Junta Sailing Through Dangerous Waters

In both internal and foreign policy, the military government is facing challenges. Indeed, the junta is sailing through dangerous waters, with two important tests for the government in both internal and foreign policy. 

Sunday evening, February 1. The Siam Paragon department mall is Bangkok is the busiest shopping mall in Thailand, perhaps even in mainland Southeast Asia. Taking a glance at the frantic activity of the shoppers, the people streaming in and out of the skytrain station situated right next to the mall, no one would have guessed that this is the heart of a country still ruled by an iron-fisted military junta.

That is, until the two bombs exploded near the skytrain station.

Panic immediately ensued, with large amounts of shoppers streaming out of the mall. The police, with their headquarters just opposite of the mall, immediately closed in at the area. All was fine, they initially said; a power transformer had exploded- a common occurrence in Thailand. Nothing had happened. Most Thais went to sleep that night thinking that nothing had happened.

The next day, however, the story had completely changed. No, it wasn’t a power transformer that had exploded; it was two homemade bombs, located right near the skytrain entrance. But, the police insisted, the public were not to panic, even though the situation had been ‘mishandled’ initially.

This episode is interesting in many different ways.

A Test for Martial Law

It comes around nine months after the launch of the military coup that ousted Yingluck Shinawatra. The period before the coup was a tumultuous period, but after the imposition of martial law by General Prayut Chan-o-cha, Thailand has been relatively quiet. Dissent voiced against the junta has never yet turned into direct acts of violence, and protests so far have been small, peaceful, fast and easily put down by the authorities.

This makes the bomb case unprecedented in the context of the past 758865couple of months. For half a year the military has been able to impose its will and rule the populace with no serious resistance to its rule. The last time a non-Thaksin sponsored government ruled in Thailand, under Abhisit Vejjajiva, bombings had been an almost daily occurrence. With the authoritarian tendencies of General Prayut, however, no terrorism, no armed resistance has ever been mounted. What this means is that a bombing at Siam Paragon is the first of its kind to happen under the watch of General Prayut.

With the motivation behind the bombing still unknown, it is possible to try to examine what might have motivated this bombing. The most obvious answer that might come to mind would be that the people behind the bombing, whoever they are, are choosing to test the junta’s power. The junta has time and time again stated that ensuring stability and peace are among its foremost priorities; with the economy still lagging and the reform process still bogged down, an attempt to show that the government cannot ensure the safety of its citizens can be interpreted as an attempt to undermine the legitimacy of the NCPO.

Assume  that is the motivation. Who would have done it, however? This question is probably even more interesting. Immediately a few answers will come to mind: the opponents of the NCPO and the junta, such as the red-shirts and the allies of Thaksin Shinawatra. Perhaps it was Thaksin himself who ordered the bombing?

Still an unlikely prospect. Thaksin must know that there is no way that he can yet win a fight against the military junta and regain power. The government is already too entrenched, its firepower too great for anything that Thaksin can muster can hope to emerge in triumph against. What Thaksin probably knows, however, is that he does not have to win an armed fight. What he does have to win is a future election, one currently set for somewhere in 2016. It is in his best interest that an election is held as soon as possible, as if there is one thing that Thaksin knows how to do, it is to muster overwhelming grassroots popular support and win enough seats to form a majority in the House of Representatives.

Why, then, would Thaksin want to detonate bombs in the heart of Bangkok? Any resistance against the junta will simply provide the opportunity for Prayut to reaffirm the need for martial law, and any prolonged tumult will allow Prayut to postpone the election date even further (it has already been postponed once). We know that this is an outcome Thaksin doesn’t want, because we already know that Thaksin has told his subordinates to obey and cooperate with the junta for the time being. Therefore, it would contradict Thaksin’s current interests to launch an armed insurgency against the junta, one that he cannot possibly hope to win.

