Let Them Eat Lobsters

With the steel-trap intellectual rigor with which he is rapidly becoming associated, PM Abhisit Vejjajiva has decided to close down all those dirty, nasty, unwanted manufacturing projects and replace them with shiny, shiny, shiny tourism resorts. Mr Abhisit, who is not believed to have done an honest day’s work in his life, seems not to have explained why it would be a good idea to get rid of skilled, high-paying, long-term manufacturing jobs and replace them with low-paid, low-skilled, seasonal tourism jobs – however, the strong suspicion is that, like so many other subjects, he has no idea what he is talking about. He has no connection with the working people of Thailand and his sleazy, repressive administration is an increasingly embarrassing failure. Meanwhile, in an obvious reinvention of the largely successful OTOP campaign, the Office of Small and Medium-Sized Enterprise Promotion (OSMEP) is to state a pilot project in the northeast of the country to promote silk handicrafts. Higher education institutions (including Silpakorn University) and some local co-operatives will join together to help ‘upgrade’ the industry – presumably this will be a mixture of technical skills and the ability to respond to market demand and market driven requests, which means finding out what people want and making it for them, rather than making things they know how to make. In addition, depending on how closely the OTOP model is to be followed, there may be help in distribution and national-level and international-level marketing. Meanwhile, barter trade with Russia is back on the agenda – readers might recall that during as I recall the premiership of Samak Sundaravej (who I believe is seriously ill) there was a plan to exchange frozen chickens for some more badly needed second hand fighter aircraft. The plan failed because – well, how many frozen chickens would you swap for a second jet fighter? Perhaps we could get the EBay people in to consult.

Pro-Democracy Voices Gather

The lines have, so to speak, been drawn up for the pro-democracy demonstration due to be held this weekend. The ISOC has met and announced that 37 ‘companies’ of police and military forces will be stationed to regulate the demonstrations – checkpoints will search the demonstrators (many tens of thousands are expected but it is always difficult to know exactly how many will in fact show up) and reports are that many checkpoints on roads around the city have been established to prevent people from outside Bangkok from making it into the city (some people are travelling individually and incognito as a result).

The demonstration itself will focus on the competence and character of the Abhisit/PAD/military regime – pro-democracy redshirts argue that the incompetence of the government at a time of economic crisis is such that there should be a dissolution of parliament and people given a genuine chance to be governed by people for whom they have voted. They also argue that a variety of scandals and alleged instances of corruption should lead to PM Abhisit (and some others) being impeached and removed from office.

The rightist government and its media friends have tried, as a means of disguising the issues at hand, to portray the forthcoming demonstration as being likely to lead to violence and disorder and, also, that it is all some kind of conspiracy mounted by former PM Thaksin Shinawatra, who is treated as some kind of devil for his temerity in challenging the aristocratic elite. Consider this story, for example.

It is not likely that there will be any immediate positive change from the demonstration (a positive change would be a move towards democracy), since it is the secret hand which will decide when Abhisit is obliged to give up his power and the secret hand follows its own agenda. On the other hand, there is a real danger that violence will break out (possibly through the use of agents provocateurs as has happened previously) and innocent people will be wounded or killed. At least these days we have the technology to photograph and record what will occur – and these images do leak out, despite this repressive regime’s attempts to suppress political dissidence ruthlessly

More Handouts to Lower Middle Classes by Abhisit Regime

Curiously, no other country responding to the ongoing economic crisis has decided the best way to stimulate their economy is to hand out cash to lower middle class workers, mostly in the government sector. It might be thought that the people most in need of cash assistance would be the very poor or the newly unemployed, both of which classes of people would certainly cash the cheques and spend the money in short order. Those in the category of ‘salary not more than 15,000 baht per month,’ might be considered lower middle class at worst. The money (approximately $428 per month) may not seem a great deal but it is rather higher than the minimum wage (c. $150 per month with variations) and it is likely that many in this category (especially those in multiple wage-earning households) will prefer to save the money rather than spend it immediately.

