Mass movement against junta makes huge strides forward

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

How did it start? The reasons why students started to revive the pro-democracy protests are that this new generation have seen that pushing for reforms within the parliamentary system has not worked. Opposition parties and politicians have been cut down by the military controlled courts. The junta were and still are blatantly using Covid as an excuse to try to ban protests. Anyone who speaks out is being intimidated by security officers and political exiles in neighbouring countries have been murdered by military death squads. The economy is a mess and youth see little to be hopeful for the future. In fact they share these feelings of anger and frustration with over half the adult population who voted against the military party in the last flawed elections. The difference is that the youth do not share the fear which is common among older activists who have been through military crack-downs.

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It is not just university students. Secondary school students, often from more elite schools are joining in. LGBT activists have also taken part as open LGBT activists against the junta.

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Secondary school students against the dictatorship

It is best to see the continuum of the pro-democracy social movement from after the 2006 coup with different groups popping up to take the lead. The youth are now taking the lead. [See “Role of Thai Social Movements in Democratisation” https://bit.ly/2aDzest ].

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Protesters at the Democracy Monument use the pro-democracy 3 finger salute, borrowed from Hunger Games

So far the most significant development is the establishment of the organisation “Free People”. The aim is to expand the movement to ordinary working people beyond students and youth. It has 3 major demands: stop intimidating activists, re-write the constitution and dissolve parliament. People are fed up with the fixed elections, the appointed senators and the military designed “Guided Democracy” system in general. [See Guided Democracy after the Flawed 2019 Election https://bit.ly/2Wm6bzI  ].

Since the activist lawyer Anon Numpa stood up and raised a number of criticisms of king Wachiralongkorn, the underlying anger about the behaviour and arrogance of the new idiot king has come out into the open. People are angry about laws which prevent the monarchy being subjected to criticism and accountability. They are angry that he spends his time with his harem in Germany and changed the constitution to allow him to do this more easily. They are angry that he changed the constitution to bring all wealth associated with the monarchy under his centralised control. The extra demands from the Thammasart University mass protest on 10th August reflect a feeling that the monarchy should be reformed and its privileges cut back. These developments are to be welcomed.

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Thammasart University protest 10th August 2020

Some political exiles abroad encourage the view that Thailand is an “Absolute Monarchy”. Nothing could be further from the truth. The movement should not over-estimate the power of the king. He has very little power and is a willing tool of the military and the conservatives, more so even than his weak father. Therefore suggestions that boycotting royal degree ceremonies would be enough to topple the regime are diversions. [See: “Absolutism” https://bit.ly/2teiOzQ and Can an absolute ruler hold power from abroad? https://bit.ly/3hxGFCv ].

Although the much welcomed criticism of the monarchy can weaken the junta and hasten the long over-due day that Thailand becomes a republic, the military and its parliamentary dictatorship remain the main enemy of Thai democracy and a strong mass movement to topple the military still needs to be built. Workers need to be involved. Events after the Second World War show that Thai military dictatorships can hold power without using the monarchy. We need a socialist republic in Thailand.

 

Open criticism of King Wachiralongkorn increases, activists arrested but protests grow (see updates)

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Recently, the human rights lawyer and pro-democracy activist Anon Numpa, addressed an anti-junta rally of young people and made open criticism of the idiot king Wachiralongkorn. He was dressed as Harry Potter, just to make the event more humorous. However, the content of his speech was deadly serious.

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Anon Numpa

Anon criticised Wachiralongkorn’s habit of living abroad in Germany and using huge amounts of public funds for his personal use. According to Anon, Wachiralongkorn has also massively increased his power. However, as followers of this blog know, this latter view is not one which I share. [See Wachiralongkorn’s power https://bit.ly/2EOjsNL   Absolutism https://bit.ly/2teiOzQ  Can an absolute ruler hold power from abroad https://bit.ly/3hxGFCv ]

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Such open criticism of Wachiralongkorn is to be welcomed and Anon Numpa has shown great courage in doing this. There will be top state officials, especially military officers, and rabid royalists among the public, who will want to persecute or prosecute Anon for his statements. It is important that as many people as possible in Thailand show him solidarity by also discussing the issue of the monarchy openly and in public. This will make it more difficult for the state to attack Anon.

In reality one of the important issues that has helped spark the latest round of youth protests against the military junta in Thailand has been the behaviour of Wachiralongkorn and this can be seen in many of the placards on the demonstrations.

