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Thailand's Relapse: The Implications of the May 2014 Coup

  • Claudio Sopranzetti

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On May 20, 2014, the Royal Army imposed martial law on Thailand, with the declared purpose of restoring peace to the people. Allegedly, the military intervened to put an end to seven months of political turmoil that had begun when the PDRC—the English acronym for the Thai People's Committee for Absolute Democracy with the King as Head of State—occupied key street intersections and government offices in Bangkok. The conservative mobilization had demanded the deposition of elected Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and the complete dismissal of “the Thaksin system”—a network that had dominated electoral politics in the previous thirteen years, in the PDRC's view through corruption and vote-buying. To fight this injustice, the PDRC had called for deep constitutional reforms before the next elections could be held.

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References

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1 The PDRC emerged in November 2013 as a new organization for anti-Thaksin activism. It included a small contingent of former elements of the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD)—most commonly known as Yellow Shirts—as well as supporters of the Democrat Party and members of the Network of Students and Citizens for Reforms.

2 Sopranzetti, Claudio, “The Owners of the Map: Mobility and Mobilization among Motorcycle Taxi Drivers in Bangkok,City & Society 26, no. 1 (2014): 120–46.

3 Duncan McCargo, “Thailand's Army Tears Up the Script,” New York Times, May 30, 2014; Felicity Aulino, Eli Elinoff, Claudio Sopranzetti, and Ben Tausig, “The Wheel of Crisis in Thailand,” Cultural Anthropology, September 23, 2014, http://culanth.org/fieldsights/582-the-wheel-of-crisis-in-thailand (accessed February 20, 2016).

4 James Stent, “Thoughts on Thailand's Turmoil, 11 June 2010,” in Bangkok May 2010: Perspectives on a Divided Thailand, eds. Michael J. Montesano, Pavin Chachavalpongpun, and Chongvilaivan Aekapol (Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 2012), 15–41.

5 Anderson, Benedict R., “Withdrawal Symptoms: Social and Cultural Aspects of the October 6 Coup,Bulletin of Concerned Asian Scholars 9, no. 3 (1977): 1330.

6 Thongchai Winichakul, “The Monarchy and Anti-Monarchy: Two Elephants in the Room of Thai Politics and the State of Denial,” in Good Coup Gone Bad: Thailand's Political Developments since Thaksin's Downfall, ed. Pavin Chachavalpongpun (Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 2014), 79–108; Ji Ungpakorn, The Struggle for Democracy and Social Justice in Thailand (Bangkok: Arom Pongpangan Foundation, 1997); Tamada Yoshifumi, Myths and Realities: The Democratization of Thai Politics (Kyoto: Kyoto University Press, 2008); Andrew Brown, “Locating Working Class Power,” in Political Change in Thailand: Democracy and Participation, ed. Kevin Hewison (New York: Routledge, 1997), 163–78; William A. Callahan, Imagining Democracy: Reading “the Events of May” in Thailand (Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 1998); Khīan Thīrawit, Thailand in Crisis: A Study of the Political Turmoil of May 1992 (Bangkok: Chulalongkorn University Press, 1997); Anek Laothamatas, Democratization in Southeast and East Asia (Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 1997); Wongsekiarttirat Wathana, “Central-Local Relations in Thailand: Bureaucratic Centralism and Democratization,” in Central-Local Relations in Asia-Pacific: Convergence or Divergence? ed. Mark Turner (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1999), 71–97.

7 Supasawad, Chardchawarn, “Local Governance in Thailand: The Politics of Decentralization and the Roles of Bureaucrats, Politicians, and the People,” Institute of Developing Economies, Japan External Trade Organization, VRF Series 459 (2010): 12.

8 John Funston, ed., Divided over Thaksin: Thailand's Coup and Problematic Transition (Chiang Mai: Silkworm Books, 2009); Hewison, Kevin, “Thaksin Shinawatra and the Reshaping of Thai Politics,Contemporary Politics 16, no. 2 (2010): 119–33.

9 Tejapira, Kasian, “Toppling Thaksin,New Left Review 29 (2006): 537.

10 Pavin Chachavalpongpun, ed., Good Coup Gone Bad: Thailand's Political Developments since Thaksin's Downfall (Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 2014); Winichakul, Thongchai, “Toppling Democracy,Journal of Contemporary Asia 38, no. 1 (2008): 1137.

11 Hewison, Kevin, “Avoiding Conflict: Thailand after the Red Shirt Uprising,Political Insight 3, no. 3 (2012): 2831.

12 iLaw, “364 Days after the Coup: Report on the Situation of Freedom of Expression in Thailand,” September 3, 2015, http://freedom.ilaw.or.th/en/node/259 (accessed February 20, 2016).