Nevertheless, the Abhisit regime has decided on a second round of handouts to these people (they are also, of course, the sectors from which the Democrats would need to win votes if they were actually to be elected). Government spokesperson Pluettichai Damrongratana seemed to have little idea to what extent the previous handout had actually made any difference – he claimed that 96% of the previously distributed cheques had been cashed at a bank and claimed that meant the money had been circulated in the economy – of course it means no such thing.

As for other measures, they seem to be long on tedious administrivia and short on actual specifics – the government has, for example, decided to monitor results and compare them with the initial objectives – well, it needs no ghost come from hell to tell us this.

Sondhi Shot

When the state fails to provide justice, it is tragically likely that people will take the law into their own hands. This appears to be borne out by the shooting of chief anti-democracy leader Sondhi Limthongkul, who is being operated on now, apparently.

It is seductively appealing to leap to conclusions and then publish them prematurely on blogs such as this but it is hard, nevertheless, to avoid reaching the conclusion that an assassination attempt has been made because the people of Thailand are so disgusted that one-sided reprisals are being made against the pro-democracy supporters while the anti-democracy mob, the blue shirts and other criminals are being permitted to get away with murder.

Nobody wants to see this violence spreading (I have written before about the prevalence of violence in Thailand, partly fuelled by the easy availability of guns) – the government, no matter whether it was brought to power illegally or not, must act to ensure justice is carried out by immediately taking action against all people suspected of breaking the law irrespective of their political ideology. Abhisit’s failure to do so to date reflects very badly on his character.

State Force Defeats Pro-Democracy Demonstration; Reprisals Begin But Long-Term Reform Now Appears Inevitable

The battle is lost – state violence has crushed the pro-democracy demonstration in Bangkok and reprisals have begun. We can expect a great deal of self-righteous posturing in the media about how dreadful the pro-democracy protestors are and how it was all paid for by Khun Thaksin and other nonsense.

Yet there is plenty of reason to suspect that the war is far from over. Bangkok Pundit has this message from ML Nattakorn Devakula (also known as ‘Pleum’):

“A lot of my friends and colleagues are in agreement that in order to realize the country’s true democratic potential, Thailand needs a formal transition towards a truer more ‘popular’ form of democracy based on the needs and desires of the majority. A double standard judiciary appointed and acting in the name of a supreme leader and tacitly, yet not infrequently, intervened by particular members of the privy council as shown in a string of events over the past 3 years have to become a thing of the past. An armed forces bent on discriminating against its own population based of differing political ideology and out of the fear of ‘connected’ individuals having influences over them cannot in anyway be accepted in a modern day democracy.

The tasks of revolutionarily altering Thailand will involve a lot work over the next several years to foment the seeds of final change. An oligarchic style of managed governance where compassion and kindness are given only to those wearing the royalists’ color is a slap to the face to the majority of the Thai nation who are for the most part already living subordinated lives. This movement for democratic change must begin to sow its preliminary sinews today, while the culmination of its goals will be seen several years down the road.

Victory was theirs this time but make no mistake the definitive battle lines of the future have been drawn and the real war is yet to have experienced its days. The reds’ defeat on April 14, 2009 from now on serves as a point of origination for what will ultimately become a transitional period out of the Thai oligarchic existence.”

This is the discourse of the future – it has become acceptable to discuss the role of the Privy Council and the nature of the judges and their decision-making processes. Once this discussion is held in public it will be impossible to repress it in future, not completely.

Quite how change will be brought about is yet to be fully established. It is possible that new arenas of confrontation will be opened across the country as people outside Bangkok demonstrate their desire for democratic change regionally. Meanwhile, flashpoints are likely when the security forces begin to persecute red-shirt organizers, as people will again ask why no prosecutions have been brought against the anti-democracy PAD movement. The legitimacy of the current Democrat-led coalition will again be in the spotlight.

