1. Morgan says:

    Some excellent comments here, and in isolation they make good sense, but we must recall that Prayuth has been quick to establish a reputation for targeting the low-hanging fruit while maintaining a resolute silence about the really big issues in Thailand, and one in particular – corruption.

    I have seen it estimated that corruption absorbs up to 40% of the GDP in Thailand, and, consistent with what you say Michael, it is untaxed and is a direct burden on the quality of services in Thailand. For example, the roads I travel on in my occasional visits are appallingly bad, and, when repaired, they are appallingly bad again in about 6 months – this is the real cost of, though of course, these are not the main roads that the pooyay travel on when visiting the ‘ban-awk’ phrae; they are always kept in good condition, appearance in Thailand is paramount and trumps all else. For every 100 baht allocated to roads in Thailand, about 60 baht gets spent on roads and infrastructure costs, the rest is paid to local officials in corruption, it’s the price the local contractors have to pay if they want the work. A local man of my acquaintance was approached to become one of the 2 ‘poo-chuay’ assistants of the local pooyay bahn, the price was 40,000 baht, payable to said pooyay bahn, and it’s been the same for decades. Corruption is ubiquitous in Thailand and permeates all levels of society, from the very bottom up to and including the very top. Or perhaps I should say from the very top to the very bottom, because there is no doubt at all in my mind that is starts at the top, and permeates downwards.

    Prayuth will not address corruption seriously, because a good part of his own personal fortune of more than 100 million baht os widely believed to have been gained in the same way – corruption; and too many people know about it for him to be able to seriously tackle the issue from the top. It’s an integral part of the Thai culture and is taught by example .in schools, universities and the workplace This was the subject of a very true cartoon in the English-speaking media over the past few days, and it’s very true. Corruption riddles Thailand, and is everywhere from the aforesaid pooyay bahn right up to the biggest godfather of them all, the guy that died and has been replaced by someone even more corrupt and even less principled.

    If Prayuth is not prepared to address the real problem in Thailand and will steadfastly continue to only address the cosmetic issues, then Thailand will continue to decline and fall. As it is doing right now, as we speak.

    The food traders can be addressed, and Prayuth will claim some credit for what will be a token improvement in Thailand. Meanwhile, the bigger problem – corruption, will take 50 years to eradicate if they start tomorrow, and they won’t start tomorrow. The police, the armed forces and the judiciary need to be gutted and thousands imprisoned for very long times. Mor importantly, the king needs to be exiled to Germany or wherever will take him – that’s what it will take. Reform in Thailand requires either a republic or a crusading king. Since it does not have the latter, it must take the former.

    Other than that, Michaels points are sound enough – in my opinion .

  2. Falang says:

    not so much what as how ….

  3. Aboeprijadi Santoso says:

    “I may be responsible, but am not involved,” said Wiranto in an Australian youtube documentary. This was the way the general attempted to cover up his role on East Timor bloody referendum. But it could also to some extent be true as he was indeed at the top of the formal command yet bypassed by others i.e. Feisal Tanjung’s men. It remains hitherto a big question.

  4. Too bad. The article starts well.

    For people interested in a more “political” take on contemporary Thailand than is usually available on NM, the question of the “street cleaning” that has been undertaken by the BMA is an interesting and vital one.

    To make it into just another instance of the big bad dictator obsessing over control (over the wild and crazy denizens of “Nomad Bangkok” no less!) is a sad testament to the utter lack of interest in anything other than shoring up one’s “anti-junta” credentials.

    Thailand has a taxation problem. Some estimates of the size of the grey economy put it at almost 60% of GDP. Even the lower estimate of 40% from the World Bank would suggest a staggering amount of untaxed economic activity.

    The thousands upon thousands of food vendors and sellers of just about anything and everything that take up spots on sidewalks and roadsides throughout Thailand are self-employed business people who pay no taxes.

    Receiving nothing from any level of government in “infrastructural” support for their enterprise means that they probably shouldn’t have to: police do not protect them (but some do shake them down); they don’t get social security; they can’t get bank loans.

    Some of the vendors pay a regular “rent” to the shops they sit in front of and especially in Bangkok have to pay a certain amount of “protection” money, whether to local toughs or their uniformed equivalents aka the police. But nothing goes into the national coffers.

    Every time the Bangkok middle-classes hit the streets with their anti-democratic confreres from the upper echelons, they make the point that people who pay no taxes should not get a vote. And everyone knows that the only folks who pay income tax are government employees and people working in companies “official” enough to be required to collect it.

    But vendors pay VAT and those market-stall vendors much of whose business is export oriented are unable to get their VAT back so pay more than their “official” colleagues. And VAT is regressive, so everyone employed or otherwise active in the shadow economy is paying more than their share of this particular tax.

