Who Governs Now?

Who is in charge now? Earlier today, repulsive liar Deputy Prime Minister and disgraced former Interior Minister Suthep Thaugsuban claimed that the hugely redundant barricades would remain around the parliament at considerable expense because there was some possibility that pro-democracy supporters would invade the place (there isn’t any such possibility, obviously) but now the barricades are going down – no one is even arguing, so far as I can see, that the ‘grenade attacks’ represent a reason for the fences and all the money. Perhaps they just realised how ridiculous they looked, with thousands of jackboots ‘marking space,’ to borrow a Rafa Benitez-esque footballing phrase. Does dirty Abhisit get consulted about this kind of thing or do the puppet-masters just issue orders directly? Does he think he is in charge and issuing orders himself (ah, bless)? Meanwhile, hundreds or perhaps thousands of monks are joining the pro-democracy movement with a view to making this weekend’s demonstration the biggest since – well, last weekend’s protest were the biggest for 30 years, according to the BBC, despite all of the taxpayer money spent across the country setting up police roadblocks and attempting to intimidate people to stop them showing their feelings. Today, leading red-shirt pro-democracy leaders have been having their heads shaved to show their feelings – like the blood protest, this seems like a good way to put the demonstration on the front page of newspapers around the world and to demonstrate both a certain exoticism (inevitable when we are dealing with the Land of Smiles) and also the peacefulness of the demonstrations. There is certainly a stark contrast in the atmosphere in the city now, which is one of joyous anticipation, with the hate-filled lies and fear of violence when the fascist PAD mob was given licence to destroy the country’s reputation by certain people who it is not starting to become possible to name (although you can be sure I will not be leading the way).

Year in Review I

Fortunately, there are some compensations for those of us who are positioned closer to the revolutionary than the reactionary end of the continuum. There are two main aspects to this: the first is the optimistic belief that things can change for the better and, no matter how grim matters may appear to be, there will always be hope. Look, for example, at the election of Barack Obama, which is an occurrence that could scarcely have been imagined four years ago when the American people were re-electing George W Bush.

Second, there is the belief that the worse the situation becomes, the closer comes the inevitable revolution that will save us all. Marxists, for example, believe that it is necessary for the capitalist system to destroy itself before the arrival of the revolution that will usher in the age of equality. Christianity, too, requires the most devastating event possible to occur before the redemption is possible: without Judas, that is, there can be no crucifixion and then no resurrection. Other belief or thought systems with (variously defined) progressive aims have similar paradoxes at their core.

In this light, therefore, we can look at what has happened in Thailand this year with a slightly less depressed air than would otherwise appear necessary because, let’s face it, this has been a terrible year for Thailand. The armed coup of 2006 demonstrated that army personnel (in the form of sad little General Surayud – who always appeared on television like the little boy on his first day at school wearing his older bother’s discarded uniform) are now completely incapable of running a modern economy – back in the 60s and 70s, generals could run the economy more or less successfully, as they demonstrated. That is no longer the case and, as mentioned, the 2007-7 junta showed it to be the case. So, after ceding power to a democratically-elected government for a brief period (buy paying the PAD to prevent them from actively governing effectively), the powers that be launched a Silent Coup this year to give power to the quisling politicians who can be trusted to maintain the army’s extreme conservative agenda. Preventing the police from acting (this is well documented), the army encouraged (and celebrity sponsors helped pay for) the PAD to occupy not just Government House but Bangkok’s two international airports among a welter of violence aimed at the police and the general public. The closure is likely to cause a million extra job losses and costs of up to 100 billion baht. Weeks after the army-brokered agreement (allegedly) with the PAD to end the occupation in return for the dissolution of the ruling PPP party on a pretext by junta-appointed lawyers and a place in the new Democrat-led coalition – and the Foreign Ministry was indeed given to a prominent PAD spokesperson, to the absolute bemusement of the international audience. No PAD supporter has yet been prosecuted for any of the catalogue of crimes for which more than ample evidence exists that were committed on a premeditated basis.