Anon Numpa’s statement was couched in royalist and nationalist language. This was an attempt to protect himself. He said that he was criticising the monarchy in order to defend it. But it is doubtful that this will be enough to stop attacks on him by the state and the royalists.

One unfortunate aspect of Anon’s speech was the use of the word “Farang-Mungka”, a derogatory and racist word used to describe Westerners. In an era of Black Lives Matter protests, pro-democracy activists in Thailand need to be more aware about their racism.

If the increasing anti-monarchy feeling can be encouraged, it will weaken the military, who use the weak-willed monarch as a political tool. It will also help to make a republic more likely. However, we must never forget that republics can also be oppressive and just after the Second World War Thailand was rule by an anti-monarchist military dictatorship in the shape of Field Marshall Pibun.

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The military and its parliamentary dictatorship remain the main enemy of Thai democracy.

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It is encouraging that the youth groups who have been protesting against the parliamentary dictatorship run by the military have now officially stated that they want to expand their network beyond students and young people to include adults. Hopefully this will facilitate expansion of the movement into the working class.

[THAILAND IS RULED BY A PARLIAMENTARY DICTATORSHIP RUN BY THE MILITARY https://bit.ly/3731MIZ ]

LATEST (7th Aug 2020) Anon Numpa served with arrest warrant.

Anon Numpa and student activist Panupong Jadnok were arrested on 7th August 2020 and charged with a number of so-called “offenses” relating to peaceful anti-junta demonstrations. Other protest organisers were also served with warrants.

The authorities are trying not to draw attention to Anon’s comments about the monarchy, but the charges against him are serious.

At some point later in the day, Anon and Panupong were dragged off to police detention.

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Anon being dragged by police (picture from BBC)
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Anon and Panupong

Crowds gathered outside the court and the police station and a “flash-mob” protest at the Sky-walk was organised the next day.

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Later on the 8th August, Anon and Panupong were released on bail.

It is vital that more and bigger anti-junta protests are held in order to keep up the pro-democracy momentum.

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picture from “Reporters”

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10th August: Over 5000 protesters at Thammasart University demand key reforms to the monarchy including the right to criticise and the down-sizing of the king’s privileges.

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Youngsters need to inject their anger and enthusiasm into the working class

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Young people in Thailand have risen up against the “parliamentary dictatorship” of Generalissimo Prayut in a show of defiance in all the major provinces. As with the mass protests against racism, climate catastrophe and oppression around the world, the Thai university and secondary school students have been fearless in the face of the dictatorship’s emergency laws. These laws were enacted after the emergence of the Covid 19 pandemic, but are being used to extend the powers of the dictatorship. This is one of the issues that has made young people angry.

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Protesters at the Democracy Monument use the pro-democracy 3 finger salute, borrowed from Hunger Games

Other issues causing anger and discontent are the dissolution of the opposition Future Forward Party, under false pretences of using the election law, the economic hardship caused by Covid, the continued harassment of dissidents, the manipulation of 2019 elections and the continued military dictatorship. Earlier this month, one dissident was arrested for wearing a T-shirt stating that he “no longer had any respect for the monarchy”. He was then sent to a mental institution. This has angered thousands of people. The behaviour of the present idiot-playboy King Wachiralongkorn has also caused anger which has overcome fear. [See https://bit.ly/3hxGFCv , https://bit.ly/2OUjN3N ].

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The use of military death squads to eliminate dissidents sheltering in Cambodia and Lao has also caused anger. [See https://bit.ly/2CPrVQy ].

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The protesters are demanding that the government resign, a new constitution be written and fresh elections held. A new constitution is necessary because the present one was written by the military junta to ensure its continued power. It stipulates that the senate is appointed by the military; another bone of contention among the protesters.

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These latest protests are part of a continued opposition to the destruction of democracy since 2006. Like all mass movements there have been lows and highs, depending on the political atmosphere, the state of the leadership and the level of repression. The destruction of the pro-democracy “Red Shirts” was enabled through shooting protesters and deliberate retreats by the leadership. One of the former red shirt leaders, Jatuporn Prompan, has shown his conservatism by urging the students not to criticise the monarchy. Luckily the students are unlikely to listen to him.

