Feb 1, 2014

On the coming Thailand election

Last few months, Thailand politics has become part of the news headlines in Hong Kong and international again. The instability of Thailand politics and the uncertainty of future Thailand economy arose concern from journalist and academics. Violence should not be the only focus of the whole saga. What we should focus should be the underlying conflicts between the rural Thai electorate (using the Andrew Walker's term) and the Bangkok elite class circle around the Monarchy and how this conflicts should be resolved by democratic measures or at least in a way that is acceptable in terms of international norms.

This blog post is about the analysis round the election, not the protest, nor the violence. It hopes to build a summary around the Feb 2 election.


Source: Election tensions in Thailand as protesters vow to keep up pressure - CNN.com

Ballots over bullets - CAP – ANU

Andrew Walker
31 Jan 2014

After long-term research in rural Thailand, I have a much more positive view about the political judgements of Thailand’s voters. I have found a rich, irreverent and dynamic political culture. The informal evaluation of governments and their policies is a routine part of everyday life.  Policies and programs have a direct impact on livelihoods, so they are a natural subject for discussion and debate.  Some voters are unengaged; some are passionately committed; most lie somewhere in between. There’s nothing unusual, or undesirable, about that. Political candidates, on all sides, certainly distribute cash before elections, but voters routinely evaluate these gifts against the records and reputations of those who are trying to secure their support.

This local scrutiny provides the underpinning for a robust and resilient electoral culture. Opinion surveys have regularly found that voters in Thailand have a strong commitment to democratic values. Credible commentators are also agreed that Thai elections over the past decade, while not perfect, have reflected the genuine political will of the electorate.

Asia Unbound » Drip, Drip, Drip: The Impact of Thailand’s Political Chaos on the Thai Economy (and the World)

January 31, 2014


The years of political turmoil, which now dates back to the mid-2000s, are instead having a corrosive effect on Thailand’s economy, more like the drip, drip, drip of a slightly leaky faucet that ultimately busts your water bill than the gusher of a pipe that breaks open and pours water everywhere. The corrosion can be seen not just in the underperformance of the economy in the beginning of 2014, but in the economy’s long-term underperformance compared to its potential. The corrosion can be seen not by investors pulling up stakes and leaving in a horde but rather in the decisions of new investors to look elsewhere, when in the past they would have made Thailand their first choice for new investments in all types of low-end to high-end manufacturing.

Thai politicians’ focus on staying in power, and on destroying their opponents, has distracted from their focus on critical priorities for Thailand’s long-term competitiveness, including upgrading the quality of the workforce, making it easier for Thai entrepreneurs to develop and patent products, improving the quality of Thailand’s wireless and physical infrastructure, and other priorities. The zero-sum nature of current Thai politics also has led both Puea Thai and, when they were in power, the Democrat Party to continually offer populist promises in an attempt to either shore up their power base in the north/northeast or to win over that group of the population.

After all, who wants to continue to work in government when you never know whether elected ministers will try to purge the bureaucracy of anyone who does not kowtow to the prime minister (Thai Rak Thai/Puea Thai’s strategy) or whether angry, sometimes armed protestors will besiege your ministry, lock the doors, and physically try to bar you from entering and even assault you (PDRC/Democrat strategy)? The bureaucracy, in the past, was critical to maintaining Thailand’s long-term macroeconomic stability and its openness to investors, but the Thai bureaucracy is not what it was in the past. With governments coming and going, the civil service no longer can provide the kind of policy-making anchor that it once did.

Opinion: No way forward for Thailand until the people have their say | Asian Correspondent

Jan 31, 2014


Granted, this coming election won’t solve the political stalemate. But to deny your fellow countrymen the right to vote and to paint everybody who does cast their ballot as ‘traitorous’ is not the way forward. The reason why the protesters are not winning over the majority is because they have never assured anybody’s freedom and liberty. Respect their vote, even if it’s a “No” vote. Thailand’s political crisis is a man-made disaster. The fault lines in this power struggle run through all political institutions in and outside the democratic playing field, with everybody involved always eager to outdo the other.

Why the Thai election was not delayed | Asian Correspondent

Jan 31, 2014


BP: Exactly. If either the PDRC announced they would stop protesting if the election was postponed (they have said postponing is irrelevant to them) OR the Democrats would commit to taking part in a delayed election (Abhisit has only said the Democrats would consider taking part in postponed elections) then the government would come under pressure to delay the election and in BP’s view they should if either if those conditions were met. Neither of these have happened and there is no indication that they will soon. We have had six weeks since the dissolution and we are no closer to any kind of resolution.

