Puey Ungphakorn

It is soon going to be the 100th anniversary year of my father Puey Ungphakorn. Unfortunately the Thai military junta and its creatures are busy trying to gain false legitimacy from taking part in public meetings about Puey. This is no surprise since the lying and double standards in Thailand today knows no limits. General Prayut, self-appointed junta leader claims that Thailand is not a dictatorship and the collection of anti-democrats who are busy crafting “guided democracy” are claiming that they are conducting a process of “political reform”.

Puey Ungpakorn was an economics graduate from the London School of Economics. He joined the Free Thai movement during the Second World War and was captured in Thailand. He studied in Britain on a Thai government scholarship and thus returned to work in the Thai civil service. Eventually he became governor of the Bank of Thailand. Puey’s economic views were more or less mainstream. He worked with the World Bank and IMF. But in those days mainstream economics was more about a “mixed economy” rather than free-market ideology. Puey was also a supporter of the Welfare State and he wrote a short article about this.  He was in favour of progressive taxation of the rich to fund such a Welfare State. His ideas were similar to those of Pridi Panomyong, the leader of the People’s Party which staged the 1932 revolution against the absolute monarchy. Pridi was older and he was my father’s mentor.

Of course the conservative elites opposed these ideas and Pridi was forced into exile by the military and the royalists. He died in France. Much later, Puey was also forced into exile after the 6th October 1976 massacre at Thammasart University. Puey was hounded out of Thailand by the military and the right-wing who accused him of wanting to abolish the monarchy. They also accused him of being a communist, which he was not. A year later Puey suffered a serious stroke and never spoke or wrote anything again. He remained living in London until he died, although, unlike Pridi, he was able to visit Thailand on a number of occasions.

At the time of the 6th October massacre Puey was no longer working at the Bank of Thailand. He had become rector of Thammasart University and decided to dedicate more time to teaching and to building up a team of graduate volunteers for rural development.

There is myth perpetuated by supporters of the military that Puey would have “understood” the need for the military to stage coups against the elected governments of Yingluk and Taksin. One among those who is perpetuating this myth is scientist Yongyut Yuttawong, who is a junta deputy Prime Minisiter. Yongyut also served in the 2006 military junta. He is also my cousin. What is quite appalling is that Yongyut has staked a claim to speak as a representative of Puey’s ideas on more than one public occasion.

My father was a staunch supporter of democracy and wrote and spoke out against the 6th October 1976 massacre. He also openly criticised the Sarit and Tanom military dictatorships, especially on the issue of corruption and authoritarianism. Pueys’ belief in democracy and opposition to military rule meant that he regarded King Pumipon with contempt because Pumipon never stood up to the military and allowed himself to be used by various dictatorships. In our house at Soi Aree, where I  was born and grew up, there was never a picture of the King or even a Buddha image. On the King and Queen’s birthdays no flags or lights were ever displayed at the front of the house. Puey was not necessarily a republican. He was just indifferent to the monarchy.

At Thammasart University Rungsit campus there is grotesque statue of Puey. A Malaysian socialist friend of mine once said that it looked like a statue of Chairman Mao. It is grotesque because in Thailand statues of people are deified. It is also grotesque because the rector of Thammasrt University, a creature of two military juntas, has just sacked ajarn Somsak Jeamteerasakun for going into enforced exile. Somsak stands to lose his pension as a result.

Giles Ji Ungpakorn