Smallholders and sahai: the Communist Party of Thailand's lasting impressions on contemporary Thai politics

Authors: Will Shattuck*,
Topics: Political Geography, Economic Geography, Regional Geography
Keywords: Networks, Political Identity, Communist Party of Thailand
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/11/2018
Start / End Time: 10:00 AM / 11:40 AM
Room: Evergreen, Sheraton, 4th Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

This paper considers protests staged over falling natural rubber and palm oil prices in southern Thailand in August and September 2013, which involved weeks-long blockades of two major highway and railroad corridors and occurred shortly before a particularly significant political moment: demonstrations in Bangkok that challenged the administration of then-Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and which ended with the Thai military deposing Yingluck in a coup d’état. Heading up the latter was the People’s Democratic Reform Committee, whose leadership comprised primarily political leaders from southern Thailand and Bangkok. In this paper I draw from qualitative interviews conducted in southern Thailand between 2015 and 2017 to consider how these two sets of events were related and to examine ways in which protests over falling agricultural commodity prices were in large measure made possible through resilient networks of former members from the Communist Party of Thailand (CPT), or sahai in Thai, that linked villagers, many of whom had once been sahai in the 1970s and 1980s, with influential members of Thailand’s parliament from the southern provinces. Not only were many of these politicians key members of the PDRC; some had also once been sahai themselves. Through close consideration of these sahai networks and regional legacies of the CPT in southern Thailand, studying the orchestration, execution, and transmission of different forms of protest yields insights into the ways in which national political agendas were bridged with the material, economic circumstances of smallholder farmers in rural southern Thailand, in turn bolstering regional-political identities and alliances.

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