    As to those like Sam who wonder whether a couple running a small somtam and gai yang stall and making 40 or 50K a month would rather be working for 10K each in a “real job” and wonder whether they are “happy” doing so, I suggest a little experience working for a Thai boss would not go amiss.

    The grey or shadow economy extends far beyond the street food vendors of Bangkok but much of it is in a similar situation.

    People on all sides of the political conflict decry corruption and there can be no question that such a huge shadow economy leaves many people open to corrupt practices and all sorts of exploitation, like loan sharking.

    If you bother to go back over social media discussions of the past 20 years you will find plenty of plangent criticism of Bangkok’s blocked sidewalks, from farang ex-pats as well as middle-class Thais. The same young pretties who were out smiling at Suthep hate having to negotiate the stalls when they go out for lunch at one of them.

    So while there may indeed be an outcry, now, in defense of street food, there has long been an equivalent outcry demanding that the police or the BMA or whatever administration happens to be in power DO SOMETHING to make Bangkok more like Singapore or the dead sterile streets of a city like Vancouver.

    Which brings me to a question: are the streets of Canadian and American and European cities, where casual street vending is met with police action very consistently, evidence that Prayuth-like cartoon dictators are obsessed with control in all these places too?

    Inquiring minds want to know.

    I mean, Bruce Chatwin was indicting modern western culture with his “nomadism”, not petty dictators in SE Asia.

  5. Phil Carl says:

    This is what UN prosecutor Nicholas Koumjian wrote in the Jakarta Post last year when he recalled why Wiranto was indicted:

    “Wiranto was commander of the then Indonesian Armed Forces (ABRI) and defense minister in 1999 when the East Timorese voted for independence. Under Indonesia’s agreement with the UN, ABRI, now the Indonesian Military (TNI), was responsible for providing security throughout the referendum process and had almost 18,000 troops stationed in the territory.

    Yet over 1,400 persons were killed, 70 percent of the country’s buildings destroyed and hundreds of thousands forced to flee their homes in the period before and immediately after the vote.

    A judge at the Special Panels for Serious Crimes in East Timor, an institution created and staffed by the UN, issued an arrest warrant for Wiranto in 2004, charging him with the crimes against humanity of murder, forcible transfer and persecution (including illegal detention, assaults and arson).

    The indictment and arrest warrant alleged that these crimes were committed by forces under Wiranto’s effective control — pro-Indonesia Timorese militias armed and organized by the Indonesian armed forces — or by the Indonesian forces themselves, and that Wiranto is criminally responsible because he was aware of the crimes but failed to take measures to prevent the carnage or to investigate and punish those responsible.

    A similar conclusion has been reached by Indonesia’s National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM), which found on the basis of its investigations that Wiranto was aware of widespread and organized crimes at the time of the independence referendum but failed in his duty to ensure security.

    Does Wiranto now deny that the violence occurred, deny he was commander of the armed forces at the time, deny that he knew what was going on in a territory whose security he was responsible for, or deny that he did nothing to stop the violence or punish the perpetrators? Over the last 17 years, Wiranto has failed to answer any of these points, and undoubtedly will fail to do so now, hoping that what happened almost two decades ago will simply be forgotten.”

  6. Morgan says:

    I just can’t understand why this is still an issue. In trying to conclude who was responsible, there are a very few factors to consider:

    1. Who would benefit? The answer is clear.
    2. Who would have the ability to order the CCTV cameras to be non-functional on some bogus pretence or another? The answer is clear.
    3. Who would have all peripheral parties terrified of seeming to be involved and remaining silent? The answer is clear. When did you ever hear of a Thai ‘pooyay’ being silent about anything after shoving a microphone in their face?
    4. Who would try to calm it all down by saying it isn’t important, though it was seemingly important enough to do in the first place? The answer is clear.

    The new boy wouldn’t do it himself, he would instruct his poodle PM to get it done and then sod off to the lakeside palace the Thai people paid for.

    So why is it still the subject of debate? Because Thais love to argue how many angels can dance on the point of a pin and other pointless topics. Thais do pointless pretty well, it’s one of the very few things they’re good at.

  7. Sam Deedes says:

    This is all very nice and quite touchingly romantic but what I want to see is interviews with the vendors being asked these questions. 1) Why are you doing this? 2) Are you happy doing it? 3) Is there anything else you would prefer to do?

    “Nothing about us without us”

  8. Falang says:

    Thai Critic Faces Death Threat
    April 22, 2017

    New king reportedly wants to “manage” scholar out of existence

    After the article ran, Pavin learned from a number of credible sources that the new king would seek to “manage” him, which in Thai vernacular usually means he would seek to kill his critic.

