When the merchant elites buy up the provincial lords, what do the traditional elites have left in their hands? The answer requires a bit of background.
When General Prem Tinsulanonda stepped down in favour of a democratic general election in 1988, the decade that follows, the 1990s, could be dubbed "Rise of the Planet of the Apes". With the power vacuum, provincial lords, mafia godfathers and gangsters in uniform ran amok in parliament and in the capital. It was a period when governments came and went, brought down by corruption scandals. The newly rich borrowed frivolously and invested unwisely, while the banks were only too happy to join the party.
This was the time when the so-called "kingmakers" rivalled the actual leaders of the country in fame and power. Sanoh Thientong, Newin Chidchob and Suwat Liptapanlop were provincial lords who shaped the nation. The 1990s was also a time when there were very few rules in Bangkok. Law-trumping and power-flaunting individuals got away with anything you can imagine. There was no legal order, social order or any kind of order. It was a time when anything went, a time of cowboys and yahoos. When the 1997 economic crisis hit, everyone knew it was time for a change.
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