Reality is less titillating than gossip about the Palace

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Amid the excitement about the various goings on in the Palace and speculation about royal succession, it is worth getting a grip on the reality of why Generalissimo Prayut staged his coup d’état and what he and his military thugs are trying to do to Thai politics.

Obviously we can dismiss at once the ridiculous notion that the army had to step in to “restore peace” or “prevent a civil war”. That could have been done months or even years ago if the army had taken measures to protect the sovereignty of the people and their democratic wishes against those middle-class royalists who used street protests to prevent elections and destroy democracy.

We can also dismiss the fairy tale that the military intervened in order to “root out corruption”. The Thai military has a long history since the late 1930s of being one of the most corrupt public institutions, with various generals amassing huge wealth by dishonest means. The present junta is ensuring that this fine tradition continues by the generals paying themselves huge multiple salaries, benefitting from public funds ear-marked for the military and by various deals that obviously involve serious conflicts of interest.

No, the two military coups in 2006 and 2014 were designed to use the illegitimate power of the army to subvert the democratic system. This is what the political crisis is all about.

What is it that the military and the conservative elites hate about the democratic system? Granted, they could live with free and fair elections in the past so long as there was no domination of parliament by one party and so long as no real policies were ever proposed at election time. This is the kind of system that the Democrat Party was comfortable with. Votes were obtained through patron-client networks and most leading politicians of all parties could share ministerial positions and feeding space at the trough. But as soon as a politician got too powerful, and especially when they threatened the privileges of the military, like the case of Chartchai Choonhawan, there were moves to remove them via military coups or other means.

What was alarming the military and the conservative elites since the rise of Taksin Shinawat’s Thai Rak Thai government was the alliance built between the electorate and a political party which provided real pro-poor policies and modernisation. The military and the elites hated the idea that ordinary folk could express what they wanted and be listened to by a party which held a huge electoral advantage as a result of this alliance.

Suddenly, the generals and unelected bureaucrats were finding themselves side-lined. The Democrat Party had no democratic means of competing with Taksin’s parties because they set their faces against policies which benefitted the majority. The middle-classes, who had always enjoyed a better life than most people, also resented the new state spending policies which emphasised improving the lives of the poor and bringing the majority of the population into a modernised society. The neo-liberals were also appalled by government spending on infrastructure and socialised health care.

The King’s view on all this, if he even had one, was irrelevant. His riches and his “god-like” status were never threatened and Taksin was as keen to use him and promote him as all the other elites. Pumipon just went with the flow. At one point, the Crown Princess even let slip in an irritated fashion that all the yellow shirt royalists were just using the monarchy for their own ends. The King and the Crown Princess prefer to be left alone to enjoy their wealth and status. So does the Crown Prince, who has absolutely no interest in intellectual matters or politics. However, as the crisis developed some of the more stupid members of the royal family: the Queen and one of her loud-mouthed daughters jumped on the royalist band-wagon. Yet the conservative elites have little respect for these two characters.

Instead of having orgasms over Palace Gossip or the coming royal succession, we need to be seriously concentrating on what the military and the conservatives are doing in all their anti-reform processes. A quick study of what is being proposed reveals that this has nothing to do with the Palace or succession.

The main planks of the anti-reforms are to reduce the power of future elected governments by fragmenting the political system and shifting the power towards un-elected and conservative courts, appointed senators, and deeply conservative non-independent bodies (which claim independence). This goes hand in hand with attempts to set in stone an extreme neo-liberal agenda involving moves to force people to pay for health care and reversing government spending on pro-poor policies. This would be achieved by writing neo-liberalism into the constitution and using various unelected bodies to veto certain types of government spending. Naturally military spending and the bloated Palace budget would never be touched.

This process was started by the 2006 military coup but proved to be too weak to make the reactionary changes required by the conservatives. This time round they are using a vicious military junta, the suppression of all human rights and a comprehensive crafting of a Burmese-style “guided democracy”.

The conclusion from this analysis is that the junta and its vile achievements should be opposed and fought on a principled left-wing political and economic basis. It has to be left-wing because it is about expanding the democratic space and improving the economic status of the vast majority of Thais.

For those who want royal titillation, I suggest you watch Game of Thrones on the internet or read Andrew MacGregor Marshall’s new book. But don’t forget to join the real struggle for democracy and social justice when you have had your entertainment.

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