• netnapit
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Bird Eyes from Americas
Reflections on Thailand from Mexico and Canada.
Permalink : http://blog.nationmultimedia.com/netnapit
Friday , May 8 , 2009
Why Generals have such a strong hold in Thai society
Posted by netnapit , Reader : 4969 , 08:14:08  

"Shadow play", my husband commented when I briefed him about the Sonthi assassination plot, "Thailand's politics has many levels of complexities not easily understood by outsiders."

I was explaining to him why Thanpuying Viriya can wield so much power in Thai politics. (BTW, can someone knowledgeable about Thai politics tell me: there was one "Khunying" or hi-so lady who was well known for being an arms dealer. Is this the same person, or what was her name?)

My husband once wrote a paper about the role of Generals in Thai politics in his NUS days when we had just first met. His classmate and good friend was a Thai General. So he knew something more than I did, or sometimes it's the fresh eyes of someone a bit removed from it all that can catch certain things we in the midst of can't see. (He's not a Thai national.)

Most people who have observed Thai politics for some time know about the vicous cycle we go through with coup d'état, appointed government, elections, corrupted politicians, and coup d'état once again. A naive conclusion would be that we have a tendancy to like dictators, strong men, etc. Not so....

If you really dig deep and follow the relationships of the Generals, you'd understand what makes a coup succesful or not are the relationships among certain cliques of Generals. The twists and turns of the aborted coup of 1981 would be a good example among others. "Cliques?", you may ask, "How's that?" Not so obvious is also the fact that in a country of only 60plus million with forces of about 300,000 we have around a hundred Generals. Isn't that absurd? Why do we have so many Generals?

You see, the military is like one of the oldest bureaucracies in Thailand older than the bureaucracy which is pretty old itself. People who enter the military service have paid for education, housing, guaranteed employment and job advancement for life, like a bureaucracy, but better (especially the housing and education part). The "modern" armed forces were set up in 1852 by King Mongkut but the heart that is intertwined with a military mind goes back several hundred years when Kings were also exceptional warriors, or exceptional warriors could become King, the most recent being the general that founded Bangkok and modern Thailand. Let's also not forget that it was the military that was behind Thailand's change from Absolute Monarch to Constitutional Monarchy. Their legitimacy to political power is engrained in the minds of military cadets from the first moments of their training.

The Military Academy is, however, the main culprit in why we can't rid ourselves of generals who feel they have political legitimacy. Class relationships are everything in a Thai student's life. It is why parents are willing to pay so much "additional" entrance fees to get their children in select school, because it ensures their kid's social circle for life. These circles are effective ways to get businesses moving, finding you that reliable doctor and lawyer and what not. The military class relationships tops all by being the forces that can define national government.

I had once thought, well, these Generals were all getting old and will eventually fade away, and maybe we can put hope in our new generation of soldiers who would be professionally trained to be just solders and not hope to be coup leaders. I was once optimistic that Thailand had evolved out of that vicious cycle of coups and elections but my hopes were obviously dashed by the coup of 2006. Then came the yellow shirt/red shirt face off, more power to the Generals.

The often not spoken about damage that Thaksin has done to Thailand, apart from a long list of unpardonable things, is that he had sparked hope and taught to the police cadets or other police strong men that maybe they too could become "One" in the country. I also wonder about the line of relationships that he has bought in the Thai bureaucracy that will try to trip good policies initiated by any well meaning government that will take time to wash out and hence make or politics fragile for some time to come.

Maybe I will write a blog about what makes the common mind of a Thai police.

Just some thoughts from one of the silent golden majority who abhors political demonstrations but have a strong opinion about the mess politics has done to our country. So please don't be too harsh in your comments.

Read comment

comment 77
www.antithaksin.com date : 06/06/2009 time : 15.03

Probably some of those generals have/had good financial collaborators like this one.
comment 76
Ian date : 22/05/2009 time : 08.53

Just read this, truly astonishing:
Thailand has over 1,000 generals, all walking around, sticking their chests out and showing off their ribbons and medals - awarded for anything from fighting the communists three decades ago to saving a duck from drowning in a pond. And yet, all these bigwigs with inflated egos think they are not subject to any international standards, norms or codes of conduct.

comment 75
netnapit date : 16/05/2009 time : 11.46

c72, thank you Ian for the link. It is indeed a good summary of military intervention in Thai politics, quite an achievement considering how complex the subject can be. The references given at the end of said article are excellent. A good lead for anyone wanting pointers of where to start reading about the subject.

I tried searching for some of the well-known Thai academics who have written extensively on this subject and am surprised that not much of their work is easily available online, which makes the Burma Library project really a gem (and quite an irony).

Two names recommendable: Likhit Dhiravegin and Suchit Bunbongkarn. I bought a book by Acharn Bunbongkarn printed by the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, "The Military in Thai Politices, 1981-86". I believe you can find these books at the Chulalongkorn bookstore.

I don't know if you would be interested Ian, or anyone else, of course. There is a series of conferences hosted by bi-annually between Thailand and America called International Conference on Thai Studies. The last one was hosted in Thailand in 2008, so the next one should be next year, somewhere in the US. It's really worth following, you get to listen to all the Acharn directly on a wide variety of subject and get a feel of how Thai Studies is moving ahead. If you are a daring soul you raise a hand and ask questions not usually entertained in public, if you are a little less daring but still, you catch these people in the hall way and can get away with asking bold questions.

There are in fact a couple of forums like this hosted by Thai academia. If I were in Thailand I would try to go to one when I can. I've been to a few, I wish I could go to more.

I did find one other short article online on "Political Developments, 1980-87" worth reading:

comment 74
notdisappointed date : 15/05/2009 time : 04.54

I refer to Ian's 72; good read for anyone interested in the background of the military/political/business triad in Thailand. It explains a great deal of how our Por Luang got such baramee and influence.

Great read.
comment 73
Hermano_Lobo date : 14/05/2009 time : 16.50

I also came late to this blog. Netnapit's contribution explains much.
A bunch of tin-pot generals and an old dame running the show.
Things will never change, just like Burma. They are putting Aung San Suu Ky on trial; for nothing !
comment 72
Ian date : 14/05/2009 time : 15.07

Returning to the original topic of the power of the generals, and knowing Thai history has been rewritten in Thailand, I searched for a non Thai but local viewpoint.
I found this, it is a long but interesting read from a burmese academic.
Not in section 30, even the Sawasdee greeting is an invention
comment 71
netnapit date : 14/05/2009 time : 10.46

The unions have a very important role in the Mexican economy as well. There are the greedy unions like the one that have a strangle hold on PEMEX (Mexico's oil company) and together with Mexican politicians they have pretty much run that organization nearly to a point of no return in inefficiency. Then there are unions that are the grassroot of the PRD which is sort of Mexico's left wing party. They are great at mobilizing people for political campaigns, too bad the party is a bit messed up.

Canada, however, is where I learned about the real power of unions. The ones in the auto industry are negotiating for their life at this moment, they seem to be pretty reasonable. Once a year, Canada's subway unions would take a strike to negotiate for higher pay, disregarding that the train tickets are already so expensive. Canadian unions in the film industry play an important role in ensuring job security and other insurances for their members. The strongest union of all is the teacher's union.

Canada also has a very strong volunteer culture. This is done by making volunteer work a required credit from a young age, primary, high school, all the way to university and beyond.

In Thailand, I have yet to see the Thai unions have an active social role, beyond their immediate benefits. I don't see them having an important role in Thailand's future as in the western countries because the culture is just not there.

