Pasuk Phongpaichit and Chris Baker: Understanding the colors of Thai politics

April 15, 2011 1:20:26
Kaltura Video

Pasuk Phongpaichit and Chris Baker discuss Thailand political turmoil, the position of the army and other topics all inside the context of long-run changes in Thai society. April, 2011.


>> Thank you very much, and all of those beautiful titles.  I have to thank Chris, he's a very good title thinker.
>> Can we get a little bit of the light away from the screen, is that possible?  We have changed the title because of course you have to change the title but this is also because there is an election about to come out.  So we have Riki [phonetic] at, the speech today.
>> Yeah I know.
>> More to the election and the issues around this election, so it still deals with red and yellow.  But red and yellow has got a little bit boring.  So we've moved a little bit beyond that.  The Thai Prime Minister recently announced he would dissolve the parliament on 3rd of May.  Meaning, a general election will take place in late June around 6 months ahead of the deadline.  This is much more than just another election because of the recent history.  The results of the last three elections have been overturned in different ways.  One was voided by the courts, another was overthrown by a military coup, and the third was negated when a court judgment dissolved the ruling party.  What's more?  In 2009 and again, in 2010 Thailand was walked by street demonstrations whose principle demand was to have an election.  That caused--the government refused that demand and brought in the military to dissolve the protests and in the last occasion in May 9th, 2010 the death toll is now 93, the injury toll is up to around a 1,000 and 30 yard buildings were torched.  What's even more, the call---this call for an election has being greeted by total dismay from some very powerful figures.  Sodsri Sattyadharm, member of the election commission said outright, "I don't want an election, because it would to lead to a revolution from below like in North Africa"  Some prominent journalists have voiced the fear that the election might lead to the return of the ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra, and therefore more conflict.  And for several months, there have been constant rumors of a coup, an open discussion about forming a "national government" which means an unelected one.  Several business figures have spoken longingly about the China model, meaning, an authoritarian government that oversees rapid economic growth.  In a, a survey done by the Asia Foundation released two weeks ago, between last year and this year , the number of people in Bangkok who say, they strongly support democracy as the motto for Thailand dropped from 57 percent to 27 percent.  Sondhi Limthongkul who was head of the Yellow Shirt, People's Alliance for Democracy which has been so powerful in the last couple of years went further.  He said we need to shut down the government for 3 to 5 years, so we can clean a way the dirt in the political system.  The, the rhetoric of the PAD over time has been coming--have taken on more and more of the flavor of fascist rhetoric of several decades ago.  It's very strange for a premier to announce the dissolution ahead of time giving away the advantage of surprise to the opposition.  Clearly, there's a special reason he did so.  There's a rumor that he also brought in a foreign research company to carry out an opinion poll, in order to show to his bosses, which means the military that he has a chance of winning so that they will let him run this election.  So this is not just much more than just another on election.  It's an election about whether Thailand should continue having a semblance of parliamentary democracy or not.  And at this point, the result is far from certain.  So we want to address today, how did Thailand get to this point?  And what happens next?
>> And in order to answer the question that Chris has, probably, we would--we need to look at the socioeconomic and political context in which those conflicts have a reason.  First, I will look--we will look at the inequalities as a background and followed by the challenge, which further led to the reaction.
>> Okay.
>> Thailand is a very unequal society compared to its neighbor and compared to countries of a similar level of development.  Income inequality has worsened steadily over the years and has improved only a little in recent years.  Inequality in the ownership of assets is even more staggering.  The top 10 percent on 69 percent more than the bottom--
[Inaudible Remark]
--69 times more than the bottom 10 percent.  And you could see also that the difference between the second--this second commentary and the first commentary is also still very not.  This is a situation not only in Thailand.  You'll find it in the US, similar kind of figure will be represented in terms of the top 1 percent having this huge gap.  Economic inequality does not of itself create political division or conflict but it certainly forms background again to each other forms of inequality, political, social, and cultural extroversion.  In particular, power and access to power are very badly distributed.  Thailand is ruled by a kind of oligarchy as it's based on 3 old institutions which have never been reformed.  First, there is the bureaucracy, which developed from an old feudal nobility and still conceives of itself as a ruling caste, distinguished from the mass of the people by the uniforms, rituals, grand architecture and other marker of differences.  The second, the military that rule--the military ruled the country for half a century.  It still highly politicizes and believes it has a special role in the polity of right of intervention.  And third, we have the monarchy who has tended to grow stronger and take among intrusive role in politics, as the length of the reign has steadily enhanced the monarch's personal status.  And we must also recognize that in Thailand, there has be no mass movement which has challenged these old institutions like in many other countries which has anti-colonial movements that's serve the purpose.  The new urban middle class that developed over the past century and especially over its later half has tended, is small in number and has tended to align itself with the old elite rather than challenging it.  And that's partly because this middle class is rather small and insecure.  And this middle class did try to promote elective democracy in the 1970's and early 1990's to end absolutism and to control the military but it stopped there.  In this situation, the idealogy is, we justify that privilege remain in place.  The distribution of public goods is very unequal, there's no effort to institute the rule of law as that would undermine that privilege.  Next, let us look at the challenge, what happened with the challenge to this oligarchy and the concentration of power situation.  Over recent years, the situation has come under serious challenge.  And this challenge is essentially--
>> Political.
