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Thailand’s Political Conflict

20/12/2013

This brief post is a commentary on an essay on Thailand’s present political conflict by Apivat Hanvongse. It is well worth a read. A link is given below.

http://asiapacific.anu.edu.au/newmandala/2013/12/16/how-to-understand-thailands-conflict/

Apivat Hanvongse is a PhD candidate at an American teachers college He has written a short article on the current political conflict in Thailand. It is a scholarly work and a refreshing change from much of the misrepresentations and one-sided propaganda being paraded on the internet.

It is not an easy read. If I have one overall criticism of the work, it is that he lets his views come across occasionally. In my view, he should be letting the reader make up his own mind from the facts and analysis that he, in the main, presents so well.

Khun Apivat starts his essay by saying that Thailand’s political conflict has been “dragging on for at least seven years” and has “become intractable.” I am sure he realises, as a Thai, that the evidence of his country’s history and the different cultural attitudes of the Thai suggest it has been going on for decades not seven years. He does later address the possibility of solutions but one is always left, on reading the article, that one particular view is being emphasised. Certainly, the political situation is not intractable.

However, a good read.

He splits his article into discussions on five frameworks, the first of which is Realism.

1. Realism

Realism or what is popularly perceived.

Apivat talks of “fairness and justice that many protesters are calling for.” There are actually two sides. First, those that want to continue having elections at the ballot box and, second, those that want to overturn the government outside the electoral process.

The first group took power through democratic elections but is perceived as being part of a Shiniwatra family clique (rather like the Kennedy, Bush, and Clinton administrations.) and operating dictatorially and corruptly. No mention is made of how other parties acted over the years since Thailand became a constitutional monarchy. The second group wants to take power “back,” in Apivat’s words, by ridding itself of democratic elections. They are suggesting the rule by “good men” – appointed but not elected. In fact, that view came to the fore in 2012 when the splinter group Patik Siam, led by a retired general called Boonlert, failed to make their desired change away from democratic elections.

At the moment, the People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) is suggesting the appointment of “good men” rather than the “re-establishing of norms to ensure a sense of fairness.” This concern about appointees and favourites was actually first voiced by King Prajadhipok (Rama VII) in 1926. Apivat rightly points out that the Assembly for Defence of Democracy (AFDD), composed largely of academics and intellectuals, has provided a more reasoned solution appropriate to a style of democracy that Thais would accept. It is always important to consider cultural values and not try to follow western concepts without question. Some western commentators realise this; some do not.

The article draws attention to the two main factions, which he refers to as The Tyranny of the Majority and The Opulent Minority. He perhaps should have emphasised the word minority, a group comprising the elite (networks such as the military, big business etc), and used a less emotive word to describe the ordinary people who have voting rights.

2. Social Psychology of Human Reactions

“The government ….has managed …..not to incite further violence.”

In reality, the police were held back and the army stayed in their barracks on specific requests from Yingluck as prime minister. It would appear that Yingluck was continuing her strategy – unlike her brother Thaksin previously, – of working with the “networks” in the country.

3. Covert Processes and Hidden Agendas

McCargo talked of the network monarchy (his term) during the period 1973 – 2001 as being was one of the networks; Paul Chambers speaks of the history of military power. Both western and Thai academics have at times referred to networks working alongside government. They have carefully stuck to known facts and verified sources. Some journalists have regrettably exceeded their brief and written rather biased accounts, some bordering on vindictiveness and libel.

4. Social Construction of Reality and Identity

The fourth of Apivat’s frameworks. It is really touching on the German philosophy of Weltanschaung, an individual or group’s worldview of what is taking place.

The claim that we are seeing “unmasked divisions that were formerly hidden” is not convincing. Thailand is changing – it has continually been evolving slowly – but there has always been a social divide between the elite and the average Thai.

5. Systems Theory

Both western and Thai observers can adopt a systemic approach, looking at all the “interacting elements.” The essence of systems engineering is the emphasis on “all.’ Westerners need to appreciate that cultural values in Thailand are not the same as those of the West. Different worldviews apply.

Apivat’s essay is a powerful piece of work, which stands out from the run of the mill accounts on the internet about Thailand’s current political crisis. No doubt, there will be footnotes and details of sources in the final thesis and any comments that give a rather personal slant removed.

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