Others have instead taken to accusing the junta of planting the bomb there itself, in order to give its case for martial law more legitimacy. Some will point out that the bombs exploded not too long after the US government decided to criticize the Thai junta for its lack of democracy and continued adherence to martial law. However, it cannot possibly be in the junta’s interests for a show of violence to be conducted right in the heart of Bangkok. The NCPO wants to implement its reforms in a peaceful setting, not in a state of renewed civil conflict. A junta decision to try to give its cause more legitimacy by exploding the bombs themselves would be akin to encourage other groups to do the same: hardly in the best interests of the Prayut administration.

Of course, there are still other points that are interesting about this bombing. Firstly, there was what seemed like a cover-up attempt by the government (or at least the police) in the first hour following the explosion. Secondly, the timing of the explosion is very interesting: why did the people behind it choose late on Sunday night, as compared to an even more active time, like during the day? This seems to point that the intention was not to kill- but to warn.

Although it is difficult for us to be able to infer who was behind the explosions -perhaps pro-Thaksin groups that do not take orders from Thaksin- we can still see that it is a warning, a test, for the junta. If anything, it is a sign that there is serious resistance, and that the junta cannot pretend to ignore it and think that repeatedly turning on the ‘Returning Happiness to the People’ song will make it go away.

After all, there are many reasons any pro-Thaksin extremist would be itching for activity. Not very long ago, former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra was retroactively impeached and may now be facing criminal charges in court for corruption during the implementation of the disastrous Pheu Thai rice scheme. While this decision was highly popular among former PDRC (I, for one, agree fully with this decision- criminals cannot go unpunished, after all), it did not help further the cause of reconciliation between the two conflicting factions of Thailand.

Secondly, the US government’s recent actions has not been of any benefit for the internal stability of the country. Top US diplomats have decided to again criticize the military junta for its lack of democracy and imposition martial law. While this has led many, including Thailand’s own government, to question what right the US has to meddle in other country’s internal affairs, the comments also prompted harsh rebuking from the government and a staunch defense of the continued imposition of martial law.

This staunch defense is now being tested, with the bombings.

And with this, it is even more likelier that martial law will be in place indefinitely. The deputy foreign minister of Thailand questioned whether the United States would take responsibility for whatever ensued if the military junta chose to restore civilian law.

It is indeed a good time to ask that question. If a hundred more bombs like these were detonated across Bangkok, what responsibility would the United States, who called for the abolishment of the martial law, take?

Martial law is, however, only effective to a certain extent. At its core, it remains simply the tool for the junta to maintain peace and order for the moment, but in the long run it will have to be abolished. Martial law may be able to prevent resistance from happening in the streets, but it cannot control people’s minds, thoughts and feelings. And it is not foolproof. It cannot completely destroy resistance. With the existence of dissenters willing to use violence to test the junta very proven with the detonation of the two bombs at Siam Paragon, then the junta must not be fooled with this false temporary stability and peace.

A Test for Foreign Policy

 

The second test that the military junta is undergoing right now is a test for its foreign policy.

Thailand has been famed in its history ever since the early Bangkok era for its ‘balancing act’- to balance multiple great powers off against one another in order to preserve the survival of the nation itself. During the reign of King Mongkut and King Chulalongkorn, these two powers were the British and the French. During World War 2, they became the Allied powers and Japan. Ever since the start of the Cold War, Thailand became a firm ally of the United States.

The Cold War has long since ended, however. The fall of the Soviet Union saw the commencement of the era of American unipolarism, but even the era of unipolarity is coming to an end. The rise of China has shifted the political landscape, especially in east Asia, decisively.

It is not difficult to see why China would at this time be a much more likable ally for the United States. After all, China does not mind being friends with authoritarian governments, given its own dictatorial nature. China is increasingly becoming the dominant power in Asia, given its rise and the relative decline of US military power in the region and the inability of the Obama administration to complete fully its ‘Pivot to Asia’ and shift its focus firmly from the Middle East to the Asia Pacific. The United States has certainly not been behaving in a manner that lends itself as a friend of Thailand, after all, continually calling for a democracy in a country where democracy has become dysfunctional and calling for the abolishment of martial law in a country where the absence of martial law would lead to enormous bloodshed.

