National Identity Crisis and Thainess - IV

This essay does not advocate support of coups. It does support more study of coups and the various international conditions that exist when coups are effected. Society needs to gain a more objective overview to understand the coup phenomenon more accurately and not automatically dismiss the sociopolitical realities that exist at the time coups are planned or effected. "The fault is not within the stars but within ourselves..."

 

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From Defacto Absolute to Prima Facie – A Thainess Travelogue

Thai history, Thai culture, Thai society, Thai laws…Thainess itself…have all been tightly intertwined with the military since the inception of prima facie governance based on temporary constitutions created by a democratic coup. This thinking piece does not just play the Devil’s Advocate but posits the suggestion that a less-negative appreciation – not necessarily agreement – regarding Thailand’s longtime military dominated culture can be reached with some sort of prerequisite background in the subject area of democratic coups – why they exist, whether they ever serve their purpose…and why they persist. Or are they simply, as freedom advocates as a whole view - hostis humani generis?

Around the world over centuries, indeed millennia of declarations of independence, announcements of national reconciliation, and violent or non-violent coups[1]…these announcements have almost all been affiliated with some reference to a national charter, a constitution, a fixed nominally permanent formal representation of the rights of the people and the power of the government, delineating who would govern, how, and where the common man ‘fits in,’ often with some obfuscation over rights vs. obligations.

The historical record is cliché in a sense because of seemingly incessant political repetitions from one country to another, one continent to the next, repetitions where constitutions are undermined by internal rot and violations of protections, and accompanied by denial of these violations. But as Raúl Benítez Manaut comments in his Latin America-focused work,[2] Identity Crisis: The Military in Changing Times “Today, as a general rule, the military doesn't become involved in politics if a civilian government is able to maintain stability. Yet the military is inclined to intervene when police and security forces cannot quell protests in civil society. In such a situation, the military may act in two ways: at the behest of civilian authorities (for instance, in the form of an autogolpe [self-coup], such as in Peru in 1992 and Guatemala this year), or on their own. In Guatemala, the autogolpe failed, and in a sui generis solution, the army respected the Constitution and promoted a political outcome that safeguarded democracy.” In Thailand, there were at least two autogolpes; on October 20, 1958 by Sarit Thanarat, and on November 18, 1971 by Thanom Kittikachorn. Given Thailand’s 2016 contemporary military rule, it is perhaps timely to contemplate upon the post-coup words of Thanat Khoman who was Sarit’s spokesperson to the international community. Said he, “the fundamental cause of our political instability in the past lies in the sudden transplantation of alien institutions onto our soil without careful preparation, and more particularly, without proper regard to the circumstances that prevail in our homeland, the nature and characteristics of our own people – in a word, the genius of our race – with the result that their functioning has been haphazard and ever chaotic. If we look at our national history, we can see very well that this country works better and prospers under an authority – not a tyrannical authority, but a unifying authority, around which all elements of the nation can rally.”[3] The noble cause principle, then, has clearly been at the corps of Thai coups for more than half a century. The actual nobility contained, however, has been the subject of conjecture and reasonable, academic or public, discussion of its true merits inhibited.


“The question is how to make party conflict beneficial to our democracy…One way is to stipulate in the constitution that there should be executive supremacy over parliament. This would mean that elections would not greatly affect the formation of new governments.”[4] Given the draft 20th constitution news leaked in early 2016, Khoman’s words remind us how little things can change over extended periods of time.

Constitutions are generally taken to be by their nature, permanent…not dejure playthings that non-elected or unjustly-elected governments use to dissuade criticism while pretending to protect freedom and rights when little or no such protection exists. However, given that the Kingdom of Thailand is now reviewing a draft 20th constitution, it is painfully evident that some constitutions are not permanent. A question raised in this essay is whether they need be permanent or not, and whether Thailand’s own constitution must bear the stamp of the military to become and sustain itself as democratic in a way that Thailand can live with. In asking such a question, there is a slight suggestion that coup-makers and their adherents are taken to be acting benevolently and without recourse to less intrusive methods to restore national reconciliation, etc. Again, this is not always the case, and in instances perhaps never the case. What to do then, what can be done, what must be done, is not addressed in this essay.

