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Bangkok, May 2010

Perspectives on a Divided Thailand

Michael J Montesano, Pavin Chachavalpongpun and Aekapol Chongvilaivan

Publication Year: 2012

After a two-month stand-off between Red Shirt protestors and the government of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, violence and arson scarred central Bangkok in mid-May 2010. This shocking turn of events underlined how poorly understood the deep divisions in the society and politics of Thailand remained, even five years into the country’s prolonged crisis. This volume collects analysis and commentary on those divisions from an unusually large and prominent group of Thai and foreign scholars and observers of the country. Contributions examine socio-economic, political, diplomatic, historical, cultural, and ideological issues with rare frankness, clarity, and lack of jargon.

Published by: ISEAS–Yusof Ishak Institute

Title Page, Copyright

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Table of Contents

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pp. v-viii

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pp. ix-xiv

Ammar Siamwalla is Distinguished Scholar at and former President of the Thailand Development Research Institute. He is the dean of Thai economists, and a scholar with longstanding interests in Thailand’s agricultural economy, rural sector, and political economy....

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1. Introduction: Seeking Perspective on a Slow-Burn Civil War

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pp. 1-9

History’s eventual consensus on the intractable conflict that has scarred Thailand’s early twenty-first century is impossible to foretell. That conflict may take its place as but one chapter in a larger story of liberal democracy in retreat, both in an increasingly Sinocentric Greater East Asia and in other parts of the world too. ...

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2. The Culture of the Army: Matichon Weekly, 28 May 2010

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pp. 10-14

Say what you’d like, but I’ve thought for a long time that being a soldier in today’s regular Army is a very odd occupation. This is because the soldier is willing to risk life itself to kill a stranger for absolutely nothing. Moreover, you have as much of a chance of being killed as of killing someone else. ...

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3. Thoughts on Thailand’s Turmoil, 11 June 2010

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pp. 15-41

In the latter part of the 1990s, after the financial crisis of 1997, but before the ascent of Thaksin, I was occasionally asked to speak to groups of foreign investment analysts visiting Thailand. I set forth the gist of what I used to say to these analysts, as it gives context to my thoughts on the present turmoil: ...

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4. Truth and Justice When Fear and Repression Remain: An Open Letter to Dr Kanit Na Nakorn, 16 July 2010

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pp. 42-54

The events, failed attempts at mediation between the government of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and the red-shirted members of the National United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD), and the violence in which they culminated during April and May 2010 have now become well known globally. ...

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5. The Impact of the Red Shirt Rallies on the Thai Economy

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pp. 55-63

Early expectations for Thailand’s economic performance in 2010 were cheery, as its 2009 performance coupled with upbeat business confidence around the globe in the last quarter of the same year painted a fabulous picture of the Thai economy reaching a GDP growth rate of 4.5 to 6 per cent in 2010. ...

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6. The Socio-Economic Bases of the Red/Yellow Divide: A Statistical Analysis

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pp. 64-71

The political conflict in Thailand during the past six years, involving increasingly large numbers of participants outside the usual elite, has elicited a great deal of speculation on the background of the Red Shirts and the Yellow Shirts. Foreign journalists, relying on interviews with the red-shirted demonstrators, have tended, ...

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7. The Ineffable Rightness of Conspiracy: Thailand’s Democrat-ministered State and the Negation of Red Shirt Politics

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pp. 72-86

Thailand’s Democrat Party-led administration under the leadership of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva emerged victorious following the dramatic and ultimately bloody confrontations with the Red Shirt movement during March-May 2010. But this victory was achieved at the expense of persistent, in fact exacerbated, political polarization. ...

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8. A New Politics of Desire and Disintegration in Thailand

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pp. 87-96

For those who are not familiar with the history of modern Thai society and politics, the images of the Thai military’s brutal dispersal of the Red Shirt protestors in the heart of Bangkok’s business district on 19 May 2010 — resulting in scores dead, nearly 2,000 injured, further scores of missing persons, and general unrest in the city as a consequence of such a disgraceful action ...

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9. Notes towards an Understanding of Thai Liberalism

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pp. 97-107

It is easy to understand the plausibility of the case that the principal struggle unfolding in Thailand today pits democracy against authoritarianism. The events of the past five years seem to speak for themselves: the 2006 coup against the “pro-poor” Thaksin government, the manipulated pro-military constitutional referendum of 2007, ...

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10. Thailand’s Classless Conflict

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pp. 108-119

On 26 February 2010, Thailand’s Supreme Court handed down a landmark decision against former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. It ruled that the businessman-cum-politician had abused his power by enacting policies during his six-year tenure of office (2001–06) that directly benefited his family-owned communications companies at the state’s expense. ...

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11. The Grand Bargain: Making “Reconciliation” Mean Something

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pp. 120-130

Not five decades ago, political scientist David Wilson described Thai society in terms that offer a window into the socio-economic roots of the political crisis that has enveloped the country since 2006. Back then, Wilson observed “a clear distinction between those who are involved in politics and those who are not” ...

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12. Changing Thailand, an Awakening of Popular Political Consciousness for Rights?

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pp. 131-142

Streets in downtown Bangkok and the centres of several cities in Isan and Lanna—the Northeast and North of the country — were occupied by protestors from March to May of 2010. As the days went by and tensions grew, fuelled by anger and rhetoric, the odd bombing and assassination, the protests appeared to draw ever greater crowds, especially at weekends. ...

