Saturday, September 30, 2006

Boon and Baramee

Western non-bhudhists will find it very hard to understand the origin of King Bhumibol's power and influence over the Thai people. Their history of fuedalism and monarchical institutions would make it is very difficult for them to see how the Thai monarchy can be anything more than an institution.

The love and trust given by the Thai people to King Bhumibol is reserved for this King alone, and gained only after the people have had many years to observe his untiring dedication to the people. We are all aware that this King's accession to the throne was not a fait accompli. He earned due respect because of his sincerity towards the people.

Foreigners demean the intelligence of the 60 million Thai people when they think that we worship him just because his official name includes the title "Devaraja". Which other King overlooks his own security and travels miles in insurgency infested remote and marginalized villages to learn about their conditions first hand, who kneels on the dirt countless of times to touch and recieve the caress of the people? I've travelled with my father, a provincial government officer, on many of these occasions and saw with my own eyes, felt with my own feelings his true intentions. I will not allow ungrounded criticism for the sake of criticism to brand my feelings a foolish lie. Which other King personally and individually hands out graduation papers to the countless educated from their universities? As I grew up, seeing his many deeds on tv was a common sight, but there were also several occasions throughout the years where with enough resourcefulness I could have been in his presence. This kind of royalty exists only in fairy tales for the West, but we Thais are fortunate to have lived it for 60 years of our connected lives.

If we look back in Thai history, there are enough historical accounts of unfit Kings who were disposed of for a number of reasons. Doesn't that say that we are not totally uncritical of rulership? The King, as a key symbol for the Thai people, is a process that was created over a very long, long process, (700 years) unbroken by foreign colonization of which the Thai people are very well aware that they share a part it its legitamacy. Circumstance of King Prajadhipok's Succession and King Ananda's succession are good enough examples.

We don't blindly worship the King as if he were some "god", like some King bashers like to say. These people don't understand that as Bhuddists we don't believe in any "God". Yes, we're all atheist. We believe in each individual's personal responsibility for the health and development of his own soul. We believe in karma. We believe in the power that good karma accumulates, we call it "boon" and "baramee", and it is not only reserved for kings.

Every single individual accumulates this according to his/her deeds. Therefore we belief that men with good standing or "baramee" such as the king is proof of their accumulated good karma, or he won't be in that position. That baramee is what we respect. We also believe that those merits that an individual has earned, his/her boon-baramee can be shared with us when we participate in it. Bad karma is paid back on its own mechanism, for that reason we reserve our criticism of wrong doing even as we find the right moment to take action to correct the wrong.

The Thai people do not think that the King can do no wrong. It's that King Bhumibol has never actually done any wrong for us to criticise him. I'm pretty sure that if any Thai ruler committed a legitimate offense against the people, the people will find a way to effectively deal with it the way Taksin has been dealt with, the way we are not blind and are dealing with the coup in our own Thai way. The people, however, aren't perfect, and need their time to build institutions for that outlet. How many hundreds of years did it take the West to put into place their concepts and institutions for democracy? At least 200 years, at most 400 years. Isn't it imperialistic to try to impose on other cultures one's own way of thinking and doing?

We, the Thais are very aware that we are fortunate to have one of the few rare good rulers as our ruler. We are proud of that. What's wrong with loving a just and righteous ruler? Would all these foregin critics be happier if there weren't any such rulers left in the world, because they would just about tear anyone who tries to be perfect so that they can prove that nobody's perfect?

Rao rak Nai Luang. 60 years is a good time for us to declare that, isnt' it?

Walking for the soul

Nothing to do with Thai history. It is an account, a reflection about the kind of decision a common Thai person makes... the kind of decision an individual can make that makes an impact far beyond his original intention:

Best Foot Forward from Bangkok Post, Sep 30.
"Having travelled around the world, I thought I'd had enough. It was time for the soil to go back to its roots, back to where it belonged. And it was time for me to go back home and answer that little boy's query - I wanted to tell him that the great blue ocean and sky actually lie within his own heart."