The concept of a democratic coup grates on most ears. Yet for some years I have been uncomfortably wriggling with the concept. What if there was such a thing as a coup that is because of its design and intent democracy-implementing – with great faults or not? This writer is hardly the first to consider such a concept. In contemporary studies, no little attention should be directed to Professor Ozan O. Varol[5], with the Law Faculty of Lewis and Clark Law School in Portland, Oregon. He has written and spoken in detail regarding temporary constitutions[6] and the role of a military in militarily forcing through democratic governance[7] - seemingly an oxymoronic process but nevertheless a practiced concept worth stepping back from to gain a more discerning overview. Hard-to-swallow objectivity will not necessarily change individual thinking, but can add a great deal to the direction it takes and final conclusions reached.

In the following brief overview of temporary constitutions and how they may or may not relate to the Thai experience, exposition is divided into the following categories:

  1. Definition of temporary constitutions
  2. Types of temporary constitutions
  3. Legitimacy of temporary constitutions  
     

1. Definition of temporary constitutions

A constitution is a set of rules, appearing codified as in a single document or uncodified separately in a combination of documents - combined or not with statutes and practices - that establishes how a nation’s political power should be distributed, relationships among political institutions, limits to government, the rights and obligations of citizens, and under what terms the constitution can be changed. It will likely contain details on the roles of branches of government and offer some sort of phrase describing where the ultimate power lies – usually the people in a worn phrase. A temporary constitution is generally construed to perform all of the above, but can be an interim constitution legalized for a specific period until a “truly permanent” charter can be put into force, or until another temporary constitution is ‘due.’  
 

2.Types of temporary constitutions – aka provisional/interim constitutions

Constitutions may be initial experiments in governing a fledgling nation or formal temporary charters in established nations; they may or may not have formal expiry dates. If such an expiry date is stipulated, the duration from one temporary constitution to the next is sometimes a generation, possibly shorter, to accommodate social and other changes that are expected to take place in a nation – it is then that the constitution is deemed to require deliberation and alteration as circumstances dictate.[8] While an interim constitution is also a temporary constitution, it is designed as a prelude to a permanent version.

Temporary constitutions can be the product of a civilian government[9] or a military one. In fact, given Thailand’s long history of ‘permanent’ constitutions that subsequently proved to be temporary, it is worth entertaining the notion that a national charter that fits the Thai situation must enshrine the presence of the military as a legitimate permanent branch of government. In his essay The Military as Guardian of Constitutional Democracy[10] Professor Ozan O. Varol refers to the role of the military as a constructive player in putting together a more democratic constitution and effecting a more democratic form of governance than would otherwise have been possible with unsupervised self-serving politicians and errant national leadership.   

A surprising number of countries and separate states within them have, and have had, temporary constitutions.[11] As a very early example of a temporary constitution, in colonial America the colony of Georgia in 1776 adopted one that was called Rules and Regulations; a more permanent charter was written the following year. In Thailand’s case its forebear Siam already had an uncodified constitution, where ancient practices and legal rulings were codified under the Law of Three Seals[12]. More formal codification[13] was carried out with the inaugural but temporary constitution adopted in 1932, ostensibly replacing absolute monarchy with a constitutional monarchy. A few contemporary scholars may prefer to view the 1932 change as a shift not from monarchy to constitutional monarchy but rather shift of absolute rule from monarchy to military[14].

France has had some sixteen constitutions[15], average age ten years. However, during the 20th century, it has had only four; and the last one was in 1958 – making it France’s longest serving constitution, in 2016, of fifty eight years. In comparison, Thailand had 19 draft and actual constitutions during the 20th century, averaging in duration only about four years. In almost every case, sanctioned reasons for changes involved alleged corruption and threats to national security, divisiveness, negative impact from foreign influences.