>> --political with underlying economic.  The political is a demand for inclusiveness for more equitable access to power and better distribution of public goods.  The demand has been lushly mounted through the ballot box.  The background for this challenge lies in the great economic change of the past decades.  You can see in this graph, today the average Thai has an income 3 times that of his parents and 6 times that of his grandparents.  All these Thai peasant farming, has virtually disappeared and replaced by market-oriented agriculture.  Many have moved from the village to the city while others rotate between the rural and urban economies.  And even in the countryside itself, the lifestyle, and the urban facilities has also increased.  The inequities in Thai society, meanwhile have got significantly worst in recent decades, but far more people are in the position to see them, understand them, and resent them.  With rising incomes, people has more education, more access to information, more access to protect--
--more assets to protect, different hopes and desire for themselves, and especially for their children, and more demands on government obviously, for public goods, for legal process, and so on.  Yet, many people find that they are blocked by some kind of glass ceilings of various kinds.  Power is still so concentrated in the capital, opportunities are monopolized by the old elite, and established middle class.  School has spread everywhere but the quality of the school are very varied, and good if you'd find good school in Bangkok and big cities but not in the provincial area.  And you'll be surprised to find that 80 percent of Thai household still do not have access to tap water.  They have access to tap water in their households.  They can use tap water but they have to go and get it from somewhere into the household.  The--Moreover, the old elite and middle class often continue to treat provincial and lower echelons as people as if they were all still as poor and uneducated as they were 2 generations ago. Jansack Penthong [phonetic] a former economic turned media personality, said on television, just before all of these problem, that the most unknown easterner could aspire to become, is [foreign language], or a house servant [foreign language].  This remark was highly resented, during the demonstrations in Central Bangkok last May, newspaper rant cartoons showing the demonstrators as buffalos, and opponents held up signs calling them uneducated people, showing how deeply uneducated they themselves are, you can see in the--here.  Resentment gather through the 1990's expressed largely through grassroots organization and protest campaign on rule issues like land rights, access to natural resources, agricultural prices, by and large, these campaigns were not successful.  The government either suppressed them or ignored them, meaning, that resentment festered.  In the '80s and '90s, there was no attempt to use the ballot box to pursue change.  The parliament was not conceived as an institution through which the mass, the people could affect change.  It was a captive of money which candidates invested large sum in direct or indirect vote buying, ensuring that well as was a qualification for admission, as an MP.  Over 3 quarters of the seats we're occupied by male business entrepreneurs who represented less than 3 percent of the total population.  The parliament operated lushly as a businessmen's club, sharing out the budget, and networking among themselves, and negotiating with the bureaucracy, for the ordinary Thai, the parliament was remote and unimportant to their lives.  That situation changed completely over a decade that began in 1997.  The vote became something of value, and in this process, Thaksin Shinawatra, the billionaire businessman who turned politician, plays an important role.  However, we need to look at the background first.  First came the 1997 financial crisis, it caused real pain for those in the middle and lower ranks of society, prompting a massive wave of protest, and further politicization.  It also undermined the confidence and the legitimacy of the old ruling oligarchy, creating cracks from which new political trends could emerge.  Second, in the 1997 constitution, adopted in the [inaudible] of opposition from the old oligarchy during the turmoil crisis, significantly--and significantly decentralized power to elective local government bodies.  Up to this point, a Thai citizen had voted only once every 3 to 4 years for the parliament, which seem so remote as I've mentioned.  And but, as a result of decentralization and other reforms, the citizens now voted not only for an MP but also a senator, village head, local councilor, mayor, and provincial council.  Through the decentralization of power--though this decentralization of power was still rather limited, in the election for local government, citizens voted for candidates they knew, and were in a position to evaluate their contribution.  In short, there was a rapid education in the value of the franchise, the vote to bring about direct material benefits.  And these brought about a revolution in the structure of local politics in the years that followed.  Before, MP's and prospective MP's had found no patronage down to a range of local brokers in the green, in this one.  Local officials, prominent businessmen, lottery agents, gangster who get out--who could get out abroad and work as a canvassers.  Now, local leaders, factions and activist group emerged.  They could bargain among prospective candidates for their support, or by positive altogether, and deal directly with the political parties, and central government agencies, and sometimes support all MP's.  The transformation was not total.  Patronage still matters, circumstances differ from a locality to a locality, but as a whole, politics became more susceptible to pressure from below.  The third factor of change stemming from 1997 was Thaksin Shinawatra, who served as a channel funneling the rising pressure from below into a national politics.  Thaksin met a multibillion fortune from [inaudible] monopoly concession to run the first mobile phone service.  He launched into politics and was elected prime minister in 2001.  He then vastly increased his family fortune by abuse of power, but also because he became a leader of this force bubbling up from below.  We want to highlight the cause circumstances rather than the man.  The situation was right for the emergence of a popular leader of some kind.  In other words, we think that if there had been no Thaksin, there could have been someone else who would took, who would take his place.  And Thaksin did not fully understand this.  When he launched his bid for power in 1998 and 2001, he presented himself as a successful businessman who would primarily represent the interest of the business, and whose main goal was achieving rapid economic growth.  But as he gradually lost middle class support, he gradually transformed himself into a highly attractive popular leader.  How he did, how he did it?  First, he enacted some simple distributive reforms, universal healthcare, microcredit, agricultural price support, which had a big impact on ordinary people.  He showed that national politic could bring about change that affected the lives of the people directly.  Second, his whole scheme in particular, which offered the same benefit to everybody as a right, encapsulated a new concept of the citizen, and hence, was popular far beyond the actual usage of the scheme.  And here, study has shown that the universal healthcare scheme has reduced the poverty level by one third because it reduced the cost of healthcare for ordinary people.  Third, Thaksin increasingly cultivated a close, hot relationship between leader and people through the media, through up country tours, and through rhetoric which was very different from the cool, aloof model of the old oligarchy position of politics.  In world wide perspective, this style, was the standard of mass politicians in the media-drenched age, but in Thailand, it's something very revolutionary and very new.  And Thaksin was rewarded with rock star-like acclaim.  People felt his leadership empowered them.  Fourth, as he grew to understand and to like his support, Thaksin became more radical in his rhetoric.  He increasingly, not only distinguished himself from the old oligarchy, bureaucrats, old style politicians, and the journalist, and adjourned, co-opted into the old oligarchy culture but he criticized them and rebelled in that criticism of him.
By doing so, he cut reserves of resentment normally hidden from inside, in Thailand repressed political culture.
