Saturday, April 24, 2010

Understanding Current Thai Politics

Thai society could be roughly divided between two groups:

Group # 1, a.k.a. the Yellow Shirts: The educated urbanites (though not all living in the cities) who are knowledgeable and supportive of the democratic process. They are the ones responsible for making Bangkok into a modern high-tech metropolis, to match modern high-tech metropolises world over. They are the group that most Westerners would identify with, as they know how to make the system work without breaking all the rules. That's not to say they don't break the rules often enough -- that's called corruption, of which Thailand has its fair share -- both sides.

Group # 2, a.k.a. the Red Shirts: The rural peasantry (though not all living in the rural areas) who have largely been left out of the process, and have been waiting a very long time to see any of the wealth generated by Group # 1 trickle down to them. They are not so well informed of the ways of democracy. However, without them, Thailand would not be a net exporter of rice and other foods, and without their cheap labour, Bangkok wouldn't enjoy the impressive skyline that it has. For that matter, perhaps, some of the wealth has trickled down, at least to those that provide the cheap labour, but they're also the first to suffer when an econimic crises hits.

Enter: Thaksin Shinawatra, a wealthy businessman cum politician, who made what Group # 1 considers to be overly rash campaign promises. He became the prime-minister with a land slide vote, and proceeded to keep, at least most, of his campaign promises (or enough of them to impress those of Group # 2). For the first time the members of Group # 2 were happy that someone at the top seemed to be aware that they exist. For the first time, real benefits began trickling down to them.

As far as Group # 1 is concerned, Thaksin Shinawatra was breaking all the rules. His war on drugs involved allowing the police to shoot to kill whenever they see a known drug dealer or drug lord. He bypassed all departments and bureaucracy to get benefits to the people. In fact, he was quite autocratic.

If you were to ask me, I'm reminded of the fact that, had Adolf Hitler died in 1939, he would have gone down as one of the greatest heads of state the world has ever known, for taking Germany out of the ashes and bring prosperity to the common people. It wasn't nice and smooth as the normal democratic process ought to be, but the common people agreed that his actions were timely and effective. Only later did he began to show his colours as the villain that he was. By then, he had Germany's working class and peasantry solidly behind him.

While the principals of democracy may be second nature to you and I, and to those of Group # 1, as far as Group # 2 is concerned, it's all a load of Western gibberish that hasn't done them any good. All they see is, Thaksin brought results, where normal democracy didn't. Personally, I'd agree that Thaksin Shinawatra's policies needed taming down, but if I put myself in the shoes of the typical North-Eastern farmer, or semi-employed construction worker, or Bangkok taxi driver, the answer isn't so easy.

For right now, there are no easy answers for Thai politics.

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