War on ammart – what’s it all about?

Ammart, the “bureacratic polity”, has been red movement primary target for a while now, possibly eclipsed only by war on “double standards”, so let’s see what it means as reds are approaching their do or die weekend of shutting down Bangkok.

Despite educating their followers on ammart evils for over a year now it’s still difficult to find any authentic red rationale behind the whole idea, at least in English. What we know about this war mostly comes from secondary sources.

What is ammart? Why it needs to be fought and defeated? What would be the means in this war? What would constitute a victory?

Let’s start with what ammart is. There’s no one accepted definition and even within the red camp there are probably differences of opinions on this. Everybody in Thailand kind of understands the concept but it’s when reds decided to fight it the vision becomes very blurry. Anyway, Jakrapob Penkair’s “state within the state” is probably as good starting point as any, also he was privy to intimate works of the government and the power distribution so his knowledge must not be purely theoretic. Here it goes, according to first New Mandala translation from his article in a red magazine:

1. Senior government civil and military officers nurtured under the patronage system of the previous authority. These officers take turns to be in power, sharing wealth and privilege. They sometimes compete and even fight among themselves.

2.Mechanism of absolute control by the state as among certain bodies and authorities such as Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC), Special Branch of Royal Thai Police, Minister for Foreign Affairs, Royal Thai Army, Thai Airways, PTT, etc.

3. Income and revenue responsible groups including both the new rich and the old establishment rich as well as development of centrifugal networks to draw either old or new capital into the center.

4. Elements of academia, in particular those who know how to control the nation-state through the process of law – as among those academics with knowledge and skill to draft a constitution and other minor laws that have a hidden agenda or clauses that allow the status quo ante powers and elite privilege to continue.

5. Agreement with the superpower nations, in particular the USA in regards to protecting mutual benefits and to make sure areas of authority/interest doesn’t overlap.

That’s quite an impressive membership – senior government officials, the military, businessmen, academics, all backed up by the US. Usually the reds confine ammart to senior bureaucrats aligned with Privy Council, plus senior judges (omitted by Jakrapob). That kind of ammart consists of senior bureaucrats who use royal recognition as both means and instruments of power, reds accuse them of usurping the monarchy and using it to advance their own, undemocratic agendas.

What is interesting to note is that Jakrapob describes this network as centrifugal, ie without clear power center, and even though he used the term only in relation to drawing new businesses I think it’s safe to say that there’s no singular dominant node on this power grid, just the usual Thai senior-junior relationships when it comes to interactions. He also mentions that members often fight and compete with each other.

It’s clear that ammart doesn’t have any institutionalized structure and it appears that ammart is united only by ideology – deference to the King and, in red opinion, Prem, too.

Was Samak Sundaravej part of ammart? Surely, as one of the power nodes. People were speculating he was selected to lead PPP precisely because his loyalties were unquestioned. Maybe the rest of the ammart viewed his last years as “gone rogue” but it’s more likely that reds define ammart as being pro or anti Thaksin rather than anything else.

So, what are they going to fight? People’s feeling of hatred for Thaksin? People’s loyalty to the King? People’s respect for Prem?

Do they think they can legislate people’s ideology once they gain control of the parliament?

That leads us to how this war is going to be fought. Forcing Abhisit to dissolve the parliament is obviously only the first step. Then they will need to form a new government. What next is fuzzy, however. They will probably need to amend the constitution as executive power is seriously restricted when it comes to confronting the bureaucracy, and amendments proved to be an elusive goal even when PPP was firmly in power.

After that they will most likely start serious purges within every public institution, getting rid of suspected “ammart” and replacing them with their own loyal elements. Majority of the reds will have absolutely no control of the process, it will all be in the hands of yet another Thaksin nominee.

Now, what will the victory look like, assuming it all goes without glitch and major human rights violations? Well, we’ll have all decision making power centered on the government without any power structure to counterbalance it at all. How does that compare to ammart system with no dominant power center? Favorably?

Will it be more democratic? Perhaps only in the sense that the government will derive its legitimacy from the elections, however flawed they might be. At best it will be a dictatorship of the majority, at worst we’ll have one single dictator acting in the name of the people.

Basically, Thaksin redux.

Realistically, though, fighting against royalist ideology in Thailand is impossible, support for ammart as reds see it goes deep, far and wide across the country, they can’t purge Thailand of its dominant ideology and replace it with cult worship of someone like Thaksin, for without alternative cult figure the society will quickly return to its present state with its present heroes.

Right now we are treated to rumors of a possible collusion between PTP, BJT, and Chat Thai Pattana to nominate Sanan Kachornprasart as an alternative PM during the censure debate. Sanan is an old Democrat sec-general now under Banharn’s wing.

