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03 29 Lecture Notes - Politics in contemporary Thailand.docx

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Geography 3312A/B
Haroon Akram Lodhi

Politics in contemporary Thailand: Red shirts, yellow shirts and the possibility of hope - Thai politics is dominated by the red shirts vs. the yellow shirts (because that’s the colour of the shirts they wear). In order to understand the conflict between two, you have to back in time because they start in absolutism (the king has all the power)  constitutional monarchy (still a king, but he lost a bunch of power) and then something else. Read the slides, dummy. - You can’t understand Thailand’s current politics (and the impact on the processes of social and economic transformation) without referring to developments in history Start: 1932 revolution - Ended royalist absolutism (what the king says, goes. What fun ;3) - Established a constitutional monarchy (what Canada has – the monarch is the figure head, but executive power is vested in the gov’t, not the nobility) - Revealed two fundamentally divergent approaches to the future which play out into the red shirt, yellow shirt conflict of today o those supporting a diverse, liberal, just, egalitarian country based on the rule of law, a written constitution, and democratic representation o those supporting a strong, paternalist state with the duty to protect, discipline and educate citizens within a hierarchical society - As we have seen, these approaches were found within the narrow political elite in Thailand— the aristocrats, bureaucrats, military leaders and businessmen that led the revolution (These were differences of approach within the elite) - Non-elite political forces—intellectuals, students and the urban working class—were, at this time, comparatively weak, and over 15 years the bureaucracy and the military gained ascendancy, with the support of the king Sarit - This ‘Sarit system’, solidified in the 1950s, was based on (emerged out of the 1932 revolution and bashed through WWII. There was a need for this hierarchy – the ruled and the ruler with the latter knowing what was best) o a passive peasantry that accepted a subordinate position o within a strongly hierarchical society o that was protected by the bureaucracy o and the palace, which was accorded an expanded role in cementing Thai identity o and led by the military (gov’ts are led by military leaders who take off their uniforms) o against communism and liberal capitalism (also opposed to liberal democracy) o but which allowed money to be made from agricultural export-led import substitution that generated profits for the (ethnic Chinese-owned) private conglomerates and state- owned enterprises (controlled by a military, whose leaders also became wealthy) o Not only a political system, but an economic system as well – you need the passive peasantry to do the work for exports and other profit making nonsense. - US support was critical to the Sarit system: US military aid allowed the military and the bureaucracy to expand, imported new technologies and managerial techniques, while generating money for senior military leaders o Thailand was a pivotal staging point for Vietnam o Based on modernising, etc. - The ruling triad of generals, bureaucrats and businessmen thus sought, with US support, to guide society from above, led by the monarchy under a series of military dictatorships that extended the sweep of the Thai state deeper into society o The military would take their uniform off and become politicians – so it looked like a civilian system, but it was all military. - It was thus a new form of absolutism from which the army, palace and business profited but the bulk of the population – the peasantry – did not. - However, as a constricted society modernized the Sarit system released new social forces within civil society 3 factors propelled new social forces: 1. The Press (Mainly newspapers – not radio or television) o Since the 1920s Thailand had had a small, active political press that provided a platform for open debate on political and social issues: poverty, the environment, petty corruption, suspect business dealings, backstairs intrigue, abuses of power, human rights and global issues  The ideas of the elite about how politics should run (see above for the types) were played out through the newspaper. o It was not a free press (there are limits on what can be said)—but this did not prevent courageous journalists o By 1975 90% of the working population had a primary education, and in the late 1960s and 1970s press circulation rose dramatically as a small urban middle class was created, providing an outlet for public intellectuals (people who say things about the character of society) who shaped debate  Mass schooling campaigns designed to construct a Thai identity. The downside is, once people can read, they start reading newspapers. o Key titles were Prachathipatai (Democracy), Phujatkan (Manager) and, in English, The Nation 2. Some of these public intellectuals came from the ‘left opposition’ (Opposed to Sarit) o Many public intellectuals were drawn toward Marxist views o There had been, since the 1940s, a left opposition to the military-bureaucratic governing elite that sought to build a bridge between Theravada and Marxism, using as a common platform the pursuit of social justice in what was argued to be a hierarchical and unequal society (Theravada and Marxism are both egalitarian, with matching officials) o Following the Chinese revolution this