Shameful behaviour of Chulalongkorn University Staff reflects state of Thai society

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Last week a disgraceful incident occurred at my old university where I used to teach. Assistant Professor Ruangwit Banjongrut, who was in charge of student affairs, head locked a student representative and dragged him off, pulling his hair. At the same time he was heard to shout obscenities at another student. Ruangwit was part of Sutep’s anti-democracy mob before the latest coup.

All this happened because the elected student representatives decided to walk out early from an open air induction ceremony as it had started to rain. Previous to this incident the student representatives had sought agreement with teaching staff that the event would be cut short if it started to rain.

Those teaching staff who were there, including Ruangwit, committed gross violations of teaching codes of practice. There was physical violence used against a student, obscenities were used, and these teaching staff also forced hundreds of first year students to stay out in the rain, thus failing in their duty of care to the students.

So what was this induction ceremony? It was a ceremony where hundreds of new students are forced to prostrate themselves in front of a statue of two kings: king Chulalongkorn (Rama 5) and king Wachirawut (Rama 6).

Apart from having a role in the founding of the university, these two kings have a disgusting past. Chulalongkorn kept a harem with hundreds of women and had 3 “queens” who were half-sisters. When one of them drowned, no one dared to help because to touch the property of the king was a capital crime. Chulalongkorn modernised Thailand, but this was done to increase his power to become an absolute monarch. The freeing of slaves was also done to lower the price of hiring labour.

Wachirawut loved his dog more than the people and he ordered that a statue be built to honour the mutt. After his death it was observed that he had generally been hated and that he had spent so much money on himself that the finances of the nation were in trouble. On the plus side this awful legacy helped to spark the 1932 revolution against the next king at a time when Thailand was sucked into the world economic crisis.

Anyone looking at the behaviour of these two kings will be reminded of the present new king of Thailand.

Forcing students to grovel in front of these statues distorts history and is aimed at maintaining a respect for authority and dictatorship.

When I became a lecturer at Chula I was forced to go to an induction session. I avoided the grovelling part but I had to sit through a session where the speaker made fun of my Thai and English name and gave us tips on psychology, claiming that thin people were bad-tempered and fat people were jolly!

Many young lecturers at Chula lord it over the students in order to cover up for their own inadequacies. They are just “baby generals” who shout at and abuse students about not wearing their uniforms properly or other meaningless things. At the Faculty of Political Science, where I once taught, these baby generals were dead against teaching students to write argumentative essays and to hold their own opinions.

http://bit.ly/2aE7zc6

Eventually the authorities at Chula started a process which ended with me being charged with lèse-majesté. I had written the book, “A Coup for the Rich”, which criticised the 2006 military coup. They gave the book to the police Special Branch.

Despite all this it is important not to see Chulalongkorn University as merely a conservative institution. The famous left-wing radical Jit Pumisak, who later became a communist fighter, once studied at Chula. After 1973 Chula students set up a socialist group and many of them joined the communist party in the jungle after 1976. Twenty years ago, I and another lecturer were involved in starting a Marxism courses for students. These were the only Marxism courses in the country. Finally, this year the Chula students elected a radical team to become their representatives.

Chulalongkorn University reflects the state of Thai society, with those in power being dictatorial and brutish, the institution being steeped in class inequality, and with revolts from below by those who want freedom and democracy.

News Update:

Chulalongkorn University is trying to press disciplinary charges against Netiwit and other students while the lecturer who abused and assaulted the students enjoys impunity.

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Human trafficking case only deals with the tip of the iceberg

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

The huge human trafficking court case in July where 62 people were given sentences was only the tip of the iceberg in the country’s murky record on human rights.

