The enthusiasm with which the new regime in Thailand has latched onto the “sufficiency economy” concept underlies its regulatory force. Over the past decade or so a number of different approaches have emerged which seek to moderate and regulate the aspirations of Thailand’s rural poor. Expressed in various elitist, royalist and activist forms these approaches have argued that the rights of rural people should only be fully respected provided they are willing to pursue livelihoods that make modest claims on natural resources and government budgets. Many of the rights-based campaigns waged by NGOs have been based on a regulatory vision of rural lifestyles in which images of subsistence-oriented economic pursuits (grounded in traditional local wisdom and original local communities) predominate. Participation in the market was all too often condemned as an individualistic aberration.
Now the chickens of this regulatory vision are coming home to roost. Not only are rural people to be shielded (or excluded) from full and active participation in the national economy but their full and active participation in electoral democracy has been pushed aside in favour of Bangkok’s enlightened national leadership. Sufficiency democracy, like sufficiency economy, amounts to keeping rural aspirations firmly in their place.