The Generals VS Thanatorn Juangroongruangkit

F9F99CCA-EB42-4AC5-BE97-5DF020C6F134To the minds of the generals, in long run, Thanatorn Juangroongruangkit is more dangerous than Thaksin Shinawatra. Sure, Thaksin’s nominee parties pose a much greater electoral threat than Thanatorn’s one newbie party. But here’s the thing:

Thaksin’s alleged crime was his attempt to change the power dynamic among the elites. That’s just rich people bickering against each other, while using poor people in the streets. It’s a tale as old as time.

Thanatorn’s alleged crime is fermenting a revolution of the mind that could lead to the changing of social hierarchy and traditional status quo. That, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, is what we called a people’s revolution. As old as time, it’s a tale most feared by the traditional establishment.

No need to “wai” the “poo-yai”?

No need for “wai kru” ceremony?  

No need for kowtowing and crawling?

Disloyal. Disrespectful. Un-Thai.

There is an unwritten social contract that bounds the Thai people together. That is, the inferior (“poo-noi”) submits to the superior (“poo-yai”). This is how our national psyche is framed. This is how our cultural is engineered. This is the thread that binds our social relationship of authority and voluntary submission.

You can legislate new laws and rewrite the constitution ten times over, but neither is nearly as powerful as the culturally mindset that has been engineered through centuries and through history – and that mindset is being challenged.

If the people no longer submit and accept the status of the inferior, then the hierarchy begins to crumble. This is why Thanatorn’s considered dangerous, why he’s being singling out by the generals and why he’s the targeted by traditionalists.

What if the people stop kowtowing? What if the people stop referring to the elites as “tan”? What if the people actually believe that they are equal to everyone else, no matter the wealth, ranks or titles?

Twenty years ago, it would be scandalous to openly questioned authority figures. Ten years ago, we saw the beginning of how traditions are being called into question. These days, it’s a daily social media frenzy of mocking and ridiculing authoritative figures. And now, this “rise against the system” has a name and a face to represent it.

Is Thanatorn a true democracy idealist? Or is he the great pretender? Or somewhere in between? Everyone has an opinion based on personal bias, but the truth remains to be seen.

This doesn’t mean he would make a good or bad prime minister, or that he would win any election. He’s not even the first to have said these things. But he’s the first to speak it from a political platform in the digital age. Change is a scary thing.

Elections, constitutions and legislations are all important. But it’s the cultural mindset that truly moves a nation, or keeps it in the same place. If the people no longer adhere to traditions, then the generals lose control of the hearts and minds of the people.

And if the generals lose control of the cultural mindset, then the generals lose control of the country, even if they win the elections.

Would this change be good or bad for Thailand? That depends on who you ask, what your personal vision of Thailand is and how you would either lose out or benefit from.

One thing is for certain, tradition VS change, it’s a tale as old as time.

Top 6 Blunders Made by Thaksin Shinawatra

If they were to be honest, even the harshest critics of Thaksin Shinawatra would grudgingly admit that, in this second millennial, he has been the most talented and capable Thai politician. Question his morals, one may. Question his intelligence, one shouldn’t. But even the most capable men make blunders. Miscalculation, egotism, over-eagerness or just pure bad luck, anything can happen.

As well, hindsight is everything. A strategic move is only brilliant, if it succeeds. If it fails, then it’s a blunder. You might win every battle, but if you lost the last one, that makes you the loser, just ask the Carthaginian general, Hannibal. You might win every battle, but make a wrong alliance, then your head could end up on a spike, just ask the young wolf, Rob Stark, formerly known as King of the North.

Not that anyone could have done any better, but here they are, Thaksin’s top 6 blunders, not in order of importance, but in chronological order.