[See http://bit.ly/2uJ8Hqh ]

Although Sunai Phasuk, a senior researcher at Human Rights Watch, said the convictions are a “major step” in combat human trafficking, the trial was criticised by Fortify Rights. Amy Smith, Executive Director of Fortify Rights stated that “Thailand has a long way to go to ensure justice for thousands who were exploited, tortured, and killed by human traffickers during the last several years.” The rights organisation criticised the fact that the government did not prevent witnesses and interpreters from being threatened with violence. Most vulnerable were the Rohingya witnesses who are the victims of these gross crimes of trafficking. Despite the fact that the Thai government issued a Cabinet Resolution providing automatic protection to witnesses involved in human trafficking trials, the implementation of this Cabinet Resolution failed to extend to Rohingya witnesses confined to closed-door government-run shelters. [See http://bit.ly/2uA4QeI ]

What is more, the most senior military figure who was on trial, Lt.-Gen. Manas Kongpan, was allowed to give evidence and be cross-examined in secret “in order to protect state security”. At the time of the crimes he was deputy of the special military unit of the Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC) Region 4. ISOC was in charge of the disgusting government policy of pushing Rohingya refugees back out to sea. In contrast to government policies, local villagers offered the Rohingya humanitarian help.

In December 2015 the chief police investigator in the case fled the country to seek political asylum in Australia because he was facing intimidation.

This trial raises a number of serious issues.

Firstly, given that a senior member of ISOC was involved in human trafficking, and that his evidence was heard in secret, who else among the top military generals were involved but have so far not been charged?

Secondly, human trafficking of refugees on this scale is only possible because Thailand does not accept the resettlement of refugees within the country. According to Human Rights Watch, Thailand has not ratified the 1951 Refugee Convention and does not have a refugee law or functioning asylum procedures. Therefore refugees are either forced to live in appalling prison camps indefinitely without the right to work or earn a living, or to become illegal migrants without any protection from exploitation, arrest and deportation. [See http://bit.ly/2uJuZs5 ]

So when will Thailand ratify the 1951 Refugee Convention and bring in a humanitarian refugee and asylum law? Given the poor state of human rights for refugees throughout the world and especially in the West, and given the track record of the junta in abusing the rights of Thai citizens, this is unlikely to happen in the near future.

Within Thailand itself, the rabid nationalism and racism throughout society, which is continuously promoted by the ruling class, means that there is virtually no social movement which calls for the humane settlement of refugees. [See http://bit.ly/1JaeTJY , http://bit.ly/1ZEwTnj ]

Thirdly, we should long ago have stopped idolising the Burmese Nobel Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi. It is her government in alliance with the Burmese military and extremist Buddhists who have been oppressing the Rohingya and forcing them to escape the country into the arms of the human traffickers.

Foreign academics at Thai Studies Conference send weak and meaningless message to Thai junta

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

 

Despite the military junta, the repression and the destruction of academic freedom in Thailand, it was “business as usual” for most of the foreign academics who attended the 13th International Thai Studies Conference in Chiang Mai last week.

Because academics from outside Thailand attended this conference it legitimised the military dictatorship. This is the real message sent out internationally despite the limp and meaningless declaration by 31 foreign academics and 145 Thai academics.

The declaration was limp and meaningless because abstract calls for academic freedom and democracy and the freeing of political prisoners will just be ignored by the junta. It isn’t worth the paper upon which it is written. What is more, they couldn’t even bring themselves to demand the abolition of the draconian lèse majesté law.

I do not in any way criticise the Thai academics who signed this declaration. That was a reasonably brave thing to do. But I criticise the foreign academics who signed the declaration so that they could absolve their consciences. And let us be clear. Not all the foreign academics even bothered to sign. Missing from the list of signatures were some of the so-called “key note speakers”.

What is more, the junta have now summonsed 3 Thai academics, who attended the conference, for posing with a sign stating that “Universities Are Not Military Camps”. As Pinkaew Laungaramsri, one of the three academics, explained, they put up this sign because the conference was full of security personnel in plain clothes who never bothered to register and who sat in meetings, took notes and photographed people. Yet the declaration by the 176 academics never even addressed this problem.

An important question for the western academics now is what are they going to do to protect these three lecturers? (photo above)

A few days ago, at 6:45 am, plain clothed military officers paid a visit to Sanhanut Sartaporn (above) at his secondary school and threatened him with violence if he did not stop posting articles critical of Generalissimo Prayut on social media. “If you don’t stop criticising our boss, we’ll send your name to people and who knows what will happen to  you”, they told to him. Sanhanut is part of an activist student group called “Education for Freedom”. They have criticised the way the junta leader has intervened in education policy.

