Bell Curve The Law Talking Guy Raised by Republicans U.S. West
Well, he's kind of had it in for me ever since I accidentally ran over his dog. Actually, replace "accidentally" with "repeatedly," and replace "dog" with "son."

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

What's Up With Thailand?

In an earlier post, Bell Curve complains about the emphasis on trivia in the US TV news media. I sympathize. One complaint I've had lately is about the US coverage of the political violence in Thailand. There's lots of footage of troops on the streets and shooting at demonstrators but little in the way of explanation of WHY its all happening or what the issues of contention are.

I did a little research (nothing major) and came up with a few things. First, BBC's website has a good summary of the situation here. Basically, the fight is between populist rural supporters of former PM, Thaksin (red shirts). They are opposed by the current government of conservative elites with support from the urban middle class (yellow shirts). Both groups claim to be the true representatives of democratic Thailand. And both groups have played fast an loose with democracy. The yellow shirt crowd has encouraged and benefitted coups d'etat. The red shirt's hero, Thaksin, is a mega-rich telecom baron who is often accused of using political power to benefit his cronies and relatives. As near as I can tell this is a conflict between the authoritarian, urban elite that is not above using the military to impose order in their quest for economic development and a charismatic cleptocrat who uses populism to build a base of support among the poor.
I'm not an expert on Thailand so I could be wrong but this smells a lot like the conflict between Juan Peron and the conservative elites in Argentina in the 1950s-1970s.


The Law Talking Guy said...

Thailand's issues are really echoes of the 1998 Asian currency crises, aren't they? It sort of exposed the fact that the touted "Asian Tiger" model was a bargain: corrupt and undemocratic regimes were tolerated if they could somehow foster massive economic growth. When the economy faltered, so did the whole political system. Particularly because prosperity had created an intelligentsia that could actually understand the problem they had created.

I'm not sure how good the comparison is to Peron in Argentina because he was operating in a different industrial milieu. He was battling conservative elites but also not a leftist.

Raised By Republicans said...

RE: 1998... I suspect that 1998 had a lot to do with the cycle of instability that started then and is continuing now. But the conflict is still rural populists vs urban conservatives.

RE: Peron...He started as the candidate of organized labor but became an increasingly independent populist figure. He's still very popular as a historical figure among the poor.

The Law Talking Guy said...

Yes, re: Peron - so I don't see how that would fit with Thailand right now. He is usually classified as a kind of fascist.

Raised By Republicans said...

Well, Peron was a complicated guy. He did have contacts on the far right but also on the (non-internationalist) left. The common denominator was populist nationalism and his opposition to the traditional elites.

In that way his movement is similar (but not identical to) the red shirts and Thaksin. They are also populists that don't easily conform to "left" vs "right" views and are unified mainly in their opposition to the urban bourgeois elite.

What I take from the comparison is that Thailand is not unique and that what we are seeing is a political manifestation of a rocky political-economic transformation. Thailand has a number of centralizing features (both institutionally and politically) that may make it come out of this period better than Argentina did. But we'll see.

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