Pramuan Pengchan from Chiang Mai

Monday, September 25, 2006

Vicious Cycle of Thai Politics

I think Bangkok Pundit was looking for this "vicious cycle":
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However, he attributed it to Dr. Chai-anan Samudavanija. The above diagram came from Likhit Dhiravegin's book (Thai Politics: Selected Aspects of Development and Change) printed in 1985. To quote Prof. Likhit's explaination of the cycle,

"After a coup ws successfully staged, the coup leaders would be in control for a period. Then a constitution would be promulgated out of political pressure, to be followed by an election. This could be interpreted as giving democracy a try or to give in to demands for an open system. After the election, a parliament would be in session with a government to be set up. then conflict would occur and solution would not be avilable turning the whole process into confusion. It would reach a crisis which would render the government immobilized. In the state of near chaos, a military seizure of power in a coup would take place. Thus the process is complete after a while, the system would again be let loose by the promulgation of a constitution and so on."

Prof. Likhit lists the conflicts that could not be resolved within the democratic framework that would lead the the crisis as follows:

1. Coflict over power.
2. Conflict over policy.
3. Conflict between the new and the old element.
4. Conflicts between military factions.
5. Conflict between the military and the police.

I would however, diverge from the image of a cycle to represent what happens in Thai politics. I think that a Bhuddist imagery of spirals may be more fitting. When you look down on a spiral flat it looks like a circle going round and round and going nowhere. But if you look at the circle from another dimension, you see the spiral and realize it actually moves. Conflict and chaos sometimes aren't bad. They are signs of an open, alive system. How many countries are there that the people have this much contribution in changing their constitution?

Counting the coups of Thailand

I've heard different numbers quoted, some said we had 17 coups since Thailand became a constitutional democracy, some said 20, so I decided to look it up and see if I can tell this story properly, just to help overcome the short memory syndrome we seem to have as a nation. I"m probably the worst one of all with a short memory syndrome, : )

Luckily the orality of the internet makes up for that.

Anyway, one of the books I've been digging into is Likhit Dhiravegin's Thai Politics: Selected Aspects of Development and Change.

According to this book, only between 1938-1947 and between 1951-1957 was the country spared from either a successful coup or an unsuccessful coup, which was termed a rebellion.

Between 1938-1947, there was the intervention of World War II. The Japanese forces which marched through Thailand plus the strong rule of Field Marshall Pibulsongkram (1951-1957) brought about political stability.

In Thai political culture, it seems that "a strongman is almost synonymous with political stability". How sad.

What shocked me was not the number of coups we had (which seems to be about 13, someone please help me count exactly how many there were...). Well, it was the number of years the Thai nation was led by dictators (I think some older generataion might argue that there was one or two benevolent ones there.)

The total years of non-elected military appointed Prime Ministers since 1932 was 33 years. In 64 years, we've had 33 years of non-democratic rule.

Two periods of dictators seems to stand out markedly, that of Field Marshall P. Phibulsongkram, who had two terms of non-elected rule, nearly 16 years in total.

I remember my mother telling me a few stories about how he organized society back then. Two stood out, there was one about the ancient trees on Wireless Road that were razed down because his son was killed when his car rammed into one tree. The other story was about how he imposed a dress code so that the people can look modern.

Then there was the period of the most hated dictators: Sarit-Thanom who killed thousands of students between 1973-1976 in Sanam Luang. I was very young and living abroad at that time. I remember my dad calling me to the TV to watch the news about Thailand. The terrible feelings of sadness of that moment was burnt into my memory. When we eventually came back to Thailand, my friends and family had stories to tell about friends and family who died or whose lives were marked during that time. My parents came from Sakolnakorn, what was marked then the red area, "Communist" stronghold and hideout of those students that fled into the forest. My mom to this day is full of stories how good people sincerely wanting to improve the social conditions were labeled by people who were threatened by their vision and prosecuted as communists. I have a strong suspicion that what goes on in the South now is not much different.

Anyway, excuse me for my rambling. But here's the list of PM and coups put together.

