WHAM – Thailand in Crisis 2010
Wednesday 19 May the Thai military began moving “red shirt” protesters out of central Bangkok. It is not yet certain to what degree radical elements of the red shirt movement may yet cause further chaos and economic disruption before the military operation is complete. Tires were burning on Rama IV Road in front of my condominium opposite Lumpini Night Bazaar, but their removal is in process. Fortunately the Cold War is over, or the protesters would be called insurgents and have more and heavier weapons. What about the future? A class struggle? What lessons can Thai society learn from this experience?
The historical background leading up to the recent Bangkok protests are lengthy and complicated with disparate groups joining in. To be accurate and fair to all concerned parties one must review it with an open mind. However, a lengthy historical analysis is not my purpose here. Up until today, much news coverage of recent events that also attempted to address its causes tended to become bogged down in accusations ref symptoms rather than the root cause. Thaksin Shiniwatra, economic disruption, chaos, lack of order, needless violence by rogue protestors, assassination, the royal family, cries for democracy, are economic, physical and personal issues that bring out highly emotional arguments from all quarters.
Today various academics from both Thai and foreign universities began addressing the aftermath and Thailand’s future. After all, if root causes are not addressed they are bound to resurface. Some say that if the red shirts feel they have a democratically elected representative in office they will be quite happy. Others say that root causes go much deeper into Thai society and culture. Specifically, that an unequal distribution of wealth and opportunity is the root cause for rural poor NE Thai mothers to bring their children to protest endlessly in bad environmental conditions. I am one of those that believe the latter.
So, if unequal distribution of opportunity is a root cause for dissatisfaction, to what degree are negative traits of “Face/status/class” and “Corruption” root causes contributing to such an unequal distribution? “Face/status/class” can be a very emotional cultural issue in Thailand, so no further discussion here.
What to do about unequal distribution of opportunity? Certainly: better quality education. Also populist programs, but not socialism. To paraphrase Winston Churchill: The inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of the blessings; the inherent benefit of socialism is the equal sharing of misery.
Thaksin knew how to Win the Hearts and Minds (WHAM) of both rural and urban disadvantaged voters. The real success of his populist programs can be debated. The legitimacy of votes from rural area can be debated. But the perception by many disadvantaged that Thaksin WAS their champion is not in doubt. Unfortunately, by greed and corruption Thaksin squandered his opportunity to be a true Thai champion.
Can PM Abhisit survive this crisis? He is not tainted by corruption. But if his cabinet / bureaucracy are corrupt and he upsets such “rice bowls”, he will have a hard time successfully implementing programs. Can Abhisit or successors Win hearts and minds of disadvantaged people who have rising expectations?
Can necessary changes in Thai society occur rapidly enough to create fairer distribution of opportunity?
Stick has advised that my feelings / observations above are insufficient to publish (only 540 vs. 800 words). Perhaps Stick should consider shorter articles on occasion, but I guess he has to draw the line somewhere. OK I’ll try to add a few words. Originally I purposely tried to limit this discussion to one page because I was submitting it to a US Army forum, on which fluff and unsubstantiated opinion are not desired. Additionally, I am no longer a part of the US military or diplomatic mission here, and am quite aware that official USG positions on this could be quite different from my personal position. So, I didn’t want to go too far “out on a limb” with Army forum members. Finally, with regard to submission to Stick, I didn’t want to engender emotional comment, hate mail, or controversy just for the sake of controversy such as we saw ref Jason’s submission, or such as we so often see on forums.
The Thai government is proposing the implementation of a personal property tax on land / buildings. When I first heard this I was slightly disappointed because over the years I have purchased (for personal use not rental) condominiums in Bangkok, Jomtien, Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai. When the tax is implemented I will have extra carrying costs for such holiday pleasures. But, after considering the relatively low tax rate (by Western property tax standards) I guess that it is only fair that I contribute in such a way to the Thai tax base. In the US, property taxes are frequently used to pay for schools, and that thought made me feel even better. But let’s ask ourselves some questions here.
Why did Thai lawmakers not implement such a tax a long time ago? Since they are the largest landowners, could it be that the rich did not want to tax themselves? If they do tax themselves they may not be able to afford the second Benz needed to drive the children to the private school. Hmm.
Another question: How will such tax revenues be spent? Will it be used to build better schools in the disadvantaged areas of Thailand? If so, what percentage of it will actually get to such schools before being siphoned off into multiple pockets?
But hold on a minute, I should not presume the tax revenues would be devoted to schools in the disadvantaged areas of Thailand. After all, after a hard day’s work in the fields those folks are already happy just to be able to relax with some cheap Mekong. Besides, if they get a little proper education they will start demanding too much. Then it will be more expensive to obtain cheap labor to serve as maids, drivers, pole dancers and minor wives. Perhaps this property tax is not such a good idea. J
Thailand has a long road ahead to recover from this…