The disappointment of Seri Thai

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

When the Seri Thai (Free Thai) Movement was launched in late June this year, it raised the hopes of many pro-democracy Thais, both inside the country and outside. It raised my own hopes.

This was especially the case since Taksin, Yingluk and their Pua Thai Party had clearly capitulated to the military, hoping for a settlement with them in the future. It was also important because the UDD red shirt leadership had ceased activity and there was a vacuum of leadership among red shirts.

However, there were serious doubts raised by many people about Seri Thai right from the start. There was the fear that this was just a three man show without any membership or base. There were questions about what exactly Seri Thai was going to do and there were questions about its political manifesto.

As time goes on these doubts have increased.

In the last 3 months Seri Thai has done almost nothing. They have lobbied the European Union and supposedly “talked to the United Nations”. But nothing has been done to seriously organise people in Thailand against the junta. Valuable time and momentum has been lost.

You can lobby foreign governments all you like, but without mass resistance inside Thailand, the dictatorship will not be overthrown.

An anti-dictatorship manifesto must include proposals for establishing standards of human rights. This means stating that the junta leaders must be brought to trial for mass murder and for destroying democracy. It means that there should be a clear statement to abolish lèse majesté and release all political prisoners. It means that there should be a clear intention to reduce the role of the military in society.

One Seri Thai leader seemed to believe that the organisation’s role was as yet another human rights group, not a nucleus and potential leadership for a mass pro-democracy movement. This seems to be the reality of Seri Thai. Given the lack of real membership, it is doubtful whether it can even be called an “organisation”.

What is happening among some groups of red shirt Thais in Europe, the U.S.A. and other countries, is that they have merely changed their names from “red shirts” to “Seri Thai” without any new plans for action. What is also worrying is that the sectarianism among some red shirt groups has carried over into these self-established Seri Thai groups. Instead of building serious united fronts of those opposed to the military junta, they wish to exclude people, stifle debate and hold on to their “positions” within their groups. Fortunately this is not the case everywhere, but it is a problem.

Underlying the problems of Seri Thai is a mistaken belief that people in Thailand cannot fight against the dictatorship because of all the restrictions and threats to activists. But people are fighting back, especially students. No week goes by without some forms of resistance such as posters or attempts to organise seminars. This proves that if sections of the red shirt leadership or Seri Thai were to urge and give leadership to small scale wide-spread resistance, it would encourage more people to stand up to the military. Such resistance would have to be carefully planned and carried out with caution, but it could be done. Millions of people all over the world have organised secretly against brutal military dictatorships in the past. In Thailand the Communist Party led a serious fight against the military in the 1970s.

It would be a mistake to think that all is lost. Millions of Thais hate the dictatorship and the elites. In fact this is the majority view. We know this because of the repeated election results, the size of the red shirt movement and the initial anti-coup protests. What is desperately needed is organisation and leadership.