The consequence is that the Prayut administration’s recent actions have been relatively hostile to the United States. After the damning comments made by a diplomat about the state of Thailand’s government, the National Legislative Assembly responded by summoning the current top US diplomat to attend a meeting and answer questions to be posed by NLA representatives. The government also sternly defended its own record and rebuked the US comments. Thailand announced that China will be joining in the Cobra Gold military exercises- where previously China was simply an observer, and an exercise that the US has threatened to call off previously.

Cooperation with China has not been limited to the military, however. PM Xi+Jinping+Prayut+Chan+O+Cha+APAC+Bilateral+bU97Lgwbatdl
Prayut has made multiple trips to China in recent months, making numerous agreements with the Chinese government on economic cooperation, including Chinese investment to build new railways in Thailand (a much needed initiative).

But the government must act carefully. The United States will not restore its diplomatic relations with Thailand back fully until democracy is restored. However, in the meantime, while it is tempting to move ever-closer to China, Thailand must not become overdependent on it. Whether or not the balancing act between two great powers can be continued by General Prayut will be another test of his foreign policy.

In short, the junta is currently sailing through increasingly precarious waters. Problems with international recognition, mounting resistance from the inside: compounded with economic issues, the difficulties of political reconciliation and the continued debates about reform, it is difficult for any government to maintain popularity in such a situation. National reconciliation and political reform are topics that merits another post all to themselves.

Indeed, the honeymoon period with the NCPO and the government has long since passed. General Prayut and his administration must now prove that he can make good on his promises and steer the ship through these difficult seas, maintaining order and stability while also astutely maneuvering through diplomatic decisions, and at the same time implement the process of reconciliation and reform while solving the economic issues of the country.

It’s a tall order. We can only hope that the government will succeed.

-Ken

 

 

A Dose of Frustrated Japanophilia

There was once this Japanese TV show from a while ago that showed Japanese people coming on a visit to Thailand, where they had a chance to board a Thai train going out into the countryside. Their faces were filled with excitement. Exclaiming with delight, the Japanese tourists seemed to be extremely happy to get to sit on such a train. They’re seeing the most vintage and ancient trains, models which have become outdated for decades in Japan! It’s real!

ranong-train

A Thai train..

As a Thai, I don’t think I can help but sigh at that. The Japanese, used to their silent, airplane-speed and advanced bullet trains, have proper justification to be excited to see Thailand’s creaky and ancient trains that look like they were built during the Second World War. I recently visited the Shinkansen museum in Nagoya, Japan and it was a bit depressing to see a model of a Japanese train from the 1960s and realize it looks exactly like a Thai train that is still in use today.

What’s most striking- and not remembered enough- is that Thailand and Japan’s railway systems started fewer than two decades apart. The State Railway of Thailand was founded in 1890, while the first railway in Japan opened in 1872.

...and a Japanese train.

…and a Japanese train.

A little over a century later: Japan is waiting to fully adopt a magnetic levitation system while Thailand is still trying to sign agreements about having China help invest in a dual-track railway system.

This is the point where you really just have that sense of…what exactly has Thailand been doing all these years?

And after all, it’s a bit valuable to reflect on how different Thailand and Japan have become despite a lot of their similar histories. During the 19th century, both countries found themselves woefully unprepared for the onslaught of Western imperialism that threatened each country’s sovereignty. Both, however, managed to maintain their own independence. Both then embarked on national reforms; in Japan this became the Meiji restoration. In short, Thailand and Japan had started out quite similarly.

What happened after, however, is far from similar. Postwar Japan took off while Thailand is still stumbling. The Thai and Japanese train systems is the clearest way to illustrate this. Of course, this is just a superficial example, but it does shine light on how differently the two countries are being governed and developed. Japan’s railways continue to develop, while Thailand’s state railway operators still has a reputation as one of the most corrupted state organizations, its immense budgets being sucked away with nothing to show for it. The two respective railways are symbolic of the governments of both nations: one that continues to innovate and develop, while the other that is too embroiled in its own problems with corruption and is unable to think creatively.

You can only wonder how we’ve reached this point.