The decision on choosing between a permanent, fixed constitution – as well as whether it is to be codified or not – or a temporary charter rests with the objectives and intent of the designers and implementers. And often it may not be the case as history sometimes intercedes. In drafting a constitution, such as is being done again at the time of this writing in Thailand (February 2016), those responsible for the draft may not have in mind any firm idea of how long the constitution will remain in place; their approach may be simply understood that it is as permanent a charter they are putting together as it can be. In other settings, the intent of charter drafters may be to intentionally create a constitution with a fixed life, say of a single generation. There is solid rationale, in theory, for such a temporary design, usually involving evolution in social and political values. The United States has dealt with these pressures in its own way with amendments to its constitution. It is notable, however, that as of 2016 an Article 5 movement is underway in the US, headed by conservatives fearful of changes in laws and what they see as corruption in/against all three branches of government by the Executive branch. The Article 5 movement is calling for a Convention of the States[16] where procedures and rules would be developed to call for a full Constitutional Convention. It is understood that at this time some thirty states are engaged in one degree or another to push forward with the initiative. Part of the rationale for the American constitutional changes is that the executive branch has significantly undermined all three branches of the government and gained inappropriate, even dictatorial, power over the legislature and the courts.

The U.K., Saudi Arabia and Israel are three of several countries with uncodified constitutions. The United States, Afghanistan, Ireland, and Thailand, Singapore, Peru, Yemen and Venezuela are examples of the 155 sovereign states with codified constitutions. A study into why countries and cultures choose one over the other in not part of this paper.

 

3. Legitimacy of temporary constitutions – justified in context?

In the Varol paper titled The Democratic Coup d’état,[17] Varol stresses an important aspect of a wayward governance - authoritarianism. He focuses on four basic elements, that according to him, constitute a democratic coup d’état in response to civilian authoritarianism: (1) “a democratic coup seeks to overthrow a totalitarian or authoritarian regime. (2) the military responds to a persistent popular opposition against a totalitarian or authoritarian leader [here I would modify this condition to indicate that it is not merely a leader per se that may be objectionable but could easily include a freely elected authoritarian rule implicit or explicit - such as that deemed by Thaksin’s opponents to be what he was engaged in either directly or by proxy]. (3) in response to this sustained popular opposition, the autocratic leader [again, this could well be a democratically elected leader] remains defiant and refuses to relinquish power. [This was more or less an arguable condition in Thailand while Thaksin was still at the helm and after he left, through proxy governments.

The fact that he and his subsequent appointees were democratically elected did not dissuade a significant sector of the general public, led by an ultra-royalist/nationalism movement, from the conviction that even Thailand’s kind of elected government had to be taken down. In the mind of the ‘general public’ [that sector strongly aligned with traditional nationalist ideas – generally held to be Thailand’s urban middle class and staunch royalists], the military was the only agent that could accomplish the needed task.] (4) democratic military coups tend to happen in nations with mandatory national conscription [This condition is tooth and nail the condition in Thailand where conscription is mandatory, and where the Thai military plays so many roles in society, from entertainment, communications and defense to education, religion, nationalism promotion and protection of national institutions, to name a few]. The Thai military thus, in a sense, can be considered not just an integral part of the country’s politic but of its sociopolitical character.

With these conditions in place then, from the aspect of theory and credible resources to bring about change the Thai military was indeed. The military was the only agent that could curtail authoritarian misrule deemed to have undermined all of democracy[18]. Based on this logic, any subsequent elections would be a sham and cause continued unrest and instability. This is not to say that elections in Thailand were not a sham prior to Thaksin, nor that they will cease being so sometime in 2017-2018 or beyond when elections finally do become a reality again in the kingdom.

