The United Fiefdoms of Siam

I went away for one week, and came back to find that Bangkok is no longer "shutdown", just Lumpini Park, and that there's apparently more than one secession movement in Thailand now, not just the southern separatists.

The first bit is very much welcome news. The second sounded rather outlandish at first, but after further   pondering there could actually be something to it. 

The People’s Democratic Republic of Lanna (PDRL) is the name northern red-shirt secessionists are proclaiming. The term "republic"’ says a lot. But we shall not get into that for obvious reasons. Rather, let’s examine what could actually work in reality. 

First off, we Thais are a melodramatic people. This is nothing new.  Too often we view real life like a Channel 7 primetime soap opera. Sentimentally, we take things overboard, as with this secessionist movement. 

Secondly, secession will never happen. Thaksin Shinawatra won’t let it happen. Suthep Thaugsuban won’t let it happen. The military, the elites, old and new, no one who actually has wealth and power would let it happen. 

Rich and powerful people are more pragmatic than the rest, because they have huge investments. They are not going to split this pie in half. Dwelling on fantasy is the pastime of the working and middle classes. It won’t happen. They won’t let it happen.    

Thirdly, take melodrama and divide it by two (or ten), then we may have something akin to reality. Northerners and southerners need not secede from the United Fiefdoms of Thailand, as ruled by the Bangkok Empire. The Bangkok Empire just needs to chill out and decentralise. 

A century ago, Thailand was a patchwork of subjugated kingdoms and fiefdoms, held together by Bangkok with power exercised through the patronage system and appointed governors. Given this, the socio-political map of Thailand today is not much different. 

The notorious Thai corruption and inefficiency is due to many things, not least of which is that institutionally we are a twisting, intertwining, incestuous feudal patchwork. This is also true in many big organisations in the private and public sectors, and notorious in state enterprises.

Institutionally and structurally, the Thai feudal networks foster corruption and inefficiency. There’s no escaping it, unless we change the system. 

Don’t want to be under the yoke of Bangkok, beholden by centralised budgets and incompetent mandarins? The answer is easier said than done, self-determination.     

Self-determination means political rights and economic inclusion within each province. It means each province gets to elect its own governor democratically; is accountable for its own police force and other agencies; and is responsible for developing its own economy. 

Basically, it means decentralisation. Allowing more political rights and economic inclusion at the provincial level would also undermine the political power of provincial and regional godfathers. It may one day break up their power.  

This would in turn help to untie the many knots of the incestuous patronage webs that link the village to the capital. In fact, it would eventually paint over the feudalistic socio-political landscape of Thailand. 

It’s the formula for advanced, democratic nations. It’s poison for corruption and incompetence. Not lethal poison, but poison nonetheless.    

Bangkok, as the seat of the capital, would be responsible only for matters at the national level and give  assistance  where needed. Note that the term is ‘’assistance’’, not ‘’orders’’. No interior minister could threaten or dictate to provincial governors. 

In this scheme, some provinces may rise to prosperity and some may suffer in poverty. But it would be self-determination. There’s no one else to blame, because with self-determination we make our own destiny. It’s called responsibility and accountability.  

There would be no withholding of budgets from provinces that did not vote for a certain political party. Each province would take care of itself to a large extent, not beholden to Bangkok politically and economically, not held hostage by appointments and budgets.

The above is a rough idea, but red-shirts, if you want autonomy, expound on it. Flag-shirts, if you want reforms, explore it. Don’t just make wishes, we are not lovelorn teenage girls. Make plans. 

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