Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The underlying problem

From Wikipedia:
Meritocracy is a system of a government or another organization wherein appointments are made and responsibilities are given based on demonstrated talent and ability (merit), rather than by wealth (plutocracy), family connections (nepotism), class privilege (oligarchy), cronyism, tenurocracy (based in seniority), popularity (as in democracy) or other historical determinants of social position and political power. In a meritocracy, society rewards (by wealth, position, and social status) those who demonstrated talent and competence, demonstrated through past actions or by competition.

IMO, Thailand needs Meritocracy more than Democracy.

Saturday, December 13, 2008


Bangkok Pundit has made a feature of The Economist articles, but overall I think Crispin's piece is more on the money (despite some nitpicking regarding the voting number discrepancies being used as a way to try to undermine the general thrust of his piece).

I also think Fonzi is wrong when he agrees with The Economist that this mess is all about the monarchy - they are certainly a factor, but Thaksin is still the main cause of the disruption - if only he had moderated his actions (or been moderated by those around him), he would still be in power.

Whilst most mainstream reports portay the dispute as between 2 sides 'reds' and yellows', pro and anti- Thaksin, I think it is more than that and there are 4 main groups, as follows:

YELLOW 'side' is split into 2 major factions:

(a) OLD ORDER: Established business and military elites who want to keep their disproportionate share of the pie (Thaksin was eating into it for himself, his cronies and to a lesser extent, the poor)

(b) IDEALISTIC: Lower/Middle class, educated and moralistic people who cannot stand Thaksin's greedy, tax dodging, authoritarian personality flaws which in most western countries would make him unelectable, but are repeatedly overlooked by the electoral masses

RED 'side' is also split into 2 main factions:

(c) ANTI MONARCHISTS - they have been on the losing side since the 1970's and see Thaksin as a way to start winning some battles in the long running war

(d) DEMOCRACY: Activists, rural poor, taxi drivers etc - includes people who choose to overlook Thaksins flaws and those who love Thaksin simply because he was the first one to give something back

That's still a simplification, because each group has its own 'warlords' using the other members as cannon fodder.

Personally I have sympathy for groups (b), (c) and (d).

I think the IDEALISTIC and DEMOCRACY groups are ideologically not that far apart - they just need to recognize and accept the other side's point of view.
If the DEMOCRACY group dropped Thaksin, then the IDEALISTIC group would probably disband.

That would leave the battle to ANTI MONARCHISTS and the OLD ELITE - the simple solution for this battle is for the palace to change it's ways, dismantle the patronage system and rein in the old elite, in which case all but the hard core anti-monarchists would disappear.

As an added bonus, succession would no longer be such a big issue if the palace changed it's ways.

That's my 2 cents worth from my poor, idealistic perspective - but I'm a farang so I don't understand Thailand anyway!

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Why this blog is inactive

I was previously a very regular commentator at New Mandala and Bangkok Pundit (as Hobby) from 2007 to about Sept 2008, but lately have been trying to hold back on commentating on Thai politics because I am not Thai, and I think the current problems need to be solved by Thai's, not foreigners.

(also I do not live in Thailand and think it better to leave the commentating to those who are more directly affected).

I mainly set up this blog to keep track of some of the better posts I saw on those other blogs, then I started to try to offer solutions to the crisis, but now I try not to comment on Thai politics (as outlined above) - so this blog is unlikely to be very active.

I would recommend all people interested in Thai politics to read Paul Handley's 'The King Never Smiles' for background, together with the works of Pasuk & Baker, and Duncan McCargo, on Thaksin.


Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Goodbye & Good Luck

UPDATE: Sorry, but I just cannot resist occasionally giving my 2 cents worth of opinions.

I've decided to stop commentating on Thai politics.

To the regulars, particularly those over at New Mandala & Bangkok Pundit: - thanks for the entertainment over the last 2 years.

In closing, I will refrain from repeating why I think Thaksin is no longer the right person to play a leading role in Thai politics, and instead would like to thank him and TRT for making it hard for future politicians to ignore the plight of the poor masses.

Best wishes to all.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Samak gone, now it's Somchai's turn

Let's continue to play this game, and assume that PPP is a political party with the main aim of governing for the benefit of the country and it's people.

Samak is gone - even though the cooking show trigger for his demise was nonsensical, I wont be shedding a tear for him - had his chances to be reasonable, he wasn't, so I say good riddance!

Now Somchai steps up to the plate - let's hope the real Somchai has some substance, and he will not just be the 'brother in law' or the 'husband'.

PPP still have the opportunity to govern, a coup is very unlikely, and they still have the electoral majority card up their sleeve - The ball is in their court - the choice they have is whether to govern for the people, or govern for Thaksin.

