Thitinan on the decline of the establishment
August 16, 2012 | 9:30 am
The monarchy is associated with the launch of the judicialization strategy, and that strategy’s failure appears to have compromised the monarchy up to a point. If the bans and dissolutions, the postcoup seizure or freezing of Thaksin’s assets, and his 2010 Supreme Court conviction in absentia on “policy corruption” charges had succeeded in ending the challenge that he represented, then perhaps Thai politics might have stabilized and returned to something like its pre-Thaksin form, led by a weak party system and a strong military-monarchy-bureaucracy trium- virate. But Thaksin with all his strengths and weaknesses—the innova- [p56] tive efforts to increase economic competitiveness, the offer of greater upward mobility to those on society’s bottom rungs, and also the cor- ruption, the conflicts of interest, and the human-rights violations of the war on drugs—became “indestructible.” The failure of judicialization marked the monarchy’s failure to extinguish the political awakening and the runaway expectations that Thaksin’s TRT years had ignited. Moreover, when a senior general left the Privy Council to head the coup- appointed government, then rejoined the king’s advisory body after the December 2007 poll, it reinforced the popular perception that the putsch had been carried out to protect and promote the crown (and the military- bureaucratic establishment long associated with it) at the expense of a democratically elected government.
That perception gained force when Chanchai Likitjitta, justice minister for the coup government, was named to the Privy Council on 8 April 2008. Similarly, Air Chief Marshal Chalit Pookpasuk, a core coupmaker who had headed the Council for National Security after September 2007, was appointed to the Privy Council on 18 May 2011. Many also noted the queen’s conspicuous attendance at the October 2008 funeral of the yellow-shirt protester. The lese-majesté law may deter public discussion, but it cannot prevent people from taking private notice. Then there were the televised comments in which top army general Prayuth Chan-ocha effectively endorsed the DP just weeks before the 2011 election, urging viewers not to vote for the same politicians but to elect “good people” who would defend the monarchy. This could not help but tarnish the revered institution when Pheu Thai won handily.
BP: Prayuth’s vote for good people statement was a colossal mistake. By framing the issue with good and its opposite, which has has to be evil, you push Puea Thai voters into a corner. By indirectly labelling them as supporters of not good people
Then on page 57 on reconciling monarchy and democracy:
As of early 2012, no other reformist groups or individuals had appeared on the scene possessing anything like what it will take to reconcile monarchy and democracy in Thailand. All the same, however, it appears that Thailand cannot escape the challenge of reaching a new consensus that will root the monarchy more squarely within the constitution of an emerging democracy, but in a way that reconciles conservative royalists. The desire of the rural lower classes to have their voices heard and their numbers felt is legitimate, but so is the desire for a government that does not simply replace the lack of accountability that characterized the old military-bureaucratic power centers with a similarly unaccountable populist strongman.
BP: The coup and its aftermath has damaged the establishment.
Then on page 59 on Thaksin and his legacy:
Thaksin was well positioned by circumstance and insight to take advantage of this new and more open political environment. Given an opportunity, he overhauled the bureaucracy, delivered on his populist pledges to do more for poorer Thais, mapped out plans to upgrade the country’s industrial base, and even pursued an ambitious foreign-policy agenda in pursuit of Thai regional leadership. Yet there was to all this an underside of corruption, conflicts of interest, cronyism, human-rights violations, abuses of power, and other sins of misrule. Such is Thaksin’s mixed legacy. The wider opportunities that he opened for the downtrodden and his ambitious plans for Thailand’s future were inextricably entangled with his self-dealing, his penchant for corruption, and his habit of abusing the powers of his office. Thaksin Incorporated went hand-in-hand with Thailand Incorporated.
Yet Thaksin’s enemies have shown their own limits in refusing to admit that there is more to him and what he stands for than graft and corruption. They should have weighed his policy innovations and put forward their own ideas for assisting the impoverished and marginalized. In the end, they came up with the Abhisit government and its programs for “welfare” and fostering a “sufficiency economy” that most voters find insufficient. For Thaksin’s establishment foes, conceding to his spectacularly successful populism would have been tantamount to admitting that most people in the hospitable, smiling, conspicuously tourist-friendly Kingdom of Thailand have been—and have been kept— poor. Wittingly or not, Thaksin has been the catalyst for propelling Thailand into the twenty-first century while his adversaries have stayed stuck in Cold War times. Although he committed many infractions, Thaksin’s most egregious crime and gravest sin were that he changed the way Thais see themselves and their country. Some see this change as usurpation and manipulation by Thaksin and his cronies. Others see it as Thailand’s overdue deliverance from the Cold War era. Those who have ruled in the past must accept this new reality, just as those who are atop the polls now must accept the legacy of the past.
BP: Pandora’s box has been opened and it won’t be shut again. Have a read of the whole thing. Who will be the one to offer reforms and on what? There is an opening – just see headlines about the easing of royal motorcade rules, e.g. AP article is entitled “Thai king updates motorcade rules to ease traffic” - and you can see how other reforms will be framed positively. Lese majeste surely must be high up there on the agenda……
Have tried to embed the whole PDF version of the article below, but not sure it will work….
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