The term "Thaksinocracy" and despising the poor
...I begin with an illustration which reflects the condemnation and belittling of poor people all over the country. You may well remember this. Let's forget where it comes from, but try to interpret its meaning straightforwardly.
The picture shows the attitude of the academics, the elite and the middle class who collectively coined the term "Thaksinocracy" for the poor who supported Pol. Lt. Col. Thaksin Shinawatra and members for the former Thai Rak Thai.
To put it simply, the term Thaksinocracy refers to the strengthening of economic and political clout among rich people like Thaksin and his cronies through interference in various levels of the structure of society. Laws, policies and constitutional provisions were among the mechanisms through which they were alleged to have exerted their domination over the poor in the name of populist policies. And thus the poor were made their strong supporters. Here is the evil of Thaksinocracy as it has been touted.
What about the post-coup system? How is it different from what Thaksin and his cronies did? The only difference is, perhaps, the military regime tries to dominate the poor by suppressing their freedom head on and imposing on them impractical ethics.
The worst of all things in the new constitution is that the elections have been designed to weaken democracy. It is more difficult now for the poor to mobilize together and form a coalition to run the country in their interests. This notion is no longer possible.
Given that Thaksinocracy is real, judging from the declining economy and politics, isn't it fair for the poor to wish for Thaksinocracy?
Proclamations of "we love Thaksinocracy" resounding from the poor while those opposed to Thaksin are in power show the enormous frustration the poor have to suffer.
Voices of the ‘ victims' of Thaksinocracy!
>> The coup
‘Bom', a new generation of farmers in Sankampaeng district and his laborious work
( Source: BBC - Thai farmer: 'Thaksin helped us' )
... Soon after the coup, a fellow reporter for Prachatai in the North asked me to make a trip to San Kamphaeng district to find a farmer about whom we could write a story on his life and his reminiscences about the ousted Prime Minister. This piece was made for the BBC.
Our destination was Ban Huafai, Moo 9, Tambon Chaechang, San Kamphaeng, Chiang Mai. Arriving in the early afternoon, we peeked at the paddy fields teeming with grass, not rice, since it was just after the harvest. And there we found two men who were cutting grass and heaping it on a pickup truck. We ran straight to them.
We first introduced ourselves as reporters. Of course, right after the coup when the political atmosphere was still tense, we simply told them we wanted to cover a story about Thai farmers.
We recalled that ÐéÓ BBC asked us to find a farmer who still appreciated Thaksin, and there we were with the farmers. Next we wanted to make it to their house to interview them.
I had three cans of beer with me to make sure we would not miss the opportunity!
At their home, we started to gather basic information for the story. The two men were related, uncle and nephew. Then when we were just preparing to ask them the political questions, the uncle asked to leave on personal business (as expected) leaving his nephew with us. He had to deal with us while doing some unfinished chores. His name was Bom and he was 21 years old and was about to be called up for military conscription (in November 2006).
Bom told us that he helped to look after cows for his father and uncle and do other chores to earn a living. For him, even though being a farmer is looked down by people in general, it made him feel more comfortable than to be someone's employee.
In this neighbourhood, Bom told us that paddy farming had been declining and young people had flocked to work in factories or work as labourers nearby or even in the city of Chiang Mai. Most remaining agricultural activities include just vegetable growing, flowers or livestock.
Bom went on with the story of his cow raising which was his daily chore and his neighbours' as well. And after opening the first beer for Bom, we started to ask him political questions.
While he was telling us how politics was related to his life in the past, we tried to get him to compare the time when TRT was in power and after the coup.
After finishing two beers (one of which was by me, of course), many things about the Thaksin administration gushed from his mouth including the higher prices for agricultural produce, better infrastructure in the neighbourhood, increased money flow, and the 30 baht health scheme, which for him was the best of all.
According to him, people around here voted for TRT. They chose the party not only because it was led by a person who came from San Kamphaeng like them, but because TRT had made immense changes to their lives.
Before we left, Bom told us that when the next election comes, he would vote for Thaksin and TRT again. (read more in Thai farmer: 'Thaksin helped us')
But later developments made it impossible for Bom to fulfil his wish.
>> Party dissolution
"The poor are united as brothers and sisters", whether they are the urban or rural poor. From left to right, on top, Mr. Udom Chaiwuth, a recycler, Ms. Buapad Jaipin, a farmer and small-scale grocer, bottom, Mr. Sarawuth Kunteemoon, a wage labourer, Mr. Manop Noyong, a security guard
... On 30 May 2007, the Constitutional Tribunal ordered the dissolution of 3 political parties and revoke electoral rights of the executive committee members of the disbanded parties for five years.