  1. Attempting to control the military. Modern Thailand is ruled by a triumvirate of unequal. The all-important monarchy, held in the highest regards, the national identity, the hearts and minds of the people. Not everyone might feel the same way today, but the rule still applies in general. In second place is the military, with primary interest in protecting the status quo, often operates like a money-making corporation and somewhere down the list of things-to-do, serve the people. The third-wheel (not including the present dictatorship regime) is the cowed and submissive civilian government, doing the dirty work of day-to-day operations and receiving the blunt of the people’s wrath whenever things go wrong. Banking on his success and popularity as prime minister, Thaksin attempted to change the power dynamic by reeling the military in under his control. Theoretically and democratically, the military ought to be under full control of the civilian government. But theoretically or realistically, Thailand was never quite a democracy. And so, it wasn’t meant to be, which led to the 2006 military coup d’tat.
  2. Burning of buildings. As election campaigning heats up, all factions are pulling out all the punches, and the punch that burns the most, are all the VDOs and images of red-shirt leaders telling their followers to “burn it all down”. Some may call it negative campaigning, but there’s no such thing as negative or positive campaigns. There’re only effective and ineffective campaigns. Images of angry faces screaming “burn it all down” and the smoky ruins of buildings are impactful. The trick is this, one might not want to vote for the junta leaders, but stirring emotions of fear and hatred would serve to caution many not to vote for the Thaksin faction.
  3. Rice-pledging scheme. It was supposed to be just “business as usual”. Every government does it. In fact, it’s a part of Thai culture, a time-honored tradition. Your allies and patronage network helped you to win something, you return the favors by spreading the cake around. The Democrats had rubber. The military have submarines and watches. What’s the big deal? Well, the big deal is, time-honored tradition is the equivalent of modern-day corruption. Hence, the fuel that first fired up the protests against the Pheu Thai government.
  4. 4am booty call. The word “corruption” is convenient and often-used. But underneath the hypocrisy, we all know well that all governments corrupt. What truly roused the passion of the 2011 protests against the Pheu Thai regime – the cause the ignited the explosion of fury, was the attempt to pass a blanket amnesty bill at 4am in the morning. Sneaky. Treacherous. A strategic blunder. The opposition might tolerate a nominee party in government. The opposition would never tolerate the return of Thaksin.
  5. General Prawit Wongsuwan. Back in 2004, when General Prawit stood meekly at Thaksin’s desk, requesting for the post of army chief, Thaksin might have thought he was grooming an ally. Perhaps he thought he could win the loyalty of the soldier. But General Prawit was always a politician in uniform, and in politics, there’s no loyalty. As such, instrumental to the 2014 military coup d’tat was General Prawit, the man who always know what time it is.
  6. To be… continued. Lastly, the attempt to nominate Princess Ubolrattana as prime minister candidate for Thai Raksa Chart Party. If it had worked out, critics would hail it as a brilliant move. Machiavelli would go “Mio Dio!” Bismarck would cry “Beeindruckend!” But it didn’t work out, so Cardinal Richelieu wrinkles his nose, “Merde!” Two immediate consequences followed: Firstly, Thai Raksa Chart Party might be banned. Secondly, it is more gasoline for spurring the fear and hatred of Thaksin. This is not just burning buildings, rich pledging and 4am booty call, this one involves the highest institution of the land.

But of course, the game is far from over…

Uncle Tuu’s Days May Be Numbered

Of late, the man who has been answering political questions is Army Chief General Apirat Kongsompong, nicknamed Big Dang. Meanwhile, Prime Minister General Prayuth Chan-ocha, nicknamed Uncle Tuu, has been roaming about the kingdom ingratiating himself to the people, in his usual audacious yellow raja-pattern shirt, representing his stance for traditions.

Uncle Tuu was seen holding a schoolgirl in his arms, a child who professed that the junta is the best prime minister, because he’s the only prime minister she has ever met. He was seen doing the limbo rock, also at a school, amidst cheers and laughter of students, teachers and his entourage. He was then seen climbing onto a rice wagon to salute and announce in front cameras, “I am agent 007.” If he has said anything with a hint of politic, it was to grumble about how the people aren’t appreciating all the wonderful things he has done for the country.

It is as if, for the past week, Big Dang is the national leader, while Uncle Tuu is the comedic sideshow.

