Avoiding Simplistic Narratives About the Political Crisis in Thailand

“You know nothing, Jon Snow.” George R. R. Martin, A Storm of Swords

By Lambert Strether of Corrente.

Thailand, “one of the great development success stories,” the second largest Southeast Asian economy, the Detroit of Asia, a potential TPP signatory (or not), a long-time strategic partner of the United States, and a long-time, though coup-prone (18 total, 11 successful, and counting, or not) democracy, is having another political meltdown.

Here, I’m not going to ask why, let alone predict any sort of outcome, or even pick sides. In international, global coverage, the scorecard has two sets of players: The poor Northeast slash government slash Pheu Thai Party slash Shinawatra family slash Thaksin Shinawatra, former prime minister and international fugitive (Thai politics is nothing if not colorful) slash the Reds versus Rich Bangkok slash protesters slash PRDC slash Democratic Party slash Suthep (leadership figure) slash the Yellows. Guelphs and Ghibellines, donchya know. Except not. The conflict is multi-sided. And compromise — a good operational definition would be avoiding civil war — is possible.

As we shall see, Rich Bangkok vs. Poor Northeast is a narrative that’s just as simplistic as Blue States vs. Red States in the US, a that which we would probably try to talk a Thai journalist out of, were they to write about the 2016 horse race, say. “The situation is more nuanced than that!” we would cry. So, I’d like to try a more nuanced approach for Thailand in three ways:

1) By looking directly at the protesters themselves;

2) By classifying the non-violent tactics used by the protesters;

3) By presenting a recent an example of people who are seeking to heal Thailand’s divides, rather than inflame them.

Again, this post is not in any way Inside or even Outside Baseball and I hope old hands in Asia will correct or clarify as required. I think we in the United States should probably spend more energy cleaning our own side of the street by fixing the many flaws in our own democracy, rather than lecturing others on how they should fix theirs. The idea that the United States in 2013 is any sort of democratic avatar, or “shining city on a hill” is ludicrous.

1. The Protesters

First, it has to be said that the protesters have gotten terrible international press, and earned every bit of it. From the billionaire beer heiress driving a bulldozer at the barricades and proclaiming that the Thai people lack a “true understanding” of democracy “especially in the rural areas” to signage riddled with poor English, to virulently misogynist rhetoric from the stage, the protesters have done themselves no favors at all. In a global world, a class needs to make a case for itself on the global stage; we should see editorials like this one in WaPo as reflecting that failure, and serious for that reason (since Fred Hiatt? Come on). It must also be said that postponing an election so Suthep’s council of “good people” can straighten the country out is a loser. If it even gets off the ground, it’s not going to fly for long. [NOTE: One of the most pleasant aspects of the Federalist Papers is that it doesn’t assume that anybody is good.]

That said, here’s an image of a march going through Silom, near Lumpini Park, a major protester occupation site:

marchers

Those marchers just aren’t “middle class.” No iPhones, no fancy shoes, no teeth with braces, no selflies. And the march went on and on and on (“Do you how hard it is to convince 150,000 Bangkokians to walk in the sun for hours?”)

It’s also worth pondering the sheer numbers:

Global commentators should spend more time pondering why some 500,000 – 1 million people – many of whom used to be quite complacent about and uninterested in politics – have taken to the streets demanding an end to the Thaksin regime. There must be compelling reasons to this uprising against an elected government. Its size alone makes this an unprecedented phenomenon in Thai political history.

These figures are exaggerated, but no matter: Drone views of the crowds (at least in the initial stages) showed truly impressive turnout by any standard. And the protesters colors (red, white, and blue wristbands, whistle lanyards, hair extensions, shirts, hats, and so forth) are not worn by “iPad-loving hi-sos only good for spending their days on Facebook,” but by street vendors, small business owners, and even the occasional taxi driver. I’m not saying the colors are universal, or even ubiquitous, but they are worn by all sorts and conditions of people, and not just by Rich Bangkokians.