What I would like to see in Thailand is more voluntary organizations, cooperatives, professional and community organizations that engage the public. I think that public engagement is the key to a strong political culture.
comment 70
Ian date : 14/05/2009 time : 08.14

Netnapit, if you look deeply, rather than superficially, at British political history, it is clear that the Unions played a major part. Prior to WW1 politics in Britain was dominated by just two parties , the Whigs and Tories, In Thai terms Whigs were Red and Tory Yellow. But both parties were elitist. In time these two original parties evolved into the centrist Liberal party and the right wing Conservative party.
The Union movement rose to prominence between the 2 world wars, powered by increasing industrialisation and the demands of war. This gave rise to the Labour party which became the main opponent of the Conservatives as the Liberals went into decline.
England now has 2 main parties, fairly evenly balanced, Labour and Conservative, and a third party the Liberal Democrats which sometimes holds the balance.
As the Labour party grew stronger so its Union grass roots grew weaker. Labour now calls itself New Labour to emphasis this seperation.
comment 69
netnapit date : 13/05/2009 time : 22.55

c67. There is an equivalent to archbishop, who is head of Thai Buddhist monks. The appointment of this position is totally independant and within the world of the Thai monks. Even the King pays his respect to our 'archbishop'.

In school we are taught that the order of importance of Thailand's three social pillars are first, nation, second, religion, and third, the king.

c66. I think PTT is the best example of how state enterprises can be turned around to be efficient. They've privatized themselves from the inside.

Thai International in effect has recently been privatized, hasn't it? I haven't followed its story closely at all.

Unions can be negotiated with if a good benefit sharing program can be found for all sides.
comment 68
notdisappointed date : 13/05/2009 time : 18.03

Hi Ian, Finally a logical and rational blog to come to after Thanong's!

HMK is liken to your Queen below religion not above it. He pays his respect to all monks and is highly respect by them because he upholds the virtues of Buddha's teaching as King and as a normal man. In this he is a selfless man.
comment 67
Ian date : 13/05/2009 time : 12.18

Netnapit, ND. Correct me if I interpret is incorrectly but the Thai King is both a secular King and a religious King. Whilst there is a supreme abbot in Thailand he is not superior to the King from a religious viewpoint.
From my English viewpoint I see your King as a combination of Queen Elisabeth and the Archbishop of Canterbury.
In this second role he, I assume, has importance to monks and throught the daily contact of monks with people, contact with the nation.
This to me bypasses the army, who have little daily contact with the people.
Could this be his way of bypassing the "filtering effect" of the army.
Regarding a "benign dictator", no such person could have all the skills to run a government, this is why real current day dictatorships are all "basket cases".
A good effective dictator must have the skills to select and choose the right subordinates to advise and implement policies.
A dictator hold the rudder, but the subordinates do the rowing.
Abhasit has chosen many bad rowers in his crew.
Perhaps the way forward is for all the good rowers to assemble and choose a "steersman"?
comment 66
notdisappointed date : 13/05/2009 time : 11.14

I think that HMK is held hostage by both the politicians and the military. They use him, his signature, to legitimize themselves.

A "charismatic benign dictator" has been something Ian and I have been discussiong over a number of blogs. Its actually a wish that would not be reality.

"Ҫ" (slaves of government); I like the accepted translation better servants to monarchy; to serve monarchy. Your Ғ slaves has a negative connotation and Ҫ means monarchy. And the bureaucrats are proud of being "ҪÔ to serve their monarch.

But the politicians are now looking to amend the constitution to reduce any checks and balance to them and to take out any rules that may constrict their actions. As I said before, somewhere else; disregarding how this constitution was originated, it was worded in such a way so as to penalize the politicians for wrongdoings. They just use the coup as their justification to turn the clock back and give them their freedom of play.

Privatization is fraught with danger since the state enterprise workers, who have very powerful unions, would be on the streets protecting their own self-interest. These workers are the least effective workers in Thailand and cost the state much in corruption, waste, and downtime.
comment 65
AussieObserver date : 13/05/2009 time : 10.32

a great blog... thanks very much ... I missed it because I only look in "politics"

meanwhile, the major Australian daily newspaper Sydney Morning Herald article "Thailand turns into Indonesia - and vice versa" (google for the link) has a good perspective, a little different from Ians summary but essentially compatible, and is very forthright
comment 64
Ian date : 13/05/2009 time : 09.58

Netnapit, 63, para 1. Exactly so, the army acts then afterwards informs the king, who then has to endorse this act for the sake of the national unity and peace. I suspect that if he were to go on TV and speak adversely of the military then there would immediately be a "technical hitch" in the programme.

ND, I have a British state pension. If I were to take on a remunerative job, my pension is reduced or removed for the duration.
Simply apply this rule to generals, their either get a pension or get a "perk" job, but not both. That would be a start.
I find it strange that your government goes to extreme lengths trying to get Thaksin when there are dozens of mini-Thaksins underfoot in the army and civil service.
comment 63
netnapit date : 12/05/2009 time : 23.17

c60, Khun Ian, are you saying that in effect our King is held hostage by the military? Thanks, because that takes us back again to my original point, it's the military institution that is our problem, not our royal institution.

See, I don't think that to reform the military we should be targeting the "end result" of their wrongly perceived and wrongly focused "reason to be" (the monarchy), then we'd have a real dictatorship (the military) without a balancing force, since the politicians are so weak and mostly self-serving.

Khun ND, in comment 46 you were proposing that to fix our political problems we should have a "charismatic benign dictator". Is there such thing as a benign dictator? Let's say in some near future a "hero" should step up to be such a person, won't he eventually be so muddied by the complexities of authoritarian rule (that usually breeds unrestrained corruption, as we have seen with Thaksin). How then would we remove that fallen hero? Back to our accustomed coups or worse civil war?

There is a need to creative wording with a lot of careful thought these days.

I think our academics (the political scientists ones) are so confused and cause a lot of harm by inventing words like "amartyatipatai". The "tipatai" parts I am sure have confused a lot of common folks into thinking, "Well, it's has the same ending as "prachatipatai" (democracy), so maybe it's good cause we will be then be led by principled amarts."

They would have done better by inventing a word to replace "Ҫ" (slaves of government) with something more neutral and with a reflection of, well, good governance (accountability, and such).

A bureaucratic system can be designed to have its checks and balances, as long as we are aware of where we need look, as long as citizens are constantly monitoring the checks and balances and corrective action is constantly taken. This power doesn't need to be given to the politicians. It can be function under a civil society.

c62, thank you for bringing this up. Of course, among Thais the "boneyard" is well known. Raising it here gave me an "Aha!" moment. One of the things many governments have failed to do is to push those state enterprises to be efficient. I don't believe in privatization for the sake of privatization, but maybe if AV will survive his political tests, he could take a task on organizations like our railway system, public bus system, etc.
comment 62
notdisappointed date : 12/05/2009 time : 20.53

ian c.60, you know why there are so many generals? Its because there are so many 'state enterprises' within the MoD due to 'strategic national reasons'. These are all run by generals and colonels; and as someone mentioned in a blog or other, they've become the 'boneyard' for retired generals. They inturn are headed by the Permenant Secretary, his deputies, his assistants. This also includes 'advisors' and 'specialists' positions who do nothing but receive their pay checks every month and have time to sit on boards of private companies.

When generals are no longer needed in front line postitons or support roles then they must be mandatorily retired; I reckon that this would probably reduce the number of generals by 1/3.
comment 61
notdisappointed date : 12/05/2009 time : 20.44

KN, c.59 because the military have appointed themselves as 'loyal servants' of "Nation, Religion, and Monarchy".