Under the thick haze that’s choking the life out of Bangkok, there’s a real political struggle underneath. One scandal after another, the junta government might as well check into a home for battered women. Furthermore, the Thaksin Shinawatra political marketing machine has been relentless, and if there’s anything the Thaksin-istas are good at, it’s political marketing.

Elections are delayed for the fifth time, and the people are restless. There are demonstrations against the delay, small though they may be, still demonstrations nonetheless. If it wasn’t for the drama over the national football team and Thai K-pop star Lisa Blackpink, the good people of the Land of Smog may not have other outlets to express their outrage, and focus their anger on the junta.

At this point in time, whatever Uncle Tuu has to say to the people, he would only be mocked. Once upon of time, he commanded fear. However politically incorrect this may sound, fear commands respect. It’s basic human nature. It might be better to be respected out of love, but fear works too. Especially if you wear a uniform, hold a gun and ride a tank, fear might work even better than love.

The problem is, these days, outside of those who worship the Cult of Uncle Tuu, the people in general see him as comedic fodder. The credibility simply is not there.

Big Dang, on the other hand, is no comedic fodder. If there’s anyone to remind the people of “respect to the monarchy.” If there’s anyone to warn the people of “chaos in the streets”. If there’s anyone to suggest to the people “or else…” Big Dang has the credibility to remind everyone that “this is Thailand”.

Big Dang, who upon taking up the post of army chief in September of last year, told the country that he does not “…rule out another coup d’tat.”

But demonstrations aren’t the junta’s main concern. Fear of tanks, guns and dusty air are enough to keep most people at home. Elections are the main worry. Besides, most people really don’t want chaos in the streets, because then there would definitely be no elections.

Here’s the most important point: Uncle Tuu’s days are numbered. He has to win the elections. If he doesn’t, he’s out. Just like the Democrats.

A quick history: In 2008, the Democrats came to power in a parliamentary coup, where Thaksin’s MPs and coalition partners, namely the Friends of Newin Group, defected to form a coalition government with Abhsit Vejjajiva and Suthep Thuagsuban. After two years in government, if the Democrats had won the 2011 general elections, then history would have turned out differently. But the Democrats lost, and so Abhisit went on to write a book, while Suthep picked up a whistle.

If democracy doesn’t favor, then let the tanks roll in.

Come 2014, it was Uncle Tuu’s turn to battle the Thaksin-istas. The first battle was easy. Roll the tanks in, everyone gets a day off, and voila, from the general who used to walk behind a woman, Yingluck Shinawatra, Uncle Tuu became the general who shook hands with Donald Trump and Theresa May.

But as already stated, the first battle was child-play. The second battle, similar for the Democrats in 2011, is at the voting booths. Here’s the real test. If Uncle Tuu can’t win, even with 250 handpicked senators at his beck and call, then he’ll be relegated to playing with grandchildren and writing songs no one will ever be forced to listen to again. As such, Uncle Tuu needs to do everything he can to make sure of victory at the polls, including delaying elections for the fifth time. As more important anything, he wants to write more songs that everyone will be forced to listen to.

If Pheu Thai becomes government again, what would that mean? Will there be whistling in the streets again, conveniently prompting the tanks to roll in? A flashback of 2014? Not necessarily. It depends on the relationship between the army chief and the new prime minister. As I’ve written before, the Thai-style democracy is  where the civilian government is submissive to the generals. So if Big Dang can keep the civilian government on a leash, things should be fine. But if the civilian government refuses the leash, as happened prior to the coup of 2006, well then… round and round we go…History is often a tragic comedy on repeats.

This is why Big Dang is now doing the talking, while Uncle Tuu is doing the limbo rock and pretending to be James Bond. The former to establish authority. The latter to win as many votes as possible.

Good cop, bad cop? Or, tough cop, funny cop?

