An Examination of Thailand's Difficulty in Forming a Government after the Election
Thailand conducted its general election on May 14, 2023. Yet, more than two months later, the country has not yet agreed upon the formation of a new government, despite the dominance of eight allied parties in the "democratic forces", primarily led by the Move Forward Party (MFP) (151 seats) and the Phue Thai Party (PTP) (141 seats). On July 19th, the National Assembly convened once again in an attempt to elect a new prime minister. During the session, the Constitutional Court unanimously voted to accept a case against Pita relating to shares he inherited from the now defunct iTV. The same court also cast a 7–2 vote in favor of suspending Pita's MP duties until a ruling is made, although this decision does not inhibit his nomination for prime minister. Following these decisions, the National Assembly voted against considering Pita for a successive round of voting for prime minister. The argument was made that his renomination violated a parliamentary rule forbidding repeat motions. In the vote that addressed his potential renomination, there were 312 in favor, 394 opposing — most of whom were senators.
The representatives from both Phue Thai Party and United Thai Nation Party had a press release: [source]
The Move Forward Party (MFP) released a statement declaring the transfer of its right to nominate a candidate in the next round of Prime Minister (PM) elections. This responsibility was passed from the leading Members of Parliament (MPs) within the coalition to the second lead MPs of the Phue Thai Party (PTP), expected to be Srettha Thavisin.
Over the weekend, the PTP convened a meeting with former government coalition parties such as the Bhumjai Thai Party (BTP), Chart Thai Pattana Party (CTP), Palang Pracharat Party (PPP), and the United Thai Nation Party (UTNP). Intriguingly, the latter two nominated General Prawit Wongsuwan and General Prayut Chan-o-Cha, the current caretaker PM, respectively.
These meetings appeared to gauge support and seek endorsement for the new nomination of Srettha. However, all the former government coalition parties stipulated that the MFP must renounce the lese majesty law (Article 112), pressuring the PTP to abandon the eight-party alliance if they refuse, and hinted at the possibility of forming a new coalition.
In response, the MFP announced consensus today that it will not join a coalition featuring the PPP and UTNP, citing the leadership's direct engagement in the 2014 coup as the reason. This stance has provoked protests from MFP supporters and severe criticism from intellectual circles and the middle class, who are also supportive of the MFP. The PTP now faces substantial challenges navigating this contentious political landscape.
Shifting The Alliance?
It's worth noting that the political turmoil in Thailand has been ongoing since 2006, spanning over 17 years, with the Phue Thai Party (PTP) often identified as the primary adversary by the conservative establishment. The PTP's predecessor, Thai Rak Thai Party (TRT), was able to secure almost 60% of parliamentary seats, a near monopoly in Thai politics, thus posing a threat to conservative forces. Two coups were launched to rectify this imbalance in the Thai political sphere.
Nowadays, the PTP is unable to exert the almost monopolistic influence that the TRT once did. However, the more radical Move Forward Party (MFP) has emerged as a significant force, surpassing the PTP in seats and predicted to gain even more in the next election. It's no coincidence that the MFP has proposed campaign reforms focused on the military, economic monopoly, and even the monarchy institute, while the PTP has concentrated on economic structural reform.
Now facing two distinctly different options, the conservative establishment sees the MFP as a priority threat, and appears to lean towards the PTP as a potential new ally. This situates the PTP at a strategic crossroads: will they strictly align with the MFP, or will they cross over to the former coalition party and the conservative establishment to steer the country for the next four years? This question will determine the future course of Thai politics.
Base and Superstructure
At present, the PTP's pondering over two strategic choices has drawn criticism from some political observers. They suggest that Thaksin Shinawatra, who still wields significant influence over the PTP, might be tricked by the conservative establishment into demolishing the alliance between the PTP and the MFP. This could eventually lead to a divide-and-conquer strategy, with subsequent disintegration of the PTP once the MFP is eliminated from the Thai political scene. However, our assessment diverges from this viewpoint. We believe that the conservative establishment's proposal this time around is genuine, motivated not by calculated political maneuvering but by an unconscious strive to stage an optimal political equilibrium in the long run.
