Tuesday, March 27, 2007


To understand how politics work in Thailand, it's necessary to understand a bit about the history - the real history - of certain events and historical influences that shaped the formation of Thai society today. Such a task is beyond me right now but there are minds greater than mine that can reveal at least some of the picture.

There's a book available free on the net I would recommend to anyone interested in politics. I don't agree with everything the author says, but it makes a great and revealing read.

Giles Unpagkorn is a professor in the Political Science Faculty at Chulalongkorn University, Thailand's most prestigious educational institution. The book is entitled "A coup for the rich?" and has been pulled from the shelves in stores after it was noticed the book contained a reference to another publication that is censored in Thailand. However, I personally am amazed that the book made it to the shelves in the first place. If it were in Thai instead of English, I'm sure it would not have made print.

Giles clearly is a left winger, just how left is unclear and since left wing connections are viewed highly unfavourably in Thailand (for obvious reasons) some allegiances are best unsaid (Incidentally, an article by a different author called "An internal history of the Communist Party of Thailand" is also available on line and is a good historical read). To appreciate just how unconventional and unorthodox Giles' outspokenness and choice of critical targets are , one must understand the level of influence and prestige of the King of Thailand and his palace. Whilst it is obvious that the vast majority of Thais love their king, this is not due to His Majesty's actions alone. The palace is heavily promoted in Thai society and the royal family command great respect from all areas. As a constitutional monarchy, it varies greatly from England where our head of state makes only rare appearances. The Queen of England is not considered to have any influence over politics or military.

Of course, when some institutions are sacred, there is always the possibility that major historical events can be misunderstood or reported to how one wishes things to be seen from a certain angle.

I know I'm talking cryptically, I hope people will understand why.

Unpakorn's book is so remarkable, it displays a full understanding of historical events and institutions and express opinions on them with a free and critical mind. That might seem 'par for the course' for any western academic, but from a country with Lese Majeste laws and a developing democracy, it is rare , insightful, educational and revealing.

If anyone is interested in Thai politics and wants to read a debatable but frank and honest work, then go on down to Google, type in the name of the book and follow the first link. A book (containing the word "smiles" in its title) referred to several times by Giles in his publication is also worth a read.

A journalist friend and I are hopeful of getting some interviews with prominent figures on the southern Thailand conflict soon. I also plan to contact Mr Unpakorn and ask him a few questions and express my disagreement with him on the root causes of the southern violence. I'll post my mail and any response - if he so permits - right here.

1 comment:

hobby said...

I admire your quest for knowledge in relation to the southern insurgency, however be careful not to put all the blame on islamic fanatics.

As Giles points out, their cause would be much more dificult if the region had no cause.
Where I disagree with him is his recommendation that all security forces be withdrawn - I think it is too late for that now.

As I have posted elsewhere, I think the recent recommenations of Zachary Abuza, ICG & HRW should all be implemented at once.
That would provide security, but also a way for the moderates to weed out the extremists.

Ultimately, I think the long term solution will be some form of limited autonomy, but that can only happen once the fanatics have been overcome by the moderates.