>> Now we want to follow the reaction to this that has taken place really since 2005.  We want to argue that this turmoil since 2005 has to be read not simply as a reaction against Thaksin but as a reaction against the eruption of new forces into Thai politics.  Reaction has come from the old oligarchy, and from the large sections of the urban middle class.  The military has returned to active political involvement through the 2006 coup, through massive interference in elections particularly in the 2007 election probably the most corrupt election in Thai history, corrupted by the military using public money, and through propaganda campaigns, through intrigue, and through strengthening its own institutional power.  Royalists, suppose have been prominent in the reaction.  The cry of monarchy in danger was used to rally a desperate coalition against Thaksin and no effort was made from above to prevent this.  Leaders of the reaction also made explicit appeal to the class interests of the urban middle class.  The whole discourse of the class was bought into this conflict, not by the lower echelons but by the middle class saying, we need to defend ourselves.  Arguing that they would lose power and privilege if the political system became more responsive to mass demands.  In the political movements that stand from the 1970's, the Thai middle class is generally being analyzed as a spearhead of the pressure to control the military stifle dictatorship and promote elective democracy.  In much of the theorizing, about democracy, the middle class plays a prominent role to the whole democratic transitions literature.  But it is clear that in Thailand, large parts of the urban middle class have had second thoughts.  This is often explained as a revulsion against Thaksin and his corruption.  But the debate has began--began much beyond just removing Thaksin to contemplate qualifying or abandoning elective democracy altogether.  Over recent years, several proposals have been made.  One of the first, encapsulated in the 2005 book entitled Royal Powers, was to increase the powers of the monarchy as a counterweight against "corrupt elective politicians."  The details of the scheme are fuzzy but they seem to entail enhancing the monarch's power of veto and appointment.  The political scientist--[inaudible] in a 2006 book proposed upweighting the power of the monarchy in what he called the aristocracy of which mainly meant the military bureaucracy and judiciary.  And you can see that many of the reforms implemented by the post 2006 coup government largely follow the next ideas.  Reducing the power of parliament in favor of the bureaucracy and judiciary, vastly increasing the power of the military fueling new Internal Security Act and so on.  In 2007, Sondhi and PAD, the Yellow Shirts floated the idea of abandoning the principle of one person-one vote and constituting the parliament by mixture in appointment an election by occupational and other groups.  PAD has consistently tried to delegitimize the parliament and the electorate by arguing that the mass of voters are uneducated and hence elect corrupt politicians who then misgovern.  Several figures who promote floated proposals for a national government, several in the last few weeks which ultimately means an appointed government, an installation of the old oligarchy.  Over the past year, there's been almost constant movements of schemes to manufacture a crisis in which this proposal could be bought forward particularly the fermenting disconte--fermenting conflict on the boarder with Cambodia, in which you could actually create a state of war in which you bend over, and you could go for a new kind of system.  The Red Shirt Movement has emerged to counter this conservative reaction.  It's a rather complex movement.  The original core which emerged in 2006, were activist groups particularly made up of old leftists who were the first to come out in open opposition to the coup of 2006.  They were then joined by former supporters of Thaksin from his core area of support in Bangkok, the Upper North and the Northeast.  But over time, a movement has attracted more and more former democracy activists and ordinary citizens who are just--who had in the past been opposed to Thaksin, but are fed up with the return to military influence.  The main demand of this movement from the beginning was to restore a democracy by holding elections.  After an election was held in 2007, that demand dropped but when that government was then overthrown by kind of judicial coup in late 2008, it returned.  A second treaty bond has been to revive that 1997 constitution which means setting aside the charter written off to the 2006 coup.  A major strategy of the Red Shirt Movement has been to hold mass rallies and to use the color red to emphasize the sheer size of their support whether in stadium rallies like this or in street possessions.  In March to May of last year, the Red Shirt movement reached the kind of peak when thousands streamed into Bangkok in a--an atmosphere which can only be described as carnival.  And through enthusiastic support from parts of the city population and sympathy from even from some in the army.  But over a two month protest they were tactically outmaneuvered by the army, resulting in a violent end to the protest which probably diminished their support somewhat.  Despite this repression, the movement has not being coward, and this is really very important when you've had this kind of repression against popular politics in the past, it's worth it, if everything have tended to disobey and go away and people hide, but the Red Shirt Movement is totally uncoward by the two incidents of the last 2 years.  Over the past year, the Red Shirt Movement has concentrated on local organization, political schools and developing means of communication through print and through radio.  Let us now look at the possible upcoming election, and first look at the background of election results over the past decade.  The election system, which has been in place has 2 parts, it has territorial constituencies which have been, which were 400 of them in 2001, 2005 average vote in the constituency is about 75,000.  And then hundred votes, 106 which is known as the partylist which is a national vote by party exchange a bit in the last election but I think of it that way.  This was the result in 2001 when Thaksin came to power.  In all of these charts, the red part, the red constituencies means the pro-Thaksin party, in this case Thai Rak Thai and the blue is the democrats, the head of the current ruling coalition.  And the--so yes this part here is Bangkok, this is greater Bangkok which fits in there but it is expanded 'cause of--'cause of forces, higher population and city.  What you can see in this poll, is that Thaksin does very well in very large parts of Bangkok particularly in the Upper North and then here, things are really still very scattered.  We are still in the old system when many small localized parties held its way.  Thai Rak Thai won around 2/5 of the vote in just short of an absolute majority.  The democrats stop dominated the South and the Western hills, that the Northeast was still utterly fragmented.  This changed totally by 2005.  The end of his 4-year term, Thaksin not only did what no other Thai Prime Minister had done which was to get to last the 4-year term to go to an election, but he won a complete and utter landslide.  Most of the little parties which we saw in the previous chart had disappeared, usually absorbed into his party moving towards a 2-party system.  Only the green one Chart Thai survived.  Democrat party held the South but collapsed just about everywhere else.  Thai Rak Thai dominated the North, Northeast center and significantly Bangkok.  We're here now in 2005 where Thaksin has still got very--he sweeps Bangkok all except two seats to the democrats in the various center.  The poll in 2006 was boycotted by the opposition, and eventually scrapped by courts.  So only one party was standing, so it's more like a referendum.  So we could--all we could do is measure the strength of the vote for Thai Rak Thai so the more, the weight of the shading, the higher the percentage of vote.  And you can see it's clearly higher in the Northeast now, the 2 areas of concentration, the Northeast, it's pretty higher in the Northeast particularly the central part in the Upper North up here.
