Shown the door, Chiang Mai style

The privileged elite acting as it pleases… we had a glimpse of the darker side to life in Thailand a few days ago, just over the wall dividing us from the six storey condo building site next door. A crew from Isaan (earlier blog) had turned up several weeks back riding a tipper truck laden with everything from tools to a damp cuddly toy for the six month old baby in the arms of its mother, perched atop the load with her husband and a dozen other workers.

A lovely lady. We’ve a big courtyard and garden, and when we heard mother and baby choking in the fumes from the mechanical diggers and cement-mixers working overtime in a relatively confined space next door, we told them to use our back yard whenever they needed to get some (relatively) unpolluted air. One day I came back from a trip to the gym to find the whole place tidied, trees pruned, weeds uprooted. A good few hours of hard work had been put in.

No effective social legislation to protect the workers here, in the event of the boss suddenly deciding to get rid of a few employees. And that’s just what seems to have happened – an arbitrary decision to let husband, wife and baby go simply because they were surplus to requirements. Shown the door - not that the shack they'd been living in on site had a door, mind you...

It was a bit of a shock when I caught sight of them, dejectedly wheeling the bicycle and trailer down the soi, loaded with pans and crumpled clothes, baby in arms. It’s a long way back to Surin. Couldn’t make myself understood, but I got the message – they had to go home. I had a couple of thousand baht on me, seemed the least I could do. The mum was so grateful she almost cried.

Now just days later work has picked up again, so more Surin workers rolled in atop a truck in the early hours of this morning. How’s this for a kitchen to work in…

Surin worker prepares breakfast on building site
Making do with what's available - Surin building worker prepares breakfast, Chiang Mai
No wonder the EU is struggling to remain competitive in the face of competition from Far Eastern companies that can virtually do as they please with respect to a workforce. When a business/middle class elite considers itself to be inherently superior to its dark-skinned northern and north-eastern labour, it is hardly likely to feel guilty when it needs to act in its own interests. The law pretty much allows it to hire and fire at will. It is pretty clear too that those same selfish interests are best served by maintaining a poor, uneducated pool of labour that is naively grateful for everything that it is graciously given by its masters.

Our former neighbours, a family from Surin, building site, Chiang Mai. Click to see big photoI'll miss our former neighbours...

It all harks back to feudal times, in some ways.

Which somehow leads me on to the politics … (leave now, if you’ve had enough these past weeks!)

With all the machinations of those pulling the strings of power in the current Thai crisis, it’s all too easy to get confused by the propaganda, the arguments and counter-arguments. A few basic points keep coming to mind in all this.

No matter how ‘illegitimate’ the former government was prior to the Constitutional Court’s (selective) dissolution of three governing parties and the (selective) banning of scores of members from politics, it was elected for a fixed term. The opposition Democrats and those shadowy interests behind the PAD movement were perfectly aware that they only had to wait for the next elections, in order to face and convince the electorate with their arguments, thereby returning to power. Surely if they have right on their side, they should have the courage of their convictions, and put their arguments to the people in the belief that the most worthy would prevail. That is a key principle of the democratic process, after all.

However PAD , the People’s Alliance for ‘Democracy’, along with its business, military, middle-class etc supporters, seem to have preferred to put lives, jobs, indeed the political and social stability of the nation on the line, rather than wait for the opportunity to prove themselves at the ballot box.

It clearly wasn’t simply a case of impatience. They as good as admitted as much when they explained their demands for a revision of the Thai constitution, whereby elected representatives would retain only 30% of decision-making powers in the new version of government they envisaged. 70% would be controlled by appointees. And we can be pretty certain from which sectors of Thai society these appointees will hail, if they have their way.

The simple fact is that they knew perfectly well, as and when fresh elections took place, that there was a very good chance they would yet again find themselves and their political representatives in the minority. Possibly with their grip on power diminished even further as a result of the chaos they have been responsible for in recent months.

The corruption and vote-buying allegations, while certainly true to a considerable extent, are only smokescreens for their real agenda. The emerging Thai democracy has proved to be too bitter a pill for some powerful interest groups to swallow. The Thai elite is alarmed at the prospect of seeing its control over the country diminished even further. They have determined to stop this from happening. It really could be that simple.