2. The Protester’s Non-Violent Tactics

Taking Gene Sharp’s 198 The Methods of Nonviolent Protest and Persuasion as the classification scheme, we see the protesters using many of them: Public Speeches (#1), daily by Suthep; Caricatures (#7), often viciously misogynistic; Displayed Communicatios (#8), as posters and placards, sometimes misspelt; TV (#11), the Yellows actually own a TV station, Blue Sky, which sells the protesters’ iconic whistles; Color (#18); Wearing Symbols (#19) and Symbolic Sounds (#28), the whistles; Marches (#38); and #173 Nonviolent Occupation.

Of these, Symbolic Sounds (#28, “whistle blowing”) and Nonviolent Occupation (#173) are the most important. The whistle blowing, beyond the symbolism, also seems calculated to let the protesters know their own strength, and also to drown out opposing views, through sheer volume. The Nonviolent Occupations seem to seek to delegitimize the government, in hopes of achieving the protesters’ demand: That the Shinawatras “get out,” a demand very similar to the Egyptian demand that Mubarak “leave!” (“Arhal!”)

We might hope that the Thai protester have better ultimate outcomes than the Egyptians did. Nevertheless, they have not yet, and it may be that the nonviolent methods not used show us why. No methods of Economic Noncooperation or Intervention are used. Thousands of office workers may come out to rallies at 5:00PM and blow their whistles, but there is no attempt at a strike. And to an observer of the Occupations, the lack of a general assembly is striking. The result is that the Occupations, increasingly, become “walking streets” where vendors sell red, white, and blue protest merch. Whatever Suthep’s movement is about, it was surely not about shopping.

3. Beyond Binary Opposites

Here’s an interesting Op-Ed in today’s The Nation — a strong, not to say FOX-intense, supporter of the protests — by the opera composer Somtow Sucharitkul, and Cod Satrusayang, a freelance journalist (I’m leaving out which side each on is on). From Non-Extremists are Reaching a Consensus, a headline you would not see on FOX:

Satrusayang:

To those that support the current government:

There are many good reasons for the supporters of the current government to not listen. One can only be called uneducated, backwards or traitors for so long before harboring some sort of resentment. One can only be accused of having their vote be manipulated or bought for so long before being disillusioned with the opposition and their ilk. But that would be wrong. …

It is true that every side of this is corrupt but it is time that we stop pointing fingers at the other side and take a long hard look in the mirror. The inconvenient truth is that all sides are riddled with scandals and the time is ripe to break free from the cycle of corruption. The only way to break free from our political free fall is to unite together to oppose those that lead us for surely we have more in common with one another than the multimillionaires claiming to represent the people. …

If it is true that [Thaksin] has awoken the political awareness of many Thais in society then the time is now to showcase true political understanding.

The reality of the situation is this, the PDRC may treat your voices and votes with disdain but don’t be fooled into thinking that the current government and its backers care about your votes anymore than what it takes to hold onto power. Just ask the poor farmers asking for their rice back because the government defaulted on the rice scheme, ask the red shirts still rotting in jail, ask the dead of Rajprasong. Also remember that in the long run, you have already won. The rural vote will never be disregarded again.

Democracy is here to stay and long may it do so.

Somtow:

To those that support the opposition:

There is a fairly good chance that you will “win” this struggle — if by winning you mean the removal, for a time, of the Thaksin influence from Thailand’s politics. …

Winning the war, however, would be a piece of cake compared to winning the peace.

The people you believe to be your enemies have managed to put a very powerful myth in place: the myth of the simple peasant fighting an oppressive elite for the simple right to be free. …

You have also created some myths of your own which you need to reexamine thoroughly. …

“This is a struggle of good against evil.” Sorry, guys, that one only works in Bibles and comic books. There are no angels here, and no demons. There are only people with agendas.

“Eliminating Thaksin will eliminate the ills of Thai society.” I’m afraid those ills probably have deeper roots. …

“The poor are too stupid to vote.” This one will never fly. Lack of education and money does not translate into stupidity nor does it deprive anyone of any rights.

“It’s all about corruption.” No. Every government in Thailand has been corrupt. Thaksin merely broke the gentlemen’s agreement about how corrupt you are allowed to be. ….

