Economic inequality vs. political inequality: Challenges for Abhisit
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Economic inequality vs. political inequality: Challenges for Abhisit

By Tumbler

The Wall Street Journal:

BANGKOK—Thailand’s prime minister said he won’t call national elections until early next year at the earliest as the government promotes programs intended to bridge the kind of economic divides that fueled deadly protests earlier this year.

So the government believes it was “economic divides” that drove the red shirts to protest? That is a major assertion, one that I feel is too often seen in recent accounts and analyses of Thailand’s political impasse. Essentially this school of thought implies that whenever this government adopts Thaksin-style pro-poor policies (as it is already about to do – more on this below), the reds will then simply go away. Really?

This paragraph from the same WSJ report nicely sums up the other side of the story (emphasis added):

Antigovernment “Red Shirt” activists continue to call for an ouster of the current government, which came to power in a 2008 parliamentary vote with the backing of military leaders and much of the country’s royalist establishment.

The report also notes that the government is coming up with a series of populist measures “aimed at reducing social inequities and winning over critics” – such as tax reform, microfinance and debt reduction programmes. 

All well and good. And yet I can’t help but feel that the government is putting so much effort into these poverty relief packages only as a way of sidestepping the real problem, which is the excessive power that certain groups are wielding over the country’s political affairs. Admittedly, the media and people on both sides of the political divide have been guilty of conflating this political inequality with economic disparity when explaining the reds’ motivation. While the income gap is by no means an unimportant issue, I think we have come to the point where a large number of Thai citizens are no longer prepared to tolerate the kind of benevolent dictatorship or guided democracy that has characterised much of the post-1932 era.

This is not to say that there hasn’t been any progress in terms of acknowledging the reds’ grievances. At least PM Abhisit has been less inclined to blame it all on Thaksin, having said many times that red-shirt protesters had long suffered from genuine problems. The sooner he realises that economic measures alone are far from enough to resolve those problems, the better the chance that he will achieve that elusive goal of national reconciliation.