The creation of elite networks can be explicit and deliberate, especially as a strategy to sustain an oligarchic political system. In Thailand, because of rapid economic and social change, there are few of the established, seemingly natural frameworks for networking found in more settled societies. Those hopeful of joining the power elite come from widely differing backgrounds. Paths through education are very fragmented. There are no clubs and associations that can serve as meeting places. Alumni associations have been brought into existence as one major way to meet the demand for a framework for power networking. This particular associational form is familiar and comfortable because it draws on aspects of collegiate life that most of the participants have experienced. The military pioneered this strategy in the 1960s. When the military’s power and prestige waned in the 1990s, several other institutions emerged to fill the gap. One of the most successful was the Stock Exchange of Thailand, which created the Capital Market Academy (CMA) in 2006. CMA offers academic courses, but its main purpose is to create an alumni association that serves as a network hub linking the main centers of power—bureaucracy, military, judiciary, big business, politicians, and select civil society. Such networks are critical to the rent-seeking activity that is one feature of oligarchic politics.
The influence of a technocratic network in the Philippines that was formed around Cesar E. A. Virata, prime minister under Ferdinand Marcos, rose during the martial law period (1972–86), when technocracy was pushed to the forefront of economic policy making. Applying concepts of networks, this essay traces the rise and eventual collapse of Virata’s network to a three-dimensional interplay of relationships—between Virata and Marcos, Virata and the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, and Marcos and the United States. Virata’s close links to social, academic, US, and business community networks initially thrust him into government, where he shared Marcos’s goal of attracting foreign investments to build an export-oriented economy. Charged with obtaining IMF and World Bank loans, Virata’s network was closely joined to Marcos as the principal political hub. Virata, however, had to contend with the networks of Marcos’s wife, Imelda, and the president’s “chief cronies.” While IMF and World Bank support offered Virata some leverage, his network could not control Imelda Marcos’s profligacy or the cronies’ sugar and coconut monopolies. In Virata’s own assessment, his network was weakened when Marcos’s health failed during an economic crisis in 1981 and after Benigno Aquino’s assassination in 1983. In those crises, Imelda Marcos’s network and Armed Forces Chief of Staff General Fabian Ver’s faction of the military network took power amidst the rise of an anti-dictatorship movement. The United States’ switch of support from Marcos to Corazon Aquino sealed the demise of Virata’s network.
In Malaysia’s 12th general election, in March 2008, three opposition parties collectively cracked the hegemony of the ruling coalition, Barisan Nasional (BN, or National Front). As the opposition parties formed a coalition called Pakatan Rakyat (PR, or People’s Alliance), a two-coalition system appeared to have taken shape. This essay analyzes how PR reached that electoral outcome by moving from “imagining” to “realizing” dissent. Imagining and realizing dissent are not treated as disparate acts here but as tasks borne by qualitatively different networks that helped PR to overcome its structural, organizational, and resource disadvantages. The first networks considered are the cyber-networks that used ICT-sited or -enabled links to construct an alternative media linking PR’s organizers and supporters in an imagined community of dissent. PR’s second type of network consisted of physical coalitions—groups and organizations that connected the PR parties with their allies in civil society and their supporters at large. Their common objective was to mobilize dissent for electoral contestation. Even after 2008, however, PR was vulnerable to regime harassment and blandishments because it was missing a third type of network that would link party structures and social, community, and civic associations. By analyzing PR’s networks, this essay offers a fresh perspective on the travails of building a two-coalition system.
This essay investigates two bitter antagonists in the turbulent politics of contemporary Thailand: the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD), with its members labeled the “Yellow Shirts,” and the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD), or the “Red Shirts.” Each of the two foes, typically regarded only as a social movement, actually has a vast network connecting supporters from many quarters. The Yellow Shirt network is associated with the monarchy, military, judiciary, and bureaucracy. The Red Shirt network, organizationally manifest in a series of electorally triumphant parties, is linked to exiled ex-Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, his “proxies,” and groups and individuals who opposed the military coup that ousted Thaksin in 2006. The significance of the two antagonistic networks can be gauged from their different influences on democratic processes over several years. Using concepts of political networks to examine the PAD and UDD within the socio-political context in which they arose, the essay focuses on several aspects of the networks: their political conception and perspectives, their organizational structures (for decision making and networking), and the strategies and activities of their members. The essay critically analyzes key and affiliated characters within the PAD and UDD, as well as the functional mechanisms of the networks, in order to evaluate the positions of the two networks in contemporary Thai politics.
As East and Southeast Asia’s communist parties, founded between 1920 and 1930, strove to promote communism regionally from the 1920s to the 1930s, they were linked in an international network of communist movements formed under the aegis of the Third International (Comintern). This essay focuses on the activities of the Comintern’s regional headquarters in Shanghai after the Comintern had established the Far Eastern Bureau in Shanghai in 1926 and the Pan-Pacific Trade Union Secretariat in 1927. These two organizations, charged with supervising local communist movements in East and Southeast Asia, allocated funds, dispatched couriers and agents, and received local communists who wanted to go to Moscow. Thus, the Comintern built and maintained a complex East and Southeast Asian liaison network of agents and couriers who developed critical links with the Shanghai regional headquarters staff, and liaison officers in the local communist movements who acted as the nodes of the network. Intriguingly for the operation of the vast liaison network, among those who played crucial roles were regional facilitators who could speak European and local languages, were familiar with regional situations, and knew their contact persons. By carefully charting the structure of the network, tracing its links, which could be forged or snapped, and identifying its nodes, which could emerge or vanish, this essay provides an original account of how the Comintern network emerged in the late 1920s and how it collapsed in 1931.
The major militant Islamist network in Indonesia, comprising the Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) and its associated groups, was believed to have been responsible for dozens of violent incidents after 2000, including the Bali bombings of 2002 and 2005. Generally JI sympathized with al-Qaeda’s ideology, openly supported al-Qaeda and other militant ideologues by translating and publishing their work in Indonesia, and sent hundreds of fighters (mujahidin) to Afghanistan for training. The Indonesian militant Islamist groups were not foreign controlled, but they shared some features with a broader militant Islamist network. This essay takes as its point of departure Albert-Laszlo Barabasi’s characterization of al-Qaeda as a matrix of self-organized networks, not a military organization with structured divisions. In Barabasi’s theorization of networks, al-Qaeda appears as a “scale-free network” of a limited number of persons who had accumulated many nodes in a scattered and self-sustaining web. Hence, JI was loosely organized and yet hierarchical, composed of small cells held together by personal loyalties, family, school, and other friendly connections. Faced with intensifying police assaults, militant Islamists increasingly fell back on their networks. Using published reports and the author’s own interviews with relevant individuals, this essay traces the links and nodes of the militant Islamic networks in Indonesia and examines why and how jihadists in Indonesia tenaciously sustained their violent activities.