A much more powerful message to the junta would have been the total boycotting of such a conference held in Thailand. They could have organised an alternative conference outside the country and purposely invited those Thai academics in exile to speak, all expenses paid. I say “all expenses paid” because many of the exiled Thai academics in Europe and elsewhere, who are on the junta’s “wanted list”, have had to give up their academic jobs and now survive on low incomes.

There are also exiled students and journalists living frugal lives. Most of these people have been granted political asylum. What a message such an alternative conference would have sent out to the world about the state of Thailand, but also about the need to defend asylum seekers and migrants!!

As already stated, foreign academics attending the conference in Thailand helped to legitimise the military junta and its plans for a military controlled “Guided Democracy” system after any future elections. The participants would have been rubbing shoulders with various toadies of the junta during dinners and ceremonies. Remember that all the academic administrators in Thai universities have collaborated with the junta’s repression.

For Thai citizens the present political situation does not allow people to discuss the vicious and demented new king, who not only abuses women but who also personally consumes millions of much needed public funds. The military has blood on its hands from shooting down unarmed pro-democracy activists and is totally tainted with corruption. Like the king, the military has helped itself to billions in order to buy new weapons. Such funds are urgently needed to provide a decent welfare state, education and health care for the majority of the population. Yet Thai citizens are being told by the junta that there is “no money” to improve these services and people face having to retire at a later stage in life while having to pay for health care. None of this could be discussed at the Thai Studies Conference.

People are being arrested and jailed or carted off for “attitude changing sessions” in secret locations for using social media in a manner which upsets the generals.

Among the political prisoners in Thai jails, who are often tried in military courts, are some prominent students who have been locked up for questioning military rule and corruption or staging political plays in a universities. Political seminars and discussions in universities and public places have been banned or shut down by soldiers.

The bottom line is that there is no such thing as academic freedom in Thailand today. The exception is the select few privileged foreign academics who haunt the Thai Studies conferences, making sure that they don’t upset the people who are in power. For these pathetic people, their careers and visas to visit Thailand are more important than freedom, democracy and human rights among the very people they claim to study.

More details about political prisoners: https://thaipoliticalprisoners.wordpress.com/

Thailand Towards Absolutism? Or Military Guided Democracy? Watch the video

One discussion you will not find at the Thai Studies Conference in Thailand!!

Watch the talk and the debate from Cologne on the 85th anniversary of the 1932 Revolution organised on 24th June 2017 here.

 

This kind of discussion could never be held in Thailand under the military dictatorship or the Lèse Majesté law. The military dictatorship and the new king will be the elephant in the room that everyone pretends not to see during the Thai Studies Conference. So what of substance are the academics at the Thai Studies Conference talking about??

The 1932 Thai Revolution had mass support

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Conservative western academics and royalist Thai commentators like to paint a picture of the 1932 revolution, which overthrew the absolute monarchy, as a “mere coup” with little support from the general population. In the past I have mentioned the work of historian Nakarin Mektrairat in challenging these distortions of history. In addition to this, a book published last year by Nuttapon Jaijing about the abortive Baworadet royalist rebellion in 1933 has some very interesting details.

Prince Boworadet assembled rebel soldiers at Korat in October 1933, ready to move down by train to attack Bangkok and restore the power of the monarchy. The royalists spread propaganda that the government, and especially Pridi Panomyong, were communists who wanted to establish a republic. The rebels planned to assassinate leaders of the People’s Party when they entered Bangkok.

As soon as news of the royalist rebellion reached Bangkok, many citizens volunteered to form an army to fight off the rebellion and defend the constitution. Military reservists started reporting for duty even though the government had not yet issued any orders to report. Civilians also volunteered to help the police in intelligence gathering about those involved with the royalist rebellion. Boy scouts reported for duty to help keep the peace in the capital city and they also played an important role in supplying government troops with ammunition and other essentials.

Trade unionists were prominent in volunteering to fight against the rebellion. Workers from munitions factories, aircraft maintenance workers, Siam Cement workers, boatmen, taxi drivers and railway maintenance workers at the Makasan repair shop, all expressed enthusiasm to join the fight against the royalists.

