Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Books on Politics in Thailand

The political crisis in Thailand continues to dominate the headlines. Here are 5 books that examine Thailand’s complex political history and circumstances.
  • Red vs. Yellow - Volume 1: Thailand's Crisis of Identity by Nick Nostitz. This volume describes, both in photos and in text, the political turmoil and violent street protests that took place during the first elected administration in Thailand after the 2006/2007 coup period, its government led by the PPP (People Power Party) a place holder party of the TRT (Thai Rak Thai) which had been ousted by the military coup. The anti-government and nationalist-royalist PAD (People's Alliance for Democracy) entered Government House, the seat of Thailand's cabinet, and occupied it for months, before its protests culminated in the invasion of Bangkok's airports, the dissolution of the PPP and the overthrow of the government by forces seen as sympathetic to the PAD. In the course of the year the police, the PAD and their opponents - the Red shirts, an alliance of government supporters and pro-democracy groups - clashed on several occasions. Incidents involving at times shocking violence laid bare Thailand's long neglected social, political and regional divisions and left it a deeply unstable nation. Nick Nostitz covers this significant period of Thai history from the centre of events. His articles on which this book is based caused considerable controversy when first published.
  • Thaksin by Pasuk Phongpaichit and Chris Baker. In 2001, Thaksin Shinawatra was elected prime minister on a single-minded promise to accelerate Thailand to first-world status through unrestrained capitalist growth. His tenure from 2001 to 2009 gave new meaning to the role of prime minister and transformed Thai politics. It is an extraordinary story involving four landslide elections, a military coup, a demonstration lasting half a year, the popular mobilization of people in colour-coded street armies, the occupation of Bangkok's international airports, assassination plots, and the flight of Asian leaders from a regional meeting by helicopter. The first edition of this book was published in 2004, and the original chapters remain unchanged. They trace Thaksin's family background, his meteoric success as a telecommunications entrepreneur, his bid for the premiership, and the key polices and achievements of his years in power. In the expanded second edition, four new chapters and a conclusion trace in detail the protracted story of Thaksin's downfall. Thaksin exposed the deep divisions in Thai society and made them matter in politics. He was opposed by social activists critical of his neoliberal policies, by human rights defenders appalled at his callous authoritarianism, by royalists who imagined him as a threat to Thailand's revered monarch, by businessmen who resented his nepotism and cronyism, and by a broader middle class who saw him as corrupt, untrustworthy, and dangerous. But at the same time, he drew passionate support from farmers and provincial businessmen who welcomed his policies to spread wealth, expand social services, and empower the common man.
  • Jungle Book: Thailand's Politics, Moral Panic and Plunder, 1996-2008 by Chang Noi. "Chang Noi" has been since 1996 a widely read and often provocative writer for The Nation of Bangkok. These 64 articles from the newspapers discuss many aspects of Thailand's life and politics. They include headlined scandals, running sores and unsolved crimes as well as acute and often humorous analyses of major and minor matters relevant in Thailand's life and development.
  • A Coup for the Rich: Thailand's Political Crisis by Giles Ji Ungpakorn. This is a book that attempts to explain the most important issues in Thai politics. It asserts that the popularity of Thai Rak Thai can only be explained by the power of the oppressed and their potential to revolt in times of crisis; and that the coup of 2006 can only be understood as a "Coup for the Rich" against the interest of the poor. Both populism and the coup were only possible because of the weakness in politics of the Thai People Movement. Finally, the violence in the South can only be explained by looking at the repression of the Thai State against the Malay Muslim population and how that population is fighting back.
  • Divided Over Thaksin: Thailand's Coup and Problematic Transition edited by John Funston. These 13 papers were selected from those given by senior analysts from Thailand and the region at the 2006 and 2007 seminars of the National Thai Studies Centre at the Australian National University. The Coup of 2006 and other turbulent events were more or less in progress during the seminars so some of the papers have the flavour of immediacy. Among the subjects addressed are: the Constitutions of 1997 and 2007 and their impacts; the policies, fall and possible future impact of Thaksin Shinawatra, Prime Minister 2001-2006; four papers are on aspects of the ongoing insurgency in Southern Thailand; and the final three papers focus on the economy with discussion of the impact of political uncertainty on business. With much tabulated data, and index.

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