The burr under the saddle for many of us, particularly in the west, is the use of the military to subvert civilian rule no matter the claimed rationale is deemed reprehensible and unacceptable. To that the argument can be extended to the principle that perhaps civilian rule was a sham, overly corrupt in many aspects, destructive, wasteful and non-productive, and that for the sake of the nation’s security, well-being and ability to recover from cumulative sociopolitical stress…strong military measures were the only viable option.

Varol’s writings have focused on the Middle East; some focus was on Egypt where the military interceded in 2013 when it deemed national security was being undermined by elected civilian authoritarianism. This type of interference was clear after hardline Muslim Brotherhood triggered domestic and global protests leading to military intervention. Egypt and Turkey where similar fundamentalist Muslim threats were perceived are not alone in this kind of conflict between two authoritarian entities; one, an elected civilian government that has crossed too many lines for determinant sectors[19] of the public to tolerate (often including undermining of human rights), and two, a strong military entrenched in the nation’s culture that has both taken on a role and been provided a role to confront authoritarianism of the civilian kind when it feels such confrontation is called for. Is this the essence of what has been occurring in Thailand over the past decades since Siam’s 1932 Revolution, and specifically in 2014, or not?

Simplistically the armchair warrior will cite the old “Does the means justify the end?” That is the question, indeed! Given a likely protracted combination of internal strife, stalled governance, growing public demands for action and eroding confidence abroad, did the Thai military do exactly what had to be done in May 2014 when it put a stop to strife, elections and various freedoms via measures that remain in place today 2016? It is a given that this is the military’s mantra but does it and its source necessarily mean that it is not a valid argument, that the action was not the most appropriate? These questions are not in defense of the action and those who took it, but are designed to stir serious reflection on not just to what is seen as wrongness to republican-minded people but all interested in good governance, of any military taking the reins of government. The questions are designed to appeal to the wisdom of considering far-reaching consequences of the military not taking such action.

For republicans ‘out there’, Sophocles put it plainly, “The ends justifies any evil.” In his reference justification becomes the paramount principle upon which results are viewed. Was the result worth the effort? If so then the effort is justified. But what is the measure, the yardstick, the caliper or tape used to create a baseline for judging properly - and not just in Sophocles’ opinion? In her 1999 essay in the Notre Dame Law Review[20], Heidi M. Hurt proposes that an action is just (and justified) if it passes our best moral code. Therein lies part of the contention within Thailand itself and between Thailand and its detractors abroad, the latter highly critical of the kingdom’s human rights record and current so-called interference by the junta in the country’s political, social, educational and other structures. Overall does this interference or interjection pass the moral code test – and does it matter or not? Has Thailand ever had a real moral code, and if so, what is it?

Given cultural and other differences between Thailand and most foreign cultures, moral epistemology – clashes of respective knowledge concerning morality – may be clouding the issue over whether what, if anything, was proper or improper about the various coups since 1932, with focus on the May 2014 events. Morality[21] is a difficult enough subject to discuss even within a specific subculture, but when it is examined under a more widely applied cultural microscope it becomes highly debatable. The cultural differences between Thailand and the other compounds difficulties with a certain subjective reply to the question, “How do you define proper?” Skipping to the final analysis, academics and global organizations involved in area studies and application of rights argue that being part of the global community and having signed treaties and having acceded to certain agreements, that individual nations, while maintaining autonomy and individual jurisdiction, also agree to be bound by statutes, principles and recognized practices – and morally and legally agree to reasonable and timely verification (from outside agencies) that certain practices be inspected from time to time in case of complaint or as part of a monitoring process. 