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The protests that greeted the 2014 Prayut coup were ground down by arrests and prosecutions by the junta, including the use of “attitude changing detentions”.

Key activists in the present protest movement have links to the best key activists from protests over the last decade. A Marxist “big picture” view of social movements describes various movements from below as just one big social movement with many arms and legs, constantly changing through time and always linked to international movements. This “social movement” is constantly battling against “the system” which is controlled by the ruling class. [See Colin Barker, Laurence Cox, John Krinsky & Alf Gunvald Nilsen (Eds) Marxism and Social Movements. Haymarket Books, Chicago, IL. 2014]. For the situation in Thailand see https://bit.ly/2aDzest.

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Secondary school students against the dictatorship

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The present wave of protests is led by new, younger students who do not carry the baggage of fear and repression from the past. The lessons from throughout the world, and from Thailand’s own history, point to the urgent need for today’s youngsters to get more organised and inject their enthusiasm and lack of fear into the trade union movement and the working class in general. If they do this, they will find a willing audience of people who are utterly fed up with the present junta but lack the confidence to come out and fight. The 14th October 1973 uprising against a previous military dictatorship was successful when thousands of ordinary working people joined the students on the streets of Bangkok.

[All photos from Prachatai web newspaper]

Further reading:

Guided Democracy after the Flawed 2019 Election https://bit.ly/2Wm6bzI

Thailand’s Crisis and the Fight for Democracy (2010).  http://bit.ly/1TdKKYs

 

Can an absolute ruler hold power from abroad?

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Amid the reactionary military junta-backed “Monument Wars” against the memory of the 1932 Revolution against the Absolute Monarchy in Thailand, and amid the serial killings by military death squads of Thai dissidents in neighbouring countries, much nonsense is being talked about by some regarding the so-called power of the Idiot King Wachiralongkorn. [See https://bit.ly/3doELl3 on Monument Wars, https://bit.ly/3eTJGvt and https://bit.ly/2Vf3Usf  on death squads].

One important question needs to be answered by those who advocate that Wachiralongkorn is all powerful. Is there an example anywhere in the world, now or in the past, where a powerful ruler can exercise his power while spending most of his life abroad? Think of Bashar al-Assad in Syria or Kim Jong-un in North Korea today or various tyrant kings in the past.

Wachiralongkorn lives permanently in Germany, either in his Bavarian palace or in a 5-star hotel during lock-down, along with his servants and harem. He only makes short trips to Thailand.

Tyrants are very wary of leaving the country where they rule for fear of being deposed while abroad. To argue that Wachiralongkorn is an exception is just banal “Thai exceptionalism”. In other words it means closing your eyes to comparative studies and the scientific study of history and immersing oneself in mysticism.

The idea that Wachiralongkorn has been increasing his power is parroted by some Thais in articles published by mainstream new outlets.

When talking about “power”, it is important to understand that it is a concrete thing, not some abstract concept. Political power comes hand in hand with the “power to shape society and politics”.

There was never any evidence that former King Pumipon ever had such power. He never shaped Thai foreign policy or had any influence on the direction of domestic political policies. He could not order military coups because he did not control the military. Pumipon always went with the flow, at times praising Taksin and his government. Pumipon shared his right-wing conservatism with most of the military and bureaucratic elites. It wasn’t his ideas that influenced events. He had no influence on the policies used by the Taksin government to dig Thailand out of the 1996 economic crisis. The anti-Taksin movement which emerged much later was not his creation. The conservatives merely claimed they were monarchists in order to try to obtain legitimacy among conservatives. Pumipon once told the military not to buy submarines because they would “get stuck in the mud of the Gulf of Siam”, but no one took any notice of him. His “Sufficiency Economy” ideology was repeatedly quoted by the elites, but never acted upon by anyone. [See more here:  http://bit.ly/2oppTvb ].

Wachiralongkorn is much less politically aware than his father, being completely uninterested in Thai society and politics. There is zero evidence that he is trying to wrestle power from the military in order to influence domestic political policy or foreign policy. [See also http://bit.ly/2kBwOlm ].

As I have previously written, “Wachiralongkorn wants the Crown, but not the job”. He isn’t interested in the slightest in Affairs of State. His only interest is in his own “affairs” with numerous women, some of whom have been promoted to high army ranks. He also once promoted his former dog to an air force rank. Wachiralongkorn’s so-called “power” is much more akin to that of a petty local Mafia boss who wishes to protect his wealth and his patch. It must be frightening for those in his immediate household circle to serve such a self-centred, vicious and erratic boss. But a WikiLeaks episode some years ago exposed the fact that many high-ranking generals viewed Wachiralongkorn with irritation bordering on contempt.

