Academic journal article Social Alternatives

The Internet & Nonviolent Struggle: The Anti-Government Movement in Thailand 2005-06

Academic journal article Social Alternatives

The Internet & Nonviolent Struggle: The Anti-Government Movement in Thailand 2005-06

Article excerpt

The internet and its technological infrastructure are important elements of nonviolent struggle. This is illustrated by analysing the dynamics of an anti-government movement in Thailand during 2005-06..

Introduction

Nonviolent action has long been practised, and in recent decades, extensively and globally studied. Nonviolent action is based on consent theory in which power of the ruler can only exist through the support of the ruled (Sharp 1973). Communication among those ruled to either provide or withdraw their consent in relation to the ruler is a key element of nonviolent politics. Therefore communication systems such as the postal system, facsimile, print publishing, telephone, radio, and television are crucial practical factors and of major importance relative to nonviolent action (Martin 1996; Martin and Varney 2003).

In today's globalised world the internet is increasingly important for nonviolent action. The internet is a new technology which can increase people's communication power beyond state borders, time and space to reach more and more people. State borders restrict traditional media such as TV, radio, and newspapers. Many movements around the world exemplify this; for example the student movement Otpor in helping to bring down Serbian Slobodan Milosevic in 2000 (Tunnard 2003) and the Chinese-led global online campaign in 2005 against Japanese candidature for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council (Tai 2006, 268-85).

Similar to other technological systems the use of the Internet for nonviolent struggle is multidimensional, political in its usage and political in its structure. In addition to Sharp's (1973) consent theory of power which argues people can directly withdraw the consent from the ruler power does not operate as a singular system. Analysis of nonviolent struggle needs to consider more indirect or structural dimensions of power such as capitalism, bureaucracy, patriarchy, and technology to name a few (Martin 1989; Burrowes 1996, 90-6). Martin (2001) studies many cases around the world and illustrates how comprehensively technology is related to nonviolent struggle. In this regard the foci of Tunnard (2003) and Tai (2006) are only on the first dimension of internet.

This article examines both the dimensions of utilising the internet for nonviolent struggle and the politics of internet structure. The case study is a nonviolent movement in Thailand during 2005-06 resulting in the expulsion of Thaksin Shinawatra from his position as Prime Minister of Thailand.

From 1992, along with other political media, the internet in Thailand rapidly developed as a major part of the public sphere (Pongsawat 2002) enabling the anti-Thaksin movement to sophisticatedly incorporate internet use with other traditional media to launch powerful nonviolent action both online and offline. Sharp makes reference to the dynamics of nonviolent action (1973, part III) in complicated attacks from the government and pro-government camps as well as counter-attacks from the anti-Thaksin group. This issue will be studied here as a reflection of the importance of internet technological structures for nonviolent action.

It is necessary to remark on the internet's 'political jiujitsu' relative to nonviolence of the leading group of the anti-government movement, the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD). From events in 2008 it will be shown that the relationship between internet technology, nonviolent struggle and the political conditions is so nonlinear it is possible that a nonviolent movement using the internet can come up with some violent events.

Background

After Thailand's billionaire telecom-tycoon Thaksin Shinawatra became Prime Minister of Thailand in 2001 the rapid growth of his 'media empire' Shin Corporation attracted widespread criticism as a massive conflict of interest (CPMR 2003).

In order to be free from regulation and accountability he advanced and systematised corruption as well as political interference thereby weakening the balance of power in the Thai political system (Boonme 2004; Tejapira 2004; Phongpaichit and Baker 2005, 10-21; Barn Pra Artit 2007, 64-5). …

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