( บทความภาษาอังกฤษ เขียนขึ้นเพื่อประมวลและลำดับความที่ทราบกันดีอยูแล้วในเอกสารภาษาไทยและสังคมไทย แต่อาจจะเป็นประโยชน์แก่ผู้สนใจทั้งชาวไทยและต่างประเทศที่อยู่ในประเทศไทยและอยู่ต่างประเทศ)
THE POLARIZATION OF THE THAI POLITY
The crisis in the Thai political system has obviously become a matter of international concern of late. The nature of the problem is a profound division or the polarization, to be exact, of the Thai people along the line of political preference. In retrospective view back in the cold war era, the root ideological conflicts in the Kingdom can be described and analyzed in terms of the conventional conservatism (rightists) vs. the progressivism (leftists) dichotomy. Ever since, political changes in Thailand has become more and more complicated not just because of the complex and turbulent nature of change itself, but also a mix of some recent massive efforts in domestic as well as international multimedia. Many issues reported by some overseas media have been oversimplified, subjective and biased interpretations and conclusions of the affairs. The root and the complication of conflicts may be hard to grasp by distant observers who have not been familiar with the historical and contemporary context of the system. Is military dictatorship still active in the country? Has the current Royal Thai Government (RTG) been working under the mandate of the military dictatorship? Does the jeopardy backed by the red-shirt political movement has anything to do with the communist ideology? Is
The Bureaucratic Polity
Despite the peaceful transformation of power in the 1932 revolution, the working relationships between the monarch and the new ruling elite group was not entirely normal. A series of unhealthy relationships finally led to the abdication of King Rama VII in March 1935. Young Prince Ananda was just 8 years old when he was tipped as the next king while he was studying in
To average Thais, military interventions into the political system has been quite familiar phenomena. Since 1932, the Thai political system has experienced up to 18 coups ( 8 of which were unsuccessful). All successful coups have similarly kept the constitutional monarchy intact. However, some difference may be noted. It is evident that the general pattern of the recent coups are markedly different from that of earlier coups in the pre-1973 period. After the WW II, the distinguished characteristics of the politics in the third world had been observed by some political scientists for the emergence of newly independent countries and the military politics in many of those countries.
During WW II, Thai government under Prime Minister P. Pibulsongkram had taken side with the Japanese as Pridi Bhanomyong, his leading opponent, organized an underground Free Thai movement against Japanese domination. That explains why the post-WW Thai military governments underwent the cold war era by openly cooperating with the free world. The practices of the then military governments were tolerated by the Western powers on a simple justification that the military strength was needed to counter the communist threats. The threats may be in the form of external invasion in the domino theory scenario or the form of domestic insurgencies already underway. In 1957, the controlling military leadership changed hand from the Western trained P. Phibulsongkram to the locally trained Sarit Dhanarat by a successful coup. In those days, the military government did not encounter a serious resistance from any civilian sector no matter how repressive or powerful the military junta were. The Communist Party of Thailand (CPT) seemd to be the only challenge. The CPT initiated their armed force activities in 1965. Even after Sarits death in 1963, his heirs continued to exercise military control for another decade (with a brief interruption of parliamentary politics between 1969 1971). The military leaders managed to establish a political party (Saha Prachathai Party) to extend their political control under the parliamentary system. It is unbelievable that they again staged a successful coup against their own civilian government to transform the system back to the military regime in 1971. That was the prelude to the 1973 student-led people uprising. Up to that time, the Thai political regime had obviously been a military dictatorship both in forms and substances.
Any Thai people over 60 years old who had survived the Sarits regime to witness the recent coups after 1973 can appreciate the difference comparing with earlier military regimes. The 1973 student uprising was the first show of the student led peoples power that put an end to the long military dominance in the Kingdom. Some scholars described the phenomenon as the bureaucratic polity at bay.
The Business-Bureacratic Politics
Since then, the Thai military from time to time did make some attempts to exert control over the politics again but not as successful as their predecessors achievements. The 1976 coup to stabilize the October 6 political turmoil, despite the success, was short lived. Their stated just the limited goals to undertake the mission of administrative reform rather than the more ambitious "political revolution." Many young students and other protesters who were brutally suppressed, of which a large number were leftist oriented, fled to join the CPT and took part in the subversive activities in the countryside. Four years later, General Prem Tinnasulanonda, the then military commander who became a prime minister emerged as the right leader at the right time to launch a strategy to successfully persuade a significant number of the CPTs armed forces to quit the terrorism and go back to town and to schools. This success simply terminated the serious CPTs challenge and eventually underminded the famous domino theory. An expanding portion of politicians in the legislature and the cabinet came from the non -governmental/business background to accumulate confidence and political experiences for the future responsibility as political leadership in the post bureaucratic polity era.