In order to be able to use the present and past king as a legitimising figure in their class rule over the population, the military and elites have to give them something in return. Since the image of the monarchy is there to protect the elites, the monarchy acts like a guard dog with all bark and no bite. But guard dogs need to be thrown a bone every day to keep them in line. The bone thrown to the Thai monarchy is the immense wealth given to them, the freedom for them to live their lives as they please, and the willingness of the elites to pamper the royal ego by grovelling on the floor in front of them and pretending to be under the dust of their feet. This latter bit of theatre is only for the benefit of ordinary citizens while real power is in the hands of the military.

Just like the top bosses of most religions who claim to speak on behalf of non-existing gods, the military claim to speak on behalf of the monarchy.

But in order to make this trick work well, the monarchy needs to appear to be worthy of some respect. Yet Wachiralongkorn’s personal life style makes this difficult. The military are unlucky because Wachiralongkorn has no idea how to behave in civilised society and he risks turning the Thai monarchy into a laughing stock with all his scandals. The generals who are running the present “parliamentary dictatorship” are demanding that Thai citizens grovel to this nasty infantile king. The Monarchy is dysfunctional and rotten to the core and many, many, Thais know this.

Those who focus on Wachiralongkorn let the military junta and their anti-democratic allies off the hook because they ignore the need to build a mass movement to overthrow the military and concentrate on an abstract symbol, which they claim is too powerful to even overthrow.

 

Another enforced disappearance of a Thai dissident

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Thai military death squads are still operating in Cambodia and Lao. The latest Thai dissident to be disappeared is Wanchalearm Satsaksit, a prominent Thai pro-democracy activist living in exile in Phnom Penh.

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Human Rights Watch reported that at about 5:54 p.m. on June 4, 2020, a group of armed men abducted Wanchalearm as he walked on the street to buy food in front of his apartment, and took him away in a black car, according to several witnesses and apartment security cameras. [See https://bit.ly/2MAdMIh ]

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Wanchalearm is a prominent pro-democracy activist affiliated with the “Red Shirts.” He fled to Cambodia after Generalissimo Prayut’s May 2014 military coup. He continues to be politically active in exile, frequently making comments critical of the Thai government on social media. In 2018 a senior Thai police officers vowed to bring Wanchalearm back to Thailand one way or another.

Wanchalearm’s sister, who was talking on the telephone with him when the abduction occurred, heard him scream, “Argh, I can’t breathe,” before the call was cut off.

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If Wanchalearm does not re-appear very soon, it is feared that he will have been murdered by Thai junta death squads. These death squads have committed previous crimes against Thai dissidents in neighbouring countries.

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No one should be under the illusion that Thailand has returned to democracy, despite recent elections. The military is still very much in charge and the repression continues.

See previous articles relevant to this topic

THAI JUNTA DEATH SQUADS ELIMINATE EXILED OPPONENTS https://bit.ly/3eTJGvt

CONGRATULATIONS TO FAIYEN ON THEIR ARRIVAL IN FRANCE https://bit.ly/3736038

THAILAND IS RULED BY A PARLIAMENTARY DICTATORSHIP RUN BY THE MILITARY https://bit.ly/3731MIZ

Possible causes of lower Covid 19 infections and deaths in South-East Asia compared to Western Europe and the USA?

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

I have been struggling to find an answer to why South-East Asia has low Covid 19 infections and deaths compared to Western Europe and the USA [See https://bit.ly/2WFX00l ].

These are my preliminary thoughts and guesses on the matter. The possible causes are not necessarily in scientific order of importance.