13 Ouyyanont, Porphant, “Thailand: A New Polity in the Making?ISEAS Perspective 59 (2014).

14 Edmund Leach, Political Systems of Highland Burma: A Study of Kachin Social Structure (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1954), 4.

15 Francis Fukuyama, The End of History and the Last Man (New York: Free Press, 1992).

16 Walden Bello, “Civil Conflict Is Sliding Toward an Uncivil War,” Nation, February 14, 2014.

17 Kitirianglarp, Kengkij and Hewison, Kevin, “Social Movements and Political Opposition in Contemporary Thailand,Pacific Review 22, no. 4 (2009): 451–77, 471; see also Norton, Elliot, “Illiberal Democrats versus Undemocratic Liberals: The Struggle over the Future of Thailand's Fragile Democracy,Asia Journal of Political Science 20, no. 1 (2012): 4469.

18 The new constitution has just been redrafted, after the previous version was rejected by the army-appointed National Reform Council in September 2015. The new draft is largely based on the spirit of the interim constitution.

19 Kraprayoon Jam, “The More Things Change: Analysing the 2014 Thai Interim Constitution,” Constitution Unit, September 8, 2014, https://constitution-unit.com/2014/09/08/the-more-things-change-analysing-the-2014-thai-interim-constitution/ (accessed February 21, 2016); see also International Commission of Jurists, “Thailand: Interim Constitution Seems to Ignore Key Pillars of Rule of Law,” press release, July 24, 2014, http://www.icj.org/thailand-interim-constitution-seems-to-ignore-key-pillars-of-rule-of-law/ (accessed February 21, 2016).

20 McCargo, Duncan, “Network Monarchy and Legitimacy Crises in Thailand,Pacific Review 18, no. 4 (2005): 499519.

21 James Ockey, Making Democracy: Leadership, Class, Gender, and Political Participation in Thailand (Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2004); Kevin Hewison, ed., Political Change in Thailand: Democracy and Participation (London: Routledge, 1997).

22 Thongchai Winichakul, “Toppling Democracy,” op cit. note 10, 21; Paul M. Handley, The King Never Smiles: A Biography of Thailand's Bhumibol Adulyadej (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2006), 288.

23 Johnson, Andrew Alan, “Moral Knowledge and Its Enemies: Conspiracy and Kingship in Thailand,Anthropological Quarterly 86, no. 4 (2013): 1059–86, 1070.

24 Peter Jackson, “Virtual Divinity: A 21st-Century Discourse of Thai Royal Influence,” in Saying the Unsayable: Monarchy and Democracy in Thailand, eds. Søren Ivarsson and Lotte Isager (Copenhagen: Nordic Institute of Asian Studies, 2010), 29–60, 49.

25 Sopranzetti, Claudio, “Burning Red Desires: Isan Migrants and the Politics of Desire in Contemporary Thailand,South East Asia Research 20, no. 3 (2012): 361–79; Hewison, Kevin, “Thailand Human Development Report. Sufficiency Economy and Human Development,Journal of Contemporary Asia 8, no. 1 (2008): 212–19.

26 Borwonsak Uwanno, “The Monarchy: Thailand Dhammaraja,” Bangkok Post, June 13, 2006.

27 Stanley Jeyaraja Tambiah, World Conqueror and World Renouncer: A Study of Buddhism and Polity in Thailand against a Historical Background (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1976).

28 Connors, Michael Kelly, “Hegemony and the Politics of Culture and Identity in Thailand: Ministering Culture,Critical Asian Studies 37, no. 4 (2005): 523–51; Winichakul, Thongchai, “The Hazing Scandals in Thailand Reflect Deeper Problems in Social Relations,ISEAS Perspective 56 (2015): 19, 5; Krittikarn Sarun, “Entertainment Nationalism: The Royal Gaze and the Gaze at the Royals,” in Saying the Unsayable: Monarchy and Democracy in Thailand, eds. Søren Ivarsson and Lotte Isager (Copenhagen: Nordic Institute of Asian Studies, 2010), 61–89, 80.

29 Johnson, “Moral Knowledge and Its Enemies,” op. cit. note 23.

30 Winichakul, Thongchai, “Thailand's Royalist Democracy in Crisis,Newsletter: Center for Southeast Asian Studies, Kyoto University 72 (2015): 4.

31 Clearly this depiction requires a certain degree of generalization. In the PAD, in fact, many did not support the royalist declination of their political objectives but opposed Thaksin on economic and political grounds. For a detailed analysis of the complex composition of the PAD, see Pye, Oliver and Schaffer, Wolfram, “The 2006 Anti-Thaksin Movement in Thailand: An Analysis,Journal of Contemporary Asia 38, no. 1 (2006): 3861.