The Thai military has been saying to the world since 2014, certainly, but long before 2014 that the west just cannot understand the situation in Thailand. Based on the above-referenced comparative cultural/morality clash, but considering other factors as well, some argument for the Thai – certainly not inclusive to include all Thais -position can be made. On the other hand, Thailand is perceived, also arguably, as failing to live up to its obligations and failing to protect human rights and freedoms guaranteed by the United Nations, covenants, treaties and signed agreements Thailand has been a party to. Effective strategies in resolving whether the kingdom’s record in these areas has serious shortcomings – whether by foreign or Thai rights advocates - are difficult to develop because of restrictions on domestic inquiry in almost all fields. Defacto censorship, much by statute,  in the social, educational, political, cultural, and media fields combines to limit inquiry, distort genuine reports and deprive investigators, advocates, academics and activists of badly needed sources to verify whether or not significant human rights abuses are indeed practiced. And even after such an intensive investigation, what constructively can be said in any media, and done, that leads to improvements and relief?

Given the difficulties in obtaining information about alleged abuses and reported deprivations by the state, notably by the military either during a coup or between coups, assessing the military’s nature as it is demonstrated may be a good approach. But using what yardstick? Any verification process may be given an assist by analysis similar to Professor Varol’s The Military as Guardian of Democracy, cited earlier, he cites how an “interdependent military” might effect a democratic coup and in our context, result in the drafting of a democratic temporary constitution. Varol writes, “The fundamental question is not whether the military should play a constitutional or political role in an emerging democracy. The more important—and conceptually prior—question is what actors, legal norms, and institutions are necessary to ensure that a nascent democracy becomes and remains a constitutional democracy. In other words, what is the “glue” that will make constitutional democracy stick? How does one ensure that an unelected despotism does not become, in the words of Thomas Jefferson, an “elected despotism”? And where traditional institutions of government perpetuate or remain unable or unwilling to promote democratization, what other institutions are available to perform that task?”

 

Checks and Balances

The nominal actors involved in governance have generally been cited, in western literature at least, as the three branches separating powers of government – the executive, the legislative, and the judicial. Ideally each of these branches provides both support for and constraints against one another in times of normal functioning of a republican form of government. But when this system of checks and balances is threatened, indeed undermined by corruption, and corrupted, what recourse does the nation then have to recover balance? Further, at what point does it become an issue? With a runaway branch of government, or even in the opinion of many in regard to the condition of the Government of the United States at this time all branches have in effect become runaway and corrupt, led by those with vested interests dominating the benevolent duties of government that these representatives and officials were supposed to perform…with such a situation where chaos is effectively in control, who puts right to wrong and steps in to reestablish meaningful democracy?

Who has the will and the power to do so? Clearly it is not any of the three corrupted branches. This impasse takes us to the suggestion, then, that in some situations and at certain times a party external to the traditional three branches must take up the reins of change and temporary governance to accomplish basic objectives for the nation to move on. First, a workable temporary government has to be put in place – meaning, generally, a coup. In nominal parliamentary governments officials step down and are replaced by an opposition party. This solution does not work in a society where everyone is corrupt and any resulting change of government would only bring more inertia and misery. Secondly, once defacto administration and control of the country as a result of a coup is in effect then a temporary charter has to be established to provide a vehicle, and legitimacy, to run the country. Third, should it become a matter of record that this kind of dismissal of democratically elected government is the dejure treatment for Three Branch Ailment, the issue of long-term guided reform becomes apparent.

As in the case of all three traditional branches of government having proven because of corruption and self-interest unable to administer and advance the country, the process of reform must by default fall into the jurisdiction of the military who rules, albeit temporarily, the country. In Thailand’s case, this has been a cause célèbre rather than the raison d'être of the junta who claimed that a real need, along with popular support, for reform before elections absolutely dictated that the military step in to govern temporarily and institute permanent reforms as opposed to those in the past that were regularly undermined by irreconcilably corrupt civilian governments. Loss of freedoms in the interim is more than just lamentable but from a cold, neutral perspective at least in theory it can be seen to be part of the burden of a society suffering from a national identity crisis (chaos in governance). That is, if we accept the supposition that the coup was for truly altruistic reasons, we must ask who are the “others” the altruism was meant for – the country’s traditional elites or all people of Thailand? Many argue, quite convincingly and with what can be considered overabundant evidence, the former.