The Old Solider Who Refuses To Fade Away

It’s not quite official, yet, not at the time of this writing anyway. General Prayuth Chan-ocha is not saying it, he’s got enough problems. General Prawit Wongsuwan is not saying it, he’s got more than enough problems. Deputy Prime Minister Wisanu Krua-ngam is saying it, but not quite saying it, because he really doesn’t want to take this problem head on. In a nutshell, no one wants to say it, and everyone is pointing to the Election Commission to say it.

If the Election Commission is anything like the Anti-Corruption Commission, they will likely say it. Yes, the elections date set for February 24, 2019 will be moved. Hopefully it won’t be, but let’s just entertain the notion that it will be. Move to when exactly we don’t yet know, but as specified by the constitution, elections must be held within 150 days.

The reason given is the royal coronation ceremony, which was announced on the morning of January 2, is to be held May 4-6. The previous royal coronation of King Rama 9 was held on May 5, 1950. As such, it is considered auspicious.

Therefore, according to junta logic, to not interfere with the ceremony, elections can wait.

Regardless however, given the 150 days’ grace period, there’s no avoiding overlap of preparations for the two events. As such, why then must elections be delayed? There are two possible reasons for this.

The first possible reason is already well explained by many media outlets. One scandal after another that not even generous populist handouts can overcome, the junta’s image is at a low in the eye of the public. As well, the political party backing the junta, Palang Pracharat, hasn’t been able to recruit enough key politicians, more time is needed. Furthermore, there might be a last-ditch plan to ban Puea Thai Party, perhaps more time is needed to build a case.

The purpose of all this, of course, is to ensure the junta’s return to power.

The second possible reason is that the generals simply cannot miss out on the opportunity to host the royal coronation ceremony. Even if they lost the elections, polls result wouldn’t be official until 60 days after the elections date. Therefore, the generals would still be in charge of the government during the ceremony.

To understand the importance of this, one must look into Thailand’s history and appreciate the roles of the monarchy and the generals. I will use the term “the generals”, not “the military”. This is because your average soldier hasn’t got anything to do with anything anymore than your average civilian.

So, here’s a very brief look at the history.

A coup d’tat on June 24, 1932 saw the Kingdom of Siam transitioned from absolute monarchy to constitutional monarchy, and led to the rule of Khana Rasadorn (People’s Party), which was composed of a civilian branch and a military branch. The 1933 Royalist Boworadet Rebellion was put down by the military branch, and led to the rise of one army officer, Plaek Phibunsongkram.

By 1938, Plaek has become field marshal and military dictator of the country. At the time, fascism and nationalism were en vogue worldwide. The field marshal himself was an admirer of Italy’s Benito Mussolini. He adopted the fascist salute, changed the name of Siam to Thailand and led a cultural revolution that included a decree for Thais to adopt western-style clothes and hats and use utensils when having meals, among other things. He created his own cult of personality where his portraits, quotes and mandates were everywhere.

In all of this, Thailand was technically a constitutional monarchy, but Plaek was the man in charge of everything. There was no one else in the picture.

After World War 2, the field marshal managed to return to power, but then he was deposed in the 1957 coup by another field marshal, Sarit Thanarat. It doesn’t matter if the Thai military was never big enough to qualify a field marshal, led alone a few field marshals, but never mind. At least, we don’t have to put up with Field Marshal Prayuth Chan-ocha.

Now, here’s the context of the time period.

The Cold War was about to hit Southeast Asia like a storm of napalm bombs, courtesy of Uncle Sam. This was a time when the number one enemy of freedom and democracy were pajama-wearing rice farmers of the tropics, not pajama-wearing goat herders of the desert.

Wars raged through the region between the 60s and 70s. Look to the left, and the country formerly known as Burma became a closed dictatorship. Look to the right, and Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, one-by-one were gobbled up by communism.

If history had turned out differently, our parents would be climbing over the gates of the US embassy trying to catch that last helicopter from the rooftop as communist troops marched into Bangkok. Not even Chuck Norris could have saved us. But thankfully, that didn’t happen.

Historians have different theories, and I’m no historian. Though I am of the argument that an important factor that saved us from being torn asunder by civil war, was the roles played by the monarchy and the generals in keeping Thailand together. This partnership was first forged under the regime of Field Marshal Sarit, courtesy of the agents of John F Kennedy.

