September 16, 2012

Comments from 2008/9: blogatry


As the reality of the one-sided willed pact with royalists in Thailand (Pheu  Thai showing its loyalty) becomes undeniable, I thought it was time that Sovereign Myth acted like a blog and self-referenced itself in the manner of "as I said in XXX, as I noted  XXX, when I predicted that  XXXX". I've not done this before, so please indulge. The emerging commentary (Ji Ungphakorn, Political Prisoners in Thailand)  on disappointment with the Yingluck/Thaksin government and its refusal to help political prisoners is a healthy sign, and it's interesting that government apologists have started to look like yellow shirt apologists.....Regardless of all these moral gymnastics....yes to freedom for Somyot and all other politcal prisoners.

As I wrote in

"He wants to make History"  (Bangkok Post, 2008)

"The question to ask is why does a self-declared democratic movement fall back on someone like Thaksin, a gifted but impulsive political operator so frightfully contradictory that any popular movement that returns him to power would need to watch its back?

 The answer to that question, and to progressive acquiesce to rival elite camps more broadly, lies in organisation and politics.As long argued by Ji Giles Ungpakorn, there is a lack of independent pro-democratic and left-wing forces of sufficient size and clarity to intervene in struggles in such a way as to advance a progressive agenda. In such organisational absence, individual leftists and progressives have joined both the yellow and red camps, seeking a free ride through history for their more radical politics.

 In doing so, they have momentarily ironed out contradictions, refused to reveal their politics, and failed to come to terms with the limits of their influence. This strategy of simplification reveals itself as a politics of alliance, silence and accusation; alliance with the “lesser evil”; silence on the former and on their own politics; accusations directed at the “greater evil.”

 They have surrendered in part the responsibility to offer criticism publicly (necessarily circumspect) of things they criticise privately. Both red and yellow movements are partly led by phrase-coiners and image-makers who deliberately, on message, manage and distort, seeking to win support by insincere argument and selective truth.

This raises the question of the place of honesty and openness in social change. And it raises the issue of political adventurism, for a failure to fully appreciate the social forces at play in street politics is prone to dangerous consequences.

As I wrote in "Coup by Stealth or something else"
Asia Sentinel 2009


Although the struggle between strategically relevant opposing forces in Thailand is presented through the idiom of democracy, the opposing forces who stand by the coupsters are actually an inter-sectoral mix of business, bureaucracy, police, military and royalists who care little for genuine democracy. As these inter-sectoral forces fight for state control they do so in a partial “state of exception” whereby, for the most part, force determines outcomes rather than law, persuasion or a democratic mandate. This is actually the same situation that held in the later Thaksin years, although the balance of forces has reversed.

The acute state of Thai politics at this present time has little to do with democracy. An elite struggle that goes back at least a decade is manifest: a new brand of capitalism that seeks to break from the quasi-feudalistic hold of monarchy is in motion, but it is a force that dares not declare its name. Enlightened Thaksin forces want a bourgeois revolution against the current way the monarchy and networks surrounding it work, but they dare not declare their mission. These forces – a mix of the old left, old right, capitalists and technocrats - mobilise forces under a banner of right wing populism, including Buddhist chauvinism, but they have yet to elaborate any genuinely ideological position to challenge the force that thwarts their emergence. They are also hostile to liberal forms of democracy.

So where is the ‘left’ in all of this? Some serve the stealth bourgeois revolution of the pro-Thaksin forces. They are beholden to a version of objective history that pits “progressive capitalism” against quasi-feudalistic monarchy and aristocracy. They have been unrelenting in their claim of Thaksin’s democratic mandate, willing to ignore that democracy means so much more than a mark on a ballot paper. Such belief in the march of objective history has led to many historical calamities and it is not hard to see Thaksin as one of them. The killings of Tak Bai and the War on Drugs surely count as modern equivalents of the descent into governmental barbarism.

Others on the left and a range of political liberals have sought to use the monarchy as a buffer against the political authoritarianism represented by Thaksin. In doing so, they have found comfort in myths about the monarchy, tradition and elite democratization. They have supported the use of extra-constitutional power to overthrow the Thaksin regime. Beholden to a subjectivist view of history (good versus evil), such forces are willing to turn a blind eye to the palace’s history, and its privileged economic position. They seek the return of ‘royal liberalism’, in which the monarchy stands as the supreme ombudsman, supporting the emergence of constitutional rule.

At this moment in time it appears that the contending fractions of the Thai elite are about to enter the final round of a long struggle. It remains to be seen if they will step back from the brink and instead embrace compromise. One thing, however, is certain: as long as contending elites fail to agree to any rules of the game and instead wage open political warfare for complete victory, Thailand’s chance of returning to some form of liberal democracy are slim.