The PAD can agitate as much as they like, but it wont come to anything unless the government provides a trigger.

For Thaksin it was the tax free Shin corp sale - Somchai (or his successor) merely continuing pro-poor policies would not provide such a trigger, nor would consultative constitutional amendments.

If they steer clear of interfering in the Thaksin cases, and are seen to be moderately competent in dealing with issues as they arise, it will be very difficult for 'elites' or 'third forces' to engineer their downfall.

It's too early to tell whether Somchai will be a success - his conciliatory tone is a welcome change to Samak's bluster, but the message is mixed if reports of a delegation sent to London to get Thaksin's tick of approval are true.

Will Thaksin be advising his brother in law that revocation of the diplomatic passports would be a good move?

Just like with Samak, I'm hopeful that Somchai is the right man for Thailand at this point in time, and am prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt, until his actions prove otherwise.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Censorship at New Mandala ???

Some of my comments make it through, and others don't - it's certainly an incentive to keep comments short so that not too much time is invested, just in case they don't get through.
Anyway, by now I think it's clear which sides Andrew, Nich and the regular contributors are on - I remain in the 'song mai ow' camp and would like to see whoever is in power governing for the good of the country and it's people, not just for it's cronies.
I know I'm too idealistic, and should just accept that a select few will always pull the strings, and whichever side throws out a few more scraps must be the 'democratic' one.
I used to think democracy could do better than that.

Original Post:
It looks like the owners of the New Mandala blog have come up with a way to 'justify' the blocking of those commentators who have opposing views to theirs.

My interpretation of the new commentating criteria is that comments that disagree with the following basic theme will not be accepted:

'Thaksin/TRT/PPP elected => therefore is good'

My posts no longer seem to get through - It was fun while it lasted, and I don't blame them for trying to stop us 'non academics' from taking pot shots at them.

Friday, September 12, 2008

What all the fuss is about

That PPP is the Thaksin nominee party is not in doubt, however the situation is further complicated because Sondhi L also exhibits most of the characteristics of a 'toxic leader'.

A new people's constitution and Song Mai Ow still makes the most sense to me.

The following
is a good summary of why the PAD still exists, and why many normally reasonable people are doing the unreasonable:

It was posted by 'karmablues' over at New Mandala

"1. Prof McCargo: “Thaksin set about systematically to dismantle the political networks loyal to Prem in a wide range of sectors, aiming to replace them with his own supporters, associates and relatives. Thaksin was seeking to subvert network monarchy, and to replace it with a political economy network of the kind described by Cartier Bresson (1997): a network based on insider dealing and structural corruption. …. demonstrating his determination to create a new super-network, centered entirely on himself, and characterized by a more hierarchical structure.

2. Prof McCargo: “The core struggle of the 1990s was one between conservatives associated with the military and bureaucracy, and liberal reformers [notably Prawase and Anand] seeking to strengthen civil society and political institutions [which the liberal reformists eventually won resulting in the 1997 people's constitution]. But Thaksin, the policeman turned tycoon turned prime minister, was playing according to completely different rules and ideas , favouring a toxic mode of leadership which left little space for rival players (Lipman-Blumen 2005).”

3. Let me add from wikipedia, what is said about Prof. Lipman-Blumen’s concept of a toxic leader: “For Lipman-Blumen “toxic leadership” designates an extremely bad sort of leader. Toxic leadership is not about incompetence, lack of foresight, or run-of-the-mill mismanagement, rather leaders as predatory sociopaths ….these are the people for whom no malevolent act is out of bounds in the name of gaining and holding power ; who sell access to the highest bidders; who pursue policies that abjectly favor the investment class while maintaining a populist rhetoric…” Toxic leaders first charm and play on the people’s insecurities and self-esteem, but then manipulate, mistreat, undermine, and ultimately leave their followers worse off than when they found them.

So, are we talking about reform of the monarchy by “toxic leader” Thaksin through the creation of his “super-network” which was “based on insider trading and structural corruption”, “centered entirely” on the toxic leader himself and “characterized by a more hierarchical structure”? And this toxic reform project’s effect on Thailand’s democracy? Baker and Pasuk concluded in no uncertain terms that: “Thaksin Shinawatra has rolled back a quarter century of democratic development.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Shoot me down in flames (please!)


Why is no one else talking about working towards a new 'peoples' constitution as a way to resolve the crisis?

The the junta imposed their own constitution (to overcome perceived and actual deficiencies of the 1997 version), now the PPP want to impose their own amendments.

If the government truly wanted to move forward (instead of just victory), they would be trying to open up the constitution amendments to a consultative process.