Tanks and guns are machines of war, but it is the shared national identity, the common purpose of value, belief and reverence, that keeps a nation together. In this, Thailand had King Rama 9. Without going into details of the political communication strategy employed during the time, the result was this: do not ever underestimate the influence and impact King Rama 9 had/has on the cultural conscience and national psyche of this country.

Kings are called “great” for many reasons, most common of which is by conquering wealth and land. But King Rama 9 conquered the hearts and minds of the people, the spiritual guide that kept us together.

This was how modern Thailand was built. The elected government (whenever we have one) was always third wheel, expected to be submissive to the monarchy and the generals. Until a certain tycoon-turned-politician got a different idea… and well, here we are today.

Though the Cold War is no more, and today the country does not need the generals to do anything more than soldiering, ideally pledging to defend the monarchy, the people and democracy. But that’s not to be. Power is an aphrodisiac, it’s simply not easy to let go. The generals do not want to give up their status, a status that today largely clings on to the prestige of the monarchy.

Because of this history and because of this current reality, the generals cannot and will not pass up on the opportunity to host the coming royal coronation ceremony. This would be a reminder to the people, that one way or another, the generals aren’t going away, even if they were to lose the elections.

To host the royal coronation ceremony is symbolic and plays into the history, mythology and psyche of the Thai nation. Remember the popularity of General Prayuth when he first took power, and then he started speaking. Remember how the popularity came back during the royal funeral ceremony of King Rama 9, specifically when he was caught on camera choking back tears, and then he started speaking again.

The old soldier does not want to pass up this next opportunity, and he isn’t going to just fade away.

Now, if it turns out they don’t move the elections date, then never mind.

It’s Not Just Corruption, It’s Culture

The National Corruption Commission (NCC) has cleared Deputy Prime Minister General Prawit Wongsuwan of any wrongdoing over the luxury watches scandal. Of which, he is reported to have been sporting some 21 watches valued at over 30-million-baht total… on a soldier/politician salary.

Some of you observant readers may think to yourself, wait, isn’t it called the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC)? Well, that depends on how you want to look at it.

The finding comes to no one’s surprise, yet the public is outraged over it. This is because the emotion of outrage isn’t always the result of a shocking surprise. Many times, it’s simply out of predictable disgust.

Many activists and opposition leaders are already taking the Commission to task, calling for shame, investigation and resignation. But what would be the point other than having an outlet to express outrage? Government agencies cowing to dictatorship regime, it’s a tale as old as time.

But is this anything new for Thailand? No, it’s not. Powerful politicians get away with scandals during times of democracy. So why wouldn’t powerful generals get away with scandals during times of dictatorship? Hence, the problem goes much deeper than dictatorship or democracy.

Though to be fair, at least in democracy, the people have the rights, as guaranteed by the law, to march, protest and demand a regime change. But since this is Thailand, the military would waltz in, declaring dictatorship and promising a return happiness. Either way, we are back to square one.

Therein lies the problem. There is no body of law that we can trust. No government institution that we can put our faith in. No constitution that we can rely on. Under dictatorship or under democracy, everything is arbitrary. Favors. Connections. Bribery. Patronage. Power-play. Intimidation. Violence. These are the values we rely upon to get anything done.

Despite fancy malls and super-cars, culturally we are simply a backward child-like society with an obsession for shiny toys. There are exceptions, of course. Society can be proud of many fine, upstanding citizens. But as a whole, well… it ain’t pretty.

Put society into perspective. Rich/powerful folks aren’t doing anything different from poor folks. From motorbikes to taxis to sedans to super-cars and to submarines. From street vendors to moms-n-pops to SMEs to huge conglomerates and state enterprises. From village heads to district kam-nans to local council, provincial strongmen, national MPs and ministers.

When rich folks cheat, it’s just on a bigger scale, and they are more likely to get away with it, that’s the privilege of being rich. Poor folks cheat on a much smaller scale, and there’s lesser chance to get away with it, that’s the disadvantage of being poor.