PM Phraya Manopakorn Nitithada (Mano) period: June 1932-June 1933, tenure- 1 yr

Coup no. 1: June 20, 1933 (Khana Ratpraharn - coup)

PM Col. Phraya Paholpolpayuhasena (Pahol) Military, June 1933- Dec.1938, tenure: 5 yrs, 5 mths, 23 days

Coup no. 2: October 11, 1933 (Kabot Boworadej - rebellion)

Coup no. 3: August 3, 1935 (Kabot Naisip- rebellion)

Coup no. 4: January 29. 1938 (Kabot Praya Songsuradej- rebellion)

PM Field Marshall P. Pibulsongkram, Military, Dec. 1938-Jul 1944, tenure: 5 yrs, 11 mths, 11 days
PM Khuang Aphaiwong, Civillian, Aug 1944-Aug 1945, tenure: 1 yr, 6 mnths, 17 days
PM Tawee Boonyaket Civilian, Aug 1945-Sep 1945 , tenure: 17 days
PM M.R. Seni Pramoj , Civilian, Sep 1945-Jan1946, tenure: 10 mths, 13 days
PM Khuang Aphaiwong, Civilian, Jan. 1946-Mar.1946, tenure: 3 months
PM Pridi Panomyong, Civilian, March 1946-Aug 1946, tenure: 4 mths, 17 days
PM R. Admiral Tawan Thamrongnavasawat, Military, Aug 1946-Nov 1947, tenure: 1 yr, 2 mths, 18 days

Coup No. 5: November 8, 1947 (Khana Ratprahar-coup)

PM Kuang Aphaiwong, Civilian, Nov. 1947-April1948, tenure 6 months

Coup No. 6: October 1, 1948 (Kabot Senathikarn-rebellion)

PM Field Marshall P. Phibulsongkram (Pibul), Military, April, 1948-Sep. 1957, tenure: 9 1/2 years

Coup No. 7: February 26, 1949 (Kabot Wangluang-rebellion)

Coup No. 8: June 29. 1951 (Kabot Manhatton-rebellion)

Coup No. 9: November 29, 1951 (Khana Ratpraharn-coup)

Coup No. 10: September 16, 1957 (Khana Ratpraharn-coup)

PM Pote Sarasin, civilian, Sep 1957-Jan. 1958, tenure: 4 months
PM Gen. Thanom Kittikachorn Jan 1958-Oct 1958, tenure: 9 months
PM Field Marshal Sarit Thanarat Feb 1959-Dec 1963, tenure: 4 3/4 years
PM Field Marshal Thanom Kittikachorn, Dec 1963-Feb1969, tenure: 6 1/6 years, and Feb. 1969-Nov 1971, 2 3/4 years, and Nov. 1971-Oct.1973, 2 years

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by john_glines

Dictators were brought down by student uprising. Wikipedia article on "The 1973 democracy movement"

PM Sanya Dharmasakti, (14 October 1973 - 26 February 1975)
PM Seni Pramoj, (26 February - 14 March 1975) (2nd time)
PM Kukrit Pramoj, (14 March 1975 - 20 April 1976)
PM Seni Pramoj, (20 April - 6 October 1976) (3rd time)
PM Tanin Kraivixien, installed by the military (8 October 1976 - 20 October 1977)

Coup No. 11: October, 1977.

PM General Kriangsak Chomanan, appointed (12 November 1977 - 3 March 1980)
PM General Prem Tinsulanonda, appointed (3 March 1980 - 4 August 1988)
PM General Chatichai Choonhavan, elected (4 August 1988 - 23 February 1991)

Coup No. 12: February, 1991.

PM Anand Panyarachun, appointed, civilian (7 March 1991 - 7 April 1992) (1st time)
PM General Suchinda Kraprayoon, military, (7 April - 24 May 1992)
PM Meechai Ruchuphan, 24 May 1992 - 10 June 1992 (acting)
PM Anand Panyarachun, appointed(10 June - 23 September 1992) (2nd time)
PM Chuan Leekpai, elected (23 September 1992 - 13 July 1995) (1st time)
PM Banharn Silpa-Archa, elected, (13 July 1995 - 1 December 1996)
PM General Chavalit Yongchaiyudh, elected (1 December 1996 - 9 November 1997)
PM Chuan Leekpai, elected, (9 November 1997 - 9 February 2001) (2nd time)
PM Thaksin Shinawatra, elected. (9 February 2001 - 19 September 2006)
Acting PM Chitchai Wannasathit, 5 April - 23 May 2006 (acting for Thaksin)

Coup No. 13: September, 2006

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Information Sources about Thai Politics

Anyone with good research capabilities should be able to compile what I'm attempting to do, but it's good for me to collect my llinks in one place. I'm not attempting to include all possible sources, just those I've found worth looking at (with a personal bias.)