To win the peace, you need to accept the reality that most people in this country have cast their votes on the other side. You must stop these childish sour grapes, stop saying all their votes were bought — you would have bought them if you could! — and roll up your sleeves and start convincing people who voted against you that you would be better for them. …

I think you will discover that most of them want the same things you want: fairness, freedom, and unselfish governance. I think you will see that you have a great deal more in common than you thought. “Loving thy enemy” may be a hard pill to swallow. But if you really want to be the messiah, the crucifixion is in the contract.

* * *

I hope this shows something of the complexity — and the opportunities — of the Thai political crisis. From the 30,000 foot level, I actually do think there are two sides: Those who want to kill for their goals, and those who don’t. The use or surrender of strategic hate management is the issue, in Thailand as here.

NOTE Thailand is a monarchy, and the Lèse-majesté laws are enforced, even against foreigners. Therefore, readers, discussion of the Thai monarchy or royal family is off-topic. Guests in Thailand must obey its laws. Their house, their rules.

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.

27 comments

  1. anon

    There is a fairly simp!e way to understand the conflict, which repeats in Thailand on a depressingly regular basis (I’ve been wintering there only 7 years and this is already the second cycle of this particular method of Thai politics I’ve seen). The two sides engage protesters, often paid, who use similar tactics, generally starting out peaceful but sometimes escalating. There are violent and armed factions in both yellowshirt and redshirt protest movements and occasional actions by black ops police aimed at tarring the side they are not on at the time (typically redshirts). Both political parties, indeed all political parties in Thailand, have a pretty large element of corruption (although as an American I have to consider the glass house situation; we’ve got a lot of similar corruption). The biggest difference between yellowshirts and redshirts is that yellowshirts have previously and are now protesting to get a democratically elected government out and install a non-elected government (and in this case the leader of the protests has called for a non-elected council to take over), generally done by having the army step in with a coup to “restore order” which wouldn’t need restoring without the army’s allies, the yellowshirts, creating the problem in the first place. In contrast, the redshirts in the past have protested to force an election to replace a non-elected government.

    Coup versus election.

    For me that makes a big difference. The folks the yellowshirts back would do well, IMO, to spend less energy trying to provoke coups and more trying to win an election.

  2. Muchas Tuchas

    Long-time reader, first-time poster. Thailand’s crisis has been decades in the making and is hugely complex; it is also one that outsiders with only a passing interest in/knowledge of can easily overlay with their own cultural or political memes, and thus misinterpret. Sadly, it is also so divisive that it is hard to find any local commentator who can give an objective opinion, even when they appear to be doing so to the uninitiated. Indeed, part of Thailand’s problem is that its people have such a poor knowledge of their own history, for various reasons, that in many senses they live in an imagined rather than a real society (or rather multiple societies) – and when reality intrudes to threaten these illusions they can react very, very strongly. As a long-time ex-resident of Thailand (and Thai speaker) with a clear preference for corrupt, flawed democracy and a semi-open society (in the Popperian sense) over an even-more corrupt, flawed and closed authoritarianism in whatever guise, all I’d say to those bewildered by this mess is please take the time to read around the subject before passing judgement.

    1. JoeK

      Thanks for the comment, MT, very well said (and I very much like your statement on the corrupt democracies here in Asia as preferable to what the US is turning (has turned?) into).

      As to the current crisis, I found this article, by Jeffery Race, who certainly qualifies as a Thailand-hand, very informative, especially in explaining how Thaksin and TRT/Pheu Thai have acted differently from any other previous party or administration:

      http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Southeast_Asia/SEA-01-130114.html

      I was in Thailand during the 2010 troubles and also spent some time in Bangkok last week casually checking out the current protests. The mood as far as I could read it is less agitating but easily as resolute. If nothing else, the level of political engagement amongst at least a large swath of the populace seems to be increasing greatly and that can only be a good thing.