And it’s not just the hard development that has become different. Even in terms of soft power and cultural influence, Thailand lags far behind Japan and lacks any of its global branding. There are many examples of this. Japan’s anime and manga is world famous and is widely adored everywhere. Meanwhile, Thailand consistently produces animations depicting Thai kids with the traditional jook hairstyle- hardly something appealing to watch.

Yui.(Angel.Beats!).600.385079

that smile of “you can’t beat me”

Then there’s also things like tourism and hospitality. Sure, Thailand might consistently rank among some of the best travel destinations in the world, but walking along the roads of Tokyo or Osaka is different from walking in Bangkok. The roads are clean, and the public transportation is thorough. The people are polite, disciplined, well-mannered and there’s a tangible feeling of hospitality. I’m not sure if you can always say the same here.

In the end, Thailand seems to be gripped by a desire to emulate and be Japan. Thailand is full of Japanophiles. Everyone knows that much. Any walk in a Thai shopping mall will show a huge abundance of Japanese restaurants; ironically enough, it can probably be said that a decent Thai restaurant is harder to find in a mall than a Japanese one. Any new product that carries the ‘Made in Japan’ label will be greeted and bought with enthusiasm. Many will proudly declare themselves an otaku. Although the fascination with Japan among Thais is far from unique- it is probably global- it is an intense interest that we hold.

Indeed, it is a sad truth that these two countries, starting out so similarly, has ended up so differently.

I’m not here to be spreading Japanophilia (although I do love Japan). And I’m not here to say that we need to be copying Japan. What I’m saying is that it says a lot about our government and our people that the standing of the two countries are so different. Japan was once dominated by militarists that led it on its long road to a war that would eventually destroy most of the country- something that Thailand has never had to experience. Reconstruction is an expense that Thailand was mostly spared upon, unlike Japan. Yet Thailand is behind, so severely behind the various large economies of Asia, whether they be Japan, South Korea or Taiwan.

I know that Thailand is still stuck in its own turmoil. We still haven’t been able to resolve most of our problems, and our slow running reform process merit another post to itself. But we need to look beyond just the immediate situation and into the future. There’s really no reason that Thailand has to be so behind the other ‘tigers’ of Asia, yet it always seems that we choose to make decisions that will make us lag behind.

Come on Thailand. Why keep punching below our weight?

Father of the Nation

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It is, once again, December 5th: Father’s Day in Thailand. Every time this day comes around, scanning through the newspapers or turning on the TV will show you the same images: thousands wearing yellow, lining on the streets, waiting through the night. Thousands of articles and messages of well-wishing, of which this post is only one.

For any figure to inspire such deep admiration, love and loyalty is rare. As such, it is a testament to the recognition of the King’s great commitment and dedication to the Thai people throughout his long reign that his people all forget their political differences and unite together on one day to show their respect for the monarch.

Indeed, this is a day to remember the King’s work for the country. His thousands of royal projects, his principles of moderation and morality and his unwavering commitment to the poor; these are only some examples of why Thais love their king so much.  Let us all join together and celebrate the birthday of the father of the nation today.

Long live the King! 

Hong Kong’s Impossible Battle

Hong Kong’s protesters are demanding full democracy, but they are fighting what is probably an impossible battle. 

‘Abrasive’ was the word that British diplomats chose to describe Margaret Thatcher and Deng Xiaoping’s meeting in 1982 over Hong Kong’s status after 1997. When Thatcher tried to insist that the two sides pursue further diplomatic discussions about the issue of Hong Kong sovereignty, Deng exploded in anger. Declaring that to allow British rule in Hong Kong to continue would make him “no better than the traitors of the Qing Dynasty”, he announced that Britain would have to produce an agreement on Hong Kong that was acceptable to China. Of course, “the Chinese government would take into full consideration the territory’s special circumstances and adopt special policies in order to maintain the prosperity of Hong Kong”- and that was the greatest concession Deng was prepared to make.

 The Iron Lady had to bend. She had met her match. After the meeting, an exhausted Thatcher would trip and fall down the stairs of the Great Hall of the People in Tiananmen Square.

