A few weeks ago I posted comment by Charles Keyes on Sondhi Limthongkul’s presentation in Seattle. Keyes’ comment was first circulated on the Thailand-Laos-Cambodia (TLC) email list. In response to comment on that list Mike Montesano made the following contribution:

Whatever one’s views of Thaksin or the putsch that has, at least for the present, ended his premiership, it is high time to put an end to these very curious “Thaksin was the only politician in my memory who did anything for the poor.” lines. In the mid-1970s, Prime Minister Khuekrit Pramot and his finance minister Bunchu Rotchanasathian introduced a raft of policies aimed at Thailand’s rural poor. In comparative perspective, the thoughtful design and frankly progressive rationale (little surprise, in view of Bunchu’s very long association with the Thai left) of these policies set a standard not equaled till today. In the event, Khuekrit and Bunchu had only a brief period in office to implement their policies. Nevertheless, many have endured, both as specific measures (consider, for example, the Thai rural credit system) and as examples to leaders like Thaksin and his advisors. As luck would have it, too, last year saw the publication of Nawi Rangsiwararak’s excellent Bon thanon sai kanmueang khong Bunchu Rotchanasathian. From this book one can learn much about that way that a sophisticated, committed man engaged with the problem of social inequality in Thailand in an era neglected by all too many commentators on recent events.

Keyes has now responded to Montesano on the TLC list.

I realize that I never responded to this comment of yours. There is a need for a study of all programs that were supposed to benefit the rural poor going back to at least the 1960s with the promotion of the government savings bank and the so-called Tambon Development Program. These were almost totally ineffective in offering villagers opportunities to make decisions about how government monies should be used to improve their lives. I agree that the Kukrit government’s ngoen phan program was a significant change and I take your point about the role Boonchu played. However, I also know from my own study of the successor programs in the late 1970s and early 1980s that villagers (whom I interviewed in several parts of the NE and North and in Songkhla in the south) still found these to be overly managed by the government, and especially by the district office. In other words, most programs for the rural poor up to the Thaksin government were manifestations of haut en bas rather than ones which villagers felt they had any input into. While it may be possible to find linkages at the policy level between Kukrit/Boonchu and Thaksin, from the perspective of villagers — based on my restudy in 2005-06 of a village in Mahasarakham where I had carried out fieldwork first in 1963-64 — it was only under the Thaksin regime that villagers really felt that they had ownership of programs under the Tambon Administrative Authority. I observed villagers deciding how loans should be made and pushing strongly on representatives of the BAAC for debt relief. This sense of ownership was the primary basis for rural support of TRT, not payments by huakhanaen.