    “So the warning is credible given the credibility of the source,” Pavin told Asia Sentinel. “Someone may come after me in Japan, although my friend believes it will be difficult because of where I live. But they could attack me when I travel overseas, that would be more likely.

    stay safe Pavin and most importantly keep in the public eye

  9. Liam Gammon says:

    Hi Iwan,

    Liam Gammon, NM’s editor here. If you have it in you to writing a post critiquing the points in Ian’s article we’d be happy to host it. Get in touch if this appeals.


  10. jake says:

    Couldn’t someone just head down to that site with a bucket of whitewash?

  11. Chris Beale says:

    But WHO in the junta – or elsewhere elite – removed the plaque ? To me this has many of the hallmarks of Germany’s 1933 Reichstag burning, which enabled Hitler absolute power. Historians still debate who lit that fire. But we know who benefitted. Who among Thailand’s elite now benefit most ? Certainly NOT Vajiralongkorn, who until this, was plain sailing towards Coronation Day, after Bumiphol’s Cremation. What fire gets lit next – destruction of Bangkok’s Democracy Monument ? That would really set the cat among the pigeons.

  12. Chris Beale says:

    Andrew – all available pictures simply say this is a “Royal site”. But there are NO Royal insignia on the barricade. Where is the Royal Garuda ?

  13. Greg Lopez says:

    Congratulations Liam.

  14. Sam Deedes says:

    This film took some chasing down but it was well worth it, even though some of my friends disagree. Thank you to Professor Johnson for amplifying my understanding.

  15. […] an excellent article by Ian Wilson posted by New Mandala, the case is made that the recent Gubernatorial election in Jakarta was an opportunity for the poor […]

  16. Patrick Jory says:

    I have to say I agree with EZ. That was also my experience teaching in Thailand. EZ mentions some Western academics and big-name Thai academics, but there is also much sophisticated and critical discourse among students and younger academics. Sure, it’s not everyone, but much more than Thai academia is often given credit for, especially under the current difficult circumstances.

    This boycott call suggests that the only critical discourse is happening outside Thailand, which is simply not true.

  17. Patrick Jory says:

    This is actually a great point. Yes.

  18. Patrick Jory says:

    I have to say I agree with EZ. That was also my experience teaching in Thailand. EZ mentions some Western academics and big-name Thai academics, but there is also much sophisticated and critical discourse among students and younger academics. Sure, it’s not everyone, but much more than Thai academia is often given credit for, especially under the current difficult circumstances.

    This boycott call suggests that the only critical discourse is happening outside Thailand, which is simply not true.

  19. Ken Ward says:

    Forest fires have been a major problem in Indonesia for much longer than this author acknowledges. See, for example, and

  20. R. N. England says:

    All this tyrannical behaviour stems from the fear and loathing that grips the upper part of the Thai absolutist hierarchy. As Andrew MacGregor Marshall has shown, much of it has been split for many years into irreconcilable factions once led by the irreconcilable Bhumibol and Sirikit, both descendants of Rama V. The deeply fascist, paranoid, and corrupt Sirikit faction now supports the paranoid and corrupt Vajiralongkorn. The less corrupt, but deeply self-righteous, “l’état c’est nous”, but fading faction once supporting Bhumibol now favour the diligent Sirindhorn. Both have their own military bully-boy factions. Both know the people despise and fear Vajiralongkorn and would welcome Sirindhorn. Both know the contest has no rules, and has a good chance of being bloody. Perhaps the more historically informed Bhumibol faction is more acutely aware that a bloody and necessarily deeply unseemly conflict will discredit the Chakri family, the monarchy, and anti-democratic Thai political culture altogether.

    The plaque gesture may have been an attempt to promote unity by appealing to one of the few sentiments the two factions have in common: loathing of democracy, and fear of the power over them given to the courts and to elected politicians by any serious constitution. Fear and hatred of Thaksin is another thing that is plugged relentlessly because that also unites them. In case anybody thinks Vajiralongkorn retains any loyalty to Thaksin, they should think again. Loyalty is not in his character. Nobody hates and denies a creditor more than a dishonest debtor.

    This theme of Chakri division raises the possibility of the existence of a third, anti-democratic, unity faction, one that does not take sides in the family conflict, and one which the two Chakri factions know they need. Prayut’s survival probably indicates that he is a senior member. Intense promotion of unity has long existed in the military, which is likely to be at the core of the anti-democratic unity faction. The fear in the hearts of both the anti-democratic unity faction, and of the old, “l’état c’est nous” faction stems from Vajiralongkorn’s instability. Will he precipitate the conflict by outrageous favouritism and promotion to leadership of widely distrusted and despised members of the military?