We need a strong political foundation which will in the turn reduce the politicization of the military. With so much squabbling in the political arena this gives the military an excuse to constantly interfere on behalf of "Nation, Religion, and Monarchy".
comment 60
Ian date : 12/05/2009 time : 14.40

Netnapit, 59. The PC has too many retired generals, also the army created and maintain the present Royal circumstances. The army uses the Royal sanction to justify its political activities. It's a circular situation.
comment 59
netnapit date : 12/05/2009 time : 12.37

Khun ND, thanks for setting my mind to rest about my percieved color. I saw posts about amartyatipatai elsewhere and I do understand the threat of its discourse but I think it may end up just being another word in the dictionary.

I hope I'm not going to be misunderstood again. However, the question that comes to my mind is why can't the Thai royal institution be a royal institution without a politically interfering military as power broker in between? Like Netherlands, like Denmark? Even in the UK.
comment 58
notdisappointed date : 11/05/2009 time : 15.27

Ian c.50, sadly for Thai children and the country as a whole, I would have to agree with you.

Education is what Thailand needs to get out of this recurring dilemma.
comment 57
notdisappointed date : 11/05/2009 time : 15.23

K.Netapit c.53, and that's my point the definition of 'amart' ot 'amartyatipatai' is so vague and unclear; that to use the word as a rallying call with most people not really knowing what it means is very dangerous.

Together with thaksin's 'Finland Plan' and subsequent "Taksin Plan' it does not bode well for monarchy.
comment 56
notdisappointed date : 11/05/2009 time : 15.17

c.54 K.Netapit, my post was meant for 'lurker' c.11; and to answer Noonin's wish for clarification to my comments; my "bear with me" remark towards you was for permission to use "amart", sorry for any confusions. The color of your blouse does not make you a red unless you also follow their aggressive need to totally bring down 'amartyatipatai'.

I have no problem with red as a color. But as a movement associated with thaksin I think not my ideal movement. Reds will only have grown WHEN they find new leaders, funding, and an organization not tied to thaksin Ian.

Right now they've not moved out of thaksin's house. He is still nuturing them.
comment 55
Ian date : 11/05/2009 time : 12.49

Netnapit, 54. As I see it, the basic problem between ND and me and possibly you also, lies revealed in this comment of his,
"I have no problem with the reds if they were to disassociate themselves from thaksin; but as it stands now the reds are a child of thaksin and are closely associated with him. "
I believe the "child" is growing up fast, ND thinks not.
The Reds have a more amorphous structure and cannot be seen as like the PAD.
comment 54
netnapit date : 11/05/2009 time : 11.30

c47, Khun ND, I hope you don't see me as a supporter of the reds just because my photo is with a red shirt. You would only make Ian's accusations of your obsession with red and Thaksin so much more truer. This photo was taken years ago!

So your comment,
"I said I agreed with your comments ‘until’ your last part which I thought you tried to turn it around to give credibility to the reds; by saying that the people were not stupid and were against the, sorry to use this word again: ‘amarts’. Then you went on to show us that the reds were the in the right because they fight against, what should I say ‘amartic’ values and oppression?"

...leaves me totally confused! When did I in any way try to give credibility to the red?

It's like, if I disagree with you I'm with them. So now discussions are not possible without taking sides, so sad, so really sad.

You know what I think about Thailand's shirt color fads? I think it reveals Thai people's oppressive tendancies. That I can say I dislike much, much more than pretentious words.
comment 53
netnapit date : 11/05/2009 time : 10.43

GG, Here's how a discussion on Thaivisa.com was started:


What is the meaning of this term " ҵҸԻ"? The term appears to refer to a form of government different from "democracy" in that it tends to minimize the role of directly elected representatives. The term also seems to be an amalgym of
ҵ[Ҵ] . ҵ, Ҫ, ; ֡.
(.; . ڨ).

"noun. court official, civil servant, royal attendant, consultant" and the word for "to rule" or "sovereignty"
͸Ի[зԻ, зԺ] . ҹҨ٧شͧѰѧѺ
ѭҳࢵͧ. (. ͸Ի
˭). (. sovereignty)

. Does the full word, " ҵҸԻ" mean "rule by bureaucracy"? I have been unable to find the English equivalent in any of the dictionaries I have. The on-line RID contains other political forms of government in this series, along with their English equivalents as follows: ҪҸԻ - monarchy; ͹ҸԻ - anarchy; ѵҸԻ - autocracy; ԪҸԻ - rule by the aristocracy.

The most recent use of this term " ҵҸԻ" has been in the PDA suggestion for a legislative body which is 70% appointed and 30% elected. Although heretofore unstated, the concept could be based on the Singaporean model of "benevolent despotism" or " a beneficial oligarchy". Perhaps, the notion is the "Chinese Model" - robust economic capitalism within the context of minimal democratic institutions.


You can look up the discussion here:
comment 52
netnapit date : 11/05/2009 time : 10.26

c49, GG, does the word "bureaucratic polity" mean anything to you? A word coined by a Mr. Fred Riggs, an academic of course, the most confusing and confused kind, a political 'science' academic. The Thai academics made it worse by inventing a new thai word to give it a translation.
comment 51
netnapit date : 11/05/2009 time : 10.05

c47. It's sad for me to see Thailand reduced to just colors. I'm neither red, nor yellow, nor blue.
comment 50
Ian date : 11/05/2009 time : 09.56

Rather than indulge in fruitless debate with those who see Thaksin lurking everywhere in the political scene. I would like to digress if I may into another related topic.
Most writers have stated that the basic underlying cause of most of Thailand's problems is education and the need to reform this system.
Now even before education reform Thailand needs something else, education is wasted to a large extent on those who cannot cope with it.
The Nation in several past articles has quoted the national IQ as 87, yet China, Hong Kong, Singapore all come in at between 100 to 110.
We can presume from this that the Chinese are innately (genetically) intelligent.
The Thais have a large naturalised Chinese component, I believe about 20%, if this was not present then the average Thai IQ would be even lower, perhaps below 80.
Using IQ classifications in educational, clinical and psychiatric use, an IQ of 70-80 is considered "borderline deficiency" and an IQ of 50-69 is considered a "moron".
Now based on this it would seem that many Thais fall into this borderline deficiency range.
Now before anyone starts accusing me of running down Thais, I would like to make it clear that the position can be remedied.
At one time it was believed that IQ was purely genetic and did not change much, if at all, during one's lifetime.
We now know this is not so, there is a genetic component but there are also important additional factors such a foetal development, infantile disease, intellectual stimulation, parental modelling.
All of these additional factors seem negative amongst poor people. If they could be made positive I would expect to see the average IQ jump by at least 10 points.
Thus improved education cannot be the answer without first a proper government system of ante natal and post natal care.
comment 49
GGrass date : 11/05/2009 time : 09.56

Pardon me, but would someone please translate 'Amart' to English? I still don't know exactly what it means... Is it like, 'Previledged Pigs' ?

As for 'Kreng Jai', I think it's one thing Thais can do without.
comment 48
wch date : 11/05/2009 time : 04.52

Let me correct the meaning of PATRON-CLIENT and if anyone diagree, correct me.

PATRON is a Roman word, centrally appointed ruling lord to every small unit of provinces, who hold the total land right. The residents are fief, or employed farmers to the land. This guaranteed Roman's central power.

This system was applied to have ruled British islets.
So called 'Baron' system is it. Brython people organizsed around small chieftain and formed as his guerilla banner and attacked the Barons that slaved mainly by the Celtics.

Therefore the original coiner of this word PATRON - CLIENT in Thailand mislead the meaning of CLIENT if the client means VOTE-GIVERS, becasue CLIENT still has freedom to, give or not to give their vote casting.
What I have seen in Isan is not client but the voters are tightly bound to local 'feudal lord' in various form such as loan shark system, crime syndicating, land servitude, drug trafficking, etc. The betrayal naturally accompanies death accordingly.
comment 47
notdisappointed date : 10/05/2009 time : 23.49

lurker c.26, a little late but I was a little busy today. K.Netnapit please bear with me. I said I agreed with your comments until your last part which I thought you tried to turn it around to give credibility to the reds; by saying that the people were not stupid and were against the, sorry to use this word again: amarts. Then you went on to show us that the reds were the in the right because they fight against, what should I say amartic values and oppression?