If we compare the 2006 poll to the 2005 poll, we can see the polarization.  In the red parts that are shaded red, the actual absolute number of votes for Thai Rak Thai increased between 2005 and 2006 and--but if it's in blue, and the heavier the blue it reduced.  So you can see a polarization in the areas that are supportive of Thaksin, his voting is getting even stronger, even now he's now, he himself is now under attack and everywhere else, it is declining.  In 2007, the post coup constitution had returned to a multi member constituency system so you can't map it in the same way, you have to map each MP as a dot so we have to draw it differently.  If you put lines on the map, it starts to make a small sense.  The vote for PPP which is now the success of the Thai Rak Thai, was backed roughly to the same level as 2001.  But what is mostly interesting, is that the regional party is now very, very clear.  Thaksin's party wins in--wins in the Upper North, the Northeast and around Bangkok, the outskirts of Bangkok here.  Whereas, the Democrats within the South and the central part of the capital.  The center and lower north are very fragmented returning to the old pattern of voting for local favorite's, irrespective of party.  But one very interesting thing to do with this map is to compare it to a map of ethnolinguistic groups.  And as you can see, the line that is cutting down here, essentially between the central part and the Thaksin vote--the Thaksin vote is almost, in an uncanny way, follows the line that divides the ethnolinguistic groups in Thailand.  What this means is, the bit in green in the middle as that speakers of central Thai, if you like the area of old Siam.  That--And those in the darker red at the North, this is [inaudible] the--the sort of red out here, this is basically [inaudible], okay.  And these are the crossover areas in his command.  But as you can see very clearly, the support for Thaksin is at it's strongest in these areas which were parts that were incorporated into Siam by fundamentally by conquest in the 19th century.  There are kinds of things underneath what is going on now which are not always very explicit.  What then is the situation with the party?  Thaksin's party now runs as prototype, this was the situation in the parliament after the last change in late 2008.  Pheu Thai is still the largest party with a 189, but the coalition that was set up by the military in December 2008 headed by the Democrats with a slightly lower number, and then a number of smaller parties which we're put together in a--in a coalition.  What then is the situation of the parties going in to this election?  Thaksin's party is in something of a mess.  The leader is still in self-exile.  Many of its former MP's are still under a Thai [inaudible] ban from politics.  In many localities, there are strains between the parties MP's and the Red Shirts.  The Red Shirt agitate as they're complaining that the MP's did not give them enough support over the demonstrations of particularly of last year.  But still, the chances of the party should not be underestimated.  Just in the last few days, Thaksin has pushed his youngest sister Yingluck to become party leader for the election campaign.  She doesn't have much political experience.  Probably, her greatest asset is that she smiles all the time.  [Laughter] But she will put the Shinawatra surname on the ballot and that I think could be magic.  It could significantly increase the parties showing.  I think it will be very interesting what will--what will happen with her in the next few weeks, it'll be start of demonstrating to kind of undermine her in one way or another.  The Democrats have undergone a kind of revolution over the last year.  They've completely abandoned their old passive minimalist Laissez-faire approach to policy and have copied virtually every part of Thaksin's populous platform.  They have not yet delivered it, however, in the same way.  Thaksin said "This is yours by right," and people like that.  But that's, the democrats say, like the old bureaucrats "We give you this as a present," patronage style.  And the Democrats still don't seem to understand that there is a huge difference to that in today's mass politics.  They have made some very interesting changes to the electoral laws, shifting seats allowing themselves to withdraw a constituency boundaries that could significantly increase their chances.  They have a lot of army backpacking, and they have mainstream media support.  That shift, if any, is their chance to get somewhere near a majority in the parliament.  But that's still probably unlikely.  But here's a third very interesting element.  The Bhumjaithai or Thai Pride Party is a return of an old formula, big business money, influence in the bureaucracy, political will or dealers and military backing.  The big business backing comes especially from 2 firms with interests in Bangkok Airport which has been a honeypot of corruption for a decade now.  King Power that runs the Duty Free and the Sino-Thai Construction Firm that built the Apple Link [phonetic].  In the current coalition, this party got control of the interior ministry and has used back position to put supportive officials, governors and police chiefs in key constituencies important in this election.  The effective leader of the party Newin Chidchob, is expert at using money, [inaudible] candidates and votes.  So this is going into the selection with the democrats to a sort of policy side and look at the nice guys, they have a leader who [inaudible] and can speak wonderful English and beside them is this party that can play dirty old fashion politics of buying out support or coercing support in one way or another.  We then settle smaller parties of which probably, the most interesting is "Perperdin [phonetic] for the mother land."  A party that was invented created, by the army in 2007, and still could serve as a way for the military to put exert influence over the election again this time.  What then as a result is very hard to foretell?  From past experience, polling data is pretty faulty.  Lots of people in Thailand lie to posters deliberately, and recent by-elections are not a good of that guide.  If you not choose events of the past 4 years, being the result of the last polls need not be much for a guide.  So what's the range of possibilities?  First, Pheu Thai, the Thaksin Party could win a majority of a large plurality as in 2007 giving them the first chance to form a government.  Would they then try to rehabilitate Thaksin?  They more or less said they would.  Would the army allow this result to stand?  And if not, what would they do?  This is obviously, highly problematic.  Not that you've overthrown 3 governments, can you do it the fourth time and get away with it?  Second alternative, is of course a strong Democrat, victory either a majority or a strong polarity making it possible to form a single party or virtual single party government.  The Democrats will campaign on the platform, but this result alone holds out prospects for stability.  However, if they were to get in this situation, would it put them in a position with heavier suppression of the red movement from their opponents, or would it put them in a position where they're confident enough to really move toward some kind of reconciliation?  It's very far from clear.  Many people will think that the result would actually be a return to something like the current Democrat-headed coalition, in which a lot of small parties are needed for support and the military has plenty of scope to play politics in the background.  And the fourth opportunity is still an accident.  What I mean by that is something that happens that means you don't have to hold, uphold.  I was saying in 2006, I though this time, we would have a post modern coup not an old fashion coup, but then of course the army ran the tanks in the style of 1958 and had the most old-fashioned coup we have ever seen.  But this time, I think maybe you could have something more elegant.  Suppose that the moment Abhisit calls an election, the whole election commission resigns.  This has been floated as a possibility.  You then create a constitutional crisis that has to be, it has to be solved perhaps by the intervention of the monarchy or the military or something.  Some of these is still possible.  Whatever the result, this election is not an ending of any kind.  Since the riot Samut Songkhram in 2009, and even more since May last year, there has been fitful talk of reconciliation.  But this reflects the old myth of a unified harmonious society that can somehow be recovered.  In reality, new political forces have challenged the way power, public goods and social respect has been distributed in the past.  The main agenda of the Red Shirt since it returned to a system abandoned for the last 6 years, where elections determine who governs.  But their fuller agenda demands a much more widespread overhaul of the political system, further decentralization, end to the immunity from officialdom, scrutiny of the judiciary, controls on the military, guarantees of freedom of speech and much more.