  1. The age profile of the populations in South-East is very different to Western Europe, with many more young people and far fewer elderly people in South-East Asia. This would affect mortality rates. Younger people may also catch the virus and only have mild symptoms which are not recorded.
  2. Under-reporting of Covid 19 deaths? Without wide-spread testing we shall not know how many people caught the virus without becoming sick. However, we can see the death rates. Much of the “unexplained excess death rates” in South-East Asia may well be due to Covid 19. For example in April a Reuters study of data from 34 provinces in Indonesia showed that more than 2,200 people had died from Covid-19-like symptoms that were not reported as such. This indicates the number of victims in Indonesia is likely to be far higher than the official death toll of 895. There has also been under-reporting of Covid-19 deaths in Western Europe, for example in Britain, Italy and Spain. But under-reporting in some South-East Asian countries might be much greater.
  3. Connectedness of countries to the world system of trade, investment and tourism is likely to be an important issue, since Covid 19 had to travel from China to other countries. According to the World Bank, before the pandemic, Western countries had many more international tourist arrivals than South-East Asia. In 2018 France had 89 million international tourists, followed by USA (80 million), Spain (83 million) and Italy (62 million). This compares to 38 million for Thailand, followed by 26 million for Malaysia, and 16 million for Indonesia. In terms of international flight passenger arrivals in 2019, major airports in the USA had the most. Heathrow airport in London had 81 million, while Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris had 76 million, with Bangkok having 65 million. At the same time many travelers in European countries cross borders by road and rail. Government policies also had an effect. In Britain just 273 out of the 18.1 million people who entered the UK in the three months prior to the coronavirus lockdown were formally quarantined. At least 1,800 private aircraft landed in the UK during lockdown without tracking or screening passengers or crew. So Western countries are more internationally connected than South-East Asian countries. It is interesting to note that the official figures for Singapore and Malaysia are highest for South-East Asia. These two countries have high connectedness to the world economic system. This connectedness issue may also be a factor which helps to explain why Covid 19 figures in Eastern Europe are lower than Western Europe.
  4. The rate of “Obesity”, which is a high risk factor for serious symptoms and deaths, may be part of the explanation. Obesity in South-East Asia is much lower than in Western countries. Recent figures from the CIA show that obesity as a % of the population is 36% for the USA, 28% for the UK, 24% for Spain, 22% for France and 20% for Italy. The levels of obesity in Thailand are 10%, 7% in Indonesia and 2% in Vietnam.
  5. The warm and moist climates of South-East Asian countries may be a factor which has limited the spread of the virus, although this is still a debatable point among scientists and health workers. Some research papers from Harvard University and the London School of Hygiene and Tropic Medicine have questioned the belief that warmer climates help to reduce the spread of the virus. Traditional flu does show peaks in winter and troughs in the summer. But some laboratory studies have shown that the corona virus is less effective in warm, moist atmospheres.
  6. Effective government measures in terms of lock-down and contact tracing can only be attributed to the low level of Covid 19 infection and mortality in Vietnam, where there were draconian rules put in place from early on. The Thai, Indonesian, Malaysian and Cambodian governments had chaotic responses, which potentially might have put millions at risk. Singapore seems to have protected its middle-class citizens while sacrificing migrant workers who were locked up in un-hygienic dormitories.

The Cambodian politician Sam Rainsy has also suggested that immunity to Malaria and some genetic factors might also be responsible for low Covid 19 rates in South-East Asia [See https://bit.ly/3dRzMtW ]. But there is no scientific evidence so far to back this up.

Others have suggested that wide-spread wearing of face masks is an issue, but these masks are of limited efficiency and did not prevent the pandemic in China, where people also wore masks.

Some suggest that the lack of kissing and hand-shakes may be a factor. But same sex people touch each other in other ways in the region, often more so than in the West.

Despite what appear to be low Covid 19 infection rates and deaths in South-East Asia, the economic and social effects of government lock-downs and very weak social welfare support systems are causing a real crisis of poverty for millions of working people and this should not be ignored. This is also a serious issue in many poor countries of Africa and Latin America.

[See problem in Thailand: https://bit.ly/3bGCRvc  and https://bit.ly/2Syd7L8 ]

 

 

Is poverty a greater threat to Thais than Covid 19?

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

While I am very reluctant to tempt fate by making any conclusive remarks about the effect of the Covid 19 world pandemic on Thai society, there are indications that the spread of the virus and the death rates in Thailand are much lower than the figures from Western Europe and the USA. But the effects of the parliamentary military junta’s lock-down rules on the poor have been devastating.

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The lower levels of Covid 19 deaths in Thailand are little to do with government measures. The figures are similar to other South-East Asian countries.

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See https://bit.ly/2KWTPdV

If we look at the number of deaths per million people, the Philippines has the highest at 6, followed by Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore with 3. Thailand’s figure is 0.8. This compares to the appalling figure of 598 for the U.K.