        1. JoeK

          I should clarify: I meant political awareness amongst the members of the majority in Thailand, those who do not identify with either side, or may have some sympathies one way or the other, but wouldn’t take to the streets. I didn’t mean to comment on the political awareness of those who are protesting.

  3. NotTimothyGeithner

    Question for you:

    I don’t follow Thaliand, and obviously, they have had hiccups in the past. When the protesters went home during previous dust-ups, what were the promises made by the government? Did they just use force, or did they make promises? What was the success rate of those promises? Were they good faith efforts despite the promises not being suited to the challenge?

    1. Larry Headlund

      The protestors generally aren’t making policy demands. The two groups do have interests and goals but the point of the protests is ‘this govenment out’. Thailand has a parliamentary system so geoverments can resign. The strategy of the protests is to make the country ungovernable thus forcing elections or a coup. If there are elections then there will be campaign promises. One of the things Thaksin’s opponents resent is that he made promises to rural Thais and he kept some of them. They regard this as not playing fair, corruption, buying votes.

      Thaksin is not an attractive figure. The closest analog in American politics might be Huey Long.

      I want to add that the quoted editorial reminds me of American MSM ‘balance’, No Labels (there is a No Colors movement in Thailand), reach across the partisan divide BS. Case in point: The author says “The rural vote will never be disregarded again.” But if the current protests succeed and the current government is replaced with an unelected council followed by ‘reform’, that is, a form of govenment with enough appointed members that elections no longer matter, that is exactly what will happen.

      I want to add that just as the monarchy and its roles are not discussed, neither are ethnic tensions. Thailand is not a homogenous country. Besides northern and eastern minorities (Karen, Lao, etc.) and Muslim Malays in the south there is a large ethnic Chinese group. Thais are quite aware of these divisions and, for example, the Bangkok area has a higher concentration of ethnic Chinese than the north and east.

      Some of the rhetoric could fit into ethnic stereotypes. Substitute ‘stupid’, ‘votes were bought’ and so on with ‘lazy’, ‘shiftless’, ‘welfare bums’ and you get the picture. On the other side imagine all US talk about urban elites and imagine the cities were ethnically distinct (somewhat) from the hinterland.

      1. Lambert Strether Post author

        I don’t think the “balanced” comment is correct. For one thing, the authors aren’t a road show, like Bowles (D) and Simpson (R). So far as I can tell, that flavor of kayfabe doesn’t exist in Thailand. And so far as I can tell, the authors came together out of genuine, shared concern. And The Nation is pretty shrill for the protesters, so I think they must have seen something exceptional in the combination.

        Good points on lack of Thai homogeneity; I agree.

        Adding, the Huey Long commment is apt — had Long been a telecoms billionaire. Granted, being Huey Long was a full time job. We should also remember that Long delivered concrete material benefits.

        1. Larry Headlund

          Adding, the Huey Long commment is apt — had Long been a telecoms billionaire. Granted, being Huey Long was a full time job. We should also remember that Long delivered concrete material benefits.

          Sort of Huey Long mixed with Silvio Berlusconi. Like Long, Thaksin delivered some material benefits also.
          The Yellows don’t exclusively benefit the wealthier classes, there is also a geographic division as well with Bangkok being favored.

          One thing that is very different from the US is the importance of Bangkok. Bangkok has a populaton of ~12 million out of a national population of ~57 million, 21% with the next largest city 1/30 the size. In US terms it is as if the population of California and New York State lived in Washington DC with the next largest city being Houston.

  4. NotSoSure

    Coming from Asia myself, in the end it’s all about money. The following book: http://www.amazon.com/Asian-Godfathers-Money-Power-Southeast/dp/0802143911/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1390230405&sr=8-1&keywords=Godfather+asia describes well why Thaksin was despised by his fellow tycoons. He enriched himself without spreading the wealth and in some occasions he allowed some overleveraged tycoons to fail, so they got rid of him. It’s really that simple. I think people pointing to democracy, etc is just overcomplicating things. In the end it’s kinda similar to how the king in ancient England would come into conflict with his barons. In this case, the barons elected one of them to be king, but he/she better spread the wealth or else …..

