Buddhism, the religion of some 95% of the subjects of Thailand, calls for moderation in nearly all things – opium, for example, was for centuries accepted as a means of controlling pain, used in moderation. Those activities not proscribed (e.g. theft or murder) are accepted in, once again, moderation. This is a very humane approach and enables people whose lives were if not nasty, brutish and short at least often difficult, unrewarding and tedious to enjoy the occasional celebration. It is no surprise that animist rituals throughout the country (throughout mainland Southeast Asia more or less) feature the drinking of rice wine and feasting on pigs to recognize important events (e.g. weddings, successful births) and the passing of important dates (e.g. harvests, the monsoon’s arrival).
Of course, there is potential for people to abuse all things and excessive alcohol consumption causes many health and social issues. In other countries which have turned to paternalist authoritarianism, notably South Korea, alcohol (soju, specifically) was manufactured in large amounts and the price kept low as a means of keeping the self-sacrificing working classes compliant in the continual urging to work harder to save the country. There was some justification to this since it is very likely that had South Korea not managed to outdistance its neighbour to the north in industrial and economic terms, then further invasion attempts would have occurred.
In Thailand, the attempt to control the behaviour of the working classes has occurred comparatively recently, although there have always been small abstinence movements largely for the middle classes. The movement occurred as part of the anti-government protests which began in 2005 and has now turned into a fully fledged anti-democracy proto-fascist movement prepared to use violence to overthrow the state. In 2005, a resurgence of ostentatious nationalism and loyalty to the throne through wearing yellow shirts and protesting that loyalty very publicly. One extremist Buddhist school of thought has been led by Chamlong Srimuang, one of the ringleaders of the anti-democracy movement, who protested against the attempt by Thai Bev, one of the country’s leading companies, from registering on the local stock exchange (the SET). Protests were so tediously persistent that Thai Bev listed in Singapore instead. Now it is planning, according to newspaper reports anyway, to attempt once more to list on the SET. The weekend threatens bloodshed on the streets of Bangkok and throughout the country (which will be largely unreported). Whether religious groups again seek to involve themselves remains to be seen.
What is it that motivates the anti-democracy mob? Most people from western countries and indeed most Thais too take it more or less for granted that democracy is probably the least worst means of governing a country. There are many important debates to be had about the extent to which genuine choice is possible, the influence of the media in influencing the political agenda, the degree to which politicians can really be held accountable for their actions and so forth but overall few people would genuinely welcome tanks rolling in the streets and generals and their stooges making the decisions. Indeed, during the recent disastrous junta period here, junta cronies such as General Surayud Chulanont, who was appointed prime minister (while looking like he was wearing his older brother’s uniform for the first day at senior school) were revealed to be completely out of their depth in trying to manage a complex, modern economy.
And yet the anti-democracy mob PAD can still draw thousands of supporters, including the majority of the media (which may have changed since last night when armed mobsters began storming government buildings, assaulting journalists and fighting the police). What motivates them?
Clearly, different people are motivated by different things. There will be plenty of ‘useful idiots’ who genuinely believe the right-wing rabble rousers who would have it that the democratically elected government is damaging the country, the monarchy and religious institutions. There are many others who simply enjoy not working and living off the handouts from Sondhi Limthongkul and certain other behind the scenes individuals who have hired and paid for the mob. The chief mobsters, Sondhi prominent among them, are motivated it would appear by a combination of personal spite, hatred and fear of the poor and the instruments of what Michael Kelly Connors calls ‘democrasubjection:’ that is, ‘a neologism designating the way in which people are subjected to imaginary forms of self-rule.’
As he explains it in Democracy and National Identity in Thailand (Copenhagen: NIAS Press, 2007):
” … the Thai state … ideology, one that it constantly attempted to propagate and one unified by the problematic of the people-problem – the construction of the Thai citizen [is] … the discursive resource of a more thoroughgoing hegemony. Through its deployment the state could aspire to subject the citizen to imaginary forms of their own rule. Such a subject-citizen would, by habit, protect the triad.”
Of course, that’s just one opinion and I could not possibly comment on whether it had any truth in it or not.
A new foreign minister has been appointed – just in time to pursue yet more discussions concerning the Preah Vihear temple. He is Tej Bunnag, a well-known figure hereabouts. According to the radio, his first name is pronounced like Tet with the concluding t unvoiced, i.e. not a tuh sound. His surname has both ns pronounced – Bun-nag.
Looking at his biography, he was born in 1943 and is married to Mrs Phensri Bunnag. He was educated in Britain, which must be a good thing of course, going to school at Malvern College and taking his undergraduate degree at Cambridge before coming to his senses and moving to Oxford for his D.Phil. He seems to have spent his career in the Foreign Ministry and has been Ambassador to, among others, China, North Korea, France and the USA, as well as permanent representative at UNESCO. In 1992 he was made Knight Grand Cordon (Special Class) of the Most Exalted Order of the White Elephant; in 1997 Grand Companion (Third Class, higher grade) of the Most Illustrious Order of Chula Chom Klao and in 2001 Knight Commander (Second Class, lower grade) of the Most Illustrious Order of Chula Chom Klao.
He retired from the Ministry and is seen as a ‘professional choice’ to replace Noppadon Pattama, who was obliged to resign to fight lese-majeste charges based on a speech he made at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club in the wake of the most recent military coup.
Well, we will see what sort of a fist he makes of things. He has left this morning for Siem Reap, after having been sworn in by HM the King yesterday and meeting with various officials. It is being anticipated that, fresh from his convincing election victory yesterday, Hun Sen and his government will be a little less inflexible in their approach. Former Khmer Rouge fighters are ready to take up arms against the foreign aggressor, according to this article, even those with just the one leg. The whole affair has been used by the leaders of the anti-democracy movement PAD to stir up nationalist sentiment and if violence does break out it will be more blood on the hands of Chamrong Srimuang and Sondhi Limthongkul.
Congratulations to Khun Tamarine Tanasugarn, who reached the quarter finals at Wimbledon this week, before being beaten 6-4 6-3 by the mighty Venus Williams, who is of course the reigning champion. Tammy is the first Thai woman ever to reach the last eight of a Grand Slam Tournament and one of only three Asian women to do so – Chinese player Zheng Jie has the potential to go even further as she reached the semi-final stage, where she will play (and presumably lose to) the equally mighty Serena Williams. Still, it is a great achievement for Tammy, who nearly gave it all up a couple of years ago and, at 31, is reaching the veteran stage of her career.
There is more good news elsewhere, with evidence that the legal system is still capable of producing a good verdict: steps will be taken to stop the raucous clamour of the anti-democracy mob PAD so children can return to school and honest people can get on with their lives. The mob has the right to gather and advertise its contempt for the poor and the democratic process but they will have to shut up while they do it. Alas, mob money has a long reach and ‘protesters’ caused such a fuss in Krabi that Minister of the Interior Chalerm Yubanrung had to cut short an official visit. Then again, there is more than one court loose in the country.
The admirable inventiveness of the Thai people has resurfaced: people are apparently trying to use cooking gas to fuel their cars, in the absence of other forms of (cheap) fuel. Alas, this innovation has the drawback that, according to Energy Minister Poonpirom Liptapanlop, it is extremely dangerous and could lead to loss of both life and vehicle in, presumably, a fiery ball of death. Avoid.