The lower proportion of elderly people in the population of South-East Asia may be a small factor, but this must surely be countered by the much higher levels of poverty and ill health.

Some research papers from Harvard University and the London School of Hygiene and Tropic Medicine have questioned the belief that warmer climates help to reduce the spread of the virus. Traditional flu does show peaks in winter and troughs in the summer. But the figures above mean that we have to wonder whether hot and humid climates and strong sunlight and UV radiation, together with more time spent outdoors, do have a significant effect on reducing Covid 19.

The extremely low Covid 19 figures for Vietnam show that the country’s draconian lock-down measures plus testing and tracking are also significant. So I do not advocate any premature lifting of lock down measures anywhere.

Of course, we must also be mindful of the quality of data from governments that hide the truth and record Covid 19 deaths under other categories due to lack of testing.

While the present levels of Covid 19 cases and deaths in Thailand are low, the threat of hunger and destitution among the poor is shocking. The closure of entertainment establishments, restaurants, street stalls, workplaces associated with the tourist industry, and many factories, means that millions are trying to survive on no income. This can be seen by the desperate queues for food and cash hand-outs from charitable organisations.

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Meanwhile the government’s support for the unemployed is totally inadequate and shambolic. This shines a light on glaring inequality in society and the fact that Thailand does not have a welfare state. The rich and the elite continue to ride on the backs of millions of poor workers and peasants and the King and other royal parasites live in unbelievable luxury. Wachiralongkorn flies between his five-star hotel in Germany and his palace in Thailand, often ordering food and other items to be flown out to him in Europe according to his whims.

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Wachiralongkorn’s hotel in Germany

To add insult to injury, the military are still trying to spend millions from public funds on expensive weaponry.

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The whole situation is made much worse by the fact that the conservative elites have worked hard to destroy a democracy that was moving towards building a more inclusive and equal society since 2006. Whatever the faults and crimes of the Taksin government, and there were many, Taksin’s policies reflected a more modern vision of an inclusive society with universal health care, job creation and improved education. The alliance between Taksin’s elected governments and the working class and peasantry was just too much for the conservatives. Hence we are now saddled with a parliamentary dictatorship led by the military [see https://bit.ly/2Wm6bzI and http://bit.ly/1TdKKYs ]. It is this parliamentary dictatorship which is causing such hardship for the poor during the world Covid 19 pandemic. Given that we will be going into a world economic depression on the scale of the 1930’s, the situation for ordinary Thais can only get worse.

Read my previous article on Covid 19 in Thailand: https://bit.ly/2Syd7L8

 

Bungling military idiots put millions at risk of Covid 19 in Thailand

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

At time of writing (3rd April 2020) the official figures for those infected with the corona virus stood at 1,978 with 19 deaths. This figure may well under-estimate the spread of the virus as there have not been any systematic tests like in South Korea. We also know that the parliamentary junta is prone to lying. However, if other countries are anything to go by, Thailand may well be at the beginning of a steep rise in viral infections.

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Despite warning signs from China in early February, the Thai government has failed to properly implement basic measures necessary for containing the viral pandemic. These should include closing non-essential workplaces and postponing public events, encouraging social distancing, organising efficient testing and tracking and making serious provisions for treating patients in hospitals. Support for workers affected by the viral pandemic have been minimal and often are chaotic.

The blog site “Doctor on Duty” reports that there is no proper coordination between the Ministry of Health, state hospitals and private hospitals. There continues to be serious shortages of face masks and protective equipment, with profiteering and corruption rife. Testing is uncoordinated with little evidence of the free testing promised by the government. In fact the government has been caught lying on a number of occasions.

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picture from Bangkok Post

On March 3rd, the government ordered the suspension of all sporting events, but the army-run stadium in Bang Khen district still went ahead with fights on March 6th in front of a large number of spectators. People who attended this event have caught the virus and some have died. This is a typical example of how the military behave like the Mafia, doing what they like and making money on the side at the same time.

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scenes at the coach station

On 22nd March the governor of Bangkok ordered the closure of shops, restaurants, tourist sites, educational institutions and service sector establishments. The next day there was pandemonium at the long distance coach stations, as thousands of laid-off workers hurried to return to their family homes in the provinces to avoid destitution. The effect was to export the virus out of Bangkok to provinces all over the country.  On 26th March a state of emergency was declared, with several travel restrictions.