It must be asked whether the military is indeed acting on its own, or what other segments of government or society is it in league with. Critics of the May 2014 coup claim that the military is aligned with the State (itself hailing from pre-1932) to inhibit or prevent true democracy from taking over elitist order and stability. Meaningful research on this topic – whether there are indeed four or five branches of government in Thailand – needs to be developed, not just for exposition purposes but to truly understand Siamese/Thai history from before the beginning of the nation of Siam.


Excel Graph by Author
 

Western critics may indeed have it correct and democracy may never become a fact in Thailand given the military’s role in government, or more accurately in the eyes of coup sympathizers its role in society. And yet, critics may also be misjudging the Thai situation, which is what junta leader Prayuth Chan-Ocha and aligned supporters in and out of the military have been trying to tell the west for nearly two years.

Still assuming the role of Devil’s Advocate, suppose, too, that the junta and its sympathizers have also been right in saying that most people in Thailand are unable to live together peacefully and rule themselves under a “western-style” democratic system that parallels systems in the west. Claims are that the people are uneducated[22], unfamiliar with what it takes to be committed to democratic rule, are unable to cast informed votes, that they support corrupt politicians, are themselves easily corrupted, etc. The claims are not just made in Thailand but in Asia, the Middle East, Latin America and Africa[23] - repeated opinions indicate that one man-one vote democracy is not suitable. Many, rather, want consensus-based decisions which tend to be drawn out and time consuming in the extreme.

The bottleneck where genuine roots of democracy can indeed grow and underpin a lasting democracy is being ignored. Over the years since a civilian charter was first introduced in the kingdom lack of mechanisms, policies, attitudes from government leadership, willingness and presence of no little amount of fear restrained Thai sociopolitical leaders from imbuing awareness, knowledge, desire and civil responsibility in the citizenry, and indeed, often prevented others from imbuing these values. Generation after generation came and went – and seems destined to keep on this course - without ever really knowing the ins and outs of what democracy and freedom really are; understanding the obligations and rights enshrined under the umbrella of democracy. The shortfall continues on through into the 21st century[24].

It is in speaking of the 21st century that Thailand’s current critics - those who are Thai or expatriate and who love the country and its people - rightfully protest for and demand greater freedom. They demand more transparency and accountability; they plead for meaningful human rights protections and more, all of which they are entitled to but is withheld instead. Having in part been exposed to non-traditionalist ideas and principles of democracy advocated by the United Nations, they do not want continued assurances from rulers who will not solicit opinions but rather demand that opinions be withheld – unless they are ‘beneficial.’

Since its inception Siam/Thailand has been a top-down Simon Says authoritarian culture. Intelligent and aware individuals in such cultures cannot thrive, let alone continue to survive competitively in the modern era. The resulting tragedy of repression and indoctrination is the high cost of feeding this ancient system of authoritarianism that has been handed down since time immemorial. It is not so much a reflection of political systems per se as it is the character of errant mankind that just does not seem suitable to rule mankind.

 

Japan

If there is one glowing example of military intrusion into domestic politics and cultural reform, it is that of the post-World War II US occupation of Japan. Authorized by the Potsdam Agreement, American forces literally occupied Japan for the specific purpose of reforming its militant nationalism into a non-militant democracy, and to modify its culture where Japan would not depend on the false belief of a divine ruler as Emperor Hirohito had enjoyed prior to the war’s end. Allied planners were able to totally reform the Japanese constitution, and the country’s political ethic and composition within a relatively short period of time, less than a decade. They left the Emperor basically intact and still were able to inculcate a democratic process of governance Does the example of Japan apply to post-coup Thailand, and if so, can a committed Thai military duplicate the positive processes and mindset that transformed Japan?

