Thailand protests: Conflict of elites

Thailand Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej was found guilty of violating the Constitution by appearing in a cooking show while holding a public office. The court ordered him to step down as Prime Minister.

Initially, the ruling party promised to re-elect Samak as Prime Minister. But later on, party leaders announced that Samak will no longer be considered for the post. The Parliament will elect a new leader this coming Wednesday.

The protesters who occupied the Government House welcomed the removal of Samak. But they vowed to continue with the protests since they are also demanding political reforms.

Before proceeding, a brief background of the political crisis in Thailand: Protesters belonging to the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) have stormed the Government House last August demanding the resignation of Samak. They accused Samak of being a puppet of ousted leader Thaksin Shinawatra. PAD leaders want a new form of government. They want majority of Parliament to be appointed by a governing body since they fear the rich cronies of Thaksin will continue to buy the votes of the poor in rural Thailand.

Last Friday several East Asia bloggers held a virtual meeting to discuss the crisis in Thailand. Dan of absolutely served as our main resource person.

Dan described the crisis in Thailand as a “conflict of the elites.” He noted that the old elites include the army, Bangkok aristocracy, and academics. The new elites belong to the faction of Thaksin.

Dan further explains and theorizes on why the Court issued a swift verdict against Samak:

“Thaksin simply took away a big piece of the cake (from the old elite)…It looks right now that the old elite is trying and able to pull quite some strings…even influencing the courts. I mean, the Constitution Court heard Samak on Monday, on Tuesday the guilty verdict was ready.”

The crisis has plunged Thailand into deeper division:

“So you see, there are two major forces opposing each other. In the middle are the ‘instrumentalized’ and radicalized people. Society is divided by deeper hate than under Thaksin. It's a complete city vs. country…educated people vs. poor farmers…a complete black and white world with hardly any middle.”

Kevin Li from Hong Kong comments:

“Unfortunately the urban-rural divide is being used in the political struggle.”

Participants of the meeting also discussed the proposal of PAD. The protesters want a “new politics”, or a “guided democracy”. Some described it as “functional democracy”. In short, they want less voting, more appointments in establishing a new Parliament.

It is somewhat similar to Hong Kong’s political system. Oiwan was quick to clarify that even in HK, this system is seriously criticized. She thinks this proposal is an excuse for taking power in Thailand.

Dan agrees:

“All they want is a kind of unproven politics nobody really understand what it is, even the PAD changes positions… The ideals of PAD are noble (or novel?), nobody refuses that. But not workable.”

Portnoy from Taiwan raised an important question: Who will appoint these interest groups or academics? Under the PAD proposal, these sectors are supposed to appoint majority of the members of Parliament. Portnoy is worried that “a group of unelected elites will appoint another unelected group of elites.”

Dan replies:

“That's another unsolved question. It would be a ‘tyranny of a minority’, disguised under a pseudo-democracy.”

Kevin Li has a relevant observation:

“While people are looking at Bangkok, looks like no one cares about what happened in Northern Thailand… the environmental destruction is going on…”

Oiwan adds that the voice of the rural poor must be heard.

Dan writes that “Thailand is in a huge vacuum – nobody really knows what will happen tomorrow.” Kevin Li concludes:

“I think one day the protests will end, but without meaningful results.”

The virtual discussion was the second meeting of East Asia bloggers. The first virtual chat was conducted a month ago about the corruption scandal in Taiwan.


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