Now we move into 2009 in the face of possibly the worst global economic crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930s with an army puppet PM with no idea of the extent of the problems facing the country. So, on the optimistic note on which I started, is the situation now so desperate that it will lead to real change?

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.

For How Long Can Rich Little Abhisit Keep His Finger in the Dam?

It is hard to imagine Abhisit Vejjajiva remaining PM for long – and not just because of the astrological predictions made about his career.

The Democrat-led coalition has a very small majority and this is likely to be reduced further by a series of by-elections in the early part of next year. Further, the now-opposition Phuea Thai party is likely to try some of the tactics used by the Democrats in their rather inglorious period of opposition. This will include trying the get the party dissolved and subject it to various votes of no confidence. Despite the nonsense being talked about the Democrats as being ‘pure’ politicians, the reality is that their brand of politics has disfigured Thai politics for decades and it is not long before the first scandals break out either by their own MPs or some of their new coalition allies. Abhisit himself will have eventually to explain what the truth is about all of those draft-dodging allegations and the legitimacy of the process by which the army orchestrated the silent coup which brought him to power is being seriously questioned. There will presumably be a fair amount of street demonstrations by pro-democracy supporters outraged by this latest coup and it could well become personal. Sooner or later, people are surely going to start asking whether Abhisit really thinks it is justifiable to have leading members of the fascist PAD movement as senior Democrat MPs.

There is, of course, precious little expectation that Abhisit will suddenly discover a taste for policy formulation and deep thinking such as will be required for a Prime Minister during the economic crisis now affecting us all. It is to be hoped that some of the senior Democrats likely to be given important cabinet positions have the sense to realize that their usual free market ideology is wholly inappropriate for the current situation and that what is required is a high level of spending on policies badly needed to improve the lot of the Thai people as a whole: low-cost universal health care, village-level investment funds, regional development to deter labour migration and reduce the vulnerability of the economy to external environmental shocks – strange, I seem to have heard this somewhere before.

The Human Cost of the Silent Coup Will Be Paid by the Poor

More job losses have been announced in the electronics industry in Ayutthaya – it is anticipated that as many as 100,000 people out of a total of 300,000 people in that province will lose their job by the end of the first half of next year. The global economic crisis has had an effect but not (at least not yet) as serious as the PAD Disaster. The closure of Suvarnabhumi Airport meant the loss of numerous contracts by firms which had made the effort to improve their operations sufficiently to be involved in international just-in-time supply chains. This is the human cost of the decision by the (secret, eight foot high lizard) person to authorize first the military coup of 2006 and then the judicial and silent coups of 2008.

Over at New Mandala, a post by guest Maylee Thavat includes this paragraph:

There is a well established link between the two sectors of garment manufacturing and prostitution. When factories close, prostitution increases. Of course working in a factory is better than having sex for money, but when the family needs feeding, medical care and assistance, women of Cambodia find a way to provide, even if it means self-sacrifice. Cambodia closes its eyes because as an undiversified, least developed economy, the country sells what few assets it has.”

The same thing will happen here to many people. There is something of a myth that after the 1997 financial crisis, it was the kindness and compassion of the Thai people that absorbed retrenched workers into rural homes and provided for them – the reality is somewhat less edifying (these farmers are poor – how could they feed more mouths without more work?). At least some people preferred to remain in Bangkok or another city and to set themselves up as street vendors, as research we have conducted demonstrates. Some vendors have established quite sophisticated operations and created their own brands, franchises and the like. Presumably more people (mostly women since street vending tends to be a female occupation and many of those who lose factory jobs are women) will try the same thing – it will lead to more largely unreported conflict and bribery on the streets of Bangkok and other cities with attendant human drama and stress.

Let’s end with a bit of poetry (from William Blake):

A Dog starv’d at his Master’s Gate

Predicts the ruin of the State.

A Horse misus’d upon the Road

Calls to Heaven for Human blood.