Thai migrant workers returning from places like South Korea have been insultingly called “little ghosts” in the media and have received appalling treatment in quarantine centres. According to Khaosod newspaper, Thai fishery workers who returned from Malaysia were surprised to find that the coronavirus “quarantine facility” they had to stay in for the next 14 days turned out to be nothing more than tents pitched on the side of a road.

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picture from Khaosod

For middle-class Thais and students, trying to return from abroad, the government has forced them to obtain a doctor’s certificate and an embassy letter before they are allowed on a flight. Imagine getting a doctor’s certificate of good health in a European country under pandemic lock down!

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The government announced some financial aid for the self-employed and temporary employees. People were to be given 5,000 baht per month for 3 months. At the end of March almost 20 million people registered for this aid in less than 48 hours, almost seven times the number estimated by authorities. Not only were there problems with the on-line registration, but large tightly-packed queues gathered outside the government savings banks, thus helping to spread the virus. But all those who registered might not even be guaranteed payments.

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Large multinationals Honda, Mazda and Ford closed their auto production lines in late March, for a period of at least 3 weeks, laying off 11,000 workers on full pay. They claimed that this was to protect workers. It is likely that this was a measure to retain skilled employees during a time of very low orders, so that production could be resumed quickly. Workers in company accommodation were not allowed to leave the premises.

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In other areas, workers in small parts factories have been laid-off due to orders drying up from China and other manufacturing countries. These workers will have to rely on Social Insurance pay-outs.

Covid crash

The World Bank has predicted that the Thai economy will shrink by around 5%, almost double the shrinkage in GDP following the 2008 global recession. Yet the situation could turn out to be much worse. Prolonged shut downs in major economies could cause shrinkages of over 15% worldwide and this would have a knock-on effect on Thailand.

Government spending on Covid 19 was only about 3% of GDP in early April, far less than some other countries such as Singapore. No doubt the majority of the money was being channelled to businesses rather than citizens. Yet an editorial in the Bangkok Post on 3rd April stated that: “Instead of offering deferrals on principal and interest payments on residential mortgages, auto and business loans for a long or indefinite period, the majority of banks and financial companies have come up with packages which are tailor-made to ensure handsome profits will still go into their pockets.”

Meanwhile it is business as usual for the military, with more planned weapons purchases.

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But the most disgusting scene of all is the Oaf-King Wachiralongkorn living it up in style in a German luxury hotel along with his concubines and servants. This has caused much anger among the public and people have been expressing this anger on social media in indirect ways, despite the draconian lèse-majesté laws.

It is high time to sweep away the monarchy and the military junta which props up this long-out of date relic. This is a time when people should be increasing their criticism of the Prayut government and preparing to build movements to overthrow the military in the future.

SEE A MORE UP-TO-DATE ARTICLE ON COVID 19 IN THAILAND HERE: Is poverty a greater threat to Thais than Covid 19?  https://bit.ly/2WsTqFq

See more on Prayut’s “parliamentary dictatorship” https://bit.ly/2x2OnD5

See more on the Oaf-King Wachiralongkorn https://bit.ly/3dNQewd  and https://bit.ly/2UCXKSY

 

Thai junta can’t even tolerate existence of opposition parties

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Not content with staying in power after phoney elections, the Thai junta’s parliamentary dictatorship cannot even tolerate the existence of the Future Forward Party. The Kangaroo Courts have just dissolved the main opposition party using some pathetic pretence about the party borrowing money.

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The fine details of the case are irrelevant because this was a blatant political move to destroy the Future Forward Party and its leading politicians. It follows the removal of Future Forward Party leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit as a member of parliament just after the election. The courts also have a long history of using double standards. Naturally the military party has never faced any sanctions despite continually flouting the law.

Let us be clear: Generalissimo Prayut’s authoritarian government came to power following a coup d’état in 2014. It is still in power in the form of a “parliamentary dictatorship” following a phoney election where the junta drew up all the rules to ensure that it stayed in power. This included appointing the Electoral Commission, the Senate and the Constitutional Courts. Prayut remains Prime Minister despite the fact that opposition parties won more votes and more seats in parliament. The military is still intervening at all levels of society in a dictatorial fashion and draconian laws are still being used to try to prevent peaceful protests and freedom of expression.

