Traditionally, Thailand is a tangled web of patronage (ระบบอุปถัมภ์) networks. Sitting on top of each network is the “นาย,” which means the boss.
The boss is the beginning and the end; he encompasses all things and is the hand that feeds his tribe. In return, he expects unwavering loyalty, undying gratitude, and unquestioned obedience.
The rule of law is neither here nor there. Moral virtues bend over whenever the boss says, “bend over.” There’s only loyalty and betrayal. In a nutshell, this is feudalism in the 21st century, whether Thailand is a democracy or a dictatorship.
The rule of law is arbitrary; moral virtues are selective
When the police arrest student activists, they often do so without arrest warrants or any crime charged. A student activist would ask, “Why are you arresting me?” The reply would be, “นายสั่งมา” (the boss ordered it), therefore washing away any legal or moral responsibility.
The student activist would then ask, “What crime are you charging me with?” The answer would be, “We’ll think of something.” That’s because the police have to wait for the boss to decide.
Patronage politics is for the boss, not for good governance
The second most powerful patronage network in Thailand belongs to General Prawit Wongsuwan, which includes Palang Pracharat Party, linking the most powerful men sitting in parliament down to village leaders in remote provinces.
But more importantly, his patronage network consists of the most powerful generals in the military, the real source of his power.
Thaksin Shinawatra is, of course, the boss of the third most powerful patronage network. But loyalty can be purchased, that’s why half of Palang Pracharat MPs used to belong to Pheu Thai and used to call him boss. Namely the “Gang of 3” underbosses, and the likes of Pareena Kraikrupt and Thamanat Prompao.
So if you wonder why politicians say outlandish and do ridiculous things, the answer is simple, “นายสั่งมา” (the boss ordered it).
Furthermore, if you wonder why certain segments of the population vote the way they vote, it’s also because “นายสั่งมา” (the boss ordered it). You don’t need to buy votes when there are patronage duties and obligations.
School priority is not to educate but to keep order
Look at the student protests across the country. One may wonder how schools and teachers can betray their students. Calling the police. Administering punishment. Undermining the pupils, they are duty-bound and honor-bound to nurture and educate.
That’s because of “นายสั่งมา” (the boss ordered it).
Patronage duty dictates their mindset and action. They serve the boss who disapproves of young people demanding education reform, an end of fascism in school, and the good governance of democracy for Thailand. The values that undermine the boss’s power.
Who’s the boss? Like all branches of the civil services, there are underbosses in each department. But all trace allegiances, not to any single person, but an institution called “the traditional establishment.”
The acting boss (for now) and brand ambassador (for now) of the traditional establishment is General Prayut Chan-o-cha.
Protests aren’t usually for the country but the boss
Look at the history of Thailand’s protests during this century. The protestors joined for various reasons, many of whom genuinely for democracy and against corruption.
But on the stage, the protest leaders (from Sondhi Limtongkul to Jatuporn Prompan and Suthep Thuagsuban) championed their bosses. Why? Because “นายสั่งมา” (the boss ordered it).
The current pro-democracy movement is only genuine if no boss has ordered it. If the goal is for the good governance of democracy: freedom, human rights, equality, and justice. If it’s not about a person or a tribe but about Thailand.
Simply put, if the protestors are their own bosses.
The most significant battle for Thailand
There are those people who believe that somehow the pro-democracy movement is betraying the monarchy.
But if we take the movement to be genuine, they are not betraying anyone or anything. They simply prefer a constitutional monarchy, rather than the kingdom’s largest patronage network that encompasses the entire nation, the patronage monarchy.
Patronage dominates all facets of Thai society. We can change the law and rewrite the constitution, transform absolutism into dictatorship, and then into democracy.
But the most significant battle is the feudalistic patronage mentality that enslaves the Thai society.