One Country, Two Systems

In a way, the image of the British Prime Minister tumbling down and kneeling at Tiananmen was highly symbolic. Hong Kong may have once been a British colony, but this hardly mattered, for the territory was to be China’s. China alone would rule Hong Kong; and China, alone, would decide how it was to be governed. Yes, it would account for Hong Kong’s special status. That much was assured. But China could (and would) disregard other picky arguments; only what they thought was best for Hong Kong would be executed.

“Yi guo, liang zhi“: One Country, Two Systems. Deng hovers over the skyscrapers of Hong Kong.

And China duly decided what it thought fit for its new special territory. ‘One Country, Two Systems'; this was the formula that Deng devised for the governance of Hong Kong and Macau. Although united under the PRC, Hong Kong’s unique system of governance would be guaranteed for the following fifty years. Later on, China would later guarantee “that the election of the fifth Chief Executive of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region in the year 2017 may be implemented by the method of universal suffrage”. Hong Kong was to be, in essence, ‘democratic’.

The Communist Party would reveal later that democracy in Hong Kong was to have a particularly Chinese flavor, however. Certainly, the city citizen’s would be allowed to elect their own Chief Executive, but the candidates running in the election would have to be screened and approved first by the Communist Party. It was, to put it bluntly, a sham democracy.

The Battle for Democracy

And so we reach the heart of why Hong Kong is engulfed in protests

today: the battle between opposing versions of democracy. The protesters demand a full democracy, one where candidates may freely run and campaign for Hong Kong’s best interests without the blessings of the central government. China, on the other hand, has no interest in seeing a future Hong Kong government that could be unwilling to toe the party line.

This is the reason why there are so many protesters, wielding umbrellas, clashing with policemen day and night. People pitching up tents in the streets, police firing tear gas at a crowd; one would expect these pictures from Ratchaprasong street in Bangkok, not from Mong Kok in Kowloon. Indeed, the images that have been coming out from Hong Kong were at first unfamiliar and, to many, surprising. Hong Kong is a city famous for its financial experts and businessmen, not for its ideologues. But this question of democracy is serious enough for many to feel sufficiently fired up to join what has now been dubbed the ‘Umbrella Revolution’.

A promise is a promise, after all. The perspective of the protesters is more than understandable. They had believed China’s promise that Hong Kong will become democratic. China had not delivered; or, rather, they had not quite delivered what was promised. A fake democracy is hardly something that  many passionate Hong Kong citizens were willing to settle for. If we consider Hong Kong’s protests in this light, then we can fully justify Hong Kong’s protests. Their demands are fully legitimate; the protesters are simply asking for what has been promised.

But at this point, dragged into a state of empathy with the protesters, we probably need a reality check.

Testing Xi

While Hong Kong has been embroiled in the past few years over the debate regarding its electoral process, China’s authoritarian leadership had also been busy with its own issues. President Xi Jinping, who came to power two years ago, has been building up his own power base. Many China observers now say that he is possibly the most powerful Chinese leader since Deng Xiaoping himself. This amount of power has permitted Xi to launch his signature anti-corruption campaign. Huge numbers of Communist party officials are under investigation, and some influential politicians who were previously thought untouchable had even been brought down. Xi is also determined to launch many reforms, such as those that would be designed at combating China’s slowing growth.

These reforms, however, will require the support of his party. Xi has made many enemies within the party from his anti-corruption campaign, and they are probably waiting. At this point Xi must be seen as a strong leader; what sort of message would backing down from the Hong Kong issue send? The new emperor simply cannot afford to back down. In addition, China is currently moving in the direction of stronger one-party rule under himself. What sort of example would a triumphant protest in Hong Kong set for the other mainland cities? A ‘Chinese Spring’ is the last thing that Xi would want to see.

Xi clearly remains a believer in the ‘One Country, Two Systems’ principle, in any case, even as it is being heavily shaken by the protests. Just a few weeks back, as protests were raging in Hong Kong’s Central district, he told Taiwan it should reunite with the mainland under this same principle. After all, reportedly, Xi once commented that the Soviet Union disintegrated “because no one had the balls to stand up for it”. He is not a fan of disunity, and is willing to stand up against it; this is clear enough. Take into account Hong Kong’s Basic Law (basically a mini-constitution) which states “Hong Kong is an inalienable part of China”, and we know Xi’s response to Hong Kong drifting further away from the central government.