But all are the same, rich or poor, we cheat. Not all of us, but enough to make it a cultural norm.

One thing is for certain. Every society on earth went through (most are still going through) this every-man-for-himself cultural value. We were all backward and feudal once, and many still are. But a society that has been successful in re-engineering its cultural mindset, is the society that has pulled ahead in the global system. Not everyone in a society has to be enlightened, in fact that would be impossible. But enough people have to be enlightened, to pull society out of the dark age and forge the sense of responsibility and accountability.

What does being enlightened mean? In this context, it’s a society where upon the collective identity of the people is based on the sanctity of the rule of law, which is formulated on the principles of human rights. This is the ideal we must strive for and turn into reality. The ideal that invokes trust and inspires faith, the ideal that the people know they can rely on.

But ideals are meaningless, lest we have people of integrity to champion them.

Therefore, we need a new crop of inspiring leaders. Even more importantly, we need inspiring parents and teachers.  

The Gulf Of Siam Is Largest In The World

A gulf is a big chasm, one that lays between the rich and the poor. When it comes to wealth inequality, the gulf of Siam is the largest in the world.

Bangkok is a city where you may chill on a fancy high-rise balcony bar, at a building as luxurious as any you would find in this world, and look down… only to see a slum as poor as any in this world.

This is a city where you may be stuck at an intersection, surrounded by outrageously priced super-cars… and yet see street urchins in rags selling garlands and flowers. Go outside of Bangkok, and you’ll realize that everywhere else in the country, safe for luxury hotels and mansions of the wealthy, is very much the developing world.

So, when the Global Wealth Index 2018 put Thailand as the number one country with the highest wealth inequality in the world… well, it’s merely a matter of suspicion confirmed by empirical evidence.

According to the Index, the wealthiest 1% of Thailand owns 66.9% of the country’s entire wealth, up from 58% in 2016. Thank you, Uncle Tuu.

Coming in at second place is Russia, where the wealthiest 1% owns 57.1% of the country’s total wealth. In 2016, Russia was number one, with the 1% owning 78% of wealth. Thank you, Uncle Putin, for letting us have first place. Rounding off the top four are Turkey and India, with the 1% owning 54.1% and 51.5% respectively. Thank you, Uncle Erdogen and Uncle Modi.

Other than these four countries, no other nation on God’s decaying earth has the 1% owning more than half of the country’s wealth. On the opposite spectrum are Belgium and Australia, with the 1% owning 20.1% and 22.4% of total wealth respectively. Thank you, Uncle Michel and Uncle Morrison.

Many are blaming Uncle Tuu for the nation’s wealth inequality. But that’s not entirely fair. Uncle Tuu didn’t start it, he only makes it worse. The dishonor of winning the number one spot on global wealth inequality has taken decades of hard work and dedication by successive governments and economic elites. Call a spade a spade and spread the blame.

The question is, how did this happen? No doubt, there are many theories, but here’s one. It’s a simple equation. You take the deeply entrenched Thai patronage system, add that to unchecked capitalism, take it to the power of populist policies, and voila, the highest wealth inequality in the world.

Observe:

Political elites come up with a populist policy to give out free sim cards and free six-month usage to 14-million poor folks.

14 million sim cards. 14 million poor folks. 50-baht service fee per poor folk each month. That’s 700 million-baht per month for six months. That’s a total of 4.2-billion baht for the entire shenanigan.

Where does the 4.2-billion baht come from? Taxpayers.

Where does the 4.2-billion baht go to? Economic elites who own the telecom industry.

What do the political elites get in return? Gratitude from 14-million poor folks that might translate into votes. And may be also a little “something-something” from the economic elites for “helping a brother out”. But of course, not with the current crop of political elites. They are as clean and shiny as a Richard Mille watch.

What do the poor folks get? Free internet for six months.

Capitalism is an economic system with the goal of acquiring as much wealth as possible. Patronage is a social system where a network, or a tribe, pursues as much wealth as possible for its own group.

