Sondhi Limthongkul, the Thai Roger Ailes, shot by mattsteinglass
April 17, 2009, 9:39 pm
Filed under: democracy, Southeast Asia, United States

Sondhi Limthongkul, the Thai media baron who brought down first the government of billionaire Thaksin Shinawatra in 2006 and then that of the People’s Power Party widely viewed as Thaksin’s proxy in 2008, was shot Friday morning in Bangkok. I remember attending the rallies Sondhi’s PAD was organizing opposite the Royal Palace in mid-2006 and thinking they seemed entirely oblivious to the risks they were taking to the social order. The rallies were vast, highly stagecrafted affairs, heavily funded by Sondhi’s Manager Media, with a huge stage, folk singers, simultaneous TV broadcasts also playing on projection screens all around the field, booths representing various NGOs and Democrat Party chapters, and so on. At one point in the evening, Sondhi himself came through, surrounded by a phalanx of strapping bodyguards, and made a bunch of confident pronouncements to us reporters; he looked like Lenin on the barricades, buoyed along by devoted followers and sure of his victory.

I thought of those rallies while watching the Tea Parties in the US earlier this week. In both cases, you had a relatively wealthy minority staging protests to deny the legitimacy of an elected and broadly popular chief executive, and in both cases, the protests were chiefly driven by a media empire that openly renounced objectivity in favor of attempting to unseat the government — in favor, in both cases, of another party (in the Thai case, the Democrats) that had repeatedly failed to win at the ballot box. The threat to the constitutional order was clear. And in both cases, it made me worry that in an era of vast accumulations of wealth and unaccountable media power, legal and constitutional structures may simply be too weak to hold. We’ve seen over the past few months in Thailand what happens when a privileged and selfish elite blithely knocks out the props holding up the legitimacy of government. I have little confidence that those in the US (“teabaggers”, FOXNews, etc.) who are actively undermining popular faith in the legitimacy of the US government will take that lesson to heart.


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