It remains to be seen whether this ‘Umbrella Revolution’ would go down in history as a successful uprising against a broken promise, or a failed revolt. It has to be admitted that the odds are it will be the latter. China is not known for its tolerance of dissent, which was visibly demonstrated when the tanks rolled into Tiananmen Square in 1989, seven years after Thatcher tripped in that same square. Although it is also unlikely that Xi would send tanks into Hong Kong’s streets and start a massacre in the style of Tiananmen the way Deng did- the world is watching, after all – it is not unreasonable to expect that China would eventually increase the level of force if protests continue for much longer. Xi will not want to lose.

Basically, Hong Kong is fighting an impossible battle.

Of course, many will try to be optimistic for now, but it can be remembered that Margaret Thatcher was also optimistic before heading to China. Yet she was unable to force her way with Deng Xiaoping. So, the prospects of Hong Kong’s protesters reaching a different outcome with Xi Jinping?

Quite unlikely, it must be said.

-Ken

Status

Rambling Excuses

Wow. I haven’t been writing anything on here for around two months now, and that’s a pretty long time to be gone from writing.I don’t even know if it’s worthwhile anymore for me to make these posts on this blog that says something like, “I’m planning to write _______!” The fact is that whenever I write these posts, I feel good about myself for about three minutes and afterwards I don’t actually ever follow up. For example, I’ve been proclaiming to the world repeatedly that “I want to write a novel!” and I never actually do it.

To be fair to myself, it’s a sad fact that these days almost all the writing I do is for school, but I’m not sure how much of a choice I have. There’s usually not enough time left in a day for me to do serious writing, and even when there is I might not even feel like writing at all. ManageBac has been blood red for me lately because of the insane amount of assessments, and honestly there’s just no time to actually sit down and really concentrate on writing. Again, even when there’s time I’m too exhausted to write. So yes, Ken has been gone from the writing world.

These are just excuses, of course, to make myself feel better for not having written anything at all in so long. I’ll see if I can write something this month. I want to, at least.

Placing Hopes in Prime Minister Prayuth

Prayuth Chan-ochaIt was rare enough to ever see General Prayuth wear something in public that was not his military uniform, and him in parliament was probably something never seen before. Only a few days later after his first address to the National Legislative Assembly, he would be nominated by that parliament as the 29th Prime Minister of Thailand- a much more regular-sounding title than ‘Chief of the National Council for Peace & Order’. The timeline that the NCPO had proposed earlier stated that the NLA-nominated interim PM will be in power for at least a year.

Back in 2006, a military coup d’état toppled the government of Thaksin Shinawatra. It was hailed by those against Thaksin as a great and admirable feat, but perspectives have changed significantly since then. The triumph against Thaksin was short-lived, and only a short while after the military gave up power was a Thaksin-backed party elected.

“Sia kong”, the Thais now call that coup- “a waste”. Not only did it fail to prevent the return of Thaksin, but it also failed to solve any of Thailand’s lingering political problems. Indeed, the political turmoil would continue to intensify. Eight years later, after innumerable rounds of protests, changes in government and points where Bangkok seemed close to becoming engulfed in civil war, the military would once again launch a coup, under General Prayuth Chan-ocha.

The people had, and still has, high hopes for General Prayuth and his newly established junta. Thailand has been plagued by political problems for what feels like an eternity; surely there must come a time where this cycle of corruption, protests and division will come to an end? Surely, reform and reconciliation is still possible? At a point where the political gridlock seemed to have reached a dead end, where the country simply had no way of moving forward, General Prayuth launched his coup. Many hailed him as a savior. A time of change was coming, they felt. The previous coup was a waste, for it failed to accomplish anything in the long term; will Prayuth, with his decisiveness, be able to pull Thailand out from its abyss?

