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23 - No Way Forward but Back? Re-emergent Thai Falangism, Democracy, and the New “Red Shirt” Social Movement

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  21 October 2015

Jim Taylor
Affiliation:
University of Adelaide
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Summary

The conflict in Thailand following the coup of September 2006 concerns contested social, cultural and economic interests that are articulated through domestic politics from the summit downwards and extend to the base; it concerns essentially the enduring dominance of the centre and more recent structural changes in the social field at the periphery. In the case of the cultural, political and economic city-centre/summit, this has been seen in its dual function of protector and exploiter of the countryside/base. The last two decades started to bring change in the order of material relations, but not in the dominant social arrangements. The problem, which we saw tragically acted out on the streets of Bangkok in April and May 2010, concerns an attempt by the conservative “bureaucratic elite networks” (ammat, or ammatayathippatai) as part of the ancien regime ruthlessly to recapture control of emergent grass-roots democracy and reinsert their power, interests and influence. As an overview this paper can only touch on some of the issues that have led to the current crisis over democracy in Thailand and the new Red Shirt social movement (the UDD, or National United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship). I would argue that there is no middle ground remaining as lines are drawn and entrenched and bitter conflict persists, and as resistance to an emergent new state fascism becomes focused as much in the margins as the centre/summit.

Field research with extensive interviews was undertaken in Thailand following the crackdown 19 May 2010 to better understand the Red Shirt social movement and its argument for seeking social justice, the end of double standards in Thailand, and the return of cultural, political and economic inclusion at the margins which started during the premiership of Thaksin Shinawatra (2001–2006). This essay outlines the Red Shirt movement as it emerged in response to the jettisoning of the democratic process since the last coup, which ousted Prime Minister Thaksin in 2006, and the rewriting the following year of the 1997 People's Constitution. It also concerns the confrontational problematic embedded in the post- December 2008 authoritarian state, which I term new “Thai Falangism” — an authoritarian national leadership based on the aspirations of an organic, hierarchical state.

Thai does not have a word for “fascist”/”fascism”. Instead, it uses (rarely) the foreign loan word latthi-fasit. Many Thais consider “fascism” as a particular historical moment in Thai history, which has now passed.

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Information
Bangkok, May 2010
Perspectives on a Divided Thailand
, pp. 287 - 312
Publisher: ISEAS–Yusof Ishak Institute
Print publication year: 2012

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