Abhisit Puts Tanks on Bangkok Streets

Events are happening so quickly that it is difficult to keep up – and it is likely that many things will be forgotten or swept under the carpet in the clamour for urgency.

The situation now is that the ASEAN Summit was cancelled after the government was proved unable to keep order and the various Asian leaders had to be rapidly evacuated by helicopter. Pro-democracy red-shirted demonstrators were moving their protests from Bangkok to Pattaya when it seems there were attacked and shot at by a group of PAD goons and undercover security forces apparently organized by turncoat ‘godfather’ politician Newin Chidchob – it is possible that red shirts also used violence (poor Bangkok Pundit, to whom I generally turn for up to date information, sounded in despair yesterday when he was describing both sides as being no better than each other), although I remember previous clashes during which pro- and anti-democracy factions clashed and the telling phrase from the red shirts was ‘we brought sticks to a gun fight.’ The same seems to have happened here – I do not of course condone violence from anyone.

There are now reports of tanks on the streets and incidents across Bangkok and beyond. PM Abhisit has declared a state of emergency in Bangkok and some surrounding provinces which means, inter alia, “Under the order, gatherings of more than five people are prohibited, the press is not allowed to present news reports which could incite worry among to the public. The order also allows the public to be evacuated from areas considered to be risky.” This should be borne in mind in considering, in the future, what is being reported now and in the next period of hours or days.

Some questions:

Will this lead to yet another military coup?

Why is Suthep still in a job?

At what point will the Invisible Hand decide that Abhisit should be let go?

Tomorrow, depending on what happens between now and then, I hope to touch upon the hypocriticial nonsense now being spouted about tourism losses.

Causes of Violence in the South

It will comes as little surprise to anyone to hear that the various types of injustice in the southern border region has contributed to the violence there – we might debate the balance of importance between long-term injustice, criminal activity, terrorism and other factors but few people acquainted with the facts would deny them and their importance.

One of the main problems is the unaccountability of the military and their treatment of local people (there are many rumours for which evidence is contested which say that the region has been a ‘dumping ground’ for bad or incompetent local officials, police and others for decades) (there are many other rumours about the number of ‘foreign-trained’ (i.e. extremist) religious leaders and teachers and their acolytes).

One factor that is obviously not the case is that the current PM has any ability to influence the military in the south, given the way he was awarded power in a shabby deal. That makes it rather curious to read Supalak Ganjanakhundee in the Nation: “The government has done nothing significant to deal with the problem of justice and injustice in the predominantly Muslim region.

What the Prime Minister and his government have done since taking power in December is merely follow the footsteps of the military and bureaucrats in their old ways to handle the situation.

Prime Minister Abhisit said his government would use less of a military strategy and put more emphasis on justice. He also promised to revamp implementation of emergency and security laws.”

What is the point of writing this nonsense? We are grown-ups here and we know exactly what kind of a puppet Abhisit has become. Pretending otherwise just makes Abhisit’s performance even worse than it is by blaming him for those things he has no control over – it is like listening to what he says about the Rohingyas.

In his recent book Tearing Apart the Land: Islam and Legitimacy in Southern Thailand (recently published here in paperback, that is), Duncan McCargo observes that there are five main ways of thinking about the causes of the violence (pp.5-7):

          cultural stereotypes of ‘hot-headed Southerners’ and criminal activity, oppressed by some malevolent public officials;

          long-term grievances about the suppression of the Malay-Muslim identity;

          a clash between pro- and anti-Thaksin forces in the military enacted in the South;

          the influence of external actors stirring up trouble (who range from Al Qaeda type terrorists to the CIA to the Singaporean government – I’m not making this up);

          desire for separatism as has been expressed previously.

The truth is, in my opinion, that various factors act together in combination, although that is I am aware a typically academic and unhelpful answer.