At present, the main strategy of the Red Shirts is still to demand the return of Thaksin, as he was the leader who worked for them in the past so they still see him as the most effective mechanism.  This challenge will not be resolved in a short period of time.  The challenge to the absolute monarchy in 1932 was not really resolved until 1958.  And the challenge issued to military dictatorship in 1973 was not resolved until the constitution of 1997.  This process will take a long term, long time and its cause and results are beyond prediction.  At present however, the old oligarchy in the urban middle class has reacted very strongly against this challenge.  They have mobilized the symbolic power of the monarchy in order to gear up wide support.  And in so, that do--so doing, have already done huge damage to the institution.  This strategy has virtually outlived its usefulness.  In the literature on democratization and democratic transitions, some 15 to 20 years ago, Thailand figured among the countries undergoing transition.  Since the rise of Thaksin and especially since the 2006 coup, it is often being labelled as a hybrid regime combining elements of democracy on authoritarianism, yet still assuming that it is on the right path in the long run.  But maybe, we need to accept that its current position may actually be permanent.  Thank you.
>> Thank you.
[ Applause ]
>> If you guys, when you have a question on this forum, let's deal with your own questions.
[ Noise ]
>> I'd want to start.  You raised the interesting point that the--that the current government has mimicked Thaksin's policies thus delivering them in this patronizing manner.  And the question is why?  Is it just political ineptitude or is there sort of a deeper paradigm shift problem or fears, fears of changing the discourse from one about beneficence to one about acknowledging rights?
>> Okay.  The question is why the Democrats, while they adopted Thaksin's policies, have not adopted his style of delivering them.
>> Well, I think that this new government particularly the Democrat.  The leader, the prime, our prime minister come from a different background altogether and he's an [inaudible] educator, he's an [inaudible] educator and had come from quite a well to do middle class background in Bangkok.  He doesn't have the feeling for the people--maybe he had the feeling but he doesn't really know how to express it.  And so that the way he behave is like, he come from bureaucracy or he's someone high up there and giving patronage to the people.  In other words, I don't--he's, he hasn't yet got into, to understand that politics is about passion, politics is also about how you can bring the people to accept you as their leader, as the leader that they can touch.  I think at the moment, the people feel they cannot touch him at all.  And this has something to do with his upbringing, with where he come from and, so you get the Democrat in this position.  And some of the people in the party is a little bit like that too.  Even Chuan Leekpai who come from ordinary person, but you know ordinary family.  But he's superior, is very bureaucratic.  He's always stand off from the people.  But you see, Thaksin, is completely different, he come from a rich family but then, he embraced the people, make the people feel that he come from them or he belong to them rather than coming from somewhere and giving things for them.  It's a--maybe it's a occasional of class issue here.
[ Pause ]
>> I think you went first.
>> I totally agree with you that the next [inaudible] is not the end of any kind.  So can you propose any solution to the current Thai political problem?  Unless, if the election--I mean if the Democrat party win, the election will be [inaudible], I believe, and if the Thai--Thai Rak Thai or and then the old man.
[Inaudible Remark]
Then so they get all the shirt, has of high possibility to [inaudible] the game.  So, is there any solution to that problem?
>> The--The question is can we propose a solution--
>> Yeah.
>> --to the current, the current Thai political problem?
>> Uh-huh.
>> I think I would like to say that--I think this is not a very short process at all.  I think we're talking about a process of change now which will take 20 to 30 years maybe even to work out.  Maybe we'll go a little bit quicker than that.  I, well I think a very interesting parallel to take is between the charters movement in the UK which was a demand basically for the franchise which sort of came up in the 1830 and dribbled on through the 1880's going up and going down to someone, a little explosion that will go away, if we form again, another leader will appear and so on and so forth.  I don't think it would take that long but I think people who were now saying, "please find a solution for me," are still working in this old kind of, you know the Bureaucrats of [inaudible] we all, we can somehow manage this.  We can write another constitution.  We can fiddle with the, the moving parts of the system somehow and it will all settle down, I don't think it's that way.  I think we're in the middle of a major historical change which at this point, the old--the forces in power in the society have said "no, we're going to block it as far as we can," and you have to get over that process somehow.  It may happen now, it may happen later.  But I don't think anyone at this point can hand down a solution which will send everything back to be nice and calm again.  I think this is a fantasy that people should get away from, that you should accept the fact, you're in a, a momentous historical change and go with it.
>> Yeah, may I add a little.  I think we have to accept that we are now in a either a parliamentary system with the constitution.  And so we should, we should obey the rule, the politics must have a rule.  And so, if the Pheu Thai win, I think, you know the process--that process should allow to work itself out.  And if there's chaos then the authority should apply the law if the demonstrators have breached the law, then they should, they should do something about it rather than allowing favor to happen for certain demonstrator and not the others.  In other words, stop these multiple standards okay?  For example, in the US, just see in the US, a lot of people don't want Obama to be the president but I think he won.  They will accept and allow him to rule for the time period he could and then wait for the next election.  And I think Thailand will have to come to term the issue of the rule of law.  Play within the rule rather than wishing that, we don't want Pheu Thai and we would support the military to make a coup or we will support the PAD to come out to have a demonstration and the other way around too.
>> Yeah, I--
>> But that's a difficult--
>> I agree with that.  But the big problem is that, there'll be no [inaudible] rule and also is that the rule in Thailand?
>> Yes of course, of course that's part of--when you're allowed to do that.
>> Yeah.
>> Okay.  You may not like that and some people won't like that but that's the rules, okay that's the way it is.
>> That will happen.
[Inaudible Remark]
>> I do have a question, but first I want to just follow up in the [inaudible] comment.  I think you have described the current Prime Minister, and assuming he's called Prime Minister.
>> Yes.
>> You are describing the, for me, a wealthy family and they're trying to appeal to the world classes.  I was thinking you must have a Thai word that's similar to the one that we have in English which is lip service?  Would you say that he's just sort of appealing to them and, in a form of just giving them lip service to--he doesn't really mean in his own intention of [inaudible]--
>> I don't think so.  I think he--to be fair to him I think, he means a lot of what he says but, he doesn't really understand the psychology of politics, the mass--the mass politics, the psychology of the mass politics.  And, you know if you will stand in front of him, he'll go--away from you.  He'll do that.  There's no, [laughter] yeah I don't know how to, how to, you know, you can only think of Nehru in India.