Base and Superstructure: [source]
Now, let's delve into reform or revolutionary theory from the perspective of leftist theorists. In Marxist theory, borrowed from the Hegelian dialectic of political structure, society is divided into two subsections: the base system (or substructure) and the superstructure. The base system, which concerns the mode of production, ultimately defines the economy's typology and the wider society according to Marxist theory, thereby dominating the superstructure.
There Comes Political Order
In Francis Fukuyama's 'The Origins of Political Order', he proposes that political equilibrium comprises a combination of a strong state, rule of law, and democratic accountability. The strong state is often seen in the function of the bureaucracy, which serves to maintain political stability and deliver public goods to society. Rule of law and democratic accountability provide checks and balances to state power.
The concept of bureaucracy first developed under the Qin Empire. Consequently, Eastern states tend to accept the notion of a strong state, often without the checks and balances present in their Western counterparts, which rooted their norms in ancient parliaments that restricted the authority of the king or societal hegemon.
The Magna Carta of 1215 is a notable example of the establishment of the rule of law to check the supreme authority of society. Meanwhile, democratic accountability began to flourish with the broadening spread of democracy in the late centuries.
The Cultural Variable
In the existing 'governance' equation according to Fukuyama, we identify three core independent variables: a strong state (S), and check and balance institutions (Z), which consist of rule of law and democratic accountability. Marxist theories may consider bureaucracy – a crucial component of the independent variable S – as part of both the base system and the superstructure. However, Marx also classifies 'culture' as an element of the superstructure.
Above governance equation can be depicted in 2D visualization with 2 independent variables, and 3D visualization with 3 independent variables, both figures find optimal point in each changing state capacity.
Nonetheless, Fukuyama, along with many political and social scientists who engage in quantitative analysis, generally does not accept 'culture' as a core independent variable, citing its vague definition and the fluidity in capturing its meaning. Although we introduce β as it might be an error term (or residual), typically denoted as ε in most statistical models, which captures the randomness or unpredictability in the data that cannot be explained by the model. β may account for the variance produced by 'culture', yet it fails to clearly articulate it as a separate distinct independent variable.
Note further that in political and social science, the R-squared (R²) value, or the 'coefficient of determination', tends to be around 0.3 or 0.4 (30% - 40%), compared with around 0.7 or 70% in natural science. This illustrates the less deterministic nature of these disciplines.
Please note that in recent Thai politics, two starkly contrasting discourses have emerged, both of which paradoxically originate from Marxist/Maoist theory of the 70s/80s era. Indeed, Thailand has undergone a covert civil war between the conservative establishment and the Communist Party of Thailand (CPT). Even with the end of the Cold War, while armed conflict has subsided, political maneuvering has continued unabated.
Remarkably, some key figures from the CPT's politburo shifted their allegiances, joining the conservative establishment and devising a modified version of Marxist theory. Rather than relying on the "party" as the vanguard to instigate a people's revolution, they repositioned the theory to trust the monarchy as a symbiotic apparatus alongside the "people" in staging a revolution to purge corrupt politicians within political parties. This ideology, termed "Rat-Pracha-Samasrai", represents a faction that we can coin as the Thai New Conservatives. They harbour scepticism towards the MFP, suspecting its potential manipulation by superpowers like the US to stage a "hybrid warfare".
Meanwhile, other leftist intellectuals have developed their Marxist interpretations under the influence of the New Left Movement or Cultural Marxism, which we will further elaborate on in the subsequent section. These intellectuals have anchored their thoughts in the work of iconic thinkers like Antonio Gramsci, Louis Althusser, and the Frankfurt School. We label this group as the Thai New Leftist, and they discreetly lend their intellect to the MFP to stage the "war of position", borrowing from Gramsci's framework for praxis revolution.
As Gramsci (2010: 235) mentions, "The superstructures of civil society are like the trench-systems of modern warfare. In war, it would sometimes happen that a fierce artillery attack seemed to have destroyed the enemy's entire defensive system, whereas in fact it had only destroyed the outer perimeter; and at the moment of their advance and attack, the assailants would find themselves confronted by a line of defense which was still effective."
Thus, we can confidently say the current political battle is a continuation of an earlier, internal CPT debate over the issue of whether Thai society has fully transitioned to capitalism, or remains 'Semi-Feudal, Semi-Colonial'.