That just underlines red crisis of leadership – without Thaksin they have no one to offer, and even if they get Sanan it will hardly advance their case at all. He is not going to fight ammart for them, at best he could dissolve the House.

Perhaps reds should concentrate on power balance between traditional bureaucratic polity, the bureaucrats themselves, and the elected government. They could argue that 2007 constitution was a swing too far to one side and elected government must be given more powers in getting the bureaucracy to comply with electorate supported policies. That would give them a lot more traction and clearer objectives than fighting an amorphous and humongous “ammart”, and that might actually do something good for the country, too.

Traditionally defined bureaucratic polity came to exist precisely because states (not only Thailand) didn’t have well developed democratic institutions to compete for decision making power. Perhaps reds should prove they are capable to replace the bureaucrats first. So far elected officials and ministers have been mostly a source of embarrassment rather then pride and hope. So far the cabinet is the weakest link, professionally speaking, in country’s management. Suppose reds can force bureaucrats to follow orders of a nurse working as an energy minister, but what good would it do to the country?

Perhaps reds should focus on the quality of their proposed alternatives before they decide to take down country’s governing structure once and for all.

Or, perhaps, it has nothing to do with governing at all, and the war on ammart is just a bone thrown to reds by Thaksin when he himself felt excluded. That is the simplest explanation for red fuzzy logic and elusive goals, and you know what they say about simple explanations.

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3 Responses

  1. I think you are complicating things more than they need to be.
    All thats required is a return to the 1997 constitution, fresh elections, and let the government & parliament deal with the amart through laws, with EVERONE subject to rule of law.
    If the people don’t like what the government does they can always turf them out at the next election.
    It’s simple really – only gets complicated when you have interference by figures above and beyond the law, and military generals who don’t answer to the peoples representatives.

    Sorry to copy & paste from elsewhere, but here the stated aims of the UDD from their media release:

    Thailand has existed as a democracy in name but not substance for too long. We have stood by as our elected governments were brought down by the might of vested interests. We have endured the hijacking of our media and our judicial system. We have remained silent as those who would lead us failed time and time again to address our legitimate concerns. But a turning point is about to be reached in Thai history.

    We, the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) are determined to see Thailand become a nation where the principles of democracy, human rights, and equal justice are not only espoused but upheld. As such, we stand opposed to the illegitimate government of Abhisit Vejjajiva and the aristocracy that backs him. In the coming months, we will launch a campaign aimed at uniting the Thai people in opposition to this junta and bringing about free and fair elections. This campaign is based upon 6 principles:

    1) Achieving the goal of establishing a genuine democracy that has the King as our Head of State, with political power belonging exclusively to the people. We reject any attempt, past or future, at using the monarchy to silence dissent or advance a particular agenda.

    2) Dissolving the 2007 Constitution and restoring the 1997 Constitution, which may then be amended through a transparent, consultative and democratic process.

    3) Bringing Thais together in an effort to solve our political and socio-economic problems, recognizing that such efforts must stem from the power of the people.

    4) Implementing the rule of law, due process and a system of equal justice for all, free of any obstructions or double-standards.

    5) Uniting all Thais who love democracy, equality, and equal justice within all facets of society, in an effort to deconstruct and move beyond the Amartyatippatai (Aristocracy) system.

    6 ) Using exclusively non-violent means to achieve these objectives. We are a peaceful movement, whereas the aristocracy maintains its power through the barrel of a gun. We know that the coming struggle will be as long as it is painful. But our cause is virtuous, just as the status quo is unacceptable. In the coming months, the establishment will use every means at its disposal in its efforts to counter us, including lies and propaganda, legal wrangling, intimidation and violence. This is an opponent that supported the hijacking of our airports and the use of military force to bring down an elected government and suppress the dissenting public. But whatever they throw at us, we will endure it, and we will succeed.

  2. >>>”All thats required is a return to the 1997 constitution, fresh elections..
    If the people don’t like what the government does they can always turf them out at the next election.”

    We already had that system – the government is answerable only through elections, without any independent checks and balances. Didn’t work, and it was against the 1997 constitution, too.

    What does it mean: “an effort to deconstruct and move beyond the Amartyatippatai (Aristocracy) system”?

    Another definition of amart? Another translation, limited to aristocracy? Are they going to purge people for their blood relations now?

    In their usual publications and rhetorics reds pay far more attention to war on Ammart than in this PR release.

  3. […] This post clarified my feelings, well done. Here is an analysis and opinion from the Thai Politics blog written before the demos started of where the reds would go with this. You can also follow the […]

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