He also was brought up like this, and before he could embrace the people, he had travelled on his own for a year amongst ordinary people and then worked with them to, so that he can appreciate them, understand them, and know how to embrace them.  I don't think our politician who come from this sort of background have had that experience, and certainly Kuhlna Abhisit [phonetic] have had some experience talking to people in the urban area of Bangkok, but not really much in the country side.
>> My real question actually.
>> Hold on a second.
>> My real question was a, you've had the course throughout in election; you had the military, military method.  It seems that whoever has the military on their side, it really determine election is that, has the military shifted [inaudible].
>> So the question is--is it that whoever has the military on their side can determine the election?  Well, I mean you have--what happened in 2007 was, this was up when the coup government came to an end, then they went back to an electoral system.  The military tried extremely hard to win that election with the Democrats fundamentally.  To the point of forming political parties, funding political parties, sending soldiers to stand intimidating the ballot boxes on polling day.  Doing, doing a lot of propaganda or military radar, whether in the television, sort of dirty tricks to try and undermine the opposition, all those things, and they still couldn't win, right?  They still--in fact, the better the name I had thought, but was still not in a position to prevent the pro-Thaksin party having the plurality, at the largest plurality and therefore, the first chance to form a government.  Now, the question is now, nobody really knows what will come out, the result right now.  So but if, which is one possibility, we will go to an election.  That will again be this similar attempt to try and influence the result before it happens but there is still also the opportunity that might not work.  So we have many unknowns here, many unknowns.  But undoubtedly, the position of the military is now stronger, they're not any stronger, and more important for determining the politics than any time than to just being since 1992 and probably since the 1970's, not just come about because of many things, because of the way they changed that laws under the coup government because of new repressive laws they bought in bringing back ISOC, the old body which used to be there in the past of the times of the--question of the communist insurgency, they bought it back now, and essentially seeing into to stop politics, to stop popular politics.  So they are now an incredibly, institutionally powerful position.  So yes they are, they are the people.
>> There is also a possibility of a wide-cut.  In the sense that you know if, as time goes by, if the situation in such that Pheu Thai with Yingluck as the head of the party showing a good prospect of reading a huge majority.  There could be some change on the other side, the Democrat.  Because he's a Democrat, he's really very serious about being part of the next government, they may have to try to do something like changing the leader of party, because politics in Thailand is never view--is so difficult, it's a paradox, and no one is really, they saw Thai where no one is a real enemy so--of each other.  Some kind of coalition could always happen.  And you can imagine a situation where the Democrat completely decided that they want to save democracy, and forget about the military and the people behind them and said okay, "Let's do it something so that we could have a coalition with Pheu Thai".  That's a wide-cut, another wide-cut that can happen I think, but we have to wait and see.
>> Oh sorry, just [inaudible] as he speak.
>> Yes?
>> 2 questions, at one point you showed a map of ethnolinguistic groups, and it makes me wonder whether there's something essential about their ethnolinguistic character.  Is it more a matter of their mode of incorporation into the--the nation-state and then if we take into account mode of incorporation, does, is ethnolinguistic category, [inaudible].  The second question is, this has to do with the monarchy.  So, I mean to the [inaudible], if the king were 20-years younger than he is now, would any of--would we be having any of this kind of conversation, so is there something about a sense of stability with the monarchy that is, that is driving much of the story, does some monarchy shows up a little bit, and the story that you tell about--
>> Can you repeat that?
>> --but not very much.
>> Uh-hmm.  First question is you know, how does the, the distribution of ethnolinguistic groups affect political affiliations?  It is as you say, the second or the, as you say it is, it's because of the nature of their incorporation into the nation-state.  So, if you go back to the late 19th century, the areas in the North and the Northeast was still referred to by the Bangkok elite as Lao.  And that was--be--like in calling them second class citizens or even if you know it, those sort of conquered citizens as well.  And, although of course, over time that, those sort of attitudes have softened somewhat.  They're still very much there in the background.  And what you see in that picture in there with the person saying "uneducated people" is a reflection of that same idea.  People who come from the Northeast, uneducated, they're buffalos and so on.  So it's, it's there, and that's the way that division is now reflected into modern attitudes.  Bangkok people feel them, see it, so Bangkok middle class people feels themselves to be superior.  People out in the North, and Northeast hate this, resent this terribly.  They've never been able to say this before, it's been part of the repression in the political culture.  But now suddenly they can and this of course is very, very shocking.  The second, the second, question is whether if the monarch was 20 years younger than he happens to be, would this make the tensions any less?
>> Well if you're referring to the issue of succession.  Now people fear Thaksin returning or Pheu Thai Party heavy on majority so much.  Maybe, it's related to the issue of succession in this way.  Some people said, they fear that Thaksin, Thaksin had good relationship with prospective next monarch.  And if him or his derived party became a government, then there is a possibility that he could return to Thailand?
>> Thaksin can return under a new, rich, or under a new reign?
>> Thaksin.  Thaksin, could return to Thailand under a new reign.  And he'll create, he will create havoc in Thai society.  Because the 2 sign, that the yellow who dislike him would come out in the street, and the red will come out in support of him.  So there'll be great chaos.  And a lot of people also believed that Thaksin will not come as a passive person and he will come and will enter politics again.  Because a pardon would be and then he could run the election again.  So this is a one way of expressing the fear of Thaksin and how it might be linked to the issue of succession.
>> Some people think this is the major, major issue behind the current turmoil.  No, we think it's an added complication--the issue of mass politics is a much bigger issue.  The monarchy is just being mobilized and come to as part of the, as part of the opposition to this big social change that's going on--
>> Yeah, yeah.
>> --and the succession is contemplating.
>> Right, in other words, we think that, what's happening in Thailand now, since Thaksin came into power, he had shown that a popular politics could work for a majority of people and that, that idea of parliamentary democracy is kind of getting established in Thailand.  But that has challenged, the position of the middle class to fear that if that who become the nob in Thailand they themselves will lose the control of the political process because of the politics of [inaudible].  So they would try to prolong--or change that development, okay.