The Siam Tram Workers Union, led by the radical trade union leader Tawat Rittidet, offered on two separate occasions to go straight to the front to fight Baworadet’s army. The government politely declined the offer, stating that at that moment they had enough soldiers. As a result, the tram workers organised teams to act as guards in Bangkok and also collect intelligence, instead of going to the front. The Siam Tram Workers Union already had a long history of opposition to the Absolute Monarchy and apart from printing a workers’ newspaper, its offices were open for use by radicals who campaigned for women’s rights. After the Baworadet rebellion was crushed, Pridi Panomyong made special mention of the support from the union.

In Samut Sakorn young men assembled to form a volunteer force to fight the rebellion and they also demanded that the government send them arms. There are numerous records of different groups of citizens in the provinces forming volunteer teams. A group of ordinary women in Gang-Koi, near Saraburi, volunteered to help supply the government troops. Even monks volunteered to help the government.

Women volunteers at Gang-Koi

In Kon Kaen troops and members of the public mobilised to stop the rebels from moving north to seize the city and after the rebels retreated from Lak Si, north of Bangkok, they tore up the railway lines and damaged bridges to prevent the rebels from moving north beyond Korat.

The rebels had another centre in the south around Petburi and Hua Hin, near the king’s palace. A low-ranking railway clerk at Petburi railway station organised workmates to secretly empty diesel fuel from locomotives to stop any military advance on Bangkok.

In the end the rebels were unable to advance on the capital city and were defeated at Lak Si where a monument to the victory against the royalists was erected.

Nuttapon Jaijing’s book is an important source of historical research which helps to destroy the right-wing myth that the 1932 revolution was merely a military coup by a small group opposed to the monarchy and that the revolution “lacked legitimacy in the eyes of most Thais”. It is a snap-shot of the radicalisation that was taking place among ordinary citizens at the time.

From Unfinished Revolution to Absolutism?

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

On 24th June this year, at the Asienhaus Foundation in Cologne, Germany, I had the pleasure of attending a panel discussion on the occasion of the 85th anniversary of the 1932 revolution in Thailand. What follows is a summary of my talk.

The present military constitution has a prologue which praises the great achievements of Generalissimo Prayut in achieving “democratic reform”. It carries on by explaining that the aim is to establish “Thai-style” democracy and repeats the great lie that king Rama 7th “gave democracy” to the Thai people. The pathetic king actually had to be overthrown in the revolution to establish constitutional government!

If Thailand is marching towards Absolutism, it is not the absolutism of any monarchy, but the absolutism of the military. I have explained in other posts on this site about the nature of the 1932 revolution and the fact that King Pumipon never had any independent power. He was a tool of the military and his son is even weaker and not at all interested in Thai politics or society. However, it is necessary to deal with the issue of whether 1932 was an unfinished revolution.

If 1932 was an unfinished revolution, it is only true if we consider it from the point of view of a struggle for democracy. It is not an unfinished revolution in terms of “bourgeois revolutions” like the French Revolution or the English Revolution. Bourgeois revolutions open the way to establishing capitalism and capitalist states and political systems. The successful Thai bourgeois revolution was led from above by King Chulalongkorn, in much the same way as the Meiji revolution ocurred in Japan. New state centralisation, albeit in the European colonies, was also achieved in Burma, Indonesia and Vietnam around the same time. But these were unfinished changes because the nations were not yet independent.

In terms of a failure to establish democracy, the 1932 revolution was a failure because its leader Pridi Panomyong did not understand the need to build a mass political party. Instead he relied on the military, which eventually helped the military to increase its power. Pridi once wrote, when looking back on his life, that “when I had power I didn’t fully understand politics, but when I came to fully understand politics, I had already lost power”.