However, aside from the fact that there is obviously a lot of self-interest on the part of certain powerful movers and shakers involved in all this, might PAD not have a point? Are elements of the electorate too stupid, too uneducated, to ill-informed, to vote? Is the average Isaan peasant worker less entitled to have a say in the direction taken by his country than the typical middle-class urbanite?

Thinking about my home country, the UK... How qualified, or otherwise, is the average Brit to play his part in deciding the future of his country through a one man one vote system? After all it’s hardly too unfair a stereotype to say that there’s a large number of people, some might even dare to suggest a majority, whose reading extends no further than skimming the occasional tabloid, whose knowledge of real problems affecting contemporary society is limited to those raised by the housemates in the latest Big Brother reality TV series, or in this week’s EastEnders. Foreign affairs? Only of interest when they want to know how many euros they’ll get for their £’s for their next holiday in Tenerife. A fair percentage of the British public would probably readily admit themselves that they are not exactly best qualified to know how their country should be run.

How about the US then – is the electorate any more intelligent there? Not really for me to judge as an 'alien' who has never set foot in the place, but I was pretty astonished when it took a rather dopey if lovable ‘B’ movie actor to its heart and propelled him to the presidency of the world’s most powerful nation. And, then of course, not much later, there was Bush junior… less said about that, the better...

So do we need a ‘BAD’ - a British Alliance for Democracy? A council of appointed ‘wise men’ from the military, big business, academia, perhaps some of the more blue-blooded members of British society, invested with the bulk of decision-making powers? Democracy clearly has its limits, but I for one would rather make do with what we’ve got, despite its short-comings!

Given the choice, where would the average Thai prefer to live – in a ‘Ronnie Reagan’-led Western-style democracy, or under the thumb of a Burmese junta? Only the Thai people, with or without education, can give that answer. The question is whether they will get the chance to put their views across at the ballot box again, to vote for a government of elected representatives retaining 100% of decision-making powers in the Land of Smiles. That prospect is not as certain as it was a few months ago.
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Getting away from the serious stuff ...

With all the building going on next door, seven days a week, sometimes twelve hours a day, I've been thinking about paying this doctor a visit. He's clearly a specialist...

Chiang mai doctor

6 comments:

Martyn said...

You certainly have your fingers on the Thai political pulse, excellent portrayal. I read your original post about the arrival of the Surin family and this update is very bad news for them. Here in England companies have already started their festive pruning of temporary staff with the shears due to reappear again before Christmas. Not so much a sign of the times but something that is as common in December as holly and tinsel. I hope the Surin family find some good employers soon.

Mike said...

Generally I have steered away from political comment in my blog. I do this for two reasons really, firstly I do not have the insight and secondly I have heard tales about blog monitoring.

That said I do find your posts fascinating and moving on occasions. I think this one pretty well sums up Thailand, which is ironic if you look at the translation of the Thai anthem.

Thailand for the Thais, I fancy needs some qualification when it comes to ordinary folk.

Lyndsay said...

I love Thailand, particularly Chiangmai...I am looking forward for a trip back next year! 2nd time to Thailand, and I'm planning to move there too, just have to get a good job... :D

Devin & Laura Castleton said...

Interesting blog. I tend to agree with you on the political front though such honesty is hard to come by here in Bangkok. Here's hoping they figure it out...

Great pics.

jon said...

Dear Frogblog, Love your writing & insight. I lived in Thailand for nearly 3 years 6 7ears ago and miss the place a lot although ceaselessly saddened by the politics and corruption in business. Keep up the terrific blog. Bonne Noel

The FrogBlogger said...

Martyn, thanks, me too - even if Thais can't afford the time to do a great deal of worrying, they certainly have good reason sometimes. Mike - yes - have heard similar stories, and the way things are going I think in the future the risk will be even greater. Lyndsay Best of luck! Laura/Devin Thanks for looking in, I certainly hope so too, for the sake of the Thais and the farangs here. Jon Thanks, and what a great and unique photoblog you have. My shutter sounds like a gun going off, I wouldn't have the nerve to take photos like yours in the metro, at such close range.