Special Section: The Shift from Base to Superstructure: A Study of Post-Marxist Theories
The pursuit of intellectual history has often resembled a complex tapestry, an intricate blend of numerous thoughts and ideologies that crystallize the intricate mosaic of human comprehension. This spectrum of perspectives and ideas extends over centuries, embodying the ripe wisdom of countless generations and the infinite potential of the human mind. One such revolutionary shift in this intellectual saga has occurred within Marxist theory itself, where the focus is predominantly directed from the base structure—constituted by economic systems—to post-Marxist philosophy, which centers around the superstructure. By superstructure, we refer to a myriad of socio-cultural elements such as culture itself, various societal institutions, law, and other forms of social constructs that shape and influence human behavior.
Undeniably, the transformation of Marxist doctrine to Post-Marxist thought is no mere coincidence. This essay will argue that this shift may be deeply rooted in the influence of foundational sociologists like Max Weber and Émile Durkheim, whose theories around society, religion, and economics formulated compelling transitions in the interpretation of Marxism. Their intellectual contributions initiated new dialogues, encompassing novel ways of understanding the world around us, and rethinking the traditional Marxist delineations of economy and society. The inclusion of these different perspectives provided a fresh lens through which the dynamics of social transformations could be examined, paving the way for critical innovation within the realm of social theory.
This study will further delve into the implications of this significant shift in three renowned schools of thought originating from Germany, Italy, and France. As a crux of this intellectual journey, we will explore the works of cultural critic and philosopher Walter Benjamin. Benjamin's unique approach brought a metaphysical dimension into these discourses, leveraging spiritual aspects as a significant component in the socio-economic discourse. His remarkable perspective offers a deeper understanding of the migration from the Marxian base structure to post-Marxist superstructure, bringing forward new, multilayered insights into the realm of sociopolitical theory.
Classical Marxism: The Base Structure
In order to appreciate the magnitude of the post-Marxist shift, it is necessary to revisit the origins of Marxist thought. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels introduced a revolutionary perspective on society and history in the mid-19th century. Central to their analysis was the concept of historical materialism: the belief that the course of history is determined by material, primarily economic, conditions. This principle asserts the primacy of the base structure, the underlying economic system, over the superstructure, including culture, law, and institutions.
The Weber-Durkheim Impact
However, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, sociologists like Max Weber and Emile Durkheim started to question the determinism of the base structure, highlighting the autonomy and significance of the superstructure. Weber, with his focus on the ‘spirit’ of capitalism and the role of ideas in economic development, and Durkheim, with his emphasis on social facts and collective conscience, laid the foundation for a more nuanced understanding of societal structure.
The Frankfurt School: A German Perspective
Located in the heart of Germany, the Frankfurt School provided an instrumental platform, furthering the superstructure-oriented perspectives that had begun to reshape traditional Marxist theory. This body comprised a dynamic group of critical theorists who embarked upon an intellectual journey of synthesizing Marxian political economy and Weberian sociology. This unique combination heralded an unprecedented level of academic discourse, offering fresh insights that interrogated the very foundations of societal norms and values. Their work, marked by a critical approach to societal structures, significantly expanded the intellectual boundaries of Marxist and post-Marxist thought.
Emphasis on culture, media, and ideology in capitalist societies became one of their hallmark contributions. The Frankfurt School theorists pioneered concepts such as the culture industry and authoritarian personality, viewing these as instrumental facets in understanding the dynamics of capitalist societies. By foregrounding the superstructure, they mounted critiques of contemporary society, providing a germane contribution in the form of an enlightening critique of societal norms. This insightful critique opened avenues for intricate discussions, further evolving the discourse on the role and impact of the superstructure in socio-economic theories, particularly in understanding the nuances of capitalist societies.
Antonio Gramsci: An Italian Contribution
Parallel to the developments in Germany, Italy bore witness to another significant shift in Marxist theory, courtesy of Antonio Gramsci. Gramsci, a Marxist philosopher and politician, emerged as a strong voice within Italian intellectual circles, pioneering views that further nudged the Marxist narrative in an unconventional direction. Distancing himself slightly from the traditional Marxist belief in domination purely through economic means or brute force, Gramsci introduced an innovative idea - that of cultural hegemony. This principle went on to shape a considerable body of Italian—and global—intellectual thought around power dynamics.