>> Professor William [phonetic] has questions, his first question is more or less my question but, I'm going to tackle that one a little bit about the South, just in the South just not at the same sort of history is the Northeast and the North [inaudible] center or there's something else going on?
>> Uh-hmm, yes.
>> Does the question--
>> Yeah, yes.  Is the South--how is the South different from North and the Northeast?  Yes 'cause in a sense, the South is also an area that was incorporated quite, quite late but not so late.  The South is really very, very different socio-economically.  If you're talking about North and Northeast, you're talking about a base of peasant agriculture, small--small scale agriculture.  In the peninsula south that's a relatively a minor part.  It's much more urbanized.  You have, you have city towns and cities in this area if you can trace by 2000 years, you know go back to Chinese sources and, and that's something--it's major occupations are plantations, mining, fishing and so on.  They tend to be--
[Inaudible Remark]
--they, they're much larger.  They're much sort of larger scale of operations.  The--Its population is far less Thai, you know, it's got a much more cosmopolitan population particularly having a very high concentration of Chinese, you know, Chinese who have blended into the population not just over the last 100 years but over the last 500 years, maybe coming for a long, long, a long, long time.  So it's both sort of ethnically and economically very, very different from these other areas.  But I think the most important part of it is, it's just simply much more urbanized.  You have this well-establish most of the people not mostly--a very high proportion, the people who live in rather well-established towns which has got a much a more developed civil society than you have in the other parts of the country where, still fundamentally peasant agriculture in the towns could be very new.
[ Pause ]
>> So you mentioned that in the democratization literature, the middle class are sort of the forces with democracy but in Thailand's case, now you mentioned that they [inaudible] the upper middle classes?  Can you tell a little bit more about why that is?  I know you mentioned that, you feel that their interests would be, would be affected by having a pro-Thaksin party in the power, but, I guess, I'm not sure of what, what would go around this.  Like it probably, [inaudible] concern is among the middle class?  And also when you--when you discussed, you know, these cultural stereotypes, kind of, so what's the roots of why would they align this all to the middle class, I mean and not with the lower classes or you know, and is it just the geography that stereotypes, that there are actually small numbers?
>> The question is why has the middle class politics seem to turn against democracy?  What is this--what is the background behind it?  I think there are many things.  I think one is, if you look at the, if you look at the pattern of economic development of Thailand over the last 50 years, on the society that it is created.  And you can compare it to--one of the things in the paper we've done is to compare it particularly to Japan and Korea that have different--similar stages of development.  What you see is that Thailand, by relying so heavily on foreign direct investment and export-oriented manufacture, has developed a rather unusual society.  It has a very small working task, it might be to 8 to 10 percent, you know people who were actually working in big factories or actually producing most of the wealth which is you know, by exports okay?  You then have quite a small professional middle class, a professional managerial bureaucratic class, which is basically created to service this economy.  But it's not more than you can calculate in different ways 15--
>> Sir, 13 percent.
>> --no 13, 15, and 17 percent, you can calculate it in different ways.  And if you'd look at, you know, Japan and Korea parallel times, it's at least twice that size where you had much bigger--you had much bigger industrialization, much bigger working task and also much bigger managerial class.  And then what Thailand has got is 2/3 of its people still who are either doing 2 things or either doing agriculture which is now, you know, very complicated but they're still doing agriculture.  Or, they're in, the informal sector that means a lot of them migrating back and forth between the country and the city.  They're working as vendors, casual laborers, small businesses and these sorts of things.  They're not in their--they're not in their, you know, tax paying, social security covered for [inaudible] economy.  And what--I think what just happened--I think the other part, the other part about the--is the middle class, is that it's small.  It's very largely Sino-Thai.  So it's very largely from families--most of whom who have arrived in Thailand over the last 2 or 3 generations.  And we forget it now because it's Sino-Thai in the last 20 years have become so well-established.  In Thailand, they've become, may now run everything.  They now run the urban economy whether it's the ajahn or the military or whatever.  It's very heavily Sino-Thai.  You go back to the 1980's and you'll remember the Sino-Thai was still complaining about being distributed against, still complaining about being second class citizen and so on.  So that sort of habilitation, to be so central to the society is very recent.  So the--you know, the cultural memory is obviously still there, and I think this, this contributes enormously to this insecurity which is driving some of the way they're responding to this politics.  And remember that Sondhi, Sondhi Limthongkul, who became the great leader of the Yellow Shirts in 2006, 2007, deliberately positioned himself as a good Chinese.  I mean, he went out of his way to position himself.
[Inaudible Remark]
No, yeah, was it?
>> Lukjin Watchia [phonetic]
>> Lukjin Watchia we, sons of China love--
>> Love.
>> --the country and defend the king.  I mean it was actually explicit, and he wears this funny hat which makes himself, you know, look like a [inaudible].  Very, very deliberate use of the symbols as well.
>> Yeah.  Can I add, just to give you example.  There's always an economic aspect to all these.  The middle, the urban type middle class, if they're so used to being able to benefit from 99, 95.9 percent of the total budget every year until the decentralization instituted in the 1997 constitution, we stipulated that from now on, there will have to be a process of relocation of the annual budget to the countryside up to a 35 percent of the total budget, by such and such here.  And even, and this show you that the people have got so used to being dominant in every area including the budget.  And then recently, the issue of fiscal reform, tax reform has come into fall when it now become clear that the government has to take up the populist policies, with that turned into a welfare or social security policies, which mean that the government has to find a revenue from somewhere.  So let's not talk about fiscal reform, and what is the reaction from some of the economists who work in big banks?  They come out to say, "You cannot do that because the tax reform would mean there'll be an increase impact on us who pay most of the taxation.  And who's going to benefit from that, not us.  It's the people out there.  And so they said, go slow on these and these will reduce economic development.  It will reduce highland economic growth, and this kind of a talk is now going on and it received a lot of report from the urban middle class.  So there is an economic issue of the allocation of resources in the process of democratization.
>> How about if you speak a little bit more about the allocation of these resources, I mean, been talking about the [inaudible] coalitions in the inequality and society but now also speaking about how much of the benefits growth are going through the southeastern to the urban part where there still seem to be a lot of structural inefficiencies.  They keep people in the core classes specifically thinking here about the aristocratic nature of the bureaucracy.  If there is any talk about reforming these sectors to move away from an often socially destructive, I mean distribution of wealth towards the more creation of [inaudible].