Let the political parties have their say, all the pressure groups (including the PAD) can make submissions, and if consensus cannot be reached on some contentious items, let the people decide via a referendum.

The government should not give in to the PAD, but they also have a responsibility to try to move the country forward.

By agreeing to such a process the government would not be giving in to mob rule, but they would be giving the PAD an incentive to go home (and if they don't go the government gets sufficient justification to make them go).

They would also be helping to rebuild the country, and making it much harder for future coups & more imposed constitutions.
(and at the end of the day they just might get the constitution they want and need, anyway)

Samak stood down over Cooking Show.

A sensible Samak/PPP/Coalition (wishful thinking!) would use this constitutional court case as an example of why the 2007 constitution is flawed.

They could then open up the constitution amendment process to consultation as a way of diffusing the current standoff.

For all those supporting Samaks re-appointment, please consider what it says about PPP and it’s coalition partners if they reappoint as PM a person who has been stood down in these circumstances (including possible covering up evidence?) and such person is also subject to further court actions.

Are they worried people will run out of reasons to protest against them?

Occasional Poster over at Bangkok Pundit's site provides a good summary of the situation:
"I can only conclude that violence is what both sides want in a vicious power struggle to totally control Thailand inc. for their own utterly personal ends while throwing around some vague notions of democracy that none of them fully support."

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Just do it!

1. Samak/PPP acknowledge that the constitutional amendment will be put to a new round of consultation to create a new 'peoples' constitution.

2. PAD then can either go home (hopefully), or if they choose to stubbornly stay, they can be forced home.

That way there are no clear 'winner take all' victors, and ultimately the Thai people will be the winners.

Having learned from the past, all sides can put up their views on the constitution problem areas, argue robustly, try to reach consensus, and if that is not achievable, the remaining contentious issues can be decided by the people.

Leave the courts to deal with the PAD leaders, Samak, Thaksin & Co (or if that is just too hard 'politically' give them all a one off blanket amnesty in the name of reconciliation, and a 10 year political ban to go with it!)

The above is a reasonable solution where PPP are seen to be doing the right thing for the people, not giving in to mob rule, and the country will be better off for it.

Is anyone interested in a solution, or is it only victory that matters?

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Will a Referendum solve the crisis?

Bangkok Post is reporting it's now only one question:

Do you want the government to continue in office?

(Minister of Culture Somsak Kiatsuranond briefed the media on the proposal after the special cabinet meeting)

I wonder if that question solves anything?
(PPP & coalition are already elected, so really it's just more of the same)

If they really wanted to get a solution, and really wanted to give the PAD no choice but to go home, why not ask these further questions (in addition to the one above):

1. Do you want the government to continue in office? Y or N

2. Do you think the constitution should be amended? Y or N

3. After the constitition amendments have been proposed by the parliament, do you think they should also be put to a referendum of the people? Y or N

4. Is 1 person = 1 vote the best form of democracy for Thailand?
Y or N

5. Do you prefer:
A: first past the post
B: proportional representation

as the voting system for Thailand?

Bring all these things into the open, let the people have a say, and let the parliament act on the peoples wishes.
And let the government govern.

Monday, September 1, 2008

PAD v's Samak - A Proposed Solution

It seems no one wants to lose face, and that is what's stopping the political compromise.

PAD demanding the government resign is a ludicrous situation, but at the same time Samak and PPP have shown no sign of backing off the constitutional amendment/PPP/Thaksin exoneration strategy - what will be the end result?
Once the violence starts it will be hard to stop, and even if it is crushed for now, it will remain bubbling away for ages.

A reasonable compromise would be for PAD to withdraw the resignation demand, and Samak & PPP to back away from the constitutional amendment rush, and let the matter be debated in parliament and come up with proposed amendments which they agree are to be put to a public referendum after a reasonable consultative period.

Even if PAD do not moderate their demands, Samak and the PPP need to act in a competent and reasonable manner, which I think means they should do the following:
- Address all of the PAD concerns in a reasonable manner.
- Dismiss (with proper explanation) those demands that are unreasonable and outlandish.
- Agree that the constitutional amendment process be a consultative process with parliamentary debate, followed by a public referendum.
- Undertake a public education program outlining how they have addressed the legitimate concerns of the PAD, and also outline how the unreasonable demands are bad for democracy.
- Once the above has been done, the PPP should set a deadline for the PAD protesters to disperse, and if the PAD protesters still fail to disperse then the deadline should be enforced with appropriate/reasonable force (such as tear gas & water cannons).