It does not matter how many parties were dissolved, but TRT was one of the doomed parties!
As a small time up-country reporter with no connections in high society, university academics, or members the provincial Chamber of Commerce, what I could manage was interview small people around my neighbourhood or on the street. And there I went out to interview people and made this report Chiang Mai, One Day After Thai Rak Thai's Dissolution.
Mr. Kam Yarangfan, a truck driver from Tambon Umong, Mueang district, Lamphun, told Prachatai that last night, many of his neighbours were glued to the live broadcast, some stayed until the end; some did not. In the morning, he overheard more talk in the truck parking lot. Personally, he feels upset and thinks people in the Northeast should feel the same since the political party they belong to can no longer exist.
"Politically, I have no idea what to do next and will not subscribe to any party. I will just wait for the next election and choose the best among the candidates" said Mr. Kam.
Mr. Worasit Yodthongkhao, employee in an office behind Phayap University, said that he could not understand the verdict read out in the broadcast. He got to understand the issue when he heard from other people and read the newspaper this morning. He always thought, the verdict could be that either both parties were to be disbanded, or both acquitted. He does not feel right to share much on this, but what he can say is this event makes him feel sympathetic toward people.
"I am not that politically active, but I do sympathize with those Thai Rak Thai supporters" said Mr. Worasit.
Mr. Pongsakorn Mangmoon, a student and a part-time worker for a blood test lab on Mahidol Road told us that there was a lot of debate on this issue at the dormitory where he stayed. Personally, he feels that this ruling will outrage Thai Rak Thai, but whether or not there will be violent protest, he has no idea. Anyway, he believes that Chiang Mai people are smart enough to avoid instigating any violence.
"Even if someone hires them, people will not want to risk their lives (in violent protest)" said Mr. Pongsakorn.
The disappointment, sympathy and discontent shared by these ordinary people are common among human beings when their beloved belongings are destroyed.
This includes other villagers who live from hand to mouth, and it happened that the policies of Thai Rak Thai were the first "eatable" policies from a political party.
At a small makeshift hut in the middle of the city of Lamphun, I met Udom Chaiwuth, a 40-something recycler. (He was pictured with a tricycle belonging to his neighbour.) He told me that he monitored political news through listening to the radio or watching TV. He hardly reads newspapers. Regarding the disbanding of TRT, he was concerned that everything which had been created by the party would be gone with them. And he wished that the new government would do its best in the service of the poor.
"I want them to prioritize problems of poor people" said Udom.
Next was Ban Thunklang, Tambon Rimping, Mueang district, Lamphun, which was still an agricultural area teeming with paddy fields interspersed with residences and longan orchards. There I talked with Mae Buapad Jaipin, a farmer and small-scale grocer while she was busy weaving fishing gear in front of her house. According to her, the TRT had done much for the poor. She could only feel sorry that a villager like her did not have the chance to negotiate (to change the verdict on the TRT party).
Similarly, Mr. Sarawuth Kunteemoon, a wage labourer, and Mr. Manop Noyong, a security guard at an educational institution, shared their opinions about small changes that happened to their small, filthy and destitute lives because they are labelled uneducated. They said the small services they do are always ignored in any policy of any government. But the most concrete policy that overturned their lives and restored their human dignity was the 30 baht health scheme. It was the best among all that has been bestowed on them by the Thai state.
...Overall, I could grasp the shared memory they had of TRT and Thaksin, and that feeling is far from idol worship.
It was the memory of the change that saw their votes brining about the Village Fund, the 30 baht health scheme, etc. And that has never happened with any previous Prime Minister or political party. That's it!
>> 2007 Referendum
Uncle Bunyang Paengtue and his friends, ‘ victims' of Thaksinocracy, at the back-breaking task of transplanting rice.
Just before the day of the referendum for the draft 2007 Constitution, I went to San Kamphaeng again, hoping to bring out the voices of those born in Thaksin's hometown.
I expected to hear voices of small people who would reject the draft Constitution; those who would kill the draft charter as a retaliation against the coup makers who had trampled on the spirit of the San Kamphaeng folks by last year ousting the Prime Minister who was from the North like them.
At a paddy field in Ban Sankhong Mai, Moo 2, Tambon Saimun, San Kamphaeng, I approached Uncle Bunyang Paengtue while he was riding his old motorcycle along the paddy field bunds. Of course, as time passed, poor people no longer feared to speak to the press, unlike right after the coup.
I sat to talk with him about his daily life, livelihood, and rice farming, and I was informed that no one wanted to do farming as their main occupation anymore. The uncle also does some other labouring work to earn his living.
