Thoughts for the week

Over the past week or so a series of potential New Mandala stories have piled up in my inbox. To clear some of the backlog here is an omnibus post of some of the key issues.

Another degree for Lee?

It has come to my attention that the University of North Carolina has also decided to confer an honorary degree on Lee Kuan Yew. Perhaps the public relations debacle at the ANU may make them think twice about this. New Mandala readers may want to make their views known to UNC Chancellor Jame Moeser  [James_Moeser@unc.edu]

Bangkok rallies

The ongoing anti-coup rallies in Bangkok seem to be making the junta very nervous indeed.  Rural residents have been prevented by army and police from travelling to join the rallies and, most recently, the junta has persuaded authorities to close off Sanam Luang altogether. In response, today’s rally (4.00 PM) has been relocated to the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration Building Square. Puppet PM Surayud has held off on declaring a state of emergency in Bangkok (as requested by the generals) but there can be little confidence that open expressions of anti-coup sentiment will be tolerated much longer. Particularly galling for the regime is the protesters’ condemnation of Privy Councillor Prem’s role in the coup. This is is about as close as protestors can come to directing criticism at the monarchy itself. Australian Foreign Affairs authorities are sufficiently concerned about the increasingly tense situation in Bangkok to advise travellers to avoid “demonstrations, political rallies and concentrations of military personnel.”

Suchinda’s wisdom

Earlier this month Thai newspapers featured an interview with former coup-maker General Suchinda Khraprayoon. An English language version of the interview is available here. And here is a fuller Thai version [suchinda-interview.pdf]. Here is a brief extract from the English version:

Q : Do you agree with the idea that the prime minister does not need to come from the election?  A : I agree with this idea 100 per cent because if any of politicians are ready to assume this position, they would not let others to take it. But now we just look at this issue as a continuation of power (of the military leadership). We can’t tackle this problem alone without resolving the longer-term problem. I don’t agree with the constitution that dwells on details until we cannot move. The constitution must not have too many articles. It should be written in broad term, so that we can fill up the details in the organic law.  I don’t agree with a public hearing on the constitution either. The people don’t know anything. Even myself have not read the old constitutions. The people would not know how many articles in the constitution there are.

Suchinda’s views on the will of the people were rather different when Thaksin was still in power:

Former prime minister General Suchinda Kraprayoon has a word of advice for the current head of government. He said the best option for Thaksin Shinawatra to get off the current political turmoil was to dissolve the House and pave the way for a snap election.  “The House dissolution will be the best way out of the crisis facing Thaksin.” If Thaksin was still popular among voters, his party would win the election and return to power again, Suchinda said.

Switching patrons?

A number of New Mandala readers have drawn my attention to a recent article by Shawn Crispin in the Asia Times. There is not a lot that I agree with in the article, but at least it does represent some attempt to take rural public opinion seriously. But, in the end, it relies on the old stereotype of patronage driven politics, with the military now replacing Thaksin as the ultimate patron:

“Thaksin’s grassroots support was always more financial than philosophical,” said a researcher connected with Chiang Mai University’s Social Research Center. “After the coup, those allegiances broke down. Now that the military is stepping in to fill [the] financial gap, now the people are suddenly on their side.”

Nice to see those Chiang Mai researchers demonstrating such ethnographic nuance! Perhaps they should invite Suchinda up to present a seminar on rural ignorance.

Migrating to Laos

Critics of economic development in Thailand often point to the apparently terrible impacts on the livelihoods of rural farmers. In response I have often wondered why Thailand’s rural masses are not migrating across the border to Laos where they can pursue lifestyles relatively untroubled by the trappings of modernity. Well, some have threatened to do just that:

(BangkokPost.com) – More than 300 debt-ridden farmers dispersed Wednesday after a week of failed attempt in getting assistance from the government in settling their debts. The protesters gathered in front of the Government House since last Monday to ask the government to give concrete measures to help them settling debts after those who failed to repay their debts for creditors including financial institutions and agricultural cooperatives started seizing their assets. The protestors expressed disappointment with the government’s reaction and intention to help the farmers, considered the grassroots of the Thai economy. The group representatives said they would migrate to Laos and set up an immigration centre there. They said they would hand their Thai identification cards back to the government before entering the neighbouring country in response to the government’s negligence to the villagers. The group planned to meet National Legislative Assembly members before migrating to Laos.

Will this trickle lead to a flood of refugees from Thailand’s capitalist excess? I don’t think so.