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New book spells out foibles and concepts of Thai politics

Jun 24. 2015
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THEY STAGED street protests claiming those were peaceful, despite the fact that they broke the law several times, and neither of them - red or yellow shirts - accepted the legal consequences.

Civil disobedience" was repeatedly spelled out as their mantra, but this make political scientist like Siripan Nogsuan Sawasdee puzzled.

"I remember that there were ongoing street protests of different political groups, using political terms deviating from their original meanings," said the political scientist from Chulalongkorn University.

"Civil disobedience, for instance, involves non-violent acts, and people engaging in this have to accept the legal consequences. However, what we often learned was something the opposite."

For years, many concepts constituting core values of democracy have been distorted in Thailand. Thai society has twisted political concepts and discourses , in particular, during the months-long street protests since the coup in 2006. Society as a result has been trapped in the war of words. 

As a political scientist, Siripan has observed this with keen interest and recently managed to gather the political words used in modern era Thai politics to produce a glossary for the first time.
"The specific terms during the political protests were often misconstrued [by the protesters]. I then decided to create this glossary with the aim to create a better ambience for political debates," she said. 
The initiative, "Glossary of Concepts and Terms in Modern Democracy", has arrived as a means to help lay the ground rules for public political discussions. Published in Thai, this encyclopaedia for political science introduces readers to the origins, concepts and evolution of the debates on words used in the Thai political arena.
The project materialised in May 2012 with the support of Mark Saxer - then the director of the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung office in Thailand. Siripan spent the last few years gathering those words and finished the work last year. She and her colleagues then launched the book last week at a time when the country was passing through a reform process, under which misconceptions of political concepts are still prevalent.
This piece of work should be the first step towards gaining a better understanding of political concepts. It will act as a stepping-stone for the search of democratic identity in the Thai political arena. 
"The book neither tries to dictate, nor tries to monopolise ways in which words should be defined. Instead, it tries to demonstrate how terms could be addressed in various ways, with their origins and fundamental thinking accompanying," she said. 
The glossary comprises around 70 words explaining the development of modern democracy. Many terms have been used in political debates in Thailand. The book also includes terms such as "fourth sector", "fourth estate" and "green economy" to allow the Thai audience to become familiar with global trends in politics, economics and social debates. 
The book is divided into four sections, detailing the elements of the democratic system, including political actors and their roles, rights and social justice, political culture, and social and economic development. 
Asked about words that can best project modern Thai politics and politics in the near future, Siripan stressed the phrase "transitional justice". 
"Many people - whether red shirts or yellow shirts - still feel that injustice still exists, a matter that is significant to the process of reconciliation," she said.
The phrase addresses political transformation from a repressive regime to a democracy, under which social injustice can still be felt, while politics is adjusting itself before shifting to a stable and peaceful state, she said.
For the next step of this project, Siripan said she would like to see similar work taking place in schools and universities. 
"This kind of work can be further developed by universities and research institutes that are close to local communities. Universities in different regions can create similar work by gathering words used by local communities to help reflect the current situation," she said. 
All the terms used in the book are now available online on the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung website and will soon be posted on Wikipedia. 
"I would like this work to be accessible to all and to be further contributed to by other groups or persons interested in this kind of work," she said

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