Academics: There's a new political order

Academics: There's a new political order

If traditional conservative and elite power groups begin to accommodate new political dynamisms which have created self-styled and spontaneous political entrepreneurs, Thailand could go to another level of democratisation, researchers for the peace and reconciliation project say.

Retired Thammasat University history professor Thanet Aphornsuvan said on Thursday he was preparing an academic paper for the Truth for Reconciliation Commission (TRC) to answer the key questions about grave hostility and divisions in Thailand and the type of factors that could lead to reform or readjusting power inequality.

"We know that there is social inequity in our country, but what makes the people no longer tolerate this and why are the factors that used to make them accept the situation not being sustained anymore. It's clear that of late the authority of those in power is being questioned," said Mr Thanet during a seminar at Thammasat University to introduce his three-month project.

He said the pattern of socio-economic development in other countries showed the peasant class, which has traditionally contributed substantially to society, is provided proper welfare or economic returns by the state, but in Thailand this was not the case.

Porphant Ouyyanont, Sukhothai Thammathirat Open University's associate professor on economics, said greater economic structural changes in past decades have created a new political economy in Thailand, with Bangkok's contribution to gross domestic product reducing from one-third to one-fourth and urban classes cropping up in rural societies.

"The post-economic crisis in 1997 has resulted in old capitalist groups, such as the banks, seeing their share (in the political economy) reduced while new businesses in telecoms and media have emerged. Meanwhile, farmers no longer tend the field with their labour but are closely linked to the market and equipped with other economic factors such as information on commodities pricing, whereas new types of players have also been expanded in urban economies such as shop vendors, motorcycle taxis and small service providers, etc. New economic players have new political demands," said Mr Porphant, a member of the research team.

He said the 1997 Constitution and the Thaksin-led populism policies created distinct divisions of power between regions — the North and the Northeast whose economic backwardness was perceived to be satisfactorily filled by the Thai Rak Thai Party and its following nominal parties and the central and southern region which was de facto tapped by the conservative political parties.

Attachak Sattayanurak, Chiang Mai University's associate professor of history, said the current power structure has been strengthened since 1977, featuring capitalist groups colluding with the military and aligning their legitimacy with the monarchy and as such have been facing limitations if not resistance from other parts of society.

"The co-operation between the military and capitalists in controlling the socio-political landscape in the country has clearly been featured with a monarchy-loyalty flavour. The monarchy has been issued a new role of sustaining and legitimising the political entities in the country," said Mr Attachak, also a research member.

Pruek Taotawil from Ubon Ratchasima University said the new economic dynamism which has created new political entrepreneurs in rural societies as well as in urban areas have challenged the traditional conservative power structure with their own political will.

"The old power groups have created new political discourse that the king is the community leader and anything opposite or against the discourse is not legitimate or accepted. The recent political conflicts are clashes between the networks of old and new powers galvanising grass roots masses as their support," said Mr Pruek, a team member.

Mr Pruek warned that the greater socio-economic development that emerged brought new political players who did not tolerate being only cosmetic accessories to the power structure, but have struggled and fought for a significant role in charting the "scripts" - and that should be a wake-up call for the traditional power groups.

"If the conservative power block adjust their attitude and constructively accommodate these spontaneous and self-styled political entrepreneurs into the political space, Thailand could usher in a peaceful transition," said the political anthropologist.

Surichai Wun'gaeo, director of Chulalongkorn University's centre for peace and conflict studies, said unless Thai society reaches a common enlightened understanding of the changing socio-cultural and political power shift, national reconciliation will be dificult.

"We need to acquire certain knowledge or workable factors that make people of different ideologies come back and live together, like the former communist sympathisers who returned to society in the late 1980s," said Mr Surichai, a commentator to the research project.

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