Power and the Civil Service


The ways in which elected governments around the world manage their battalions of civil servants varies – we have seen Barack Obama’s administration recently nominate a string of appointees for scrutiny by various committees to determine their fitness for office (and the criteria are very rigorous and time-consuming – it would certainly put me off if I had to go through such a process). Although some supporters have expressed disappointment with some choices, few if any people dispute the Pres’s right to choose people who will enact the policies he was voted for implement. The same was true during the civilian governments here from 2001-6 and under PPP – the government was perfectly within its rights to move officials, promote and demote (according to the law, of course) those who were considered favourable to their manifesto and reduce the influence of those who might obstruct them. However, the Democrats and their friends in the media chose to characterise these actions as evidence of ‘cronyism’ and ‘nepotism’ and so forth – now, the boot is on the other foot (with the difference that the current government does not have a democratic mandate to rule). Senior civil servants are complaining that changes in positions made are partisan, unfair and basically wrong. If it was wrong before, then it is wrong now – but if it was acceptable before then it must be acceptable now.

Alas, T.I.T – this is Thailand. Instead of acknowledging this obvious truth, there will be talk that this government is ‘sincere’ and therefore justified while previous administrations were ‘insincere’ and therefore not justified. Curiously, ‘sincere’ people always seem to come from the right wing establishment.

Openly-expressed ideology is much preferable to these attempts to 
make politics a test of morality. Consider Hamlet: 
“I am myself indifferent honest; but yet I could accuse me of 
such things that it were better my mother had not borne me.” 
(Act III, Scene 1).

Serious Politics and the Democrats


One feature of political parties that have enjoyed power in a democracy and then been voted out, especially when the defeat has been resounding, is that those who are committed to returning to power under democratic means have not only re-examined their ideology and the policies that flow from this but, perhaps even more important, is the discipline that leading party members are obliged to accept as the price for returning to credibility with the voters. The Labour Party under Tony Blair, the Democrats under Bill Clinton and especially Barack Obama are perhaps the most obvious examples of this – party ideology was (often in a series of bloody confrontations in political terms) forcibly readjusted to the new reality brought about by electoral victory by opponents and leading member required to keep on-message in supporting those changes. This is not perfect since the process colludes with the political environment stimulated by modern media that regards all forms of discussion or debate as evidence of disunity or the result of a ‘gaffe.’ Important debates are, therefore, stifled or held in secret without much public participation.

To what extent has Thailand’s Democrat Party followed this process? Well, there has certainly been little public debate of ideology or policies. In opposition, the Democrats consistently opposed every policy of the democratically-elected government, frequently in ad hominem terms. Now placed in power as a result of a series of deeply undemocratic activities, the Democrats have appropriated many of the same policies, albeit occasionally under different names. It would be reasonable to say that the Democrats have changed their ideology as a result of a shift in public opinion except that there is no coherent ideology and government spokespeople continue to talk in terms of being ‘virtuous’ and ‘technically-competent’ people – it is managerialism with the Thai characteristics of patriarchy and deference to the ruling classes.

Distinct from what they do, can anyone honestly say what, apart from office, the Democrats stand intellectually?

As for discipline, well, the Cabinet is already a shambles. The latest idiocy is a series of outright, inflammatory lies from Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban. One Cabinet Minister has already been forced out after a corruption scandal and several more are likely to follow – and this with all the ‘institutional benefits’ that the government supports. Are these people really serious politicians? Or are they just exercising their birthright of power?

It’s the Economy, Somchai


The Stock Exchange of Thailand’s index fell more than 1% yesterday and is down nearly another 11 points as things stand this afternoon. The Nikkei index in Japan has suffered its longest losing streak in 54 years. Both national and international factors have been identified – internationally, the biggest issue remains concern over what is happening in the USA. The interdependence of the world’s financial and trading systems is now so great that what happens in one place affects what happens around the world. And what happens in the world’s biggest economy is particularly significant for local conditions. We occasionally get stupid people writing in to the Bangkok Pot and elsewhere complaining of foreigners poking their noses into America’s election, as if these obvious facts were not true.

So, speaking from a Thai perspective, who would be the more useful (or less unhelpful candidate)? In terms of politics and peace, it seems clear that McCain would try to continue the dangerous failed policies of the current incumbent and this would raise the threat of terrorism worldwide, as well as keeping oil prices unnecessarily high. He might also be led into confrontation with China or Russia. It is not clear how much different Obama could be in this respect. To be electable, he will presumably have to navigate towards the middle ground and while his election would drain some of the poison accumulated around the world during the Bush years, it will take some time before confidence can be rebuilt.

In economic terms, the danger is of an inward looking presidency with the imposition of trade barriers. McCain seems to have no understanding of economics at all and would presumably have to hire some outsiders to do the thinking for him, while Obama will be aware of the importance of industrial and manufacturing America to his constituency and the problems that part of the country is facing from loss of competitiveness and outsourcing of activities to various lower-cost developing countries.

For the environment and general social issues, Obama of course is hugely preferable to McCain in setting an example for progress and optimism for the future – although, again, that is likely to be perhaps severely tempered by what he would be able to achieve in office.

It’s the Economy, Somchai


The Stock Exchange of Thailand’s index fell more than 1% yesterday and is down nearly another 11 points as things stand this afternoon. The Nikkei index in Japan has suffered its longest losing streak in 54 years. Both national and international factors have been identified – internationally, the biggest issue remains concern over what is happening in the USA. The interdependence of the world’s financial and trading systems is now so great that what happens in one place affects what happens around the world. And what happens in the world’s biggest economy is particularly significant for local conditions. We occasionally get stupid people writing in to the Bangkok Pot and elsewhere complaining of foreigners poking their noses into America’s election, as if these obvious facts were not true.

So, speaking from a Thai perspective, who would be the more useful (or less unhelpful candidate)? In terms of politics and peace, it seems clear that McCain would try to continue the dangerous failed policies of the current incumbent and this would raise the threat of terrorism worldwide, as well as keeping oil prices unnecessarily high. He might also be led into confrontation with China or Russia. It is not clear how much different Obama could be in this respect. To be electable, he will presumably have to navigate towards the middle ground and while his election would drain some of the poison accumulated around the world during the Bush years, it will take some time before confidence can be rebuilt.

In economic terms, the danger is of an inward looking presidency with the imposition of trade barriers. McCain seems to have no understanding of economics at all and would presumably have to hire some outsiders to do the thinking for him, while Obama will be aware of the importance of industrial and manufacturing America to his constituency and the problems that part of the country is facing from loss of competitiveness and outsourcing of activities to various lower-cost developing countries.

For the environment and general social issues, Obama of course is hugely preferable to McCain in setting an example for progress and optimism for the future – although, again, that is likely to be perhaps severely tempered by what he would be able to achieve in office.