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Thai Politics as Reality TV

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  27 January 2009


Early in the morning of August 26, 2008, a large group of stick-wielding, black-shirted masked men forced their way into the studios of Bangkok's NBT television station, briefly detaining a number of staff. Once inside, they flung open the main doors, allowing several hundred more yellow-shirted protestors from the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) inside. Other PAD supporters occupied the grounds of the station. NBT, the channel of the government's Public Relations Department (PRD) formerly known as Channel 11, was held by the PAD for around twelve hours. During this time, rogue engineers tried unsuccessfully to channel their illegal—but wildly popular—ASTV television signal through the NBT network. Defeated by the technical challenges, the protestors gave up their occupation of NBT, returning to Government House, the office of the Thai prime minister. That same afternoon, PAD supporters had climbed the fence of Government House and occupied the compound surrounding the Italianate Khu Fa building.

Research Article
Copyright © The Association for Asian Studies, Inc. 2009

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1 For an analysis of developments up to late September, see the International Crisis Group briefing “Thailand: Calming the Political Turmoil,” September 22, 2008, at (accessed October 24, 2008).

2 A useful starting point is the Web site PAD USA, which includes both Thai and English materials: (accessed October 24, 2008). Another with a similar mixture is (accessed October 24, 2008).

3 For an elaboration, see McCargo, Duncan, “Network Monarchy and Legitimacy Crises in Thailand,” Pacific Review 18, no. 4 (2005): 499519CrossRefGoogle Scholar. On the king, see Handley, Paul M., The King Never Smiles: A Biography of Thailand's Bhumibol Adulyadej (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2006)Google Scholar.

4 See Connors, Michael K., “Article of Faith: The Failure of Royal Liberalism in Thailand,” Journal of Contemporary Asia 38, no. 1 (2008): 143–65CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

5 Translated from Manager Online, (accessed October 24, 2008).

6 The relevance of the Sino-Thai issue is explored in Kasian Tejapira, “The Misbehaving Jeks: The Evolving Regime of Thainess and Sino-Thai Challenges,” paper presented at the “Chineseness Unbound: Boundaries, Burdens and Belongings of Chineseness Outside China” Conference, Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore, September 11, 2008.

8 Bangkok Post, October 14, 2008.

10 Personal communication, September 8, 2008.

11 Even the PAD's unofficial English-language Web site acknowledged that at least one PAD supporter was wielding a gun on October 7. See (accessed October 24, 2008). Some of the images on this site are very disturbing.

12 Full details are given at (accessed October 24, 2008).

13 48 percent of non-PAD supporters gave the same response, which needs to be understood as somewhat ubiquitous in a Thai context.

14 On the urban rural divide, see Nidhi Aeusrinvongse, “Kanprap rabopkanmuang” [Adjusting the political system], September 15, 2008, (accessed October 31, 2008).

15 To confuse matters, the UDD is also sometimes referred to in English as the DAAD (Democratic Alliance Against Democracy).

16 For details of clashes see “Thailand: Government and Protestors Should End Political Violence,” Human Rights Watch, October 15, 2008, (accessed October 24, 2008).

17 For a sympathetic discussion of the UDD, complete with excellent photographs, see a piece by Nick Nostick on the blog New Mandala: (accessed October 24, 2008).

18 Ironically, t-shirts depicting the statue of King Taksin at Wongwian Yai, Thonburi, were also worn by many PAD guards; both sides laid claim to his maverick legacy.

19 For interviews with Sondhi on the subject of new politics, see “Phim khiew: kanmuang mai” [Green print], Nation Sutsapda, July 11, 2008, pp. 12–15; and Shawn W. Crispin, “What Sondhi Really Wants for Thailand,” Asia Times Online, September 9, 2008, (accessed October 24, 2008).

20 For discussions and translations of “new politics” and PAD thinking in English, see Connor's, Michael K. essential blog,, and his essay “Thailand—Four Elections and a Coup,” Australian Journal of International Affairs 62, no. 4 (2008): 482–85Google Scholar. In interviews with PAD leaders, Connors discovered significant disagreements among them concerning the meaning of “new politics.”

21 Matichon, September 14, 2008.

22 Matichon, September 14, 2008.

23 Khom Chat Luk, September 14, 2008.

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