One Step back Two Steps Forward

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

The results of the referendum on the junta’s draft constitution are disappointing and are a set-back for democracy. But we should never forget that this was never a democratic referendum. The junta arrested and intimidated all those who wished to express their opposition to its appalling charter and tried to ensure that the media reported a one-sided pro-junta account. Troops were sent into communities to “explain” the authoritarian constitution. Many who live and work outside their home provinces were unable to vote for bureaucratic reasons.

A number of people would also have mistakenly voted to accept the constitution because they wanted to see elections as soon as possible. Yet any future elections will not be democratic and any government will be under the potential control of the military and the conservatives.

One reason (among many reasons) why the junta managed to gather more votes for its authoritarian constitution is that Taksin and the UDD demobilised the Red Shirts. Any social movement which has been demobilised will wither and die and its members lose confidence.

Given this situation it is remarkable that 10 million people voted to reject the draft charter.

Those who want to see democracy in Thailand will have to start by seeing these millions of people as their allies in any practical struggle against the junta. This is not a time to sink into depression. It is a time to turn anger into organisation and future action against the junta. Such action has full legitimacy given the undemocratic nature of the referendum and the constitution.

While we have to look reality in the face and admit this set back, we do not have to abide by the referendum results. To say this is nothing like the way the rabid conservative middle-classes rejected the democratic wishes of millions in previous general elections won by Pua Thai or Thai Rak Thai. Those elections were never held under the same authoritarian conditions seen during the referendum.

We should not overlook the fact that only 55% of those eligible to vote actually went to the polling stations. This means that only 33% of the population approved the junta’s awful constitution.


4 provinces in the north, 14 in the north-east and the 3 Muslim Malay provinces in the south rejected the junta’s constitution. Now that tells us something!!

At the risk of repeating myself I have to stress that the way forward is to build a mass social movement against the junta. The mass action by ordinary people in Turkey prevented the recent military coup on the night of the 15th July 2016. The rich experience of Thai mass movements defeating the military in 1973 and 1992 and the huge potential of the Red Shirt movement should be revisited. It is time to stop playing symbolic games organised by a handful of self-appointed heroes. Such misguided views arise from a mistaken analysis that in the days of social media we do not need to build mass movements. The experience of the mis-led Red Shirt movement and the autonomist or atomist ideas of the brave young students has side-tracked us from the real tasks.

Ridding Thailand of the influence of the military will take time and determined political organisation to build a movement which is independent of the old Red Shirt leadership and Taksin. Taksin has never called for mass action to defeat the junta. All Taksin says when he speaks to the Thai people is to talk about himself.

The mass political movement for democracy should be an inclusive movement which is a united front of all those opposed to the junta. In the past activists have allowed their own sectarianism and their vain wish to remain “pure” to become an excuse to exclude people or act in small groups. Political differences in this united front should be celebrated. This also means that left-wing activists need to build a socialist party in order to be a significant part of this movement.

However, this is not really a discussion for English speaking readers. It is vital that debates about strategies take place in Thai among Thai activist. That is why I run a parallel Thai language blog in an attempt to speak directly to people inside the country [ ]. Of course, propaganda on its own is no guarantee that these ideas will be put into practice. However, it is all that exiles like myself can achieve under present circumstances.