Geoffrey Longfellow’s long-running series on Southern Thailand continues today with a discussion of local power and politics.
The origins and configuration of power in various southern provinces differs significantly from that in other areas of the county. There is no one man or group in any southern province that can be said to have exclusive power. Southerners have long ago rejected the patronage system which still dominates much of Thailand, especially in the north and northeastern regions.
A generation ago, Kamnan Charat Thuagsuban, father of the present deputy prime minister Suthep, was legendary in Surat Thani province. This strongman had ‘influence’ in two districts, Pun Pin and Kanchanadit, which was unquestionable. Two districts? In other regions of Thailand, lone ‘godfathers’ have been known to hold a mafia-like stranglehold on as many as six provinces! One man dominating one province is not at all unusual, even in provinces in close proximity to Bangkok. Not in the south; a lust for power may, ‘end up at the temple on a one way trip,’ according to local wisdom.
Since the time of my arrival in Krabi more than thirty years ago, this small province has always been dominated, but not controlled by three families. This power structure is dynamic, not static. The influence of two of the families that I knew thirty years ago has waned, and others have taken their places. This is not to say that it is necessary to align yourself with these influential families to be successful in Krabi; competition is generally welcomed if a business venture provides employment opportunities for local people.
Power is shared in various provinces through compromise. Villagers will support a man who promotes progress, but will quickly challenge any hint of greed or abuse of power. People with business, or in particular political ambition, are deferential to local villagers; ordinary citizens demand respect, not protection.
27/12/2010 - 13:49