About politics, without much ado, the memories he had of the former Prime Minister became the theme of our discussion. All the magic policies, i.e., the war on drugs, the write-off of the IMF debt, and the rest made him still popular among the folks in San Kamphaeng.
"(He was) the first Prime Minister to pull us out of mud and mire" said Uncle Bunyang.
One important point I then wanted to ask him was would he accept or reject the draft Constitution? His reply made me thoughtful.
"This Constitution may be a better version as it is drafted anew. Maybe they want politics and trade to be better and there will be more employment"
Uncle Bunyang admitted that he and his neighbours might not have time to study the charter and their decision was to be based on their feeling. Even though he liked the former PM, but he also preferred the middle way and wanted elections to be held soon. Once the country is peaceful, Thaksin can come back. Therefore, he would go to vote for the draft Constitution in the hope of seeing peace restored soon and the return of Thaksin.
Well, to accept the 2007 Constitution together with having Thaksin back, this logic seems odd for the media or academics. But it may explain where the 14 million ‘yes' votes came from. Among, them, there were certainly a large number of people who wanted Thaksin to return!
On the controversy about the former PM's ethics, Uncle Bunyang had this to say;
"No one is perfectly good. The bad qualities should be monitored, but the good ones cannot be overlooked."
>> One year after the coup
Uncle Wichan and his tiring work in longan orchard
Early September just before the first anniversary of the coup is the "winding down" time for longan production in Saraphi district, Chiang Mai. With a camera, paper and a pen, I went around the longan orchards in my neighbourhood and had a chance to talk with a longan harvester.
Uncle Chan (who did not want his last name known) works as a construction subcontractor. Harvesting longan is a supplementary job. He bought longan directly from orchards and sold them to rich people for longan drying.
As a small time subcontractor, Uncle Chan told us that since after the coup, construction demand has obviously been declining.
"For almost one year, I felt it was getting worse. There is not so much work (in construction) anymore. Before, we had orders from the Tambon Administration Organizations, from various shops, but after the coup, all these have decreased."
According to him, the military and government officers run the country in a different way from those from the business sector. He had no hope at all in the management of the current "wilting ginger" cabinet.
"Unlike business people, these military and government officers only know how to withdraw money, not to manage the economy. But the world has changed."
His response to the claim that the coup makers are restoring goodness in society to pave the way for future is more enlightening than those made by the Election Commission of Thailand or the Constitutional Drafting Council.
"It does not matter if we take or do not take money, vote or do not for them, no one kills us afterwards. The more they give us the better, but we do not have to vote for them. We know who we will vote for. Vote buying will stay, and the practice was there even before TRT came into play. The military were too careless. They just aim their guns at those who dislike them. Nothing can be changed so easily."
Well, it deserves as a conclusion for the first anniversary of the coup, the careless action on the night of 19 September 2006. Now, we should see clearly if the situation has got "better" or "worse".
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In the arenas of politics or democracy, the poor have advanced more than the other classes who still cling to the myths of "virtue-ethics" and other abstract values which cannot be eaten anyway.
The poor usher themselves into a new politics (probably, the post-modern one) where they have more leverage to bargain politically, i.e., on vote buying issues, support for populist policies, support for parties or politicians that work in their interest.
Despite our attitude that they are victims of a system, or uneducated, or uninformed, or destitute, the poor have shown us that they are able to manoeuvre their political power. A big slap in our faces is the day these people go out to exercise their democratic rights to vote for the party that works in their best interests, even though the party has been condemned by us. Is it wrong for them to vote for the best party in light of their immediate circumstances?
But after the coup and the new Constitution, the same old atmosphere is returning to haunt us, the suppression of the political rights of the poor.
Among those who have helped to coin the term "Thaksinocracy" to justify the coup, those who claimed to understand the poor and democracy, now will you have the guts to raise your hand?
Please, I beg you. If you made even less than the minimum wage, if you had no big family to take care of, if you had no degrees that earned you livelihood, if you had no inherited wealth, if you had no fancy shops or factories, if you had no land to till, you would not have done anything other than support the party that gave you the most tangible benefits
And most importantly, all the poor elect their governments through a democratic process.
But for the academics who coined the term "Thaksinocracy", do you have any sense to overthrow a disgusting system through a democratic process? What have you done more than masturbating your academic knowledge and giving the chance for people to dismantle the whole democratic foundation? Did that gratify you enough?
Have you delivered to the villagers more than the vote-buying politicians who you abhor so much? Have you ever really fought through a democratic process?
Translated by Pipob Udomittipong