City in Flames: Some Parallels with Fiji
The extracts below come from a long, analytical article on the complex political situation in Thailand, a situation shaped by its rich history and economic success, its extremes of wealth and poverty, the tangled class intrigues and changing loyalties, vote-buying, corruption, the role of the military -- and how this incredible paradoxical complexity has been simplified and written up by the Western media. Vinaka, Cornelius, for recognizing similarities with the Fiji political situation, and how it is reported by the Western media, and for sending me this link to the full story.
Extract 1. "This is what the western press see as the source of the conflict that has torn the heart out of central Bangkok over the past few months. The consensus being that this is the rural poor trying to wrestle political control from the wealthy elite who will not give up their privileges easily.
"This is Fleet Street Foreign journalism 101 with the golden rule being that you had to separate the two sides in such a way that your readership will understand and, as a paper, you can unequivocally come down on one side. And if the two sides (there’s always two – the MSM can’t cope with more) haven’t actually got any discernable ideological differences then make some. For example, did you notice how many of the reports stated the ‘Eton educated’ Thai Prime Minister just to show which side he falls on in terms we can understand. Against the ‘charismatic’ (read wealthy) and plucky exile Thaksin Shinawattra who is fighting for –ahem- social justice and has donated the profit from the sale of Manchester City to pay for the demonstration.
"But it isn’t quite that simple. Nothing ever is in Thailand. It truly is the dictionary definition of a paradox; a land of absolute contrasts with startling beauty and deep ugliness populated by a happy, smiling, generally gentle people ..."
Extract 2. "How does anybody expect a country that hadn’t been colonised and thus had no concept of a modern civil service, the crucial underpinning to a functioning democratic government, expect to get the hang of this democracy thing and, harder yet, try to make it work. Of course, it didn’t."
Extract 3. "So the country had a series of political coups usually accompanied by military dictatorships. Remember the Army had a stable structure and clear lines of command and responsibility – something very difficult to achieve in even the best, most consensual, multi-party political coalition. The Army essentially saw its role as stepping in to add order when the politics that they were getting the hang of went out of control. Except they usually hung around too long and tinkered with the constitution cutting out democratic freedoms that they thought the country wasn’t ready for."
Extract 4. In less than four generations Thailand suddenly grew a middle class. Thus the urban middle class demanded amended constitutions that allowed for universal suffrage, as middle classes usually do once they get a loud enough voice.
Extract 5. Meanwhile the Army announced a timetable for the resumption of democratic elections after a suitable (2 year) breathing space to allow new political parties to be formed and for an orderly election to be fought. This was a new more pragmatic Army, more in tune with what the people wanted. It still saw itself as one of the two main stabilizing factors (together with the Monarchy) that underpinned the country and ALLOWED it to have a democratic system. Indeed Thailand was, and pretty much still is, the only working democracy in this corner of South East Asia and even the most jaded western observer has to admit that the King’s deft touch, plus the judicial use of unstated but self evident force, were what pulled the country back from the brink of Political chaos on a number of occasions.