 

Post-2014 Coup Thailand

Seemingly working toward two dozen post-coup instances in its history, Thailand’s future - subsequent to the current junta stepping down albeit not stepping away from power - is overcast by discomfort on all sides. No one wants anarchy, inertia, ever-present military rule, and endless struggles over class division. Everyone says they want democracy but it has to be Thai democracy. Fine on the one hand; on the other, can Thais create democracy and give it root. Or are outside forces required to intercede, benevolently and through channels, to effect meaningful change? Therein lies the catch: historically Thailand has demonstrated that despite military intrusion into politics to evict one elected government after another sustainable democracy has not been working. To this the following questions need to be asked:

  1. Does failure mean that Thailand’s military needs to recuse itself from any and all political roles it has traditionally had and continues to exercise?
  2. Is failure because cultural traditions themselves at fault and culture must be changed – and if so are Thais up to the task on their own?
  3. Given the post-military occupation democracy achieved in Japan by the United States in under a decade is it not sheer obstinacy when Thai rulers, traditionalists and military repeatedly cite foreign influence as the problem rather than as possibly the solution?
  4. Given the sheer number of coups and coup attempts during the 20th and 21st centuries, is it not time to reassess not just the inappropriateness of military coups per se but also of the sociopolitical matrices in which the coups were engineered to determine whether or not coups have a rightful place in governance?


Thailand’s situation, as unique as it is – and as unique as most are in their own way, has been a vexing one to all participants and observers. A vital component of the vexation is that of class division. The country’s prime minister in 2016 had insisted that “grassroots” not be used to describe people because everyone in Thailand was equal. On the other hand, he later described “lower classes” during a lecture. When even in the United States, the UK, Russia, China and other industrialized nations there is class division with elites, commoners and middle classes Thailand must surely have such classes. It is the view of many that the sustained class divisions rife in the kingdom, a system which was one of the populist mantras of the Red Shirts, Thaksinites and pro-liberty activists are relatively immune from reform due to the possible reality that the divisions are in the vested interests of those who determine coups and subsequent governments. If this is so, the result will logically be that the same divisions will be perpetuated unless some leeway is given to flexibility in receiving outside concepts and actual processes in civil governance.


Suspicion is rife and often justifiably so when it comes to influx of foreign influences in sociopolitical venues, and over time the actual progressions in social change brought out by these foreign concepts and resulting social protections and changes from the past. Those who retain traditional power and influence – and who are certain above all to have a core mantra of wanting to serve, maintain security, etc. – exist in major part because they have refused to accept change in their own thinking and refuse to allow any such changes in the thinking of other members of society. This phenomenon is not privy to military dictatorships or so-called hierarchical societies but are likely worldwide and present in all countries and societies to one degree or another. People naturally resist change because it means less power, influence, it means uncertainty and many times a more personally threatening aspect – role reversal – where instead of being on the delivering end people or groups are on the receiving end. This fear is itself a trigger for social strife and constant upheavals. In avoiding strife by perpetuating dictatorial, autocratic or feudal rule the same people in control are making such control a constant challenge because it subverts their own thinking process. It convinces them that their roles, their power, their influence are all part and parcel of a sacred mission to protect and preserve what is right with their countries. To be told otherwise indeed often takes foreign influences, introduction of non-traditional ideas. Repression does not just repress others; it represses the self, inhibiting thinking processes, clouding logic, obscuring morality and ethics.

It is against this backdrop that Thailand exists and has existed since ancient times, and against which those who aspire to effect change, and those who aspire to prevent it, remain in conflict.

