Thaksin and Elites

Time and time again Thaksin blames elites for all his troubles, this theme is also prevalent in practically all political discussions following Thai coup in “progressive” circles.

Where does this come from?

When he was in power he was as “elite” as they come and so were all his friends. They were the richest people in the country, governing with practically free hand, real movers and shakers. Why do seemingly reasonable people fall for this Thaksin fighting against elite nonsense?

To be fair, Thaksin himself eventually limited the definition of “elites” to the bare core, to a couple of members of the Privy Council. But then again, there’s nothing “elite” about Surayud, a son of a communist rebel killed by government forces. He is far better example of a local boy who made it big through hard work and dedication than Thaksin himself. What entrenched “elite” interests would Surayud try to protect?

What Thaksin is really fighting against is Prem’s “network monarchy”, a term introduced by Duncan McCargo about a decade ago to describe Thai particular situation. McCargo himself spent nearly a full page explaining how his views are radically different from many previous studies in the field, but let’s assume that he is not really an “odd one out” and that “network monarchy” has a lot of merit to it.

Thaksin’s main idea is that Prem was against him because Thaksin was getting very popular and so threatened Prem and his network grip on power. This idea has been picked up unconditionally and expanded to include all “Bangkok elites” by great numbers of “free thinkers” here. The “elites” are responsible for everything that is wrong in the country, they intentionally keep masses poor and brainwashed while indulging themselves in all kinds of luxuries.

First of all, Bangkok elites do not milk the poor and neither do people in that alleged network, they never really get a chance, there are local politicians and local businessmen to do that, this simple fact is totally missing in most discussions on the topic. Elites don’t even run the country – they might have their own interests in well-established businesses but they are not the ones running the government and making all decisions (let’s leave bureaucrats out of it for now).

Besides, the whole “blame elite” game existed long before Thaksin, and in that context Thaksin and his government were the embodiment of those “evil” elites, with his subversion of education reform and media manipulation completing the picture.

Back to Prem – he was displeased with Thaksin over several issues over the years and he has seen his power being chipped away little by little, but if we look at actual cases then “progressives” siding with Thaksin in those spats would look very suspicious if not outright deluded.

For all accusations against Thai military, Prem has overseen its peaceful decoupling from politics after 1992, and under his watch the military started to modernize, promoting meritocracy and downsizing the “generals department”. It all culminated during Surauyd’s reign that was abruptly cut by Thaksin. Prem wasn’t even informed when Thaksin removed Surayud and installed his cousin instead.
How’s that for politicizing the military?

Thaksin wanted his cousin Chaisit to get hands on military run Channel 5, taking control of it and listing it on stock exchange. That met with a strong resistance and Chaisit led a mini war on Channel 5 board, firing one director after another. In the meantime the govt had a daily program there extolling the virtues of Thaksin initiated projects. They usually only cover the activities of the royal family, not currying flavors with the government of the day.

In the end Chaisit wasn’t able to achieve anything and Thaksin removed him after only a year, replacing him with another favorite, Pravit, current Defence Minister.

I don’t know what Prem thought of Channel 5 shenanigans, perhaps he was more offended by “official” reason for Syrayud’s removal – disagreement over dealing with Burma and drug traffickers. Surayud took a tough stand and approved of engaging UWSA in sporadic combat, while Thaksin reversed his earlier chest pounding and decided to fight the drugs inside Thailand instead.

Either way, Surayud was immediately appointed to Privy Council.

Then came the South.

Thaksin dismantled SPBAC, the joint military/local leaders body that was credited with keeping peace in three provinces after previous upsurge in violence. decades ago. That was a blow to Prem’s network there, and SPBAC chief was again promptly appointed to Privy Council. Several months later violence erupted. At some point I recall Thaksin blamed former SPBAC members for fueling the violence but I can’t find any sources now. As situation worsened, Thaksin heavy handed approach was again at odds with what Prem promoted in his speeches on the South. Thaksin never acknowlded any wrongdoings there and he never acknowledged any legitimate grievances that muslims might have while Prem begged for understanding and inclusion (not autonomy or dual language, though).

If there was traditional Thai state at fault there, Thaksin was the face of it, not the “elites” and Prem.

Later on there was another “elite” attempt at solving the problems, headed by Anand. Thaksin again dismissed him in the end. He dismissed even his own appointee Chaturon’s views, but let’s stick to “elites”.

My point being that whatever beed Prem and “elites” might have had with Thaksin, it was all based on issues, and the “elites” were in the right – more progressive, more understanding, more caring. Those were the days when Thaksin also denounced the UN and democracy in general.

It’s absolute, unfounded nonsense that he was opposed for improving lives of Isanese and the poor.

I agree with “I was being popular” charge only in so far as he tried to use it in his final fight with Prem.

Again, look at how the situation developed. Shin sale triggered massive protests, I suspect Prem, or some other elites, approved of Thaksin’s snap elections plan, but then it backfired when Democrats and others boycotted it (so much for elites pulling the strings of Democrat puppets). Regardless, the high “no vote” count was enough to force Thaksin to visit HM the King in Hua Hin and later that evening Thaksin publicly resigned, on TV, with tears in his eyes.

How could anyone accuse “elites” of fighting for self-preservation then? Nobody did, it was bloody obvious that who advised Thaksin to step down did it following strong and massive public discontent.

That would have been the end of it, except six weeks later Thaksin came back with the vengeance. He unceremoniously went back on his word, presumably given in Hua Hin, then he gathered top bureaucrats and government officials and declared a war on Prem. Several days later Prem gave his famous “government is a jokey” speech, and it all went downhill from there.

That’s when “the elites fight me because I’m too popular” idea was planted in public minds. Prior to that PAD supporters were the enemies, for being urban and educated, not the elites and unconstitutional powers and invisible hands. War on elites was never part of Thaksin’s lexicon then, but now it’s the only way he describes his enemies, completely ignoring people’s protests that unsettled his administration in the first place.

Commentators and observers who picked up on Thaksin’s new agenda and ignore the not so distant history are just being gullible, and that’s all I can say about them for the moment.

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