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13. Class, Inequality, and Politics

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pp. 143-160

In late March 2010, I made one of several visits to the Phan Fa Bridge, where Red Shirt demonstrators were gathered in large numbers. That evening, my stroll was brought to a halt by a phrase that I had not previously heard from the protestors’ stage: “songkhram chonchan” or class warfare. ...

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14. Thailand’s Rocky Path towards a Full-Fledged Democracy

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pp. 161-170

The events on the streets of Bangkok during March–May 2010, or rather during 2006–10, must have made many people, foreigners and Thais alike, wonder what went wrong with Thailand — a country once known in the West as Southeast Asia’s “beacon of democracy”. It would be naïve to try to answer this using the coup d’état that ousted an elected, ...

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15. The Color of Politics: Thailand’s Deep Crisis of Authority

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pp. 171-189

On 19 May 2010, beginning at about four o’clock in the morning (I know the time because I was already on-line watching the tweets), Thai military forces began to position themselves around the Ratchaprasong/ Lumphini/Silom area of central Bangkok, where protestors known as the “Red Shirts” had been rallying since 3 April. ...

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16. Two Cheers for Rally Politics

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pp. 190-198

Mass rallies in the capital city have been a regular feature of Thai politics. They date backing to the 1950s1 but have been most prominent since the 1970s: the two Octobers of 1973 and 1976, the constitutional amendment crisis of 1983, the rallies against General Suchinda Kraprayun of May 1992, the near-annual farmers’ protests of the 1990s, ...

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17. Thai Foreign Policy in Crisis: From Partner to Problem

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pp. 199-213

Thailand has long been famous for its adroit diplomacy. King Chulalongkorn’s consummate balancing of European powers is often credited for Thailand’s ability to retain its independence while the rest of Southeast Asia succumbed to colonialism. Skillful diplomacy in the immediate post-Second World War era helped Thailand ...

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18. Thailand in Trouble: Revolt of the Downtrodden or Conflict among Elites?

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pp. 214-229

Among academics, journalists, and other commentators on Thailand, there are two very different views of the conflict that has steadily grown over the last six years. The first argues that this is an uprising of the downtrodden, especially farmers from the poorer Northeast and far North, demanding a better deal, ...

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19. From Red to Red: An Auto-ethnography of Economic and Political Transitions in a Northeastern Thai Village

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pp. 230-247

The principal goal of this essay is to provide some vernacular explanations of Thailand’s political crisis. Most scholars of Thai politics focus their attention on what has happened at the heart of the power game. This focus underlies their characterization of the current crisis as the country’s most polarized political conflict ever. ...

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20. The Rich, the Powerful and the Banana Man: The United States’ Position in the Thai Crisis

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pp. 248-266

This short essay analyses the position of the United States vis-à-vis political developments in Thailand, its long established relations with traditional Thai elites, and Washington’s views on the May crisis of 2010. It argues that the American perception of the current power struggle in Thailand is strictly constrained by an old, obsolete structure ...

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21. The Social Bases of Autocratic Rule in Thailand

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pp. 267-273

During the political disturbances in Thailand in March–May 2010, media attention was naturally focused on the legitimacy of the Abhisit government and the rights and expectations of disappointed voters. Over many decades democracy has been regularly thwarted by the military establishment and by business interests ...

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22. The Strategy of the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship on “Double Standards”: A Grand Gesture to History, Justice, and Accountability

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pp. 274-286

The day 10 May 2010 may come to stand out as one of the most significant dates in Thailand’s legal history. It was the day that the National United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) issued its defiant demand: no amnesties. An amnesty would forgive the perpetrators of the violence of a month earlier, 10 April, ...

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23. No Way Forward but Back? Re-emergent Thai Falangism, Democracy, and the New “Red Shirt” Social Movement

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pp. 287-312

The conflict in Thailand following the coup of September 2006 concerns contested social, cultural and economic interests that are articulated through domestic politics from the summit downwards and extend to the base; it concerns essentially the enduring dominance of the centre and more recent structural changes in the social field at the periphery. ...

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24. Flying Blind

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pp. 313-322

Many Thais sympathetic to the government of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva were angry about what they saw as distorted reporting of the conflict of April and May 2010 by the foreign press and, in particular, by international television networks. This disgruntlement often failed to register the idiosyncratic nature of reporting on the conflict by the Thai media itself, ...

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25. The Political Economy of Thailand’s Middle-Income Peasants

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pp. 323-332

Military force, mass arrests and emergency rule succeeded in crushing the Red Shirt protests that paralysed parts of Bangkok in 2010, but the government of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva was nevertheless destined to fail in its attempt to hold back the course of Thailand’s history. Over the past five decades, as Thailand has developed into a middle-income country, ...

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26. Royal Succession and the Evolution of Thai Democracy

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pp. 333-338

In the northern Thai village where I have been doing fieldwork for several years, there is a carpenter, Uncle Phaibun, who became a fan of the September 2006 military coup. In the wake of the coup, as part of the military government’s propaganda offensive, numerous photos of King Bhumibol Adulyadej were distributed in the village. ...


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pp. 339-351

Photo plates

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E-ISBN-13: 9789814345347
Print-ISBN-13: 9789814345354

Page Count: 351
Publication Year: 2012

Edition: 1

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Thailand -- Politics and government -- 1988-.
  • Political violence -- Thailand.
  • Monarchy -- Thailand.
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