Thai Thai Thaksin

Stephen Young showed up at FCCT event and gave Abhisit a big hug. People on New Mandala immediately remembered his “Thaksin is not real Thai” comment sometime ago.

Let’s look into Thaksin’s background and see if something comes out of it.

His rise to power was utterly unremarkable. He’s done everything an average Thai would do – police career, “western” education, marriage into a right family, multiple failed businesses, scamming partners, greasing palms – he’s done it all. Then he broke out big with satellites and mobile phones, with a gift of Rolls Royce to one of the 1991 coup generals as a start up gift.

Later his ambition and abilities turned him to politics, and he wasn’t driven by lust for power then. He genuinely believed the country need improvements, but it’s not the bribery and corruption that he wanted to change, however, it’s the utter incompetence of the ruling class. Both bureaucracy and the politics were staffed with excessive amounts of deadwood and the country needed a big clean up, and Thaksin saw it as his job.

He started off with Phalang Dharma, not because he was enamored with Chamlong’s vegetarianism and bathing habits but because that was the only party challenging the status quo and welcoming “new blood”. I just don’t see Thaksin progressing through Democrat’s ranks, for example. In a few years he had overgrown Phaland Dharma and was ready to assemble his own team and start his own project, and so Thai Rak Thai was born.

“Think New Act New” was their motto and they’ve got a lot of bright people, under-appreciated and fed up with the way things have been going on around them. Thailand’s governing culture was hopelessly outdated. If corruption was any concern, they hoped that once new operating procedures were set, corruption would have no place anymore. They thought it was the product of incompetents in high positions demanding undeserved benefits.

Regardless, it was a very exciting project, and they approached it very professionally. Those were the days of Finland Declaration, days of strategizing, brainstorming and planning, and they hit the ground running.

I remember reading McCargo on Thai political parties, he was talking about emergence of professional parties, parties that are meant to win elections, not simply represent somebody or adhere to some ideology, or have an organized structure, as was expected by the society then. Thaksin had none of it, it was “old style”. He needed the win to advance his own agenda, and in order to win he had to sell himself and his party to the public, he had to find his market, find what it wants and come up with a product that sells, and he executed it brilliantly.

Still, they couldn’t push one visionary man to become a PM in two years all on their own, they needed to make deals with devils, take on board old style politicians Thaksin was supposed to fight, but that was the only way to power at that time. Besides, he thought he could teach them a few things and reform them, and he did, in a way. They also brought votes. Everybody was happy.

Then the reality set it. First out of the window was clean politics idea and anti-corruption drive, that was simply impossible under circumstances. Then there was a family business to attend to. Then there were remains of 1997 crisis to clean up – hundreds of indebted companies in need of haircuts and debt forgiveness, then there was bureaucratic restructuring, and it all meant even more deals with devils, and everybody, I mean everybody, wanted a slice of a pie, everybody was helping themselves to whatever they could lay their hands on. No one remembered “think new act new” anymore.

And then came economic success, fame and with it adulation from poor Isanese, and that was an unexpected but a very useful windfall. They proved to be his most loyal followers, the only ones left after all his fellow visionaries have deserted him, many in disgust. Thaksin reinvented his public image as a champion of the poor, they loved him in return, and it really went into his head. He completely lost himself, intoxicated with power and success, he thought he could do no wrong, but he did, and in a very bad way.

As it turned out, incompetence wasn’t the country’s biggest problem at all, not comparing to greed and corruption, and once Thaksin put clever and capable people in charge, the corruption simply ran away and became unstoppable and intolerable, and Thaksin refused to admit it.

His own way to the top was the problem – all those connections, sweet deals, bribery, stealing, climbing up by stepping on other people’s heads – that way of progress is the problem, not “old style” or incompetence. Thaksin, however, refused to admit that he had ever done anything wrong. Where people think bribing a coup general is shameful, Thaksin doesn’t understand what their problem is.

In 2005 Sondhi started attracting crowds by talking of Thaksin’s corruption and his dirty ways of running the country. Thaksin didn’t see anything wrong with it. When accused of using a military plane to fly his family and friends to a house warming party in Chiang Mai he simply said that military belongs to the state and every taxpayer is entitled to free rides every now and then.

His critics just couldn’t find any common set of values that he could admit of breaking. They’d scream he was dead wrong, he’d say: “Not by my book”. Eventually they brought the highest common denominator this country has, the King himself. They thought they could reason with him on morals and values set by the King and force Thaksin admit his mistakes. They were wrong. Thaksin was just warming up and wasn’t going to concede anything.

That was the point when he became unThai Thai. There are lots of stubborn people here but everybody has a limit, except, apparently, Thaksin. He just doesn’t accept any authority over him, doesn’t admit the existence of any higher power and is not going to subjugate himself to anybody.

In a hundred or so years of building Thai nation and its ideology nobody ever lead a public revolt against the state, like Thaksin tried at Songkran. There are plenty of coups and power grabs but nobody dared to bring a million of peasants to purge King’s men from their shady seats of power. That’s as unThai as it comes, and in those two aspects,not accepting any poo yais and revolting against King’s own institutions, Stephen Young was totally right.

Where do we go from here?

Well, Thaksin, in his present state, has no place in a present Thai society. Even if he outlasts Prem and his people (the society changes), he’d still run into the same problem of not accepting authorities and not admitting mistakes. As Tumbler commented recently, Thaksin is 60, another ten years will take a lot of air out of him. I can safely bet we won’t see Thaksin in power unless he changes himself, maybe then he would have another shot, but it won’t be the same person, not the same Thaksin the country feels so passionately about.

My prediction – he will simply fade away, with or without his billions. Country’s everyday life and natural progress will sideline him, he has no business bothering this country, and he really has no abilities left to inflict any serious damage anyway. Hopefully home sickness will get better of him and he asks to be accepted back, politely, and begs for forgiveness, and it will be given. Then we can see him in a role of some senior economic advisor or a head of some poverty fighting institute or a foundation or something. Then he dies in peace and gets a huge state funeral.

Otherwise he’ll have to roam the increasingly shrinking world like a homeless ghost and expire in some god forsaken African shithole.

Tough decision to make, I wish him strength to make the right choice.

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One Response

  1. […] inspired political system. Suddenly there was a gap in values that was growing wider and wider, see Thai Thai Thaksin for more on […]

    >>>Hmm, it’s not a comment, I just mentioned this post in another entry and it was automatically added here. Need to do something about it. Stan

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