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Anatomy Of Thailand’s PAD

  • Anti-government protesters march through the streets of Bangkok. (Photo courtesy: The Nation)

Their wealth, explicit and implicit use of violence and magical protection against threats are their distinguishing features.

The key strategists appear to be three old soldiers, Chamlong Srimuang, Panlop Pinmanee and Prasong Soonsiri, prominent veterans of the battles against the communist insurgency and part of the shadowy legacy of Thailand’s era of military rule.

They are dedicated to the defence of the nation and the monarchy against all threats, particularly from the citizenry.

Panlop has publicly boasted of overseeing the assassination of communist sympathisers in the 1980s and unleashing the Krue Se massacre in 2004. Prasong has long been linked with projects influencing politics in curious ways.

Bloodstream. Prominent leaders of modern business have attended rallies. Business associations conspicuously protested not against the violent invasion of Government House but against the emergency decree that followed. Such business leaders have normally intervened in politics only when the economy is threatened. They turned against Thaksin for favouring his own family, a close circle of cronies and several financial figures. These same figures have resurfaced under Samak. This business faction believes support of the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) is a means to prevent even worse damage to the economy.

"Those formulas have a core of truth but tend to over-simplify the PAD and over-idealise Thaksin."

Legs. State-enterprise workers have carried out selective strikes to signal the PAD’s potential for disruption. These workers have a long history of organisation and political involvement. Over the long term they are committed to preserving a privileged position in the labour market. In the 1980s they were closely allied with various military politicians, but this link was broken by the 1991 coup-makers. The workers then networked with other civil-society groups to resist projects of privatisation by both the Democrat and Thaksin governments. Since the 2006 coup they have again been courted by the military.

Lungs. Some elements of the activist fringe of academics and NGOs, including some who have graduated to the Senate, support the PAD as a means to reform the political system, which they argue is corrupt, unrepresentative and inefficient. In the 1990s these groups campaigned for the 1997 constitution, decentralisation, educational reform and the shift to people-centred development planning. In the early 2000s they cheered Thaksin’s promise to harness the bureaucracy and close down the godfathers. Many supported the coup and now the PAD in the hope these would provide space for reform.

Mouth. Sondhi Limthongkul and his media empire have significantly extended public space and brought new groups into public politics. Sondhi has broken the state’s tight control over broadcast media with the help of new technology. He has dedicated himself to’politics for the middle class’, exploiting the long-growing fear of piratical capitalism on one side and populist democracy on the other. This message appeals to a blue-blooded elite, which feels its economic interests are threatened. It also appeals to the delicate combination of pride and insecurity in a new elite that has ascended to ‘high society’ and the old ‘aristocratic’ occupations (bureacracy, military, the professions) over the past two generations. Many of these new recruits to public politics are middle-aged women.

Hands. Members of the Santi Asoke sect are participants and service-providers. In the late 1980s and early 1990s members of this semi-outlawed sect supported Chamlong’s crusade for cleaner politics. Subsequently they have been limited to occasional agitation on moral issues.

Spleen. The Democrat Party has effectively aligned itself with the PAD. Quite extraordinarily, the party has failed to condemn PAD’s desecration of the symbolic centre of national government. Korn Chatikavanij has justified the party’s support as necessary to prevent the rehabilitation of Thaksin.

Teeth. Demonstrations always have a guard unit, but that of the PAD appears much larger and more aggressively armed than has been the norm. Some of the guards are state-enterprise workers, but others are hired hands recruited from the city’s floating population of casual labour, especially ‘ex-policemen and ex-military’(Sondhi Limthongkul).

There are more. Many different groups that have woven separate ways through the kaleidoscopic politics of the last two decades have come together for the PAD’s rallies and ASTV broadcasts. The foreign press has tended to portray the current polarisation as urban against rural and as a desperate, declining elite against the capitalist populism of Thaksin. Those formulas have a core of truth but tend to over-simplify the PAD and over-idealise Thaksin.

Variety gives PAD its current force but may limit its ability to move beyond demonisation to constructive reforms.

The distinguishing features of the movement are its wealth, its explicit and implicit use of violence and its magical protection against threats, including police action, court orders and legal process. These are the politics of class and privilege. (By CHANG NOI In Bangkok/ The Nation/ AsiaNews)

MySinchew 2008.09.21


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