Friday, May 30, 2014

Thailand Again

Once again the military has taken over the country, the 12th time since constitutional monarchy was established around 80 years ago. At first, they only declared martial law but when they brought the contesting parties together and couldn’t forge a compromise, they made it complete. Of course, compromise would’ve meant a legitimately elected government ceding power to a movement seeking its ouster; not something a legitimate government is supposed to do.
I am constantly struck by how much in lockstep expats associated with Thailand are on the subject of politics in that country. They echo the words and thoughts of the anti-government, yellow shirt protesters who don’t believe the reds have the right or are smart enough to govern. That makes it possible for them to discount the fact that Taksin Shinawatra or his aligned governments have won every election since 2001 by comfortable margins and that he was the first Thai leader to win an outright majority in parliament.
He paid for the vote is their answer. If you point out that paying for votes is a long Thai tradition, they say, well he’s rich so he could pay more for the votes. If you point out that he provided free health care to the villagers, they say the program is a disaster, the people hate it. If you bring up the development money he provided for the villages, they say, it was all stolen by corrupt leaders. The royalists are no slouches in the wealth department, if the rural poor only vote that way for the cash, why couldn’t the yellows come up with the money to match Taksin’s?
If you bring up the red shirt protests which an unelected government cleared out with the deaths of more than 90 people and a thousand injured they say, Taksin paid the demonstrators to be there. It had nothing to do, in their minds, with the fact that three legitimate governments that represented their interests were deposed, one of them on the flimsiest pretexts – a red shirt leader was booted out for a conflict of interest: he earned $50 for hosting a cooking show. They say the reds are apolitical, they only vote because they’re paid to do so.
Before Yingluck was deposed, partly on account of her failed rice purchasing scheme, the first thing defenders of the yellows said, Look, the farmers are marching against her because they haven’t been paid for their rice. Does that mean they would vote for the opposition? The royalists who hate them? Like Democrats who dislike Obama would vote for a Repug? The yellows prevented enough people from voting last February to invalidate the ballot, because they knew Yingluck would win in spite of her disastrous rice scheme.
An article in the Cambodia Daily on Monday, May 26 said, … the scheme (rice buying) was meant to cement rural support for Yingluck. Two things are amiss about that statement. One, she didn’t need to cement rural support, she was going to win easily. Two, many governments subsidize farmers, the US and EU being some of the worst in that department. And in the case of Thailand, why not? While the country has advanced tremendously in the past decades, the peasantry hasn’t hardly seen any of it. Before Taksin they were left to their own devices.
When the royalists protest, the military takes over and puts them in power. When the reds do the same, they’re murdered. But they’re not political, we’re told, just peasants collecting their stipend for voting red or demonstrating, besides they’re not smart enough to wield power. An opinion piece in the Cambodia Daily, Thursday, May 29, by a typical SE Asia expat is entitled, The Military Coup in Thailand Holds Promise of Democracy. My God, Orwell back from the dead!
You see, what the generals will do is ‘reform the system’ and then democracy will be safe again. While they’re at it they’ll have to make it safe from the majority, otherwise the cycle will just start over. The reds are not going to take this sitting down. They’re not going to go back to their villages, be content in their poverty and thank the generals for usurping another government they elected.
There has been a tiny little change in the elitists attitude since Taksin first won on a populist platform. This is represented by a quote from another article in the paper. A 30-year-old coup-supporter businessman is quoted saying, When people are sick they need medicine. It might be a bitter pill, but we need to swallow it. Medicine for the sick: A bitter pill. That has been my impression of the yellows right along: they hate the idea of their government helping the poor. It drives them crazy. I saw that attitude when I lived in Thailand more than 20 years ago, no matter how rich the society was becoming, the common people were treated like trash. The Repugs in the US are similar, anything that helps the poor is just buying votes. Tax breaks for billionaires is altruism, food stamps for the poor is coddling them. Being hungry will make them strong and self-reliant.
The Yellows don’t want to buy votes with populist programs the way Taksin did but they may have to if they ever want to actually win another election.
Taksin as a person is just plain reprehensible, there’s no way to defend him on principle. But if you say to a defender of the elite, Yes but he was the first Thai politician to ever do anything for the poor, they say, Maybe, but he never cared about them, he only bought their votes to increase his own power. That may be true, I can’t say, but he was a lowly cop on a beat at one time, so it’s not hard to imagine he might retain some feeling for the common people no matter what else you think about him or how awful he is on all personal matters.
He is so divisive, for the sake of the nation and the people he represents, he really should steer totally clear of any future involvement in Thai politics. Nonetheless, even if he were deep in his grave before the next time the reds win an election, the royalists would blame their defeat on him buying votes from six feet underground.


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