opposition sought to organize and mobilize the peasantry, and in so doing unleash a guerrilla war (wanted the peasants to fight the Thai state and launched a guerrilla war) o The Communist Party of Thailand (CPT) harvested  the discontent of urban intellectuals with the dictatorship  peasant reaction against the market  wanted to get the support of Thai people who were being “hammered” by the market (i.e. farming but never seeing the profits)  peripheral opposition in the regions to centralization o and rebellion spread widely in the 1950s and 1960s in a peasant society infiltrated by left-wing teachers, bureaucrats, policemen and primitive capitalism o By 1969 the military estimated that 35 of 71 provinces had ‘communist-infested areas’ o By the mid-1970s it was estimated that the CPT had  8000 armed guerillas  there were 412 villages under complete CPT control  6000 villages with a total population of 4 million under CPT influence o The military responded, with US assistance to prevent a ‘domino’, (in the 50s, and the Cold War there was a theory that if one country went over to communism, all the others would follow – like dominos) aggressively—there were 3992 clashes between 1965 and 1976 which left 4700 guerillas and soldiers dead 3. A third set of social forces unleashed by social change were those emerging out of the expansion of tertiary education—while the military prevented student political activity or expression, underground student journals gave voice to dissatisfaction with the political and social restrictions of the dictatorship o Universities were heavily controlled by the military. The students started circulating underground newspapers and the more they learned, the more they were unhappy with the situation. o Student radicalism merged with anti-war sentiment and leftist ideologies o As students questioned, they were implicitly encouraged in the late 1960s by the king, who recognized some of the grievances of the guerillas and the students—poverty, corruption—as being legitimate, although he denigrated the idea of revolution in favour of gradual change o In 1968, as in Europe and North America, students began to publicly demonstrate about the war, corruption and the dictatorship o These became better organized and more forceful over the next 5 years o The CPT tried to take control of the student movements but the movement’s blend of democratic liberalism, Buddhist justice and nationalist opposition to the US and Japan gave it a unique flavour o The press was able to cautiously support student grievances o A key issue for many activists was that of accountability: the military-bureaucratic state was not working for the poor or for social justice, while the rich, whether in business or in the military, were beholden only to themselves and their US and Japanese patrons  The military-bureaucratic state was a mechanism for the rich to move money from those who did not have any to spare to those who had plenty o In other words: the new absolutism of the Sarit system was not accountable o Up to 1973 activism was played out on the streets, in the press, and in the culture, but when the military killed 77 and wounded 857 while dispersing a demonstration on 14 October 1973 it became discredited  The military used physical force to minimize the student’s power and impact o With the massacre the leaders of the junta went into exile, the military retreated, and a liberal democratic political system was put in place o Although 1973 saw an end to ‘strong’ military rule subsequent civilian governments were weakened by internal rivalry, policy incoherence and bureaucratic sabotage as well as by continuing protests from outside the state by radicals and reformers pressing for rapid social justice  The weak governments are sabotaged by everyone and the students keep protesting o Radicals consisted of  communists  students  dissident monks  peasants  workers o Reformers consisted of elements of  businessmen  aristocrats  bureaucrats  lesser military people o Using political parties as vehicles, and under the tutelage of the palace, reformist businessmen worked alongside dissident bureaucrats and minor military leaders to support greater democracy and press for a more liberal capitalist system  Wanted to wrestle control away from the Sarit system and get greater democracy – a liberal capitalist democracy  Radicals worked outside the system and reformers worked in the system to change things o Thus, there was some opposition within elements of the elite: some businessmen in particular, but it had always been there, submerged, since the 1930s o Alongside radicals and reformers Thai society in the 1970s saw rightists, led by military hardliners steeped in the Cold War, who were alarmed by the spread of ideas and organizations that challenged the military’s idea of a controlled, orderly, hierarchical society (radicals and reformists together motivated the mobilization of reactionary rightist forces. The people leading this are military hardliners. Military overthrows democracy, leads to a dictatorship and lots of dead people. By challenging a hierarchical society, we challenge the benefits the elite gain from that) o Thus, the Village Scouts Movement was founded in 1971 by the Border Patrol Police to combat rural communism through nationalist organization and propaganda o A rightist propagandist campaign in support of king and country, Nawaphon, claimed a million members in 1975 o In 1975 two military officers formed a vigilante movement, the Red Guars (Krathing daeng) to