Now to my point. The reds have been and are presently financed, organized, and led by thaksin and his nominees. The word amart being fairly new word was not used frequently until a couple of years ago when it became the banner call of the reds, who are financed, organized, and led by thaksin and his henchmen.

Now when you remark that the reds this, and the reds that; I can only conclude that since the reds are still being financed, organized and led by thaksin and his henchmen with no 2nd generation leaders or financiers; that you tried to imply that the cause of a movement that for now is self-centered around thaksin.

As I keep telling Ian I have no problem with the reds if they were to disassociate themselves from thaksin; but as it stands now the reds are a child of thaksin and are closely associated with him. Therefore I cannot accept the last part of your comment due to the above reasoning.

One more thing while were on this subject; K.Netnapit no matter whether you like or dislike of the word, it is now in the Thai vocabulary. I wish it wasnt because the way it is used by the reds, it has a bad connotation. I myself have just learned about it from the strident attacks by thaksins red shirts, as a call to arms against the old establishment/elites. And I am concerned that this call to arms, will, if left unchecked, have a negative impact against out Monarchy. It begins with the attacks (rightly or wrongly) against the military and the junta that desposed thaksin; moving to those that have been favored by the coup-makers/military; now we are seeing attacks against the Privy Council. On other blogs discussions have touched upon hereditary succession; therefore I worry where the reds, under thaksin, will take it and the conclusion is not acceptable to me. When it comes to my King; Id rather be safe then sorry.

Its a well-thought out plan and strategy the so-called Finland Plan and followed by the Taksin Plan. (Taksin not Thaksin, Ian.)

Well for what its worth - those are my opinions.
comment 46
notdisappointed date : 10/05/2009 time : 23.46

before we look at the armed forces role we should look at the role of our democracy and our politicians. The military will always have an excuse for being social guard dogs as long as we have corrupt politicians. They will always want to be godfathers because with political instability they hold the deciding cards.

The military will stay in their barracks if their benefits arent touched by politicians. They will allow the politicians to play their games. So what we need is a new set of enlightened politicians who will perform with self-sacrifice public service. We need a new politics, not exactly the PAD style new politics but a politics that is public beneficial not politician beneficial.

With this new politics in place then integrated economic, social and educational policies for the benefit of the people can be put into place. Industry can be moved from a finisher industry and intermediate manufacturer to an integrated primary producer across the board not just n sectors as agriculture where even there we are not fully integrated. Education and teachers can be upgraded and our young given the opportunity to be geniuses. They can learn about civil society and how to maintain it. They can learn the value of a true democracy.

With a better political system and a new generation of true self-sacrificing politicians who can then turn the military into a professional force without arm-chair generals. But of course this takes time. We dont have the ability to turn everything on its head and that would be what is needed if you want a quick fix. What we need is what I have said to Ian; a charismatic benign dictator who can set the foundation for a true and honest democracy.
comment 45
noonin date : 10/05/2009 time : 22.21

Ian comment 32 I think you know where I am "basically", coming from. I agree that if you and I were present at a particular function we could hold our heads high and defy any put down. That would not be so for others. However the U.K has discovered that to be of a lower class can indeed be an advantage. That is where you and I are similar. How ever I will never cow tow to anyone due to their birth. I suspect this is all deviating from the original blog. No troll intended
comment 44
netnapit date : 10/05/2009 time : 22.11

c38, Khun Noonin, I agree unrestrained consumerism is an evil. Bangkok, city of angels, is an illusion that can blind many without awareness.
comment 43
netnapit date : 10/05/2009 time : 22.06

c34, concise, thank you.

I would prefer a society without elitism, but that's just an ideal. I would be horrified if Thailand's most powerful elite were to be just the military.

Khun oustsider, c9, said it well, "The military at one time was the avenue for a better life."

They are not the only group of our best and brightest. We have very good doctors, we have very good government officials, some who have become statesmen like Khun Anand Panyarachun, like Khun Surin Pitsuwan. We also have dedicated citizen, like Khun Duang Prateep.

Making wide statements without distinction saying that the system (the military or the bureaucracy) is corrupt is simply giving away your own personal power. Powerlessly accepting that that is unchangeble is why it will remain so. Be careful of unwillingly allowing anarchy to come in through unguarded doors.
comment 42
Ian date : 10/05/2009 time : 21.47

Noonin, I very carefully said "basically equal" a man in an old Ford Fiesta who has a prang with a Rolls Royce will not hesitate to argue the toss. A man dressed impeccably in the latest fashion with gold watch and accessories would not automatically assume he could walk to the head of a queue.
Neither of these statements are true in Thailand.

However, I agree with your comments about politicians, but that is a universal disease of that particular sub species. It comes under a set of rules called perks
comment 41
netnapit date : 10/05/2009 time : 21.45

Khun L., I agree with your c32.

My understanding of "patron-client" (actually I accept this wording only for lack of a better on, but I don't think it expresses the complexities of social relationships we have in a Thai system) is based on some reading and looking around me, yes, but also based on some very personal experiences of its many nuances.

Naturally, as a child I was obedient and respected my parents, teachers and elders. As I grew up I learned to cut certain family bonds because that part of the family lived in the time of Ayudhya or something. They were from Bangkok, we were from the provinces. They felt we were lesser. They were the family of the first wife, we were the family of a daughter of the second wife. My mother told me I had to respect that. In her generation probably, in mine not.

Both my parents worked for the government. My father was a proud example of an honest and honorable bureaucrat despite a few attempts to pull him down. My mother was a teacher. Their best lessons: honor is what you uphold, not what someone tells you to do or be.

In the provinces, you experience "patron client" relationships in ways that make those I've seen in Bangkok a sham. I insist, it is not like a western business relationship. Our family is tied to a group of families (who are not kin) from a remote village in Sakolnakorn through many strange ways. An aunt went to serve as a nurse in their village, she was in effect their "doctor". Over the years, they have always shown remarkable gratitude for her work, vaccinations, helping bring down babies' fever, delivering children. Not much really, but so meaningful to them. One large family from that village took care of my aunt, she was not married. Through that relationship, other members of that family have found their way into the muang, developed relationships with other parts of my family. Visits, gifts, exchange of labor for pay in some cases. One member of that family still works with a cousin of mine, she is however, never just the house help. The bonds of the relationship is held by mutual benefit and mutual respect.

