Numnual Yapparat & Giles Ji Unpakorn
General Prayut Chan-ocha is aggressively trying to exercise his power. He arrogantly refused to answer two basic questions from reporters about whether he would be the next Prime Minister and when the elections would be held. In response to the first question he angrily pointed his finger at the reporter and asked “so do YOU want to be PM then?” In response to the question on the election time table he shouted “there is no time frame” and then stormed out of the press conference. He clearly lacks any communications skills. The next day, the army summoned the reporters to give them a lecture on how to appropriately question His Excellency the Generalissimo.
The junta has let it be known what sort of punishment reporters will face if they do not comply with the New Order Regime.
Yesterday, soldiers were stupid enough to arrest the Former Education Minister Chaturon Chaisaeng while he was giving a press conference in front of hundreds of reporters at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand. He is now in jail and faces a military court. All those who have been detained will also face military courts if they are charged.
Pro-democracy activists, progressive academics, red shirt leaders and students have been told to turn themselves in to the military junta at the army club. Many have been immediately detained and sent to military camps. Some of them refused to go and are now in hiding.
Not only has the military detained decent people who believe in freedom and democracy, but also their relatives and children too. People like Somyot’s wife and his son were temporarily detained after troops raided their house. The brother of the nurse who was shot dead by army snipers in 2010 was also detained and later released. Political activities are forbidden in universities. Students are arrested because they protested against the coup. Soldiers are breaking into red shirt leaders’ houses in the North and Northeast and threatening them not to organise people against the coup.
In marked contrast, members of Sutep’s gang, who carried weapons and used violence on the streets to wreck the February elections are set free. The army are trying to arrest anybody who has the potential to lead a rebellion against them.
Generalissimo Prayut, the Great Leader, has giving an order to put up banners in several provinces to “thank” him for helping the farmers. Basically he just carried on with the previous government’s rice subsidy programme. He desperately wants to give an impression that he is a strong leader who can “save” Thailand from the crisis. But he and his anti-democrat mates started the crisis in the first place.
Generalissimo Prayut wants to show that he is a tough man. He and his junta are issuing a huge number of decrees, covering nearly all aspects of life. One recent decree is to ban all gambling. We bet that this will not work.
He tries to flex his muscles and claim that he, as The Great Leader, can fix the all the nation’s problems much better than any elected civilian government. In order to try to stimulate the economy, he is in favour of bringing forward large infrastructure projects which Pua Thai was originally trying to do. Of course those who shouted loudest against Pua Thai’s projects, including the Constitutional Court judges, are now strangely silent. Prayut has placed his military and anti-Democrat cronies in positions of power. Creatures from the 2009 junta, like Pridiyatorn, have been creeping back to help the present regime in its dirty work.
Generalissimo Prayut’s behaviour reminds us of the old dictator Field Marshal Sarit Tanarat, one of the most brutal and corrupt Prime Ministers in Thai history. Sarit was in the power from 1958 to 1963. He died of cirrhosis of the liver and had hundreds of wives. After his death a committee was set up to retrieve the millions that he had stolen from the nation. Throughout his time as dictator, he issued many stupid decrees, but more importantly he carried ordered gangster and drug dealers who were encroaching on his own interests to be summarily executed without trial. Some executions were carried out in public. Socialist and Communists were also killed.
But Thailand in the 1950’s and 60’s is not the same as Thailand today. In 1954 88% of the working population were involved in agriculture. By 2002, at the beginning of the Thai Rak Thai government, this figure had declined to 37%, with 63% in industry and services. Even those people classified as working in agriculture were in fact involved in “occupational multiplicity”, mixing “farm jobs” with “off-farm jobs”. The majority of Thais are now part of the urbanised working class.
In 1960 no more than 20% of the population attained lower secondary school qualifications. By 1999 the Ministry of education reported that 84% of all 12-14 year olds were in lower secondary school. People do not need to be educated at school or college in order to understand democracy, human rights or social justice, as many of the conservative elites continuously make out, but education can increase self-confidence to get organised and stand up and fight. The proliferation of secondary education in Thailand can help to partly explain why the red shirt movement became the largest social movement in Thai history. Education and basic computer skills have also been useful for rank and file red shirts in a climate of severe government censorship, in order to access alternative websites, blogs and internet radio, as well as for communicating with each other via e-mail, Facebook and Skype.
Generalissimo Prayut may dream that he is the Supreme Leader. He may dream of bringing in a New Order police state. But his dreams are starting to fall apart. Throughout the first few days of after the coup there have been spontaneous anti-military protests by hundreds of people in Bangkok and other cities. Some protests attracted a couple of thousand people. Soldiers have often been berated by middle-aged women. On more than one occasion soldiers have been forced to retreat in the face of angry crowds. The majority of Thailand’s 70 million strong population are totally opposed to the junta and have shown this in repeated elections.
On the 28th May 2014, the junta tested its ability to block Facebook and other social networks but they could not do this for long because people would have become very angry. They cannot block the internet as a whole because it would wreck the economy. What they can do is to block certain websites, including the Midnight University and hundreds of other sites. They can also shut down Facebook at strategic moments if they think that it is being used to organise certain political actions.
Pro-democracy activists are organising to protest again on 1st of June 2014 at Ratchapasong and people keep returning to gather at the Victory Monument.
It takes immense courage to defy a military junta and stand in front of armed soldiers. In 2010 General Prayut ordered the killing of nearly 90 redshirt demonstrators who were demanding democratic elections after a judicial coup. The hope is that this movement will grow and will reach out to the organised working class. But this will take time. It may well be a case of “two steps forward, one step back”. The junta will not be overthrown over night.
Photo: Khaosod newspaper