  5. tongorad

    Confused. Why are you promulgating and enforcing Lèse-majesté laws on this site?

    “Global commentators should spend more time pondering why some 500,000 – 1 million people – many of whom used to be quite complacent about and uninterested in politics – have taken to the streets demanding an end to the Thaksin regime. There must be compelling reasons to this uprising against an elected government. Its size alone makes this an unprecedented phenomenon in Thai political history.”

    1. Yves Smith

      Why do you think Lambert is posting about Thailand at all?

      HE’S IN THAILAND. He is at risk personally. Lordie. And the Thais do hold news outlets responsible for their comments sections (pretty much all moderate them regardless…). I doubt blogs get treated differently.

      And this should also clue you in that any news reporters are under the same constraints. But they aren’t doing you the courtesy of telling you.

  6. Jessica

    @nottimothygeithner
    “When the protesters went home during previous dust-ups, what were the promises made by the government?”
    The last time the current side’s protesters went home after a parliamentary coup turned the government over to their side. The side that favors the elected governments (Red Shirts) then protested in turn and they went home after 100 or so of them were killed by the army.

    About the numbers and their not being all Bangkok middle class and elite: The South supports the yellow shirts/”Democrat” Party/current protests. So the current protests in Bangkok are a mix of comparatively well-off Bangkokians (there was a interesting survey reported on “Bangkok Pundit”) and more rough-and-tumble Southerners. To what extent the Southerners are there because they really support the current protests so enthusiastically and to what extent because money interests in Bangkok bus them in may be difficult for anyone to know.

  7. Herman Sniffles

    The population of Laos is less than 1/2 Lao, the rest are ‘minorities and tribal peoples.’ There are nine times more Lao people in Isan than there are in Laos, nine times. Much of the rest of the population in the east is Khmer. Even though these people generally see themselves as “Thai-Lao” and “Thai-Khmer” it’s something to keep in mind, a possible flashpoint if somebody started waving the right (wrong?) flag. In the 1960’s there were extensive Nation Building programs instituted in rural Thailand by the RTG with lots of support from the US (USOM and others). These projects (for example the Thai Mobile Development Unit Program) were patterned after the TVA. They electrified much of rural Thailand and gave the people clean water, sealed sewage systems, improved ag and animal husbandry, along with the idea of being a part of Thailand (a concept which is still a bit tenuous). It was a nice thing to do and the US deserves some credit in this particular regard. And there was the BPP to provide safety, which it actually did. This along with the Buddhist culture that honors giving to others to build merit may have set up a sort of dependency situation, i.e. ‘you in the city should give us country folk even more stuff so you will get even more merit (and we’ll get even more stuff!).’ Bottom line IMO is that the rural people in the northeast are pissed off because they haven’t shared in the dramatic economic growth that has occurred around BKK (any barmaid in Pattaya will tell you this over a cold Singha – or so I’ve heard, as I’ve honestly never visited Pattaya). You can’t blame the north-easterners. It’s just a shame that the rallied around Thaksin. Thailand’s saving grace will be that it is still the most culturally homogenous country in Southeast Asia, and the Thais are just plain good people with huge hearts and a profound love of life (a half-Vietnamese half-white child in Vietnam is pariah, a half-Thai half-white child in Thailand is a Thai). They’ll work it out if we just leave them alone.

    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      GDP in the notth increased some incredible number, like 40%, under Thaksin. That genie isn’t going back in the bottle. Not sure how much of the rest of your comment is faux naive irony, but tI do except successful muddling through. The Thais are lucky but make their own luck.

  8. Jessica

    @NotTimothyGeithner
    One other interesting tid-bit is that the person in the previous government (which took power through the parliamentary coup) who was responsible for having 100 or so of the other side’s protesters killed is Suthep, the leader of the current protesters.

