Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Land of Smiles, Land of Lies

Telegraph UK

One side is led by Thaksin Shinawatra. The former telecoms billionaire and deposed prime minister is a dubious champion of democracy. During his six years in power Mr Thaksin launched a "war on drugs" in which up to 2,000 alleged dealers were summarily executed by the police.

In government he was dogged by corruption allegations, apparently unable to distinguish his own business interests from those of the country. He was no friend of the free media, although censorship is worse now than it was in Thaksin's day.

On the other side is... who? Mr Thaksin has many vehement enemies among the middle and upper classes. It is difficult to tell how many because in Thailand opinion pollsters never ask the only question that really counts – who would you vote for?

They particularly object to Thaksin's alleged corruption and his government's challenge to Thailand's rigid social hierarchy


The People's Alliance for Democracy, as the movement is misleadingly called, argued that democracy does not work in Thailand because the peasantry are too simple to vote. They want a "new politics" in which 70 per cent of parliament is appointed.

Last year's protests found widespread support among the conservative media which, in its rush to finish the Thaksinites for ever, abandoned factual reporting.

Thaksin denies that he is a republican, although some of his supporters undoubtedly are – or they are now.

At the end of last year a court dissolved the elected government and the army brass summoned political bosses to hoist a new prime minister, Abhisit Vejjajiva, to power. The leaders of the airport protests were never punished – one even became foreign minister.

Now Thaksin has dropped his bomb. In live video addresses to rallies around the country he identified two retired generals who are close advisers to the king and a small group of top judges as the conspirators who plotted his 2006 ousting and have allegedly been invisibly pulling Thailand's strings ever since.

The government is in a funk, panicking about how to block the transmissions. The army is said to be furious: Thaksin has broken the omerta and the government could not stop him. Commentators say he has gone too far and newspapers are openly demanding censorship to stop the revelations being heard.

Yet although the people Thaksin named have offered desultory denials, no one is seriously disputing the truth of his revelations. Apparently that it is not the point – in Thai politics the truth is not meant for public consumption.

I like the bits about the Thai media.

The fact that you have so many media institutions, like The Nation, who harp on and on about free speech and democracy, actually advocating the use of state media and other government institutions to destroy their political adversaries tells you everything you need to know about their convenient and shifting value systems.

What is the meme this week? Red shirts are republicans out to destroy the monarchy, because they dare question the motives of the Privy Council and military.

As poster Rich pointed out, this is not just about challenging the monarchy, but challenging the pervasive saksdina/feudal mentality that keeps the poor disenfranchised and in serf status. The delusions of embedded power based on an artificially created social hierarchy are being stripped away. And the elite who have benefited from the hierarchical system are afraid. Very afraid.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

To some extent, the success of the elites has been predicated on their ability to continue to pull the strings from under cover of darkness, from the shadows, while simultaneously maintaining the fictions that the Monarchy is above politics, that the Privy Council are only advisors and are sinilarly 'above' politics and that the army is the servant of the people rather than merely being a group of mercenaries of the privileged classes. Soldiers, if I can put it this way, of fortune, who have successfully looked after and nourished their own fortune at the expense of the peoples' fortune.

The whole fiction is however, crashing down in spectacular fashion. What has been spoken of in private is now spoken about openly in public, and at stake is nothing less than the reputation of the man at the top, and the reverence with which he has been held (largely created and sustained by dictat, oppression and propaganda).

Thais have long been known for their ability to ignore something for as long as it is not right up there in their faces and un-ignorable. What has happened in the past 2 weeks is that what has been ignored for decades is no longer ignorable.

The elites have no idea where this might be going, and if they are not afraid then they certainly should be. It seems likely that what we are seeing is a seismic shift in the perception of ordinary Thais, who are no longer prepared (or are no loner able) to ignore what has been going on. BP posts an extract today from a Straits Times column, in which is mentioned has written to day of the barely controlled rage that is now being felt among the rural Thais.

If Thaksin is able to harness this then I suspect we will shortly be hearing a crescendo of clattering as the tumbrils hit the streets.