1. A friend called me within a few hours when the coup occured. That has a lot to say for the role of communication, and how interconnected we really are. Friends and family's opinion will always reveal how well a political situation is received by the people (isn't that what democracy is supposed to be?)

2. I read the "The Nation". They've been posting news fast and furious since the beginning. I couldn't get into the website of Bangkok Post at the high point of it all. They must have a really bad server.

3. I rely on to supply me with pictures, thier links are really good. also gives me some pretty grassroots pictures, but they are happily not a political blog.

4. I've subscribed to google news alert, so that I can scan the headlines. Of course, you need a trained eye and sense to know which sources are worth reading. Reuters was the first to get a good article out. I thinks I've read some I've found Bloomberg to be pretty good too. Because I'm in Canada, I read some articles. Others that are good writes are Associated Press, Asia Times, International Herald Tribune, Washington Post. I can read Thai, but my dyslexic and add tendencies just won't let me. I rely on my Thai friends to regurgitate those for me, quite a lot of the news can be speculations, guessing and spins.

5. Then I google for bloggers and add them to my Bloglines aggregator.

6. I've also found out that Wikipedia has jumped up in terms of the quantity and quality with pages on Thailand. Most notable, there is Thailand Political Crisis 2005-2006, 2006 Thailand Coup d'Etat.

On the Wake of the Thaksin Dream

After just about two days of jubilence, getting off the phone from a depressed friend who was pro-Thaksin, I sobered up and started to ask questions. I remembered how we had to stop talking politics with this group of people who were pro-Thaksin because it became like a religious obsession to defend him, no matter whether it made sense or not. I was just ardent in criticising the man whether it made sense or not too. Since Sonthi Limthongkul's campaign against Thaksin, we had become a divided community in political beliefs even if our community was small and distant, its health depending on our ability to communicate well with each other. (We are living in Canada, far away and physically unable to take any kind of action for our political beliefs.)

Feelings of compassion for my depressed friend and the nagging feeling that this was not right that we've forsaken friendship and community for the sake of politics. That I felt was the worst that Thaksin's politics gave us.

I called a family member who would be out of a job because of the coup. He said, so who else have we got to lead the country? Are we going to continuously fall into this vicious cycle of coups and elections?

Sure I agree with the majority that the coup helped us come out of a deadlock, but before the coup actually happened, my real feeling towards the coup was "Come on, any coup at this point of history is definitely a backward step we want to avoid."

So I dug up all my politcal books, and re-read what I knew about Thai politics, searching for the answer to the big question in my head, "What was it about us Thais, as a group of people, where we must follow the leader?" We craved heroes. In 2001, Thaksin was a hero to me too, just as some 20 million Thais in the rural parts of Thailand.

BTW, this is a thoughtful article about these feelings. " ("Ex-Thai Leader Won Support Via Handouts", By ALISA TANG/The Associated Press/Saturday, September 23, 2006; 4:57 PM)"

I think, we've come to the point that as individuals, we Thais need to think about how we approach democracy, how we can take a role in preventing another hero worship as happened from 2001-2006 to happen within our psyche, and within the political arena.

I do strongly believe that we are a vibrant democratic nation, even before constitutional/electoral democracy was given to us in 1932. When I look back into Thai history, I cannot help but feel proud of all the institutions that were put into place bit by bit to expand people's participation. Sure some of it came by blood, but which other countries in the world did it not come about that way? Why are we to be condemned for working it out our own way? That last question, I hope I've imparted passionately enough to my depressed friend to wake her up from passively accepting the pressures she felt from her western colleagues.