      1. Procopius

        I’ve been surprised that there’s so little comment on Suthep’s involvement in the land scam back in the early ’90s. The Bangkok Post Database (weekly insert about developments in IT) used to refer to him, almost weekly, as “the Democrat Party’s expert on land documentation.” Then there was something about a huge palm oil scam? Don’t remember the details about that one. And of course, as has been pointed out, his prominent role in suppressing the Red Shirt occupation. I’ve disliked him for years, just because he was in such stark contrast to Chuan Leekpai, who I always thought was an honest if ineffectual politician.

  9. craazyman

    holy smokes that sounds complicated!

    Hopefully there’s some good cheap restaurants where you can chill with Thai food and a few beers. Sounds like it’s too much work to figure out what’s going on over there. Why bother?

    I’d hit the bar by at least 3 p.m. and if it’s warm enough, the pool. Hopefully no shooting would erupt and intrude upon the relaxation. What a buzz kill that would be.

    There’s apparently a place in Thailand called Phuket, which sounds about right to me phonetically speaking, although I never been there so don’t know if it’s as good as it sounds.

    1. Larry Headlund

      While Phuket is a pleasant island, it is not pronounced like you would think:

      Ph is a hard ‘p’ (‘p’ alone like english ‘b’)
      u more like ooh, not uh.
      ket like you would expect.

      1. Larry Headlund

        I should modify that ‘Ph’ seems to be officially like ‘F’. I guess the ‘Ph’ = hard ‘P’ came from the local accent I encountered. Another example of the hazards of post then research>) The ‘u’ as ‘oo’ seems orthodox.

        1. JoeK

          “Ph” is an aspirated “p,” as in English (esp. the British variety).

          “P” w/o “h” is an unaspirated “p,” as in the French “pas.”

          The romanization for the “f” sound in Thai uses…….”F”!

  10. MarcoPolo

    Thank you, Lambert and commenters. Commenters? Everything you wanted to know about Thailand but were too afraid to ask. Yes, nuanced. And afraid, because there can be repercussions if one were to be off-topic. There are people there who I care about and I’m concerned for them. So, I’ve wanted to ask.

    I have the sense that it’s a lot like medieval Europe which suffered so long under a power structure composed of so many elitist factions/groups; monarchy, nobility (military), the ignoble wealthy (elitists). The beer girl is one of those last. None of those were good for the common people. And none of them today are good for the people I care about.

    Thailand, like Korea, is one of those “rapidly urbanizing” (industrializing) countries. As somebody pointed out above, the cities are mixed culturally, ethnically and linguistically. It’s easy for the power groups to play those off against one another. This is a struggle for control among elites and common people come out losers every time. Simplistic? Maybe.

  11. Miguel Gustav Jones

    Lambert, your analysis makes sense to me. I’ve been here in Chiang Mai for 2 months now, and am just starting to get my head wrapped around the political theater happening down in Bangkok. Satrusayang, is on point when he says “The only way to break free from our political free fall is to unite together to oppose those that lead us for surely we have more in common with one another than the multimillionaires claiming to represent the people”. This seems to be a common theme in many educated analyses, but to listen to Suthep address the crowds in Bangkok is like listening to a rabble-rouser of the first degree, so I think it will prove difficult to find such common ground. Somtow allludes to that in speaking to the opposition of winning the war but losing the peace. He is right on when he says “There are no angels here, and no demons. There are only people with agendas.”. Thanks again for posting this blog.

  12. Procopius

    Lambert, thank you so much for this post. I think it’s a great analysis, and very balanced. Either you have terrific informants or you’ve spent a lot of time leaning about this place. I live in Nakhorn Sawan now, but I lived in Bangkok for twenty years and “up-country” for about five years before that. The Bangkok Pundit did a great job of explaining what was going on back from 2006 to about 2010, but I don’t find his site as compelling as it used to be. By the way, Somtow Sucharitkul is not only an opera composer (I didn’t know that), he used to be a well-known science-fiction writer in the U.S., and has an astonishing lyrical command of English. Very interesting dude. I’ve also been grateful to see the relative calm of the commenters here; you don’t see that so much on blogs and comment threads here. Good information here, and I don’t see anything I sould find fault with (to the extent it matters, I’m a Thaksin partisan. I think he did a lot of good for the rural people, including those in the South).

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