Thaksin Shinawatra and his Thai Rak Thai (TRT) party's rise to power last year supposedly marked a new day in Thai politics. Now, with crackdowns on foreign and domestic journalists, Prime Minister Thaksin's government seems to be retreating into Thailand's history of authoritarian rule. \nThaksin's electoral victory in January last year was something new here. For the first time, a Thai political leader asked the mass of the people to vote for him because he promised to do something for them. He understood (where his rivals did not) that major changes had occurred over the previous decade and that the Thai people were no longer afraid to demand change. \nOnce in power, Thaksin named bright, committed reformers to several key ministries and negotiated a "peace treaty" with the umbrella protest group the Assembly of the Poor, after which it lifted its two-year siege of Government House. Most remarkably, he implemented (or tried to implement) his entire electoral platform. He provided farmers with debt relief, dished out village funds, and rolled out cheap health care. He delivered on other promises to NGOs and social leaders, such as a community forestry bill. \nThe Democrat Party, which headed the previous government, claimed that it offered similar reforms and cannot understand why the voters rejected them. The answer is simple. The Democrats asked people to sit quietly and trust the bureaucrats and politicians to look after their interests. Demands and protests -- the Democrats huffed -- will get you nowhere. That old bureaucratic paternalism, Thaksin knew, was ripe for overthrow. \nDuring the election, Thaksin played Thailand's traditional "money politics" better than the old political hands. He cajoled bosses from other parties into his own. TRT candidates threw money around during the campaign as effectively as their opponents. This combination of the new (popular policies) and the old (money politics) brought the TRT its victory. \nBut, by absorbing some of the old fixtures into the TRT, Thaksin also absorbed a lobby antagonistic to reform. The TRT's MPs and Cabinet ministers fall into two roughly equal groups: old political hands in their mid-50s, and newcomers in their mid-30s. Each group represents a different generation with different attitudes. Older TRT members mostly treat politics as a commercial proposition and see reform as a threat. \nSome of the strongest resistance comes from within the TRT. Hand-picked to implement reform, some of Thaksin's ministers are now flash points for clashes between the new and old politics. Kasem Wattanachai quit as education minister after confronting resistance from the education bureaucracy. Interior Minister Purachai Piumsomboon is hounded because his clean-up campaign affects the police, protection rackets and the entertainment mafia. Praphat Panyachartrak, responsible for most rural reform, had to fend off an attempt to discredit him as a land-grabber. \nThese attacks are worsening and expose the limits of Thaksin's electoral revolution, for although the prime minister's party appealed for a popular vote, it lacks a mass membership base. Like other Thai parties of the last two decades, the TRT is built around one man, his bank account, and his family and friends. Because of this lack of grassroots political organization, the TRT is incapable of linking its electoral support with the day-to-day work of government. \nSkilled at day-to-day political games, the TRT's old political hands are growing stronger. If Purachai or any other key reform minister falls, other reformers may begin to fall like dominoes. Should the reformers compromise to survive, those dominoes will merely be falling in the dark. \nKeeping things quiet may be one reason animating the recent campaign to dampen the enthusiasm of Thailand's usually buoyant journalists. Even before the election, Thaksin sought control of the media. He bought Thailand's only independent TV station and sacked 23 journalists for being too independent. Since then, serious political commentary has disappeared from radio and TV. Thailand's lively press is intimidated by the manipulation of the large advertising budgets of Thaksin-owned companies and government agencies. The old guard in the TRT welcome this suppression. They are no friends of free expression. \nBut for many of the reformers in the TRT, the media issue is a personal crisis. Some were bloodied in politics during the students revolts of the 1970s who later backed a movement that, over two decades, gradually penned the Thai military back into its barracks and entrenched electoral democracy. They reveled in the gradual opening of space to debate and challenge the social order. They joined Thaksin's TRT because it seemed to represent another step on the path of progress. \nNow the TRT looks more and more like Thailand's other "Messiah parties" of recent years, built around a knight on a white horse who turns out to be a troll mounted on a toad. Thaksin will likely survive this crisis because the new constitution strengthens the premier and the rival Democrats remain in near terminal disarray. But his "revolution," no matter how much he cows and cajoles the press into speaking well of him, will have died. The threat he now faces is that those who once ardently believed in his revolution will rebel against him. \nPasuk Phongpaichit and Chris Baker are the authors of Thailand: Economy and Politics, Thailand's Boom and Bust, and Thailand's Crisis. Copyright: Project Syndicate
In a Facebook post on Wednesday last week, Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Taipei City Councilor Hsu Chiao-hsin (徐巧芯) wrote: “The KMT must fall for Taiwan to improve.’ Allow me to ask the question again: Is this really true?” It matters not how many times Hsu asks the question, my answer will always be the same: “Yes, the KMT must be toppled for Taiwan to improve.” In the lengthy Facebook post, titled “What were those born in the 1980s guilty of?” Hsu harked back to the idealistic aspirations of the 2014 Sunflower movement before heaping opprobrium on the Democratic Progressive Party’s (DPP)
The scuffle between Chinese embassy staffers in Fiji and a Taiwanese diplomat at a Republic of China (ROC) Double Ten National Day celebration has turned into a public relations opportunity for the government, Beijing and the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT). Although the incident occurred on Oct. 8, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) downplayed it, only for the story to be picked up by the foreign media, forcing the ministry to respond. The public and opposition parties asked why the government had failed to remonstrate more strongly in the first instance. It is still unclear whether the ministry missed a trick
US President Donald Trump and his Democratic rival, former US vice president Joe Biden, are holding their final debate tonight. In their foreign policy debate, China is sure to be a major issue of contention for the two candidates. Here are several questions the moderator should pose to the candidates: For both: In the first televised US presidential debates in 1960, then-Democratic candidate John F. Kennedy and his Republican counterpart, Richard Nixon, were asked whether the US should intervene if communist China attacked Taiwan’s outlying islands of Kinmen and Matsu. Kennedy said no, unless the main island of Taiwan was also attacked.
For most of us, the colorful, otherworldly marinescapes of coral reefs are as remote as the alien landscapes of the moon. We rarely, if ever, experience these underwater wonderlands for ourselves — we are, after all, air-breathing, terrestrial creatures mostly cocooned in cities. It is easy not to notice the perilous state they are in: We have lost 50 percent of coral reefs in the past 20 years and more than 90 percent are expected to die by 2050, a presentation at the Ocean Sciences Meeting in San Diego, California, earlier this year showed. As the oceans heat further and