>> The question is has there been an attempt to move away from this concentration of wealth to distributive wealth--
>> Policies.
>> --policies?  The--When the Democrat came to power 2 years ago, they--one of--the policy platform they adopted was a fiscal reform.  And they wanted to introduce development tax which mean that people who have, in order to reduce the speculation of land which mean that people who have land and do nothing on it will pay a little bit higher tax than people who make use of those land.  And the differences is not very great you know, in term of degradation of the increase in the taxation.  And, in the beginning, everybody was very excited about that, but, only a month ago, they have decided, before this election came, they have decide to set aside that.  The process started to process this in the parliament but they now said they will be withdrawing that.
[Inaudible Remarks]
>> On institutional reform, there was a movement that in the early 2000, I'm sorry, in the 1990--late 1990's particularly under the democrat government of Chuan to reform the military.  And it is at the earlier stages of this two.  The military is very oversized.  There are what, 1600 generals, approximately, which only 200 of them actually have a job to do, and all kinds, there's all kinds of problems as, enormous problems over purchasing of weapons and all these kinds of things.  But in the end, then there's also promises, there are reform plans--the military squashed it all, absolutely totally, there's been really no--that downsizing--known reduction in the number of generals.  And since they've came back into influence in 2006, they've multiplied too much the military budget by 50 percent already, and got enormous.  They're now trying to buy submarines, for Christ sake.
>> Second-hand submarines.
>> Second-hand submarines.  To go with the echo of Caryo [phonetic] which then goes nowhere, the Eshek [phonetic] which goes nowhere and now we have the submarines go.  So, and then, Thaksin came in with his, in many ways, his major campaign issue when he came in, in 2000 which reformed bureaucracy.  He set him up so far to saying, you know, all these other people who have stowed in this bureaucratic culture.  I'm a businessman, I'm going to change this whole bureaucratic culture by doing, turning it into a more business oriented.  And he, he had, he used this phrase CEO.  We have to turn him into CEO, ambassador, CEO, governors.  He bought the official soul in, and got you know, business school people to lecture them and tell them on how they were going to change.  He set up a whole process for changing the structure, the bureaucracy, and all of these.  And of course, that part of throwing him out was the stop path.  And I think that a lot of the opposition to him came from the bureaucracy which did not want to be reformed in this way.  So that now is dormant and the Bureaucrats are back in the spades.
>> I think this political turmoil in terms of all the Thai new generation becomes true I think in--out of my own experience.  I know we'll become [inaudible] politics before this, this crisis.  So do you have any recommendations or suggestions for the new Thai generation?  It can fall back and have a--improve in any issue or to sustainable development.
[Simultaneous Talking]
>> Their question is, is there any advice for the Thai new generation who are getting more involved in politics?  You have to answer that.
[Inaudible Remark]
>> Well you know, you have to go with the time because you cannot go back globally if you know.  Although democracy, parliamentary democracy may have its flaw and in some countries, people become disillusioned with it.  But it has proven that it has, it is the most efficient system that could help us manage conflicts in a period of this quick change.  So that I think we should try to stick to it and improve it along the way rather than using--
>> Other methods.
>> --other methods of military intervention which is shunned globally.
>> One of the first things about, of the 2007 election was how much solid area it was among the Red Shirts that despite the 18 being banned, they still voted as--as a block for [inaudible].  Now we're on the city--and now our own committees have been around city, I'm wondering what your sense of--to the level of solidarity in the likelihood that that collection of an interest will stick together or the likelihood that it will fragment and, and so, in what ways did you see that fragmentation occurring?
>> So, the question is, how likely it is that the Thai will be more fragmented this time than it was in 2007.  Yes, there are certainly some considerable problems.  For instance, we went to one part of the Northeast a few months ago where there clearly was a lot of tension between the Red Shirt activist in the town and the Pheu Thai MP's because of what had happened in May 2010 last year.  However, you have to say, what you've been reading in the Bangkok Press carefully in the last couple of months, there had been considerable attempts within Pheu Thai to accommodate the Red Shirts, to negotiate this thing rather than to, you know, to have it turned out to mess.  I think, there was a danger that if you read the Bangkok Press now, they're very anxious to play up this kind of theme because the most extraordinary thing throughout this whole affair, is that the Bangkok press thinks that people in Bangkok don't want to read anything except good news.  They want to read bad news about people they hate and good news about people they love rather than knowing what's going on, right?  [Laughter] And it's quite extraordinary.  So, we never have any move, you know, we have this extraordinary organization and everything else going on outside and you know, the Bangkok has got its blinkers on, it's not even looking at it.  So I think you, all of these stories that come out all the time about all [inaudible]--there's a lot of mess inside the party.  Don't listen too much.
>> Let me add, my informant in Maha Sarakham.  I talked to him just before I came here, said that, I asked him on discussion and he said that, "Well, let's talk about the ordinary people on the ground.  What are they doing?"  They are certainly excited about the election but they also know that even though Pheu Thai gets the majority, they may not be able to form a government.  So they are forming groups among themselves.  These are ordinary people, the villagers; here they have groups particularly after the incident in April and May last year.  They meet regularly to discuss the politics.  And they're talking among themselves, what is the significance of this election?  How should we view it?  And some of them will say, even if we loose, this is very important because it's a chance to show our preference.  It's a chance to show our stand, where we are.  And so, there are a lot of these discussion going on.  And honestly, their love of resentment against the local MP's who did not help them after the incident because a lot of these MP's which is sitting on a you know, like a--
>> On the fence.
>> --on the fence to see where things are going.  And so, some of them will say, they don't want to support that, those MP anymore.  But some are saying, but then, they are expecting the party may change some candidate.  Certainly there was some was shifting to Bhumjaithai.  Because it's also very interesting to watch what kind of a campaign tactics Bhumjaithai is going to use.  And the change of the--what you call of the change of--?
>> Electro system.
>> --the electro system which happened before now have been design in such a way that it will benefit a smaller party like Bhumjaithai who may not be able to win the whole [inaudible] and they, then they will take up some.  And Bhumjaithai is also buying up a lot of the MP's to move to them.  And there will be some in the Reds who will move with them because people still have the loyalty to some of this local MP.
Thank you.
[ Applause ]