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Parliament, the legal system and the courts are being used to white-wash Prayut’s junta. Therefore Prayut’s appeal for people to “respect” the decision of the courts is tantamount to asking people to eat excrement.

The Future Forward Party has gone out of its way to conform to the rules set by the dictatorship and has emphasised using the law and parliamentary procedures. Yet even this is too much for Prayut’s government.

Despite the fact that many of us opposed the tactics of the Future Forward Party in conforming to the junta’s rules, the fact that they did this, and they have still faced the chopping block, just shows that there is no realistic alternative to building a mass pro-democracy movement outside parliament in order to bring down the dictatorship. Such a movement would have cast-iron legitimacy.

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In December Thanathorn and other Future Forward Party leaders called a successful protest when the party first faced the prospect of being dissolved. Today, after the latest slap in the face by the junta’s obedient courts, party leaders must seize the opportunity to fight back while there is a mood of anger against the junta in society. If they do not move forward to build a mass social movement, they will be showing criminal negligence in the struggle for democracy. A failure to react robustly in the face of the junta’s latest attack risks causing demoralisation and defeat.

Whatever the top leaders of the Future Forward Party decide to do, grass-roots activists, both inside and outside the party, should be trying to build a powerful network of people who are prepared to struggle for democracy on the streets, in the universities and colleges and among trade union activists. Not only would such a network strengthen any calls for action coming from the top, but it would also help to ensure that any struggle, if it takes place, is not sold out by top politicians engaging in a grubby compromise with the military. Such a compromise resulted in the defeat and destruction of the Red Shirt movement a few years ago.

 

Thai mass shooting reflects a sick, military dominated society

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

The tragic deaths of 30 people in the mass shooting by a crazed sergeant major in Korat reflects a sick militarised society.

Apart from the psychological state of the soldier, which is obviously important, there a number of other significant factors that contributed to this event.

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The fact that the military is still in power after staging a number of coups and fixing the recent elections, means that society is dominated by a military culture. This culture normalises the use of state violence in politics. Soldiers not only control the levers of power, but they intervene in the day to day running of society, acting like the police. Armed soldiers visit opposition activists in their homes in order to intimidate them. They act to ban freedom of expression on a regular basis. Merely being in military uniform and holding a weapon is enough to justify these actions.

The Thai military has repeatedly shot unarmed pro-democracy demonstrators in Bangkok with total impunity. Not only did they do this during the red shirt protests, but this obnoxious history goes back to the military induced bloodbaths in 1973 and 1976. The present Prime Minister, Prayut Chan-Ocha, was one of those responsible for the deaths of nearly a hundred unarmed Red Shirt protesters in 2010.

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The military also act with impunity in Patani, carrying out extra-judicial killings of Malay Muslims. In neighboring Lao. military death squads have killed exiled dissidents.

Within the military there is a culture of brutalising young recruits and this has often resulted in a number of deaths.

Because none of this military violence is ever punished; no military personnel have ever been prosecuted for killing unarmed protesters, it has become normal behaviour for armed soldiers to act as though they are above the law. Soldiers swagger around like gangsters, intimidating citizens and aping their bosses who are in government. In the 1970s it was common to see military vehicles driving the wrong way down one-way streets with their lights on.

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On National Children’s Day the military bring out all their hardware to “entertain” kids. Some of the real weapons available for the kids to use as “toys” are probably the same as the gun used by the sergeant major in Korat. This socialising of children leads to a tendency among many boys to want to become soldiers so that they can feel important, macho and tough. This has little to do with heroics. The Thai military is not heroic, it is more like a massive mafia, engaged in business deals and bullying. It is probable that the angry soldier in Korat was being swindled by his commanding officer in such a deal.

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Members of the Thai army take part in Thailand’s National Armed Forces Day at the Thai Army 11th Infantry Regiment in Bangkok, Thailand January 18, 2016. REUTERS/Chaiwat Subprasom – RTX22VQS

Finally there is a total lack of justice and security for the majority of people who are poor. When people have no faith in the justice system and they have no life security, there is a feeling that you need to take things into your own hands or act like a gangster. This is also partly the reason why Thailand has one of the highest levels of gun ownership.

The finger of blame for the tragedy in Korat has to be pointed firmly at those military officers in charge of the country, starting with Generalissimo Prayut.

bloody prayut

Thai politics