Something also needs to be said about the Bearers of Gifts -  those who are part of the influx of ideas and introduction of institutions, advocates of rights and insisters of freedoms, generally “western democracies,” led by the United States. Not only is their own track record of interference in the affairs of sovereign people and nations a matter of historical record - albeit hidden from their own people - what they have actually done versus what they preached is visible and known by many, including Thailand’s junta and other leaders in SE Asia and far, far beyond. It is not just the track record but the continued tendency to keep doing the same thing whether a conservative or liberal government, a Republican administration or a Democrat one, is in power. Interference, concealed motives, disruption of anti-western regimes for the sole purpose of installing friendlies, it is all there if you are allowed to read it. Surprisingly most people in these major industrialized western nations are not exposed to reality. Some of it is beginning to break through the surface these days, particularly in America, and the sociopolitical consequences are already affecting the 2016 presidential election process, the American economic and educational system, and more; and not without conflict and divisiveness. Again, all of this is openly known and the Thai junta watches this with interest. Its members are not blind to what takes place abroad, or more importantly, at home.

I spent five months as an outreach advisor for civil society and non-profit management at the UDSID-supported center at Khon Kaen University in 2014. I had the honor of going into the field multiple times to interview local leaders who ARE the roots of civil society, who become involved, who commit themselves and who participate in trying to imbue awareness in their fellow villagers of what can lie ahead for the community if people do educate themselves, if they do communicate with one another, if they are allowed the right to become self-empowered and are given access to skilled tutors who have civil society experience. The people I met were enthusiastic and hard working. They were not, however, deluded nor expecting personal enrichment for their efforts. Their mission was to better their community, to contribute, to exchange ideas and to grow, to advance. In this I am wont to use the label Red Shirt because all too often anyone with an independent mind in Thailand is accused of being a Red Shirt. I have spoken to and worked with many, a few whom I knew were dyed in the wool unflinchingly blind to the need to empower themselves but most were of the kind that rather wanted to become self-empowered.

The traditional Thai way will not work anymore. The other independent thinkers I spoke to and worked with, Red Shirt and not, were able to discuss so-called sensitive issues without feeling the urge to rush off and file a criminal defamation complaint. Doing so is often held to be malicious and cowardly.

This individual who wants change, freedom from repression, self-empowerment, ideas from beyond, this person is the kind of person that Thailand sorely needs, and who sorely needs to be protected with human rights laws that mean something for a change. The calls for revocation of all criminal defamation laws in the kingdom, domestic and international calls, are only one just reflection of the many things in Thailand that must be relinquished – and will be one, way or the other, as a matter of historical consequence. Maintaining safety and security is a false mission when it has become an end unto itself or as a tool to perpetuate unjust rule. And yet, is not the argument over past, current and future governance itself an eternal debate over not only what is just or unjust but who is qualified to legitimately say so? And even then, by what right is empowerment present?

 

Frank G Anderson

24 February 2016


 


[1] Wiki indicates in its chronology the first coup in BCE 876, by an Israeli. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_coups_d'état_and_coup_attempts

[3] Thailand, The Politics of Despotic Paternalism, Thak Chaloemtiarana, 2007, pg. 100.

[4] ibid, pg. 103, sourced from Army Radio cited in Prachathipatai Baeb Thai.

[8] It is interesting that in the instance of the US Constitution, framers foresaw the need to adjust or amend the charter and provided two methods for doing so – a constitutional convention or Article 5.

[9] The term ‘government’ does not always reflect the actual facts on the ground in national administration. Many observers of the Thai politic will argue, for example, that governments were more or less caretakers allowed by the State which itself held the real power.

[11] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_coups_d'%C3%A9tat_and_coup_attempts_by_country Of 115 countries listed, only Haiti beats Thailand in the number of coups - at 25.

[13] In 1849 the first printing of Siam’s Law of Three Seals was begun, and over time a total of eleven printings were made. Not all were complete, and initially the number of copies was very low, with the 1849 record of one!

[14] This point is covered in a separate essay under development.

[18] especially the executive branch and parliament

[19] a determinant sector is defined here as a minority but highly influential sector of the public

[21] Morality is defined here as “differentiation of intentions, decisions, and actions among those that are distinguished as proper and those that are improper.”

[24] See http://www.cfr.org/thailand/thailFrom Defacto Absolute to Prima Facie – A Thainess Travelogue