Prem served as a Prime Minister leading a number of coalition governments to enhance the political stability for a decade before calling it quit in July 1988. That marked the end of the government of bureaucratic-business partnership and the beginning of plutocracy in Thai politics.
Post-Prem politics is no longer dominated by the bureaucratic power but shared with several parties or groups of businessmen-turn-politicians. Another military coup took place again in 1990 and claimed to counter the corruption problems of Chartchai government. The military junta this time did not outline any grand revolutionary /reform scheme and modestly viewed their status as just the National Peace Keeping Council (NPKC). To stay away from the military dictatorship image, they initially set up a respectable civilian government under Prime Minister Ananda Panyarachun, another senior diplomat who had experienced the higher ranking post in Washington D.C. following two other Thai prime ministers in the past: Pote Sarasin and M.R.Seni Pramoj . However when a leading military junta of the NPKC, General Suchinda Kraprayoon, broke the public promise (he had made earlier that he would not seek any political office) to accept the nomination for the prime ministership in 1992, he and the NPKC subsequently faced a fierce public protest. Chamlong Srimaung, a retired military officer who had been an alumnus of the
The Polarized State
Despite the new constitution, the Thai political system in the 2000s was polarized by a long series of profound conflicts and confrontations. The dramatic deterioration of the situation was apparent in 2005 when the popularity of Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra took a plunge from the peak of unprecedented one-party majority government to be challenged and rocked by a very strong protest in
Many of Thaksins opponents had been part of his fan club before but, for a variety of reasons, they changed their minds later on. Some old friends simply quitted Thaksins bandwagon quietly yet, some others openly turned against and challenged it. A couple of examples may clearly state the case. Sondhi Limthongkul, a prominent media mogul had earlier supported Thaksin and his political movement. After the rift with Thaksin in 2005, Sondhi originally organized a political rally as a sole protester against him. However, he shifted the strategy to accommodate four other major political activists as the team leaders of the newly formed anti-Thaksin movement, the Peoples
Thaksin was still around in Thai politics. He set up the Thai Rak Thai (TRT) Party on the less idealistic and more pragmatic ground relative to that of the BDP and made a promising start. His newly formed TRT party kicked of a successful campaign to win over the long time established Democrat Party in the national election and, thus, formed the government. He confirmed the expansion of his majority block in the parliament by consolidating with few allied parties to the point that the opposition party in the parliament was technically unable to initiate a censure of his government. The TRTs performance in the next election in 2005 was even more impressive. The party won a record absolute majority to form a single party government, the first time ever in Thai political history.
As Thaksins political influence appeared indestructible in early 2005, the honeymoon period was soon over when Thaksin popularity declined among the intellectual and middle-income urban dwellers because of many cases of power abuses and mismanagement. Sonthi, Chumlong and PAD movement gradually picked up support to set up an expanding crowd of yellow-shirt protesters to stage many large and protracted rallies in
The nature of Thai political crisis in the first decade of the new millennium is quite different from the classical pattern familiar to elder Thai people. During the international cold war, particularly the post 1973 uprising, the typical conflicts tend to be between the conventional capitalist-socialist line. Following General Prem s successful political unification in the 1980s, a Thai prominent political scientist (Anek Laodharmatasana) came up with a Two-City Democracy theoretical framework to analyze and explain the contrasting political preference between 2 major groups of Thai people: the rural vs. urban dwellers. To him, the majority rural voters regularly win the election and form the government just to be ousted by the urban middle-class protesters.
The performance of September 19 coup led by General Sonthi Boonyaratkalin did not reverse the trend of the declining image of dominant military dictatorship of the old days. In
However, Thaksin did not enjoy the victory and the activities of Samaks government that he supported long enough. The political confrontation of the polarized factions( PAD yellow-shirt and Thaksins red-shirt ) erupted again. PAD resumed the rally to outst Samak, whom they considered Thaksins nominee. Moreover, Thaksin was charged with a criminal case of the conflict of interest of his public office and eventually convicted by the Court on Crime of the Politicians for 2 year imprisonment. He fled by travelling out of the country and became a fugitive to avoid the punishment. His excuse to justify his actions was that he had been unfairly treated and became a victim of politically motivated conspiracy and vowed to fight back. His problem was yet worsened when Somchai government who had succeeded Samak was also out of power in December 2008 and Abhisit of the opposing Democrat party became the Prime Minister. Thaksin, still at large and active in the international media with a strong financial power, has been busy organizing a united front of international press and domestic political movement of parliamentary cum red shirt group in an effort to fight back.
In sum, the current political polarization in