Put the two together, and we have the sum of: acquiring as much wealth as possible… for us. Not for the people. Not for society. Not for the country. But for us (puag goo, พวกกู).

This is an example of how the 1% came to own over half the country’s wealth.

Can everyone else catch up? Well, with the recent 500-baht government handout, poor folks are 500 baht closer to catching up to the all the “tao-gaa” and “chao-sua”.

It’s a tight race, ain’t it?

 

In A Land Where None Is Trustworthy

If society is dominated by the “every man for himself” mentality, there’s a logical explanation for it. Just as man is inherently capable of both good and evil, he’s also inherently capable of selflessness and selfishness. The path he chooses is dependent upon the context and condition he finds himself in.

The context for the modern Thai society begets a crisis of confidence, and hence the condition society finds itself adheres to is “every man for himself” – and woman too, of course.  

The rich pursue wealth and monopolize businesses with vigorous self-righteousness. They bend the law, bribe the government and exploit the poor for the glory of their family name and offshore bank accounts. With no thoughts of “giving back to society” beyond tax breaks and good PR. Already, dear readers, a few famous family names pop into mind.

The poor demand handouts, subsidies and their rights to break and bend the law with vigorous self-righteousness, because life is tough and they are poor. Without the need to elaborate, you, dear readers, already think of a few groups of people who fit this description.

The middle class meanwhile, try their best to join the rich and bask in all the privileges with vigorous self-righteousness, their worst nightmare is to fall down the social ladder and become one of the poor folks.

Here we talk in generality, of course. Theories are made to form an understanding of the big picture, with the recognition that there are exceptions in all forms of social science.

But why have the people adopted an every-man-for-himself mentality? This is because the context of modern Thailand is that we live in a nation, unreliable and untrustworthy.

Here’s an example.

Last week, the National Legislative Assembly approved a budget of over one billion baht for a five-year period as “meeting allowance” for the Thai courts. The chairperson of the meeting would receive 10,000 baht per meeting. Others would receive 8,000 and 6,000, depending on their ranks. Each court has two meetings per month, hence 24 meetings per year. So that’s 240,000 baht annually for the chairperson and at least 144,000 baht annually for everyone else.

The reason for the allowance is cited as (this is my own translation from Thai, not an official translation):

“To guarantee the people the benefit of more meticulous deliberations. So that members of the court of justice would dispense impartial verdicts for the people, with thorough details, careful considerations and utmost fairness.”

Already, dear readers, you feel like sniffing on some vapex.

Of course, the people cried foul over this. Just as they cried foul over the controversial multi-million-baht housing project for judges at the foot of Doi Suthep Mountain in Chiang Mai back some months ago.

The crisis of confidence is this: The people look at the politicians and see corruption. Look at the military and see power-grabs. Look at the police and see ineffectiveness. Look at the bureaucrats and see incompetence. Look at the religious institution and see debauchery. Look at the courts and see lucrative meeting allowances and fancy houses on the edge of a national park.

If the people see all the branches of the government, and the religious institution, as unreliable and untrustworthy, then this is a nation drowning in a crisis of confidence.

Again, here we speak in generality. Surely, there are capable and honorable men and women within all branches of the government, as well as in the monkshood. But if as the saying goes, a few bad apples may spoil the whole bunch, then a few bad durians stink up the entire country. And surely, there are more than just a few bad durians in this country.

Therefore, if the people cannot trust the law, then the people must fend for themselves, and hence the social norm is defined by the “every man for himself” mantra.

There is no quick-fix for a long, lingering disease. However, the first step might come next February. Vote for new people to do new things. Not for old people to do the same old things.

But even more important than voting is this. No one is completely one way or the other, we humans are all walking and talking contradictions.  But we need to ask ourselves, on a scale where selflessness is at one end and selfishness is at the other, where does each of us stand?

The government would do nothing for us, unless we demand it from them. But aside from making demands from the government, we should set a better standard of how we conduct ourselves as members of a society.