At the core of people’s fears are that the coup d’état will end up as ‘sia kong’- a ‘waste’- like the 2006 coup. Of course, not all have this fear; there was no shortage of hysterical criticism from the supporters of Thaksin when both coups were launched, and the last thing they would want is for the coup to succeed in rooting out Thaksin’s influence. But for many others, who had been bitterly disappointed by how the 2006 coup turned out, their last hope seems to be with General Prayuth. General Sonthi, who had masterminded the coup that overthrew the original Thaksin government, would hand power over fairly quickly, allowing others to finish the job that he started. The result: a wasted coup. The interim government that had been set up in the aftermath of the coup was widely criticized later for being inefficient and, for the most part, simply not doing anything.

General Prayuth, however, has shown that he is taking a different course by choosing to don civilian clothes and participate in governing the country in the long term. With his nomination as interim Prime Minister by the NLA, and his acceptance of this position, he is fully committing himself to tackling the country’s problems for at least the next year. 

As chief of the NCPO, General Prayuth has done a remarkably good job. All of the violence and chaos that was threatening to engulf Thailand and lead to a civil war was instantly halted, and the NCPO worked on solving a variety of problems in the short term, whether they be paying back the farmers the money they owed from the previous government, setting up centers for reconciliation, or even things as trivial as cleaning up the beaches of Phuket, both literally from the littering garbage and metaphorically from the various local influences and mafia. The junta moved with striking efficiency and speed, a stark contrast to the slow and agonizing procedures of the usual politicians.

These, however, are all quick fixes for the short term. The junta has not yet begun what many perceive will be the long term solution to Thailand’s deep rooted problems: national reform. A blanket term, this will have to encompass many things, which the NCPO had identified as covering politics, the bureaucracy, law and justice, local administration, education, the economy, energy, public health and improvement, mass communication and society.

General Prayuth may have proven that he can bring back law and order, but the largest and most difficult of all his tasks- national reform- has yet to begin. By becoming the Prime Minister, he has committed himself to overseeing this process. The general started shouldering on the huge burden since he launched the coup, and has since ruled with an iron fist. Yet even an iron fist can only do so much. Everyone’s wishes are now being relayed to him, and him only. Conciliate the various groups that seem to forever be in disagreement? Eliminate Thaksin’s influence? Crack down on the endemic corruption that plagues the bureaucracy? Reduce energy prices? Reform the educational system? Ensure that populism won’t ever be used to woo voters again? Thailand’s endless problems are deep-rooted- some of them have built up for years, even decades- and solving any of them will be an immensely difficult task.

The new Prime Minister probably knows that his work is only about to begin, and his work is not going to be easy. The number of problems are so diverse, and their severity so strong, that anyone would find themselves overwhelmed. The Nation writes about an interview with former PM Abhisit:

The ruling junta has done well in the first phase of its mission, but the road ahead will not be rosy…While the junta has managed well such emergencies as political violence and the unpaid money in the rice-pledging scheme, the real issues such as the national economy and problems of low prices for agricultural products are waiting.

(The Nation)

 

At the very least, however, he will be able to work for longer and spend more time with these problems than the generals of 2006 did. The most important thing is to ensure that we will not need another coup. This one cannot be allowed to become ‘sia khong’, for Thailand has wasted too many years with the political turmoil. As we prepare to enter the ASEAN economic community, as our neighbors continue to develop, we can hardly afford to remain paralyzed by politics.

Some will say that it is overly optimistic to hope that any positive change will come out of the efforts of the National Legislative Assembly and the National Reform Council, as spearheaded by the NCPO and General Prayuth’s upcoming government. After all, Thailand has had close to twenty coups, and still we have failed to work out the model of democracy that fits us and leads to good governance. However, General Prayuth’s work so far bodes well for his future success.The honeymoon period of 90% approval ratings may be over, but the facts still stand that the NCPO’s achievements are numerous and real.  If he continues to move with his characteristic decisiveness, implementing the reforms that are needed, then it may not be overly optimistic to place hope on General Prayuth.

Indeed, we can only hope that he is up to the task that he has put himself for.