Simply dismissing the PAD as an unlawful mob and falling back on its own electoral legitimacy is not good enough and in my opinion is poor governance.

It is up to the government to act in a competent and reasonable manner, even if the PAD leadership wont!

Sunday, August 31, 2008

PAD v's Samak (Rebellion or needed for Democracy to evolve?)

I am of the opinion that if either side is seen to ‘win’ completely, then that will be bad for democracy in Thailand.

There is no need for me to comment on what it would mean if PAD has a complete victory, but would a complete victory by Samak/PPP be the best outcome?

The stakes are so high now, that such a victory would basically say the government only needs to win elections - there is no need to be concerned with minority viewpoints - as long as the majority vote for us we can do what do what we like!

In most western countries we can live with election outcomes because there are functioning checks and balances to overcome the tyranny of the majority, but we all have seen how those checks and balances are continually manipulated in Thailand
(by all sides).

Also in most western democracies, we know the majority of the voters have a reasonable standard of education, and know that if the government acts badly, firstly the checks and balances will keep them under control, and if that fails the people will - at the next election.

(That’s the theory anyway, although lets wait until the next US election result to see if it still works that way, or has western democracy evolved to something else again?)

In Thailand, it has not even reached the ‘in theory’ stage because the level of education of the masses is relatively low, and they are also relatively poor.
Lets leave whose fault that is to another post, but IMO that leaves too much opportunity for slick operators to manipulate the masses.

Whether they are hoodwinked, seduced or co-erced becomes irrelevant, and all that counts is who won the election, and without functioning checks and balances that becomes bad democracy.

So whilst I would hate to see PAD have a complete victory, I think it is in the best interests of Thai democracy that Samak/PPP at least be seen to be acknowledging and addressing the legitimate concerns of the PAD rank & file, at the same time as they dismiss and ridicule the more outlandish claims of some of the PAD leadership.

Of course, I recognise that the country has gotten into this mess mainly because the elites over a long period of time have failed to acknowledge and address the legitimate concerns of the poor masses.

The only glimmer of hope I have is that over a long time (probably decades), the electoral masses might come to the realisation that they need politicians with integrity (not just handouts!).

In any case the time for the PAD protesters to leave government house is long overdue - go home, have a shower & sleep, let Samak govern, and if he has not learned the right lessons from this week, then there will always be other, more appropriate, times to resume the protests.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Bangkok Pundit on Corruption under Thaksin

I'm not sure if he has included 'policy corruption' in this piece, but it's a rare pleasure having Bangkok Pundit acknowledge that Thaksin was corrupt:

"Unsurprisingly, with the military in control corruption worsened according to TI - yes it worsened in Thaksin's final year too which I think is fair.

This of course doesn't mean I don't think Thaksin was not corrupt or there was no corruption in his government. I am not sure I have clearly articulated my thoughts before on corruption under Thaksin, but here we go.

First, as a Prime Minister Thaksin as an individual (ok, one was must include Potjaman here) was more corrupt than previous Prime Ministers. What I mean is that Thaksin personally benefited or corruption went to himself or Potjaman than under previous Prime Ministers. Under Thaksin, power was centralized and where comes power comes corruption. There was not a need for all the factions to be as corrupt as previous factions because the money came from Thaksin. Chuan was less corrupt, but then you always had Suthep.

Second, excluding Thaksin his administration was less corrupt than previous governments. What I mean here is that under the previous Democrat-led government in 1998-2000, power was wide-spread so everyone had their fingers in the pie. All those factions and political parties needed to finance their election expenses.

If you combine Thaksin and his administration and look at them as one. I think they were equally corrupt (actually so marginally less corrupt that it is minuscule) in percentage of GDP terms than previous democratically-elected administrations. When I am talking about administration I am referring everyone in the government, including coalition partners.

Third, outside of Thaksin and his administration there was less corruption in Thai society than in previous governments. I don't believe that the war on drugs/dark influences (i.e mafia gangs) were completely successful, but together with the legalising the underground lottery there were some victories in the "war on corruption" which principally affected those not directly connected with the government. Now, I don't think he/TRT did this for pure altruistic reasons, but I also don't think it was some unintended consequence as it also had electoral benefits as it was mainly the poor and lower-middle class who benefited from this. Loan sharks were affected by the village fund and greater access to personal credit. Mafia gangs who demanded money from motorcycle taxis were severely crippled. Drug gangs were reduced. I think mafia gangs affiliated with the military were particularly affected and the police less so, if not at all.

This explains why the surveys point to less corruption/greater control of corruption in Thailand under Thaksin, but more personal corruption by Thaksin. I am not saying the centralisation is a good thing, but less corruption is."
Bangkok Pundit