The march towards “military absolutism”, which may be too strong a word to use, can be seen in the military’s new constitution which attempts to lay the ground for “Guided Democracy”. We see…

  • The establishment of the junta’s hidden hand which is determining the National Political Strategy for the next decades. This opens the door for the military and its hirelings to use the powers of veto against any decisions made by an elected government and also for the military to take power at any time via a “legalised coup”, if and when it deems fit.
  • The Prime Minister can be non-MP under certain circumstances, as written in articles 5 & 272.
  • The military will appoint an all-powerful Senate and Constitutional Court which can veto government policy and remove elected governments that do not conform to the National Political Strategy. So-called Populist Policies which favour the poor are outlawed.
  • The military appointed Electoral Commission can vet manifestos of political parties standing in elections to make sure they conform to military policy.
  • The method of calculating MPs from votes after elections favours the military aligned Democrat Party.
  • It is virtually impossible to amend constitution.
  • Article 47 destroys the concept of universal health care as the Government only has a duty to provide for the very poor.
  • Article 54 cuts free education in the final years of secondary school.

It is absolutely amazing that given this clear enshrinement of military political power, that there are some people who still claim that King Wachiralongkorn is amassing absolute power in his hands and creating a climate of fear. In fact Wachiralongkorn has never expressed any real opinions about the above sections of the constitution or any aspect of Thai society. If he were to drop dead tomorrow, nothing would change, just like nothing changed when his father died some months ago.

The 1932 Revolution

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Thailand was well integrated into the world market in the 1930s and as a result of this, suffered the effects of the 1930s economic depression. The political fall-out from this was that a group of civilian and military state officials, under Pridi Panomyong’s Peoples’ Party, staged a revolution which overthrew the absolute monarchy of Rama VII in 1932. The first declaration of the revolutionaries clearly identified the economic crisis as bringing things to a head, with mass unemployment, cuts in wages and increased taxation experienced by the mass of the population. The Royal Family was notably exempted from these tax increases!

The 1932 revolution was carried out on the back of widespread social discontent. Farmers in rural areas were becoming increasingly bold and strident in their written criticism of the monarchy. Working class activists were involved in the revolution itself, although they were not the main actors, and cheering crowds spontaneously lined Rachadamnern Avenue as the Peoples’ Party declaration was read out by various representatives stationed along the road. The landmark work of Thammasart historian Nakarin Mektrairat details this wide movement of social forces which eventually lead to the revolution. It is important to stress the role of different social groups in creating the conditions for the 1932 revolution, since the right-wing historians have claimed that it was the work of a “handful of foreign educated bureaucrats”. In fact, there has been a consistent attempt by the right, both inside and outside Thailand, to claim that ordinary Thai people have a culture of respecting authority and therefore show little interest in politics.

The 1932 revolution had the effect of further modernising the state and expanding the base of the Thai capitalist ruling class to include the top members of the civilian and military bureaucracy, especially the military. The reason why the military became so influential in Thai politics, finally resulting in 16 years of uninterrupted military dictatorship from 1957, was that the left-wing revolutionary leader, Pridi Panomyong, failed to grasp the need to build a mass political party, choosing instead to rely on the military. In addition to this, the working class was still weak in terms of social forces which could oppose the military. Nonetheless, it would be quite wrong to conclude that class struggle was non-existent.

Pridi

Pridi wrote the first declaration of the Peoples’ Party, which was strongly anti-monarchy. He also drafted an economic policy paper which set out plans for the nationalisation of land, a super tax on the rich and a welfare state. Yet Pridi’s weakness meant that the economic plan was shelved and compromises were made with the conservatives about the role of the monarchy.

Never the less, the 1932 revolution meant that the role of the monarchy was significantly changed for the second time in less than a century. In the 1870s King Rama V abolished Sakdina rule in favour of a centralised and modern absolute monarchy. Sixty years later, the 1932 revolution destroyed this absolute monarchy so that the king merely became one weak and powerless member of the Thai ruling class. This is the situation today. It is important to understand this, because there has been a tendency by both the left and the right to exaggerate the importance of “long-lasting traditions” about the Thai monarchy. Todays’ monarchy may seem to have the trappings of a “traditional” king, especially to those observers who see the degree to which King Rama IX was revered among huge sections of the population. Yet the influence of this institution has fluctuated over the last sixty years and the “sacredness” of the monarchy has in fact been manufactured by military and civilian rulers to provide themselves with political legitimacy.

Thai politics