to be. The elite's constant and increasingly cack-handed repressions of democratic choice especially since 2006 are outrageous ("vote the right way, dammit!") and it should be no surprise that given no other recourse, people should finally take to the streets to redress this injustice. Though he has his flaws, Thaksin did start a natural political revolution in a country where the poor have been considered almost unworthy of even voting for decades: some of the Bangkok press has to be seen to be believed, with its almost Victorian scorn for the disadvantaged. Billy Joel famously sang that he didn't start the fire, and Thaksin would have great justification in echoing the sentiment - it is surely to the Thai royalty's great discredit that merely doing something to advance the lot of the poor should appear politically so iconoclastic and provocative so late in the day. A just monarchy would have championed the cause of its poor, rather than force them to stand against their king merely for wanting decent politics.

The yellowshirts are right too - Thaksin is fundamentally an amoral parvenu who has sought the vote of the poor merely to use as cudgel to beat his aristocratic rivals with. It was once said of Joseph Kennedy that he was capable of anything for power, even fairness - those words might have been written for Thaksin. Though cunningly sensitive to the previously untapped electorate of the destitute, he is no less a cronyist and a nepotist than any of the toffs he has replaced, and his taking advantage of the spoils of office is remarkable for its brazen character in a country where such tricks are normally conducted with more class and discretion. Furthermore, his opponents (not all privileged members of the Bangkok oligarchy by any means) can well testify to the fact that for all his carping about democracy, Thaksin can be just as oppressive in wielding his immense influence as any old-school Southeast-Asian conducatore. The increasingly desperate attempts by the Thai establishment to smother the successive reincarnations of Thaksin's TRT party are shameless and he is right in condemning them - but this multi-millionaire's propensity for portraying himself as some sort of Thai version of Aung San Suu Kyi is almost too preposterous for words, and his inflammatory attempts at forcing a showdown irrespective of any possible loss of life ultimately reveals his genuine disdain for the people of Thailand.


hobby said...

Hopefully the majority are, or will will soon be, in concurrence with those comments.

David said...

It is a normal function of a democratically elected government to
sack/replace senior figures in the bureaucracy, and this includes the
military and the Privy Council, as they see fit.

It is dangerous for a healthy democracy for senior bureaucrats to
believe they have rights that are superior to the authority of a
government duly elected by the people.

So replacing an Attorney General or "interfering" with the military
hierarchy and their idiot reshuffle and restructuring, replacing members
or removing the Privy Council is something they and the Royal Family
have to accept.

Only after this is accepted by these petty corrupt individuals can
Thailand begin to grow up as a civilised community!

Prem is a "royalty manipulator" not royalty itself!

Anonymous said...

Fonzi, I like your choice of information ! :)

David - be cautious in your statements.

Establishment has won just 1 battle, not the whole war yet. Abhisit would be completely stupid to think otherwise.

it is a PERFECT time for him to live up to the name of his "Democrat" party and initiate a REAL Democratic process in the country.

although even then I doubt he'll clean up the stan on his reputation for USING GUNS AND REAL BULLETS on civilians. no amount of "reconciliation" is gonna change that.

but then ...

Thaksin is also still accused of many HR abuses - and yet he managed to regain popularity and even ride the tide.

so, hey, Abhisit - it is not all lost yet for you ! ;)

Rich said...

"Prem is a "royalty manipulator" not royalty itself!"

And that is the delusion that most Thais are hanging onto for dear life as we speak.

Anyone who thinks Prem acted either without the knowledge or without the approval of the top man is just completely off with the fairies. Were it otherwise, the only thing you could do is marvel at the impotence and incompetence at the top.


Jason Smith said...
This comment has been removed by the author.