Glug. No it's not.

July 01 2016

Glug. No it's not. You've been reading too much output from the Robert Amsterdam propaganda mill. Robert Amsterdam is a paid political lobbyist who specializes in character assassination of politicians and movements opposed to his client. He likes to pitch himself as a "human rights activist" but he simply uses human rights as one tool in his portfolio for harassing his client's rivals. At the moment, Robert Amsterdam is being paid by Thaksin Shinawatra so everything he says and does is determined by the need to promote the interests of his client. Since both the client and the interests are very unsavory, this requires substantial prevarication and obfuscation.

Before going into what's been happening in Bangkok this year, some background is essential. Not just on Thaksin Shinawatra himself but also on Thai politics in general. Let's start with Thaksin. The man is a billionaire who made his pile getting sweetheart deal contracts from the Thai Government for work in modernizing Thai telecommunications infrastructure. He was also a Lieutenant Colonel in the Thai Police. When he first entered politics, his act was quite revolutionary. Normally a Thai political campaign consists of the candidate publishing lists of worthy people who support him. In effect, they provide lists of references that more or less state "I am a good person and can be trusted to work in your interests." People then voted for whoever paid them the most. In Thailand, it's quite possible to have a worthwhile debate on whether vote buying is wrong or not. Thaksin changed that. He conducted a western-style campaign that put a portfolio of promised policies out and invited people to judge his party on the basis of those policies. This was so different that it worked rather well. His Party became the largest in the Thai Parliament and he pushed through the items on his agenda (low cost medical care, low-interest loans for farmers and a few other things, all calculated to endear himself to the rural population - note still buying votes but wholesale rather than retail and using Government money to do it). When the next election came up, his party wasn't just the largest one, it actually had an overall majority.

This made Thaksin's real objectives critical. Thaksin is (or was) a great admirer of the Singaporean model of government and industry. He wanted to create a new Thai state in which there was a single party (controlled by him) and a single corporate entity (controlled by him). The fact that Singapore doesn't really work that way is neither here nor there. Thaksin wanted a state where there was no center of government or economic power that was outside his control. With a majority in Parliament, he set about achieving just that. Hold that thought.

Now, let's look at Thai politics. Thailand is an odd place; it's one of the few countries in the world where the political establishment openly says "we're politicians, don’t trust us." There is an ongoing presumption in the country that political shakeups should never be seen in terms of black and white. The message is to look with skepticism on political changes and to assume that all political movements are corrupt and tainted by greed and ambition. There is an assumption that all are backed by a hidden hand that is pushing a secret agenda. This is an intensely cynical view of course, and one that leaves no room to suppose that a protest is both genuine and sincere.

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