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Thailand’s Crisis becomes the Mad Hatter’s tea party.

27/12/2013

“But I don’t want to go among mad people,” said Alice. ‘Oh, you can’t help that,’ said the cat. ‘We’re all mad here.’ — (Lewis Carroll)

As the writer Jake Needham has put so succinctly, “Thailand has become Lewis Carroll country. It’s where the Democrat Party is against democracy, judges are against justice, and the Election Commission is against elections. Welcome to the Mad Hatter’s tea party…”

Needham and Stephen Leather write novels, bloody good novels. Those relating to Thailand are tinged with such a great deal of truth that they can make an understanding of this complex enigmatic yet fascinating country a lot easier.

Events over the last few days have indeed made the usual holiday festivities more like the Mad Hatter’s tea party. Sadly, the media, both Thai and western, are, for whatever reasons, not reporting the background and the realities. Plenty of speculation and gory pictures. I guess that sells newsprint. No informed opinion. Even New Mandela which should be at the forefront of democratic ideas and human rights suffers from an over zealous moderator that takes out reasoned and sourced comment if it is not speculative enough or contrary to his own opinion.

The problem for Thailand is how the majority of Thais, who want a fairer society, can obtain democracy within a cultural framework so entrenched in feudal ideas, face, and corruption. The anti-government protesters in Bangkok are a minority of the Thai people but a vociferous and powerful minority. They are largely composed of a wealthy old-money elite, their families hail from the pre-June 1932 era when Thailand was an absolute monarchy.

Outside Bangkok, there is little support for these elite families. There is indeed support for reform of what is seen as the unacceptability of the last few Thaksin type governments becoming a powerful dynastic autocracy with no democratic checks and balances. But, that view is probably overstated and fueled by media propaganda. It is difficult to quantify.

The governments of most countries, certainly those in the West, are influenced, maybe controlled is not too strong a word, by networks or powerful lobbyists. Banks and big business pull strings. HSBC has benefited from rate fixing in the UK and were implicated in money laundering in Mexico. As Ross has said, “too big to jail; too big to fail”. Who really governs? Is the electorate in control?

Networks are in evidence in Thailand. As in the West, governments, competent or not, do not have a free hand. Cameron, for example, has to watch Clegg as well as the banks and big business.

Thailand has the military, big business, and influential families. Added to the complexity, are the Thai enigmas. They dislike conflict, yet engage in demonstrations to vent their disapproval. They unreservedly like and want the concept of monarchy, yet can’t reconcile that with having elections through the ballot box. They would not feel relaxed in abandoning a feudal mindset.

They want change but hate engaging in serious debate. They leave that to vociferous minorities. Above all, they love and want the monarchy. A reformed parliament, with elected representatives, within a constitutional monarchy would suit them. But only if it was modeled with their cultural attitudes intact.

The model of a western style democracy which focuses on greed and jealousy — supposedly benefiting the majority but actually favouring an elite — would be catastrophic if cultural norms were not taken into account in this country. The Democrats (sic) are hell bent on retaining undemocratic elite power. Let’s hope for a gradual move to democracy here. It won’t be speedy but we can all wish that Suthep’s tactic of incitement does not get the army involved.

Prime Minister Yingluck appeared to be successfully working with the networks of power when she first took office. If she continues in that vein we may avoid the inevitable in the coming days or weeks.

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