As I have written earlier, much of the ideological justification for Thailand’s coup rests on the view that Thaksin’s electoral mandate was illegitimate given that it was “bought” from a politically naive and unsophisticated rural electorate. The so-called pro-democracy movement of Sondhi Limthongkul makes much of the need to educate the rural masses before they can play a legitimate part in the electoral system. The elitist and undemocratic stereotype of rural ignorance is one that I am committed to challenge.
In the days following the coup I asked a colleague to collect some quick comments about the political situation from residents in a village in northern Thailand where we have both been doing research. Here are some extracts. (These are my translations of paraphrased notes prepared by my colleague.) There are diverse political opinions, some passionate and some more apathetic. There is a strong critical edge, often spiced with an acute sense of humour. Not so different to the situation here in Australia! I hope these brief extracts can make some contribution to dispelling the common image of rural people as politically naive and unsophisticated.
Grandmother A: When there was the flooding no one came and helped us. Next time we will choose someone who will come and help us. I like Chuan Leekpai. Speaking of politics, the people in this house like Chuan. We never vote for Thaksin and we are very happy about the coup. The people in Chiang Mai like Thaksin too much. Just like Mrs C. She likes Thaksin a lot. When people complain about Thaksin she gets very angry. She is angry if people gossip about Thaksin. I wonder if she will still argue with us now that the coup has happened.
Aunt D: Talking of Thaksin, I call him “sapsin” (property). I don’t like the way he has cheated so much money. My relatives in Bangkok [in-laws] don’t like him at all and never agree with his actions because he just throws money away. The money that Thaksin uses is the country’s money. It is not money from his own pocket. But we should be careful or we will get into trouble talking about politics. If there are five people it is no good!
Uncle E: We should give Thaksin a chance to improve in relation to administration. Especially in relation to agriculture, because he had accepted that in the past he had taken little interest in agriculture. Thaksin is like someone with a lot of children. Taking care of everything properly for everyone is not possible. I would like to see some of the people who criticise him take his position and see if they really do what they say they would. There are people who just want to obstruct.
Mr F: There must have been some discussion between the army and Thaksin or his people. That’s why it was a peaceful coup. Otherwise there would have been violence. The people in the centre don’t like, or even hate, Thaksin. They are worried about the economy and the how the various projects of the Thaksin government will turn out.
Uncle G: I didn’t want it [the coup] to happen. But I had just about given up hope of help from the government [he had been active in lobbying, unsuccessfully, for support for longan cultivators in the village]. So, I am not really so interested. But I am following the news about the country and who will be coming into the administration.
Mr H: Here there isn’t really any impact [from the coup]. Everything is normal so we villagers don’t really have a lot to talk about. The coup is good because there has been confusion for a long time – protesting against each other so that you don’t know who is on which side. Some people were paid to protest. There is no benefit [from all the protests.] If there is an end to the chaos and confusion the government will be able to work better.
Mrs I: The coup is a good thing. It will make the country peaceful. There is not much impact for us. We are just selling things normally [she is a small shopkeeper]. In fact, we are not selling so well because it is raining. My son who works in Bangkok as a driver called me before the coup and said “Mum, today there will be a coup. The palace is preparing cars, everyone filling up with petrol. So if there is an emergency they will be able to leave the palace at any time.”
Uncle J: we are farmers, we plant rice. Our job is paddy farming. We use fertiliser and weed the fields according to our own plans. People do what they want according to their own job. I am not interested [in politics]. When I have finished work I drink whiskey.
Mr K: Thaksin has a lot of money so doesn’t have to be afraid of anything. He can pay the people who are responsible for the law so everything will be OK for him. If he runs for politics again I am not sure if people will support him. Perhaps they will because there are many benefits from Thaksin that the villagers like. But perhaps the new government will not allow him to run again. I think the coup is a good thing. It has made things quiet again. Thaksin has nothing to worry about. He can go off on a holiday overseas. No big problems for him. And the coup looked quite pleasant – smiling tanks. There wasn’t conflict between Thai people. In fact it became a fun thing and lots of different people came out and supported it.
Aunt L: I like Thai Rak Thai. They solved the problem of drugs very well. Without Thaksin the problem would have increased a lot. Let’s see what this government will do. I don’t think they can manage the problem. They say Sondhi wants to be Prime Minister.
Mrs M: I voted for Thai Rak Thai because I like Thaksin a lot. He has made the economy better and we can sell things well. And money has come into the village to help us.
Uncle N: I used to vote for Thai Rak Thai but I didn’t like their candidate last time. So I didn’t vote for him. I voted for Chaat Thai and the Democrats because both of these parties take a middle line. I would like a Prime Minister who is interested in local development more than economic development.