There are also still those who argues of the junta and General Prayuth’s illegitimacy, for the lack of democratic governance. However, a question must also be raised: is democracy a means or an end in itself? Democracy is often thought of as the most free and preferable of political systems, but in the previous decade it has failed to produce good governance. If good governance is our goal, then we have not been reaching it through democracy. Suspending democracy for a limited time, even if that limited time reaches a year, under a strong leader who is willing to reform the system to eliminate the most corrupted elements of the previous government and create a true democracy in the long term, in addition to reforming the country and purging the various deep-rooted problems; this is worthwhile.

Indeed, General Prayuth has promised as much. The song ‘Returning Happiness to the People’, the lyrics of which was written by the general himself and regularly played on TV, has a chorus that says the following:

เราจะทำตามสัญญา / We shall keep our promise

ขอเวลาอีกไม่นาน / Let us have a little more time

แล้วแผ่นดินที่งดงามจะคืนกลับมา / And beautiful times will return

เราจะทำอย่างซื่อตรง / We shall be honest and principled

ขอแค่เธอจงไว้ใจและศรัทธา / Please trust in us

แผ่นดินจะดีในไม่ช้า / The country will be well soon

ขอคืนความสุขให้เธอ ประชาชน / We shall return happiness to the people.

As NCPO chief, General Prayuth has kept his promise; he has achieved peace and order. Now, as Prime Minister, we hope that he will continue to keep his promise to achieve successful national reform. The coup, hopefully, will not be wasted.

-Ken

In For a New Round

The golden rule of writing is supposed to be ‘just keep writing’- ‘it takes time to find your voice and style’ – ‘practice makes perfect’. To be honest I’m really not sure if that’s happening to me. Maybe it’s that I’m one of the exceptions to the classic wisdom that the older you grow, the more experience you accumulate, the wiser you get. Or it’s because I’m not writing enough. Probably the latter. Perhaps the former. I don’t know.

The fact still stands, however, that I’m not sure where I’m going with my writing. Am I becoming more ‘confident’ with my style and voice? Not really. If I was asked to explain my ‘writing style’, I wouldn’t know what to say. That’s not to say that I’m not changing or developing as a writer. While there’s no subconscious feel of evolution when I write, once I look back at things I wrote just maybe two years ago and what I have now, there really is a change. It’s good to know that writing is dynamic, not static.

I’ve signed up for WattPad. WattPad is like the YouTube of writing, and while it’s difficult to actually gain a huge readership on there, I think it’ll be a fun platform to explore. Because of this, from now on any new fiction works that I write will probably end up being posted both on here and on WattPad. This is my WattPad profile page. Yes, I’ve posted three old short stories up; I’ll publish the rest later.

But as for the direction I’m heading, of the actual content I want to post on WattPad- I’m still not sure. I’ve written in many posts for months now that I want to start a novel. I still do. Finishing a novel is still one of my longtime goals and I’m not going to drop it. When I will get to start, however, is another question. A new school year has started, and while during the term breaks I can draw up grandiose plans of all the things I’m going to write and everything I’m going to explore, my choices become severely much more limited when term starts. Time is a remarkably finite resource indeed.

The problem is there’s just so many things I want to try out. I still believe that while short stories don’t have much of an audience, they’re still a great way to explore other genres and just be experimental in general. I probably will keep writing new short stories, but don’t expect them to be as much of a focus as they were before. I also feel like trying my hand out at fanfiction. Writing should be original, that much is true, but maybe fanfiction might do me some good. I don’t know about that yet, and I won’t know unless I try.

In terms of nonfiction, you might notice that I’ve been reblogging things over from Publish Your Mind and History Republic lately. PYM I no longer work for, sadly, but History Republic has recently gotten itself a domain- historyrepublic.com! I’ll be posting there regularly over there with history articles and also analysis of current events. Thai politics I probably won’t be writing about too much; things have calmed down and there just isn’t much to whine about anymore on here.

And so, once again, while I am still lost in the realm of fiction, I do have a bit of sense of where I’m going when it comes to non fiction. This year, I’m really going to try to make my writing regular; which means that there are regular times in which my writing comes out, not just whenever I feel like it. I want a writing schedule, so to speak. I’ll see how my WattPad experiment goes, explore new fiction writing and just have fun. I’m in for a new round.

-Ken