physically break up demonstrations and strikes  A militia to go into these movements, using force and break them up. Like that movie about the guy who fires people, but with protests :3 o In 1976 when the Village Scouts moved into Bangkok and urbanized, 2 million people attended recruitment sessions o The result was that the period between the late 1960s and 1976 witnessed in society intense political conflict within the elite and between the elite and conflicting social forces within civil society  This can create very strong social polarization o This result was heightened social polarization, which reached its apogee in 1975 and 1976, when widespread rightist-organized street violence was directed against radical- and reformer-led attempts to establish liberal democracy o The bureaucracy and the king lent some stability to the system, but not enough o By 1976 a military-orchestrated campaign portrayed any advocates of change as communist, ‘un-Thai’ and ‘enemies of nation, religion and king’ o In August through September, a series of events heightened tension, which resulted in the Village Scouts and the Red Gaurs entering Thammasat University on 6 October 1976 lynching, raping and burning students alive - The 1976 massacres had 2 repercussions amongst the conflicting social forces: radicals, reformers and the elite 1. radicals and elements within reformers fled into the jungle to join the CPT o However, the state increased its attempts to squeeze the CPT in the late 1970s o The Communists in the jungle were battered, and most students that had fled the 1976 massacre left the jungle war by 1981, while the CPT’s armed units began to disband in 1982 and 1983 o These ‘veterans’ used the non-governmental organization (NGO) movement that had started in the late 1960s but which emerged after 1976 as an avenue of continued political and social expression o The NGO movement was predicated on a critique of ‘development’: that top-down development was failing to improve the lives of the people and was denigrating indigenous knowledge and capabilities o In light of the collapse of the agrarian frontier:  rapid urbanization that creates competition for rural resources: land, labour, water and forests  declining prices for farm products that were increasingly supplied because of new agrarian technologies  a rapid rise in debt  Which would cause people to sell their belongings and move to urban  a (full or partial) withdrawal from the market, and an accompanying retreat into (full or partial) subsistence farm production as a survival strategy  continuing rural poverty and growing inequality  Thailand starts to become a manufacturing exporter o they focused on rural development and rural education, but other NGOs worked in  medical and health care  slums  the media (as an outlet of expression)  human rights o In the mid-1980s a new set of issues emerged for the NGO movement: the environment o A proposed dam at Nam Choan, which was to flood 223 square kilometers of one of the largest remaining forest tracts in Southeast Asia, was opposed by  Threatened villagers  Urban activists  Journalists  Academics  Monks  Singers  International NGOs o The protests forced the government to cancel the dam in 1988 and led to the growth of some new NGOs o In the early 1990s another group protested against failed agricultural innovation schemes that left farmers with yet a fresh set of government debts o A second group protested against an army scheme (Kho Jo Ko) to move 6 million ‘squatters’ out of 125 ‘forest’ areas in an attempt to conserve forest areas and thus you deprive people of their livelihood in the name of the environment. o To mark their opposition to the forest clearances, the protestors marched to Bangkok along a highway o The two groups then joined forces to oppose a government scheme to create an Agricultural Council that would offer agribusiness an exclusive input into state policy making o The two groups came together on 10 December 1995 to form the Assembly of the Poor, a loose network of localized protesters with no leaders and only a skeleton organization, comprising  northeastern farmers  northern hill dwellers  southern fishing communities  urban labour groups o The specific objective of the Assembly of the Poor was initially to criticize the construction of the Pak Mun dam, which was completed in 1994, and which destroyed the livelihoods of thousands o The peasantry was no longer passive – they were motivated through communism and then the rise of NGOS leading to directly protesting the gov’t o In 1997 it brought 20000 into Bangkok for a sustained 99 day protest and negotiation that ended with the government agreeing to:  BHT4.7 billion in compensation for those displaced by dams  allowances for settlers to stay in ‘forests’  a review of pending dams o When, as a result of a change in government, the agreement was not honoured, the Assembly marched again, and when the World Commission on Dams condemned the Pak Mun dam the Electricity Authority of Thailand agreed to review the project and its implementation, which is still ongoing o The Assembly of the Poor is now a backbone of La Via Campesina, the global peasant movement o In short, although the peasantry was no longer the backbone of the Thai political economy, it had, through its own activities and in co-operation with the NGO movement, asserted the right to have its way of life and the ecology upon which it is based conserved o Thus, civil society organizations (CSOs)  articu
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