Giles Ji Ungpakorn
The self-appointment of dictator Prayut Chan-ocha as Prime Minister, by his hand-picked military parliament, was an unsurprising non-event. Prayut did not even bother to attend and the so-called “vote” was unanimous.
Prayut has set himself up as Thailand’s “Supremo”, placing himself in charge of all important posts. This harks back to the dark old days of the military dictatorships in the 1960s and 1970s. As acclaimed writer Wat Wanyangkoon has said; “The junta is detritus left over from the Cold War”.
Prayut’s junta is both brutal and stupid. It is brutal in its crack-down on pro-democracy activists, the use of lèse-majesté to jail its opponents, and the use of violence against detainees. It is stupid in its attempts to create an image that the coup has created “peace and happiness” among citizens. Prayut also loves to strut around barking orders in a pathetic quest to appear like some out-dated “strongman”.
There are more Thai political activists living in exile now than at any other period since the bloody crack-down at Thammasart University back in 1976.
The junta claims it is in the process of “reforming” the Thai political system. The real meaning of this process is to set up a Burmese-style pretend democracy where people will be allowed to take part in elections, but the military and the conservative anti-democrats will hold real power. Reactionary middle-class academics, self-serving government officials and most of the media are going along with this process. They think that they can fool the population into believing that these are real “reforms”, but they are only deluding themselves and those who have weak minds.
Genuine political reform will only take place when the military junta is thrown out of office along with its fawning supporters. Such reform would have to cut down the power and influence of the military, abolish the lèse-majesté law and bring in serious measures to tackle economic inequality. It would need to scrap all laws which were written by military juntas and it would have to abolish the so-called “independent bodies” which have served the anti-democrats. Political prisoners would also have to be immediately released and army officers and politicians who are guilty of gross human rights abuses would have to be punished. Top of the list of those who need to be brought to trial would be Prayut. He ordered the shooting of 90 un-armed pro-democracy demonstrators in 2010. Taksin Shinawat would also need to be brought to trial for his human rights abuses in the war on drugs and in Patani.
But we must not be deluded that the junta and its anti-democratic followers will somehow “self-destruct” and democracy will be automatically restored with the passing of time. Neither must we be deluded into thinking that the death of the king and the queen will solve anything. The royals are merely willing tools of the military and the conservatives and the next generation of royals are no different. In previous articles I have explained why the Thai crisis is not about royal succession.
Democracy and social justice will only be built if we organise and fight for these things. Taksin, Yingluk, Pua Thai and the redshirt UDD leadership have no intention of giving leadership to this necessary struggle. They would rather see a future agreement between the elite factions and protecting the status quo, than risk turning society upside down in a genuine process of political change.
The struggle for democracy requires political organisation on the ground inside the country in order to build a genuine mass movement out of the redshirts and others. Some lessons can be taken from the organising methods of the Communist Party of Thailand back in the 1970s. However we need to reject the CPT’s authoritarian structure and its reliance on the armed struggle.
Lobbying foreign powers may have its uses, but any organisation that merely concentrates on this, rather than building a movement inside Thailand, will achieve nothing. So far the “Free Thai Movement” has not shown a serious willingness to organise a mass movement. This is regrettable.
A pro-democracy mass-movement in Thailand also needs to announce publically what it aims to achieve. It needs to call for the dismantling of military power and the abolition of lèse-majesté. It needs to spell out what genuine reforms will look like and that human rights abusers will be brought to justice. Without such an approach, the struggle will be in danger of ending in a dirty compromise with the conservatives.
[This article is a summary of my forthcoming talk in Thai in Denmark on 23rd August 2014.]