The principle of cultural hegemony introduced by Gramsci posits that ruling classes sustain their authority not merely through physical force or economic domination, but significantly, by influencing and moulding the cultural and ideological landscape of their societies. By subtly swaying cultural norms, values, beliefs, and societal understanding, they cultivate a status quo where their domination appears as a natural outcome, rather than an imposed condition. This profound concept served to reinforce the essence and importance of the superstructure within Marxist and post-Marxist thought. Through such a lens, Gramsci's work profoundly underlined the need to consider the superstructure in understanding and challenging existing power dynamics — offering a more nuanced approach to navigating socio-political challenges and understanding structures of power.
Louis Althusser: A French Approach
Across the border in France, another formidable voice rose in alignment with this evolving intellectual dialogue: Louis Althusser. A structural Marxist by philosophical stance, Althusser offered a unique, fresh perspective that had far-reaching implications on the understanding and interpretation of the superstructure in Marxist theory. Unlike many of his contemporaries, Althusser's work didn't merely extend existing norms of Marxist thought; instead, he ventured deeper into the theoretical landscape, adding significant value to the ongoing intellectual shift.
Central to Althusser's philosophy was the emphasis he placed on ideology and ideological state apparatuses. According to Althusser, these apparatuses—institutions such as schools, churches, and the family—played a crucial role in preserving the status quo within capitalist societies. Driving his theoretical approach was the belief that these ideological frameworks largely influenced societal interactions and structures, thus serving the interests of the ruling class. His insights underscored the manifest importance of understanding and challenging the superstructure to enable genuine, lasting societal change. Through challenging and reinterpreting existing concepts, Althusser contributed significantly to the theoretical shift towards a more superstructure-focused understanding of societal dynamics in Marxist and post-Marxist theory.
Walter Benjamin: The Metaphysical Turn
The intellectual journey towards understanding the shift from base to superstructure arrives at a poignant culmination in the work of Walter Benjamin. Often associated with the Frankfurt School, Benjamin was distinguished by his unique approach, characterized by permeating metaphysical considerations. Standing apart from the majority of his contemporaries, Benjamin forged a distinct philosophical path that seamlessly blended Marxist analysis with concepts of aesthetics and metaphysics. His work served to transcend the established boundaries of the base and superstructure debate, injecting a fresh, transmutative perspective into the dialogue.
Benjamin's analysis, particularly evident in his reflections on 'art in the age of mechanical reproduction', threw open new doors in comprehending the interplay between culture and economy. Unlike the heavy economic focus typical of conventional Marxist analysis, Benjamin shined a light on factors such as aesthetics, aura, and authenticity, placing these cultural aspects at the foreground of his methodical scrutiny of modern capitalist societies. His distinctive approach emphasized the profound significance of cultural elements within the broader societal discourse, thereby giving the superstructure a heartening nod of recognition. In doing so, Benjamin's work provides a fitting climax to the intellectual journey that traces the shift from base to superstructure in post-Marxist theories.
In drawing conclusions from this analytical exploration, it becomes clear that the shift from concentrating on the base structure to a focused analysis of the superstructure has represented a momentous trend in the evolution of post-Marxist theory. This transformation, ostensibly influenced by early sociologists such as Max Weber and Émile Durkheim, has injected a newfound depth into the traditional narratives, greatly enriching our understanding of society, its power structures, and the dynamics that underpin them. By reframing the way we examine society, this shift has given theorists fresh perspectives on the interplay of culture and power in shaping human lives and societal systems.
Further enriching this discussion are the intellectual contributions from distinctive schools of thought, particularly those of the Frankfurt School, Antonio Gramsci, Louis Althusser, and Walter Benjamin. Their groundbreaking work has highlighted the crucial role of culture, ideology, and institutions in moulding societies, moving the lens far beyond the traditional Marxist emphasis on the economy. These contributions have not just advanced theoretical discussion but also urged a reconsideration of how we understand societal relations and power structures. This intellectual journey, therefore, stands as an eloquent testament to the evolving nature of theory and the vital importance of engaging with a diverse range of perspectives. Such breadth of engagement is integral to our ongoing quest to decipher, understand, and engage with the complex and intertwined realities of society.