Yes, there is the formal patron client relationship in the public sphere and all its charade like you say. There is the katanyu and boonkun of parents and teachers. There is the mutual benefit type. There is the type that happens on the spur of the moment. There is the type that holds and break. There is and there can be on the wider level the type that accepts the true power of both ends. There is no uniform patron client relationship in Thailand. It is what you make it.
comment 40
noonin date : 10/05/2009 time : 21.12

Comment 35 " I come from a culture where all are basically equal."
I question that. There remains an elite in the U.K who continue to have better opportunities. Now it would seem the elected members of parliament are using their status to screw the system. Is there no limit to greed and hypocrisy? Now I too am ashamed of my heritage.
comment 39
netnapit date : 10/05/2009 time : 21.10

comment 38
noonin date : 10/05/2009 time : 18.39

Netnapit, I think you were correct.The problem I have is that I am part of Bangkok , I do not live in an elite community, I would not want to, so am in touch with the feelings of the common folk of Bangkok. Contrary to the often perceived idea that Bangkok is some hegemonious entity, it is not. It is a collection of small close knit communities, which are in essence villages. If the communities I know (three as these are where my Thai family live) are an indicator, then the previous anger at the coup and loss of Thaiksin has changed to a hope of restoring unity with Abhisit as prime minister. I stress I live in an ordinary community where most of my contacts can be described as working class. As I have already stated in the previous comment I am also in contact with the elite, and to be honest they are so consumed in consumerism that they have little interest in anything other than maintaining their wealth. This is in response to your comment,
"I had once thought, well, these Generals were all getting old and will eventually fade away, and maybe we can put hope in our new generation of soldiers who would be professionally trained to be just solders and not hope to be coup leaders. I was once optimistic that Thailand had evolved out of that vicious cycle of coups and elections but my hopes were obviously dashed by the coup of 2006. Then came the yellow shirt/red shirt face off, more power to the Generals. "
I think they are desperately hanging on because their power has been tested.
comment 37
noonin date : 10/05/2009 time : 17.48

Lurker comment 33, Andrew Biggs is (like myself) living in Bangkok. This is yet another example of Bangkok being almost a separate entity from Thailand. I know children who attend international schools (in Bangkok) who have no idea what greng jai or bun koon is, neither do they know what the "Ramakien" is. One student informed me that "Rama 9" was a road. This is the great divide.I suspect the Thai commentators on this blog have had western education at some point, they are the new elite. Thailand has an new upper class with western education and an older elite (the dinosaurs) who are clinging on to power. Of course there are the opportunists who will and have used this to exploit the system. How any one can have a degree from an American university and not be able to speak English is absurd. At least young Mark went to a reputable university.
comment 36
wch date : 10/05/2009 time : 15.54

"The truth of the matter, and you will never get this analysis from The Nation, is that people are not corrupt, it is the "amart" that is corrupt to the core."

Lurker c11 is general concept of what I have read an essay of a professor in middle of 90s. This abstract was published as well in BP at that time and I met this author too.

I spent 10 years in Isan and observed in local politics and history. I concluded this professor doesn't know much about Isan and never travelled there except he became a party member in a isan political party. So I wrote my version in Nation Forum and tried to examplify a constituency how they elect their MP.

Amatayathipatai is still vividly alive in British mornachy and the most corrupted era was in the last part of British empire.
Better word of today is " System works". Well orgarnized bureaucracy does narrow the role of politicians.
Thai problem is its corruption and no checking system works. However it is still better than corrupted politism, who are sacking off whole nation.
comment 35
Ian date : 10/05/2009 time : 15.43

Lurker, when I first started living in my village, I was constantly being told that what I did was not grenjai, that I must do this, or that, to be grenjai. It took me a long time to work out that grenjai is a status determining principle.
Because I am perceived as a rich, educated farang, it is not grenjai to treat the villagers as equals. I must accept their offers of beer, whisky and food, it is grenjai because they gain status when I accept.
When I treat the village kids to icecreams, that is grenjai because I demonstrate that I am rich but generous.
When I attend village ceremonies that is grenjai because I am accepting the role of a village elder.
Villagers wai to me first, I never wai first.
This was all strange to me, I come from a culture where all are basically equal. Trying to be on an equal footing with most villagers made them uneasy, it was not grenjai.
I suspect I have not fully understood grenjai, but thinking of it as a method of defining status in the village it seems to work and keeps people happy with me.
comment 34
wch date : 10/05/2009 time : 15.22

Is there any alternative elite class beside the military elites ?.

I have mixed in various social classes of Thailand, from academics, business firms, military, politicians and medicine.

My conclusion is, all the bright children gathered into the military academy.

I try to listen to many Thammasat, Chulalongkorn university professors who came out, some with white flowers, some are just shouting off "Change constitution," Anothe one is still confusing around Socrates politics. Another is odering " Siasalai, one who needs it". Apparently to Thaksin. (Siasala means GIVE UP).
I came to conclusion that, they are unable to firgure out what is happening in their mother countries.
comment 33
lurker date : 10/05/2009 time : 14.30

By the way, here is an interesting letter in the Bangkok Post on the same topic.

Stephen Cleary used to be a columnist for The Nation.


With regard to Andrews Biggs ''The great greng jai gripe'' published in Brunch last Sunday, and plenty of his previous writing, even though Andrew excels in his knowledge of the Thai language he misses out on the essence of greng jai.

Andrew has constantly translated the term as consideration, as in consideration of others. The real essence and historical background is much deeper, and a more realistic translation is obligation. Take away the basic kind of greng jai: ''I don't want to eat, I feel greng jai'' (translation _ I feel a bit guilty as he always pays) and see the far deeper effect upon society as in ''I don't want to marry her but I greng jai my mother,'' or ''I don't really want to do it, but I greng jai him,'' (an elder). This kind of greng jai, the most important kind, is obligation and not consideration.

Andrew may have written tens of thousands of words on the subject, but he has failed to identify the two key historical sources of this most important kind of greng jai. This first obligation towards elders, as in patron-client relationship, began during Siam's feudal or sakdina (field of power) era where every division of society was ranked into a caste system.

Even though the sakdina system was abolished with the events of 1932, the idea of obliging elders or those of a higher social standard is thoroughly embedded in the Thai psyche. As the saying goes: Understand sakdina and you understand Thailand.

Secondly, the idea of greng jai towards, for example, parents, is very much Chinese in origin and rooted in the idea of obligation towards one's elder blood relations _ ie as rather similar to the above sakdina-type psyche, it's payback time to those who have helped put the bread on the table and the clothes on your back.

Stephen Cleary
comment 32
lurker date : 10/05/2009 time : 14.23


Thank you for your thoughtful response.

I absolutely agree with you wrote. Thai feudalism is not the same as European feudalism.

Thai feudalism is based on the control of people like you described and how I described in my first blog.

In ancient times, the culture was organizing people for war and organizing for corvee. During times after war victory, slaves from neighboring countries were brought in because Siam was underpopulated. Since people were scare, they were a valuable commodity. Like gold, the more valuable commodity, the more wealthy and powerful you are. Internally, the more loyalty a prince or a lord had, he was either deemed a threat or an ally to the king. In ancient and modern times, alliances shifted all the time, and still do.

As for patron-client relations, ironically, I think you are describing the western contract rather than the Thai contract. I don't think it is the same thing.

I think it is fair to say that their is no uniform patron-client relationship in Thailand. I think you have to seperate notions of katanyu and bun koon for ones parents and teachers, which has elements of patron client relationship, with more formalized patron client relationships in the public sphere.

These are very complex nuanced issues of Thai culture that can't be done justice in a blog.

I'd argue that we are both on the same page.
comment 31
noonin date : 10/05/2009 time : 13.17

My only comment is to congratulate you all for a really informative blog. Questions have been raised and answers given. I am learning from erudite Thai able to explain the underlying tensions in Thailand.
comment 30
Ian date : 10/05/2009 time : 13.04

Netnapit,29. You have me confused, where have I picked on any mistakes by you?
comment 29
netnapit date : 10/05/2009 time : 11.37

Khun Ian, please don't pick on my typo mistakes below. I'm dyslexic when I'm passionate. I see the spelling mistakes I couldn't go back and correct after I pressed the comment button.

"...the West came in and partitioned off the land around us." (grammatical mistake)

"How do you measure Lanna?" (dyslexic mistake)
comment 28
Ian date : 10/05/2009 time : 11.36

Lurker, 26. I agree that Thaksin is used as a convenient excuse for all that is wrong in Thailand. The way he is hounded from country to country by the Thai media and authorities simply makes the situation a joke to most non Thais.
In the case of ND, his obsession with Thaksin must have some personal source, just as in the case of Yoon, or a reporter in the BP who's nephew was killed in the War on Drugs.