Destruction and transition in Thailand | Bangkok Post: opinion


What Thailand is facing now is no less than a process of "creative destruction" in our political transformation. What Prof Pasuk calls "a social transformation" out of some "short-sighted" policies of the ruling party that had led to "too much pride in the majority that they won" and "oblivious to and arrogant against the sentiments of the people who no longer tolerate some of the disastrous policies like the rice-pledging scheme, the amnesty bill and the problem of widespread corruption".

Thailand now needs a new political order, leaving behind the old and dangerously flawed system. Much like a colourful butterfly emerges from a dead caterpillar, a new Thailand must be able to ascend again from the ashes of her own unworkable factionalised politics.

Asia Unbound » Thailand Endgame

January 27, 2014


By not allowing the government to enjoy the support of the military in its approach to protesters, and by essentially threatening the Thai government that any violence at all—no matter who is behind the violence—will result in the removal of the Yingluck government, the Thai military is taking a stand in the contest for power.

For example, although the military allowed the Democrat/Abhisit government to use the army’s base as a center of command and operations during the 2010 unrest in Bangkok, the army and now the Thai air force have refused to allow the Puea Thai/Yingluck government to use their facilities to house a command and operations center. This refusal, as much as if the military took a proactive step in handing over a command and operations center, is an action.

Even if Puea Thai wins the upcoming election, it will not be able to fill Parliament, and the government will become weaker and weaker

Duncan McCargo | Letter From Bangkok, Thailand | Foreign Affairs

January 27, 2014


Thailand’s current political polarization both is and is not about Thaksin. He did not cause Thailand to change. Rather, he and his parties have identified and capitalized on a massive socioeconomic transformation, a shift in the aspirations of voters that has been underway for a couple of decades. Urbanized villagers are utterly weary of the relentless paternalism of Thailand’s capital city and its denizens. The PDRC repeatedly insists that Thaksin manipulated millions of uneducated, unsophisticated provincials into voting for him, five times in a row. Pro-Thaksin parties -- just like all other Thai parties -- have undoubtedly spent huge amounts of money to win elections, but electoral success on this scale cannot be bought.

Taking turns hitting at a Yingluck punching bag might provide some instant gratification for Bangkok’s frustrated middle classes, but these are the moves of people who are in deep denial about political realities: Thailand’s urbanized villagers are the country’s future, and they are not about to vanish.


Thailand’s Geographic Divide Also Defines Bangkok | Asia Sentinel

27 JANUARY 2014


Though in electoral terms the Democrats control the central core of Bangkok and, in effect, most central institutions of government – the upper bureaucracy, judiciary etc. one-third of Bangkok’s parliamentary seats, mostly in the east of the city, are held by Thaksin supporters. When it comes to the newer urban areas surrounding Bangkok and along the eastern seaboard, the story is totally different from most foreign perceptions. Democrats are hard to find in these relatively new industrialized areas. For instance the provinces of Pathum Thani, Samut Prakhan, Nonthaburi and Ayudhya are almost exclusively Red-Shirt territory, to use the color code for Thaksin’s supporters. Likewise all the seats in Chonburi on the eastern seaboard, where huge numbers of Japanese-owned factories are located; Laem Chabang port and the resort city of Pattaya are in the hands of a local party run by a bigwig sympathetic to Thaksin. In other central provinces, such as Nakhon Pathom, third parties, not Democrats, predominate. Clearly migration from the north and northeast has left a huge mark on the politics of the central and metropolitan regions. These voters may combine a regional sympathy for the Thaksin camp with class resentment against the presumptions of the Bangkok elite.

. It is now often forgotten, even in Thailand let alone by foreigners, that the North was once the separate Lanna kingdom, as powerful as that of Ayudhya to the south and with its own language and writing system. After a period of Burmese occupation it split into two smaller kingdoms, Chiang Mai and Lampang, which became loose vassals of Bangkok. But it was only after the opening of Siam to western commerce in the 1850s and British deals with Chiang Mai to exploit teak forests that Bangkok sought direct control. Likewise, a large part of the Northeast, on the west bank of the Mekong, was long part of the Lao kingdom and to this day Isaan maintains language and cultural traits which its shares with the lowland people of Laos, while elsewhere in Isaan Khmer ties run deep. For sure, modern Thailand has a level of economic integration that makes a regional break-up almost impossible. Nonetheless, deep regional sentiments, and memories of great Lanna, Lao and Khmer kingdoms, can play a role in bolstering the sentiments of Thaksin’s legions in the huge areas of Thailand where they dominate – and also in a place like Bangkok where many of them now live.

Democracy in Thailand hanging by a thread – ANN
Nirmal Ghosh
The Straits Times
Publication Date : 31-01-2014


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