Economic Stimulation

The Quisling Government has put through its plans for an economic stimulus package to try to ward off the worst of the economic/PAD-caused crisis. It claims it will help, the Opposition claims it will not help. The truth of course is that no one yet knows how much such a package will help in the medium (i.e. more than one year) term, whether it will be enough and in what timescale the borrowed money can be repaid. However, it is true that nearly every government in the world has been obliged to put forward some kind of package to try to protect their own economies. By what principles, therefore, should the Quisling Government’s package be judged?

First, it is apparent that most of the measures put forward are simply the same policies initiated by the previous democratically-elected governments, which the Quislings so endlessly criticized as ‘populist’ and ‘vote-buying’ – well, we know how much integrity these people have so there is no surprise in seeing them change their approach completely and then deny they have done so. These policies – relief for the poor, community level initiatives and infrastructure improvement – are generally sound in that they help at least some of the most vulnerable in difficult times and promote local level production to boost income (and morale) across the country and reduce the importance of labour migration and its negative social results.

What other policies have been announced? Fifteen years of free education is promised – difficult to argue with that as a principle although it does not appear to have been costed properly, suggesting it is not a serious promise.

Free milk is promised to some additional school children. Again, not in itself a bad thing, although it is hard to justify in terms of stimulating the economy and the kind of policy which is most susceptible to corruption, based on the historical record. Let us hope that expenditure in areas such as this will be transparent and accountable.

Some tax cuts appear to have been promised – this would be a mistake (don’t ask me, ask Nobel Prize for Economics winner Paul Krugman), government spending is better.

The PM himself, of course, does not help his cause much because he only ever speaks in vacuous sound bites without the ability or awareness of the need to be specific. As more specific policies emerge, if they ever do, then there can be some proper consideration of whether they are appropriate or not.

Plan A: Deny All Knowledge about Anything, Ever.

We have all seen the coverage of the Thai military’s treatment of the Rohingya refugees and we have all seen the photographs. Even the denials by at least some of the military people involved seem little more than perfunctory. So when the, as some people believe, PM who was appointed by the influence of the army chief decides to claim that the reports were ‘exaggerated,’ many people will think he is merely starting to repay the numerous favours paid to him.

What a huge difference today between the USA and Thailand. In the first, a rejection of human rights abuses and a desire to repair the country’s image in the eyes of the world; in the second, back sliding and weaseling by the son of enormous privilege aiming to restore the class system and the inequalities of the past. The Quisling Thai PM Abhisit has already made a name for himself by denying the Amnesty International report about systematic torture and abuse in the South of Thailand.

The United Nations High Commission on Refugees has meanwhile requested access to Rohingya refugees to see their situation for themselves. Let us see what international opinion has to say about Abhisit after this – if required to turn on the army for the sake of principle, I think we all know what the outcome will be.

How Relevant is Abhisit to Decision-Making?

There seems to be little doubt that the Thai military has been deliberately and systematically sending refugees out in boats with insufficient food and drink and power and that many have died as a result. It has been clear for some years (at least) that the military believes itself to be wholly unconcerned with the law or with obligations to the government – the refusal of army chief General Anupong to obey orders issued by the democratically-elected PM and the organization of the Judicial Coup and insertion of the PADemocrat government are evidence of this, if further evidence is needed.

Since the military appears to decide in conjunction with various invisible hands who is to run the country and into whose pockets money will flow, one must wonder how relevant or important the Prime Minister Abhisit really is. Despite receiving inordinate media praise and having been exonerated on draft dodging charges on the grounds of …. er … convenience, it increasingly appears that Abhisit is scarcely consulted on important issues. Was he consulted when the deal with the PAD was concluded to end the illegal airport seizure, in partial return for which the PAD was given the Foreign Ministry and the pro-coup elements the Defence Ministry? Does he really think bringing back the Land Reform Project which finally got rid of the disgraced Chuan Leekphai administration was a good idea or has he simply been instructed to do so? Are there other policies we should look upon in the same way?