Returning to the topic theme, Thailand can never be politically stable as long as the army, a non political group, hold the ultimate power. There are only a few countries where the tail wags the dog, Thailand is one of them. Thailand is in the company of Burma, N.Korea, some African, central American and Arab nations.
comment 27
netnapit date : 10/05/2009 time : 11.30

Khun L, we will go back to your c11. I have a contention with equating the traditional historical Thai system with feudalism.

Ours was never totally like that which developed in Europe. When I read Thai history I understand that kingship developed out of a joint effort between the people and their chosen ruler for protection (against the many warring conditions). Most of our ancient rulers weren't born royal. Those that were born royal still had to prove their abilities in many different ways.

Yes, land was an important reward for the ruler to reward those who helped bring order to his rule. However, the key issue to a ruler's success was his management of labor. A muang (ͧ) that did not have enough labor to work on the rice fields did not have enough food. A muang that did not have enough hands to dig moats could not guarantee water supply and protection. Labor, man hand, human resource was more important than the land. That is why when there is war, the winner takes away the people more than they kill them for the sake of killing them. A ruler could attract people to his land if he were just and managed a prosperous muang.

Land was not something rightfully owned in clearly defined measurements by the King until the West came in and partitioning off the land around us. For example who do you measure Lanna? Pan na, yes you can count. Lanna, I don't think the King went and measured 1 million na, it was an approximation of an idea. A king's might was measured by his projection of power over the allegiance of the people. The marker of a King's influence was a chakra, the symbol of his power of justice. (An interesting book to read about this is "Siam Mapped".)

As for our patron-client relationship, it is a two sided agreement, nothing fixed unless there is an agreement on both sides. You submit or you can also simply not accept the relationship. Once accepted again there is a give and take between the two sides, if the give and take is seen as unjust, of course it is broken. It is a just system until it was abused by the idea of pra dej pra kun (the power to punish and reward). The power to punish is only given only if you feel weak. The weak give it to the powerful. We are not always weak. The process of being human is to discover your inner power which is achievable by all.
comment 26
lurker date : 10/05/2009 time : 09.50


I apologize for the long-winded post in your excellent blog and for using the term "amart" when it would have been better to just simple words in the English language.

Not Disappointed-

If you want to make Thaksin the source of all evil in Thai society, that is your right, but the "but, but Thaksin" argument is banal and fallacious.

If Thaksin took a pistol and blew his brains out, that wouldn't change one iota of the institutional problems in Thai society.

The military will still be corrupt and never be held accountable for their crimes. The bureaucracy will still be corrupt and never be held accountable for their crimes. The sakdina mentality will still remain. And the rich and powerful will still continue to keep their feet on the necks of the poor and do everything in their power to disenfranchise and exploit them to protect their own privileges. The last thing the elite wants is for Thai people to voice an opinion other that theirs and doing what is in their best interests rather than being slaves of the elite--who have no right to hierarchical and hereditary power other than their idiotic point that is the way it has always been.

Thaksin is nothing but a convenient scapegoat to misdirect blame for things that have always existed in Thai society. Thaksin is not the source of evil; he is a product of the evil.
comment 25
netnapit date : 10/05/2009 time : 01.06

c16, Khun A. Abolish conscription would make me very happy indeed. I have a son, a Thai citizen, who spent most of life abroad and could not attend the high school paramilitary training that would have helped him avoid conscription. A good system (the training as a substitute for conscription) if you had the choice. Unless they can come up with another way for him to do his duty, he can face legal charges for not joining conscription. What is a mother supposed to do?

Less Generals, cut out some bloat? I'm all for that, by 50% would make me happy but a cut by a quarter should be achievable. This is going to have to come voluntarily from the military. Any politician craze enough to propose is putting his foot on a mine.

c17. If the military institutions asking for participation of Thai soldiers knew anything about their professional capabilities, I think they won't extend such an invitation. Have you heard the rumors about our efforts on border dispute with Laos some years ago? Personally, I don't support armed conflict anywhere.

c15. Army in politics is totally against their "raison d'être". An army should never be on the streets pointing their guns to a country's citizens. Citizens are not their enemy. Get the principles right, and our country won't be in such a mess.

"Amart","Amartya", "ҵ". Words like this one is where my admiration for the Thai language stops. Why? Because they are not real Thai words. Cooked up by an inner circle of Thai elite who thinks they are clever to design a new concept to hide real meanings, so they can go on and on explaining what the concept means and avoid the real issue of addressing what underlies the "new" actually old concept. Someone, please go write another blog about it if you want to use the word. Just simply use straightforward language here.
comment 24
Ian date : 09/05/2009 time : 22.29

i rather agree with Noonin, that some writers are getting too bogged down in minutia and personal obsessions to make valid points.
Put simply, too many words can confuse rather than clarify. Comment 9 was short and to the point.
Comment 11 was long winded but agreed with my personal observation and the situation in similar cultures.
Comments 20 and 21, have me confused they seems to be a 'seeing reds under the beds" type of comment, or in this case Thaksin's hand. i am sorry but I can not see Thaksin as a major player at this time.
Felix 22. Yes they are quite good at dealing with verbal attacks, they probably smile.
comment 23
noonin date : 09/05/2009 time : 19.32

Now I am completely confused.Lurker and not disappointed, what are you stating? I think in your dispute we may come closer to an understanding of the problems-in Thailand. Answer please in straight forward language. I assume you are both Thai and thus have knowledge I do not have; to me you both seem to be in agreement. What is the subtle difference between your points of view, what am I missing? (Apart from too few brain cells.)
comment 22
FelixQui date : 09/05/2009 time : 19.25

Ian, re. c.18,
When I was using the Lumpini subway station on Thursday a large group of soldiers, backed up by police, had managed to successfully take and hold the Silom entrance to that station. There were hundreds, if not a thousand, encamped in Lumpini Park, I guess in case of a counter attack on their strategic position.
The closure of the main entrance to the station was at least only a minor inconvenience to the me and the Thai public. They seemed to be holding their lines fairly well and maintaining discipline in the face of some irate, or perhaps just bemused, commuters.
comment 21
notdisappointed date : 09/05/2009 time : 18.26

Lurker, and this 2nd war against your so-called 'democratic polity' is led by none other than that democratist thaksin and his lieutenants' leadership of the reds (mass movement) and his puea thai party (politics) all financed by a billionaire philanthropist.

Please read the last portion of lurker's post where he tries through using the disaffected people as a cover; to give credibility and justification to the reds and by extension their leadership composed of veera, nattawut, jatuporn, jakrapop, and weng all under the leadership thaksin shinawatra.

Ian sorry, but I could see through lurker's attempts and it's not a fixation but a consistent and well-thought out plan to spread propaganda to sway public opinion. The concept first portion of his commentary is a fact however the add-on's are pure propaganda tied up nicely into an innocent package based on facts but distorted to turn people attentions towards the dreadful "amartayas" who are becoming 'bogeymen' to the disenfranchised.

This has been the propaganda that they have been spewing over and over again at each red rally and demonstrations. They use this as the foremost reason for the plight of the disillusioned and disaffected to great success. They use this bogeyman to incite violence and an upheaval; but for their own benefit. They use this on their attacks against the Privy Council, and unknowingly to the people, by extention the Monarchy.

The people aren't stupid but they have been taken in and they will need to be detoxified from these lies and half truths.
comment 20
notdisappointed date : 09/05/2009 time : 18.01

lurker c.11, you are a sly one. I was beginning to be impressed with your analysis and comments until you snuck in the part about "amartaya". That was good!

That was cute to tie it all up into one package with a nice ribbon and foist it off on unsuspecting readers as the truth. But don't forget you did say that people aren't stupid.

I do agree that a form of "amartaya" does exist. What we see now is a jockeying of the "have nots", the politicians, against the "haves" entrenched "armtayas". The politicians want freedom to do as they wish without any checks upon their greed and want full access to the trough.