32 Hewison, Kevin, “Thailand: Contestation over Elections, Sovereignty and Representation,Representation 51, no. 1 (2015): 5162; Winichakul, Thongchai, “Nationalism and the Radical Intelligentsia in Thailand,Third World Quarterly 29, no. 3 (2008): 575–91.

33 Sinpeng, Aim, “Corruption, Morality, and the Politics of Reform in Thailand,Asian Politics & Policy 6, no. 4 (2014): 523–38, 531.

34 Kasian Tejapira, “Thammarat/Good Governance in Glocalizing Thailand,” in Words in Motion: Toward a Global Lexicon, eds. Carol Gluck and Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2009), 306–26.

35 Glassman, Jim, “‘The Provinces Elect Governments, Bangkok Overthrows Them’: Urbanity, Class and Post-Democracy in Thailand,Urban Studies 47, no. 4 (2010): 1301–23. Interestingly, similar formulations seem to be on the rise among middle classes around the globe, from Venezuela to Pakistan, from Egypt to Ukraine. Joshua Kurlantzick, Democracy in Retreat: The Revolt of the Middle Class and the Worldwide Decline of Representative Government (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2013).

36 Elinoff, Eli, “Unmaking Civil Society: Activist Schisms and Autonomous Politics in Thailand,Contemporary Southeast Asia 36, no. 3 (2014): 356–85; Kuhonta, Erik Martinez and Sinpeng, Aim, “Democratic Regression in Thailand: The Ambivalent Role of Civil Society and Political Institutions,Contemporary Southeast Asia 36, no. 3 (2014): 333–55; Phatharathananunth Somchai, “Civil Society Against Democracy,” Cultural Anthropology, September 23, 2014, http://www.culanth.org/fieldsights/575-civil-society-against-democracy (accessed February 22, 2016).

37 The definition of middle classes in developing countries has been an object of intensive debates among scholars. See, e.g., Kharas, Homi, “The Emerging Middle Class in Developing Countries,OECD Development Centre Working Paper 285 (2010); Banerjee, Abhijit V. and Duflo, Esther, “What Is Middle Class about the Middle Classes around the World?Journal of Economic Perspectives 22, no. 2 (2008): 328. Largely, scholars have argued between social designation of class—in terms of positions in society, status, and self-representation—and economic classifications. In this second category, struggling with applying the concept of middle classes to the Global South, scholars have proposed different approaches, one considering class in relative terms—by just selecting people between the 20th and 80th percentile of income and consumption distribution—or in absolute terms—by considering everybody over a specific threshold of expenditure and income. William Easterly, The Middle Class Consensus and Economic Development (Washington, D.C.: World Bank, 2000); Surjit S. Bhalla, Second among Equals: The Middle Class Kingdoms of India and China (Washington, D.C.: Peterson Institute of International Economics, 2007). I here adopt the first approach and define the middle class in terms of social designation, relying largely on the socially accepted definition in Thailand and self-representation.

38 The most prominent case has been the Rajabhakti Park, which the junta concocted in September 2015 to celebrate the Thai monarchy. It has been publicly criticized as a corruption scandal for its unusually high prices for land, materials, construction, and vegetation.

39 Thai PBS, “Prayuth Pleads for Cooperation in National Reform While Asking Resistance to Stop,” August 13, http://englishnews.thaipbs.or.th/content/57001 (accessed February 28, 2016).

40 Royal Thai Government, “National Broadcast by General Prayut Chan-o-cha, Head of the National Council for Peace and Order, on 6 June 2014,” http://www.thaigov.go.th/index.php/en/announcement-2/item/83768-6-june-2014.html (accessed February 28, 2016).

41 Patrick Jory, “China Is a Big Winner from Thailand's Coup,” paper presented at East Asia Forum, 2014.

42 Richard S. Ehrlich, “China-Thailand Joint Military Exercise Shows Longtime U.S. Ally Bangkok Hedging Its Bets.” Washington Times, November 9, 2015.

43 Ambrosio, Thomas, “The Rise of the ‘China Model’ and ‘Beijing Consensus’: Evidence of Authoritarian Diffusion?Contemporary Politics 18, no. 4 (2012): 381–99; Stefan A. Halper, The Beijing Consensus: How China's Authoritarian Model Will Dominate the Twenty-First Century (New York: Basic Books, 2010); Yung-nien, Cheng, “The Chinese Model of Development: An International Perspective,Social Sciences in China 31, no. 2 (2010): 4459.