In a genuinely democratic country, parties are elected on the basis of the policies and ideology that they espouse. Consequently, the nature of individuals representing the government does not matter so much as long as they are properly bringing about policies in accordance with the ideology proclaimed. The problem in this case, of course, is not just that the people have repeatedly rejected the Democrat ideology but that policies seem to be originating from people who have not stood for election for many years or, in some cases, ever.   

Stimulus Plan Considered

As a matter of principle, Paul Krugman apart, it is probably sensible to listen to economists and then reach the exact opposite conclusion. Economics is in some ways a wonderful intellectual pursuit in that it is capable of throwing up any number of complex, sophisticated and even elegant theoretical models which invariably suffer from the same, single, fatal flaw: they are all absolutely useless in explaining how people actually behave.

Now, ‘leading economists’ are being quoted in the Bangkok Post to pour scorn on the new Quisling government’s economic stimulus plan. There is, certainly, a great deal of concern about it: the budget is quite clearly calculated on the basis of most money being directed to Ministries controlled by the PADemocrats and hugely less to the Ministries held by coalition parties, irrespective of logic or need. Certain large ticket items are passed without a thought, irrespective of logic or need (and possibly even talking about them will lead to flags being raised and files opened or reopened). The ‘stimulus’ part is also subject to some searching questions: why, for example, is money being given to (Democrat-supporting demographic) salary-earning private sector employees and civil servants and nothing is available for (non-Democrat-supporting demographic) poor and redundant workers?

The Quisling himself has been all over the place trying to justify the policy, claiming it is or is not a one-off payment, it will or it will not be paid immediately and so forth. It is fairly clear he has little idea what the policy is or what it means – it is often the way with the extraordinarily rich, they can get high marks on their economics exams and yet be totally incapable of running a whelk stall.

Some aspects appear quite sensible, although that may mean they will never actually come to pass. Promoting the entrepreneurial spirit of redundant workers is clearly a good thing and was vital in mitigating the damage after the 1997 crisis. The support for SMEs and entrepreneurs introduced by Thai Rak Thai is crucial in promoting non-export related domestic growth and it would have been better if it had been allowed to continue properly subsequently.  

Grit Teeth and Repeat: Policies Not Personalities

It is policies not personalities that matter, of course. Since vapid quisling Abhisit Vejjajiva has shamefully failed to create any meaningful policies during his disastrous reign as leader of the opposition, we have very little idea what ideology (if any) his army and court-appointed coalition will follow in power.

Based on past governments, we might expect the free market ideology of the right wing, such as in the Chuan Leekphai government that so badly failed to deal with the 1997 crisis. Have the Democrats learned anything since then? Well, the rumours today are of the Newin faction (he was the one who led the cross the floor movement that gave the Demcorats the numbers to establish a razor-thin majority) leading economic thinking by insisting on the ‘populist’ policies initially established by the Thai Rak Thai party which Democrats, led by integrity-challenged Abhisit, spent the last few years trying to have banned by court allies and criticizing in intemperate (and frankly rather stupid) terms. There may be some kind of ‘policy statement’ available before the end of the year.  

Since the coalition members are united in little more than greed (Abhisit was at Eton with Boris Johnson and Sweaty Dave Cameron and shares with them the willingness to say anything and do nothing to get power), the ideology we can expect is likely to be both incoherent and largely meaningless as a guide to government behaviour. The horse-trading over Cabinet seats will determine how individual ministries will respond to events and we will see more contradictory and worthless decisions quickly abandoned. This, of course, entirely suits those who realize the status quo works in their benefit.

If the Democrats are to follow the ‘populist’ policy agenda, then expect the court cases against previous Cabinets who pursued them (under the pretext of ‘corruption’) to take a much lower place in court priorities and the policies to be rebranded under some other name, while money continues to be wasted trying to blacken the policies and personalities of the Thai Rak Thai and People’s Power Party governments. However, it is unlikely that the people will be fooled so easily.