The recent protests in Thailand have been a big topic of discussion here in Singapore, with regular coverage on many of the television channels. At the same time, although we're geographically quite close to the situation, it can seem quite a long way away in terms of our day-to-day experience – most countries never get to see protestors barricading their streets and trying to storm the Prime Minister's office.
I recently had the pleasure of meeting a Thai businessman who is working here in Singapore – I don't want to use his real name for fear of getting him in trouble back in his own country, so let's call him Sarawut – and decided this would be a great opportunity to ask him for his thoughts on the matter.
“Thailand is a very divided country,” he told me. “Very divided. Everyone – the protestors and the supporters of the government – thinks that they only want the best for Thailand. But very few of them actually know what they want in clear terms – and the powerful people take advantage of that in situations like this one”
How do they take advantage of this, I wondered – surely if the country is in chaos, the result is just as bad for the powerful as it is for the disadvantaged or the middle class?
The more I thought about the issue, however, the more I realized what Sarawut meant. The ordinary people spend all their time fighting each other, and they score occasional 'successes' – one group removes a Prime Minister supported by the other group, the other group hits back against politicians supported by the first group, and so on. But ultimately, the structure of elite politicians and the businesses that support them financially remains untouched – the state apparatus itself simple becomes more and more powerful, as the protests become an excuse for strengthening the military, the police, and the elite class as a whole.
When I saw Sarawut again a few days later, he elaborated on his original point and confirmed my thoughts. “There are so many Thai people who have so little – the people on the farms and in the rural areas live a hard life, yes, but even most of the people in the cities live with very little compared to those at the top. But despite their similarities, the city people and the rural people spend all their time arguing and fighting with each other, while the people at the top are much smarter – they already have all of the power and wealth, and they devote all of their time and energy to getting more.”
We've seen in the last few weeks of protest that the polarization of Thai society is particularly strong – but as I pondered Sarawut's words, I came to understand that this polarization is actually an increasingly common phenomena around the world. I'll save my thoughts on that for the next blog...
[ protests in Thailand, government supporter, Prime minister, elite class, Thai society, society polarization, Ana shell ]