Thta's all there is to it. You are making excuses for the politicians greed by using the 'disillusioned people' card and giving credibility to the reds' leder who are nominees of thaksin at the same time.

Well done! But there are not that many stupid people on these blogs to be so easily taken in by your distortions.
comment 19
noonin date : 09/05/2009 time : 15.25

comment11 lurker The best comment I have read regarding Thai feudalism. Please write more. You are right to point out the average Thai are not stupid. You have got to the very heart of the strife in Thailand ,now and in the past.
comment 18
Ian date : 09/05/2009 time : 14.52

Felix, 17. My assessment having seen them performing in numerous videos, is that on the parade ground they are well discipled. On the battlefield they lose it, are more mob like. Perhaps their special forces are better, who knows.
comment 17
FelixQui date : 09/05/2009 time : 13.02

or send them all to Afghanistan to provide leadership to the multinational forces fighting there?
Can Thai soldiers actually fight enemies who are armed, as opposed to their usual battles against the Thai people and desperate refugees?
comment 16
FelixQui date : 09/05/2009 time : 12.59

A great post as usual.
Do you have any ideas about how this situation might be undone?
Abolish the conscription system?
Set limits on the number of generals and not promote any more until retirement brings teh bloat down to something reasonable?
comment 15
wch date : 09/05/2009 time : 12.42

comment 11 is good insight, in angle of internal sight of Thai social strata and the military role. Interesting is the patronage system inside the military and I wouldnt count it important as any organization has such groupings.

I once wrote similar one in forum under name of 'The real probem in Thai politics" that I labored to illustrate the picture of local patronage system that is needed, 'liberated' for free choice for voters.

By my earlier post, c6, I tried to brief on what the historic military elite-ism was, is in this, east Asia as an external insight. What I declined to speak in the C6 was what the role of Thai military was since the change of constitutional monarchy of 1937.
The time was so turbulant globally, world war, communist aggression and modernization necessity and demand of democratization. At same time, the military competition continued and becomes more acute today. Large part of tax money is secretly sliced to expand military equipment. Northeastern Asia now reserves tremendous military hardware and ready on instant striking. The military competition even among major Asean members are severe. While Malaysia is on order of offensive submarine, Thailand must have Even-par machine of naval forces.
To professional military leaders, the most important factor is political stability. If they marked a political group as the internal enemy, they come out and remove them first before go out to war with enemy.

During 50s, 60s, 70s, Thai diplomacy was largely military diplomacy than economic one. Many of military elites are proud they could defend the nation against communist aggression. Prem-Chavalit-Suchinda generation are them. Prem's 80s era's initiative, the master plan of modernization under the simple name of "Eastern Seaboard Master Plan" still continue until today that is real locomotive engine to pull whole Thai people into middle class of a nation (GDP per capita of 7000 plus dollars, from earlier 800 dollars).

Thaksin time is one of proofs why the military can not stay away from central political dicision. They sacked national wealth. They tried to found permanent political power base in the ruralities as if they are Nicaraguan pro-Russian Sandinista rebellion did.
Traditional political faith is thoroughly ignored. Privy councillors were attacked, shaking the root of fundamental ideology - the monarchism. Thai military is corrupted but more dangerous corruptions were done by Thaksin group, systematic, law loopholing, undermining the constitution. 2500 civilians were executed under name of drug suppression. This thoroughly ignored whole judicial system of the nation. All the judicial bench rose up against his power. All the hateful works are left into the military hands, the southern separatists and hostile Cambodia and now, possible rebellion from Thaksin group. Everyday soldiers are killed and the commanders can not do anything to it.

Should the military stay away from the politics ?.
comment 14
bzzzzzBee date : 09/05/2009 time : 12.22

culture and tradition
comment 13
Ian date : 09/05/2009 time : 11.13

Netnapic, "Amart (Upper-Crust, judiciary, military, Royalist Rule)" seemingly a name coined by http://thaiintelligentnews.wordpress.com

Lurker, an interesting analysis, thank you.

Outsider, thare are parallels in British history. The Eldest son inherited the estate, younger sons looked for their fortunes in either the military or the church.
comment 12
netnapit date : 09/05/2009 time : 03.34

c11, Khun L., thank you for a good succint description of the military system in Thailand.

While there are many parts of the Thai bureaucracy that act the way you describe, there exists, just maybe more than a minority of, proffesional bureacrats.

I'm afraid I don't know what you mean by 'amart', please explain. I also don't enjoy seeing 'the poor' being described so easily, manipulated, and discarded.
comment 11
lurker date : 09/05/2009 time : 01.33

This is a very interesting blog.

If you look at Thai history, and it feudal system, you can see that at one time the bureaucracy and the military were one and the same.

Thailand was always in a state of war internally and with its neighboring countries, so Thai society was organized for military battle, and during times of peace to organize corvee labor to serve the king. The Phrai were subservient to the Nai, the Nai were subservient to the lords and to the king. Of course, the phrai and nai were divided into ranks, given particular names, privileges, and sakdina rank, just like in a military.

The modern bureaucracy is really nothing but an extension of the feudal system, except that the military and bureaucracy have been divided into two separate spheres and the ancient feudal titles have been eliminated. But the mentality remains. Plus, you have a corporate sector that is modeled in the same fashion as well. Depending on the circumstances, there is either over lap between these entities, cooperation or competition. During times of competition, you get coups, political upheaval, agitation, etc. If you look at the history of the coups, many of them are about generals losing power or wanting to gain power. If you are general, you want to be part of the group that has power, because they get more prestige, they get more clients, and they get filthy rich. Put simply, those who have and control the guns and men, make the rules.

Everything is based on patron client relations and networking connections.

The patron client relationship in the military is the same as in the mafia, and organized the same way.

At the top, the generals protect their clients(lower ranking officers, politicians, bureaucrats, business, media figures), and they divide power amongst themselves, or have a division of labor to protect their own turf. The underling gives their loyalty in exchange for protection. They also act as enforcers for their bosses and kick money upstairs for their criminal rackets. Just like the mafia.

This is how the Thai police, military and bureaucracy operates. For example, the traffic cop doesn't bribe you just for himself, he has to kick upstairs, and all the superior ranks take their cut. Everybody protects each other, so nobody gets caught or exposed. The reason why Thai generals never go to jail is because even though they may be temporary enemies, they are part of the same corrupt system, and they all practice "omerta" or a vow of silence, just like the mafia.

An inactive position is nothing but a way to tell a general that he is losing his clients and that they are being distributed to another general. He is allowed to keep his title and dignity only to buy his silence. That is the unwritten rules of the game.

Those who belong in particular military classes are part of the same network that help sustain each other's power and protection. If a particular class sticks together, they will all rise together, because they will help promote each other and protect each other if there are problems. They know if they break their circle of loyalty and trust, a more unified class or group of generals will sense their weakness and pounce.

As far as politicians go, what you see is another center of power competing for money and prestige with the military and bureaucracy. In Thailand, these groups are either cooperating or competing. However, there is always groups on the periphery who always want to be at the center.

The reason why the "amart" hates Thaksin is because Thaksin turned this system upside down like no politician ever before. He is a Chinese parvenu from the North. He is a like an uncouth Chinese rickshaw driver who used to shuttle his masters around, but all of a sudden struck gold and became more rich and powerful than his masters.

The common people are not stupid. They know exactly how the system operates. Democracy is the only tool to check the military and the bureaucracy.

The truth of the matter, and you will never get this analysis from The Nation, is that people are not corrupt, it is the "amart" that is corrupt to the core.

Poor people have no power to exert any influence in Thai society except at the ballot box or street protests. or they can become apathetic or try to become part of the corrupt system.