44 Wei, Pan, “Toward a Consultative Rule of Law Regime in China,Journal of Contemporary China 12, no. 34 (2003): 343, 9.

45 Thailand has, since 2006, undergone a process of “judicialization of politics and politicization of the judiciary.” Dressel, Björn, “Judicialization of Politics or Politicization of the Judiciary? Considerations from Recent Events in Thailand,Pacific Review 23, no. 5 (2010): 671–91. In it, judicial courts and “independent bodies” have intervened heavily to stir political developments, largely away from the decision of electoral forces. Hirschl, Ran, “The Judicialization of Mega-Politics and the Rise of Political Courts,Annual Review of Political Science 11 (2008); McCargo, Duncan, “Competing Notions of Judicialization in Thailand,Contemporary Southeast Asia 36, no. 3 (2014): 417–41. The legalism of the junta is, in this sense, a deepening of these tendencies that have emerged throughout Southeast Asia in the last decade. Björn Dressel, “Courts and Judicialization in Southeast Asia,” in Routledge Handbook of Southeast Asian Democratization, ed. William Case (London: Routledge, 2015), 268.

46 “Anti-Junta Protest in Khon Kaen, Despite Prayuth's Warnings,” Khaosod English, June 8, 2015, http://www.khaosodenglish.com/detail.php?newsid=1433764390 (accessed February 27, 2016).

47 Kevin Hewison and Kengkij Kitirianglarp, “‘Thai-Style Democracy’: The Royalist Struggle for Thailand's Politics,” in Saying the Unsayable: Monarchy and Democracy in Thailand, eds. Søren Ivarsson and Lotte Isager (Copenhagen: Nordic Institute of Asian Studies, 2010), 241–66.

48 Willy Wo-Lap Lam, Chinese Politics in the Hu Jintao Era: New Leaders, New Challenges (Armonk, N.Y.: M.E. Sharpe, 2006); Guoxin, Xing, “Hu Jintao's Political Thinking and Legitimacy Building: A Post-Marxist Perspective,Asian Affairs: An American Review 36, no. 4 (2009): 213–26; Yongnian, Zheng and Tok, Sow Keat, “‘Harmonious Society’ and ‘Harmonious World’: China's Policy Discourse under Hu Jintao,University of Nottingham China Policy Institute Briefing Series 26 (2007).

49 Elinoff, “Unmaking Civil Society,” and Phatharathananunth Somchai, “Civil Society Against Democracy,” op. cit. note 36.

50 Asia Foundation, Profile of the Protestors: A Survey of Pro and Anti-Government Demonstrators in Bangkok on November 30, 2013 (2013), 5–7.

51 Apichat Satitniramai, Yukti Mukdawijitra, and Niti Pawakapan, Thópthuanphuumíʔthátkaanmʉaŋ thay [Reexamining the political landscape of Thailand] (Bangkok: Thai Health Promotion Foundation, 2013).

52 Andrew Walker, Thailand's Political Peasants: Power in the Modern Rural Economy (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2012).

53 Apichat Satitniramai, Yukti Mukdawijitra, and Niti Pawakapan, Thópthuanphuumíʔthátkaanmʉaŋ thay, op. cit. note 51, 131.

54 National Statistical Office of Thailand, Household Socio-Economic Survey (Bangkok: Ministry of Information and Communication Technology, 2013), 53.

55 Claudio Sopranzetti, “The Owners of the Map: Motorcycle Taxi Drivers, Mobility, and Politics in Bangkok,” PhD diss., Harvard University, 2013, 212–16.

56 Asia Foundation, Profile of the Protestors, op. cit. note 50, 4.

57 “Ammat and Phrai: The Facebook War,” Bangkok Post, May 15, 2011; Pinkaew Leungaramsri, Becoming Red = Kamnœ̄t læ phatthanākān Sư̄a Dǣng nai Chīang Mai [Birth and development of the Red Shirt movement in Chiang Mai] (Chiang Mai: Phim khrang thī, 2013); Buchanan, James, “Translating Thailand's Protests: An Analysis of Red Shirt Rhetoric,Austrian Journal of South-East Asian Studies 6, no. 1 (2013): 6080.

58 Fukuyama, Francis, “The Future of History: Can Liberal Democracy Survive the Decline of the Middle Class?Foreign Affairs 91 (2012): 56.

59 Glassman, “‘The Provinces Elect Governments,’” op. cit. note 35; Elinoff, “Unmaking Civil Society,” op. cit. note 36; Kanishka, Jayasuriya and Hewison, Kevin, “The Antipolitics of Good Governance: From Global Social Policy to a Global Populism?Critical Asian Studies 36, no. 4 (2004): 571–90.

60 Stent, “Thoughts on Thailand's Turmoil,” op. cit. note 4.

61 Hewison, “Avoiding Conflict,” op. cit. note 11.

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