In the 1980s there was rising alarm that a key Thai resort–Pattaya–was being overwhelmed by graft, over-development, pollution and general lawlessness. This was facilitated by the area being ruled by powerful local families who ran the province as their own personal fiefdom (still common in many areas of Thailand). They made the deals they wanted and ignored national-level laws.
Despite many plans to reclaim Pattaya, it only sank deeper into chaos with foreign mafias now claiming a place in the resort town. And despite the example of Pattaya, over the past 20 years Phuket also followed the downward spiral of Thai resort towns–unplanned development, encroachment on beaches, pollution and intimidation of tourists. All facilitated by local influential families cutting their own deals and ignoring laws that apply elsewhere.
This feeds into Thai concepts about elected politicians. It is thought that those elected are beholden to their political allies and will make any kind of deal to increase and prolong their time in power. Thus, from a Thai perspective, it is a commonsense idea that elected officials cannot be counted on to enforce laws. This is demonstrated by the examples of rule breaking throughout the country–particularly where the police, seen as the great facilitating middlemen for vested interests–stand by or even coordinate the law breaking.
So when the military sweeps across Phuket beaches in front of TV cameras, forcibly clearing out illegal vendors who have been undisturbed for years, they are playing into the notion that elected authorities and their lackeys, the police, cannot be expected to enforce the laws without favor. The continuous calls from the Pheu Thai since its election to “bring Thaksin home” is seen in this light–the natural inclination of the elected to rewrite laws to extend their own rule.
The military, by its actions, is emphasizing its own self-image–that it is not influenced by elections and favoritism to one side or another, but only acts with selflessness for the people, the nation, and the monarchy.
This military self-image will strike many with long enough memories as odd. Pre-2006 putsches were all firmly in the cold war vein of canny and unprincipled officers seizing power with an eye to participate in government without having to resort to pesky elections. It is strange to think that many of the same citizens who once hated the military for the wanton killings on Bangkok streets in 1992 would later cheer them on to topple elected governments in 2006 and 2014.
Continued military involvement in the political system is the greatest pitfall for the current junta. Military men are as much a part of the Thai world as politicians are. This world encourages quid pro quo and facilitation of every kind of illicit deal as being part of a polite society and strengthening social bonds.
The longer they are part of the political world and deeper they entrench themselves, the greater the chance of overreach. The military’s foe–Thaksin and his political clique–are waiting for just such missteps to appear and will trumpet them to the world at the first opportunity.
2Bangkok.com Editor Ron Morris’ book, The Thai Book: A Field Guide to Thai Political Motivations, is available in the Kindle Store.
Opinion: How the military coup saved Thailand’s top holiday island of Phuket from ruin – CNN, August 8, 2014
…Though many Western countries have condemned Thailand’s latest coup, it may just have saved Phuket from further decay — also producing some useful social outcomes for similarly troubled holiday destinations in other parts of the country.
All beaches in Thailand are public space by law. The prohibition of private business operations on these public beaches is without exception, but has been ignored on Phuket and some other tourism destinations.
Restaurants and beach clubs illegally encroached onto the beaches, right down to the high-water mark in some places, too many deriving private profits by ignoring the law and doing as they pleased.
Because Phuket is 860 kilometers south of Bangkok, administrators posted by the central government seemed reluctant to interfere…
Now, says Major General Somchai, complaints are being listened to and acted upon, without regard to the degree of influence Thailand’s resident ”big people” have always had under civilian governments.
”Enforce the law,” the major general tells his officers, ”free from favor.”
”By November [start of the tourism high season] we will have made Phuket safe, clean and appealing to everyone,” he says.
Coup, what a difference it’s made here.