The "amart" wants to steal the common people's democratic power, because that democratic power chooses politicians, like Thaksin, that go against their interests.

The Reds are not stupid. The leaders of the Reds are not stupid. They know exactly how the system operates.

If you really understand the language of the Reds, they are not fighting against the monarchy per se, but they see the feudal propaganda superstructure for what it is, which is to depress the democratic aspersions of the Thai people and keep the poor people forever under the yoke of an oppressive feudal system that keeps the amart rich and privileged in the name of sustaining "Thai culture."

And when you hear a conservative talk about "Thai culture" what that really means is know your place in life and shut up and do as your told. And, if you noticed, that is exactly how the military and bureaucracy operates.

There are two wars going on. Military generals jockeying for positions and power and a war against the democratic polity.
comment 10
maverick263 date : 08/05/2009 time : 21.40

thanks for sharing some reflections
comment 9
Outsider date : 08/05/2009 time : 21.15

It is important to remember that in the past the military was often an avenue to a better life. Its only been relatively recently that the best and the brightest have gone into the private sector. The military itself was more of a social network and organization than a purely professional force with vast business and property interests. While making a strenuous attempt in the 1990s and early 2000s to move from being a social organization to a professional military force that ended in 2006. Sadly I predict that the generals will continue to have a say and play a role for quite a while yet, old habits die hard.
comment 8
netnapit date : 08/05/2009 time : 20.58

c6, wch, let me just say in short, the days of military strong hold are gone. We don't live in the midst of colonizing powers nor in the middle of world wars, and the cold war was closed some decades already.

If we, the majority of the people think that we still need that military stronghold then we don't deserve anything but our vicious cycles of coup d'état.

I also never believed in revolution with force either. We're not animals that need to fight blood with blood and I hope the majority of Thai people aren't so stupid as to believe in patriotism that needs your blood. Maybe we should take the red out of our flag and write a new national anthem.

BTW, the CEO role of a Prime Minister is ridiculous. If the country were to be like a company, the majority of the population would be fired according to that line of thinking.
comment 7
noonin date : 08/05/2009 time : 15.49

Comment 6, What point are you trying to make? Please be succinct.
comment 6
wch date : 08/05/2009 time : 11.13

Good object worthy to deal in.
Let me start with a quote from your text, "Their legitimacy to political power is engrained in the minds of military cadets from the first moments of their training".
Once I wrote somewhere here in blog, " Military cadets are taught from and on the first day of school that they are guardians of the monarch".
Virtually every military camps, you can find a stone carve somewhere around the gate or headquarter office, saying " We are the guards of our monarch". No phrase suchas " We are armed forces of people and we are obliged to protect their lives and property".
(I visited many military installations around the nation as many of them have golf club inside their field army camps 555).

In other hand, I want to ask any Thai citizen what the government is, in Thai system. The administration body to be formed by elected parliamentary member is a branch of the governmant, it would be rather administration body which organization requires chief administrator or CEO according to Thaksin. Thaksin realizes very well how narrow power a PM can exercise. So he named himself on the first day, " I am (just) a CEO (who must deliver only the achievement, with less power). He didnt limit himself to it but he rather tried to expand his power and consolidating it. He gravely violated the constitution and its executive laws during the course.
He wanted to hold same power as Bush wields, as Blair enjoys, as Abe the arrogant.
This continues until today. " He wants to be a president" said Suthep Teuksuvarn about Thaksin.

My writing seems to be flown into wrong direction, However not is it.
Military elite-ism in the east Asia or western Pacific rim civilizations has been persistant ever since their known histories.
Various kingdoms in Chinese subcontinent, Korean peninsula and Japanese achipelagoes, Indochinese peninsula and Indo-Nesican archipelagoes. The flower was Japanese militarism during the period of 1850-1945, from Meiji restoration to the defeat of WW II.
Even it was, still Japanese military elite-ism vividly are alive. They even successfully formed many military clanships who are active participants in Today's Japan politics and military circle. Not different is in Korea, the North and the South. Military dictatorship is PRC's effective communist machine and same in Vietnam and in Indonesia. Why 'Not' in Thailand where still the monarchism is strong installed and influenced in every corner of life.

Modern Thai military elites were trained in Japanese military formula from the era of Ayuttayan King Narai in 16 c (by a group of defeated samurai who were evaded from Japo-Korean war of 16c). The extended borderline of Siam Kingdom was done by Siamese military elites by help of then, imperial Japanese military who catch-phrased " in this east Asia, European colonial powers must be driven away". Japanese military succeeded against Imperial UK and Imperial Napoleonic France, if not against US, a new colonial power in the region.

What was, is Japanese military elite-ism, more widely known " SHOGUNATE" ?.
They are guardians of the monarch. Instead they enjoy political power and consequent wealth.

This is possible and often accepted by general public, WHY ?
Politicians are too corrupted or impotent to rule the nation.
People are in too low civility who needs guidance.
That is why such words was born, "Guided Democracy" or " Instructive Democracy".

Auther partly mentioned about the role of phuyais.
Phuyais or 'statemen' are imperative class of people in such guided democracy.
What is difference between a politician and a stateman ?
"A politician tries to stay longer in power but a stateman offers his PROSPECTUS to people."
(refer to Gorvachov via www.rt.ru, the Russian satellite TV, yesterday version).

If a politician wants to stay longer in power, he must please the military as well as statemen. To AV, " phuyais" in thai term, including but not limited only to,,,,his party phuyais.

I think I could offer a clearer picture to anatomize Thai politics and what the military is and what a PM must do accordingly.
one thing last, I can add, such military elite-ism and strong power, no peasantry revolution is possible.
comment 5
bzzzzzBee date : 08/05/2009 time : 10.41

An American politician, Zell Miller, once said:

"It is the soldier, not the reporter, who has given us the freedom of the press. It is the soldier, not the poet, who has given us freedom of speech. It is the soldier, not the agitator, who has given us the freedom to protest. It is the soldier who salutes the flag, serves beneath the flag, whose coffin is draped by the flag, who gives that protester the freedom to abuse and burn that flag."

Does it apply in the context of the Thai scenario?

When politicians fail in their duties to truly represent the people, the Generals think it is their "moral right" to intervene.

How do we break this viscious cycle?
comment 4
Ian date : 08/05/2009 time : 10.26

Sorry, I meant Xena not Netnapit
comment 3
Ian date : 08/05/2009 time : 10.25

Netnapit, Thailand indeed has more generals per soldier than any other nation
Most of my military knowledge which is not based on personal experience I get from here:
Any country with a weak central government, whether it be monarchy or parliament. will end up being controlled by the military. The reason is simple, the military is a top down rigidly controlled structure, a true democracy is a people driven, bottom up structure. The former will always win unless heavily constrained.
comment 2
xena date : 08/05/2009 time : 09.37

Well said Ian. Please correct me. It is through armed conflict that various kingdoms of Thailand came into existence. It is the military that can ensure the continue existence of the monarchy. Therefore the miitary has a defined role in Thailand. They had enjoy this role and he privileges that comes with it in its history. Just imagine that Thailand has the most generals ratio to fighting men in the world as I learn it yesterday from Taiwan television. Taiwan is second. I may be wrong here.
comment 1
Ian date : 08/05/2009 time : 08.32

Netnapit, Thailand is basically a tribal culture, warriors rise to emminence by their deeds, then when they get older become tribal elders and arbiters of power.
The problem Is there is a limited possibility for demonstrating military prowess, just border clashes with Burma and Cambodia, and insurgency in the south.
So the doughty generals have to resort to fighting amongst themselves to demonstrate ability, and because this is a non physical fight generals do not get killed and eliminated. Thailand needs more "General Custer's".

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