Inequality in “Biscuit-tin Land”

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

The National Economics and Social Development Board published a recent study which showed that almost a quarter of the Thai population (15.6 million people) live in poverty. At the same time, 0.1% of the richest elites own nearly half the nation’s assets. The rich own nearly 80 % of land while the poorest 20% have only 0.3 %. Thais in the top 10 % earned 40 %of overall income, while the bottom 10 % earned just 1.6 %.

We know that the King is the richest man in Thailand and one of the richest men in the world. Yet he has the audacity to lecture citizens on his neo-liberal “Sufficiency Economics” ideology, where the poor must learn to live within their means. Other Thai millionaires grunt their approval of this creed while sticking their snouts in the trough.

Prayut’s military junta has, as usual, adopted this reactionary ideology as an important corner-stone of its policies.

This week it was announced that government funds for the universal health care scheme, brought in by the Taksin government, would be frozen. They are hoping to pave the way for a co-payment system to replace free health care.

Previously the junta had helped itself to a large increase in the military budget.

Thais used to refer to the country as “under a coconut shell”, where people were forced to undergo political lobotomies. Now Thailand is “Biscuit-tin Land”, after a pro-democracy academic attended a university management meeting wearing a biscuit tin on his head. He was protesting about a fellow academic who took up an extra position with the junta while not giving up his academic post. Wearing a biscuit tin is now a new symbol of resistance and the junta has just banned an academic seminar on the matter at Chiang Mai University Faculty of Law.

After banning other academic seminars in Bangkok and arresting students, Biscuit Brain Prayut announced that there was “no restriction on academic freedom”. All the junta was ordering was that politics should not be discussed. He went on to explain that people were free to discuss his own 12 point teachings on Nation, Religion and Monarchy.

During the reactionary middle-class protests which wrecked the election earlier this year, there was much talk about “Taksin and Yingluk’s corruption”. This was taken up by foreign media without any critical analysis. But now the holding of multiple positions and the drawing of multiple salaries has become a national epidemic under the junta. An electoral Commissioner, famous for his refusal to hold the February elections, thus siding with the middle-class mobs, has just helped himself to a nice expensive shopping trip to the UK to “observe” the Scottish referendum. All this was at tax-payers’ expense. But there do not seem to be the same shouts about corruption.

Nepotism is not discussed either, even though Prayut has promoted his brother to a high post in the military.

The standard vicious and incompetent practices of the corrupt Thai police have been exposed by the awful murders of two British holiday makers. But this goes on every day and it is the experience of most Thais that the police never catch any real criminals and rely merely on arresting the usual scape-goats: migrant workers, poor people or red shirts. On occasions the police engage in murder themselves. They murdered the southern human rights lawyer Somchai Neelapaijit who was defending a group of Muslim Malays who were tortured by the police.

In Biscuit-tin Land, impunity goes hand in hand with corruption, repression and neo-liberal inequality.

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