All posts by uglytruththailand

We are sick of the hypocritical and dishonest reporting of events by mainstream institutions in Thailand. This non-commercial, activist blog is dedicated to the political struggle for democracy, equality and human rights in Thailand. To contact the main writer please e-mail: ji.ungpakorn@gmail.com

What a surprise!! Thai Elections Postponed to 2019

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

The military junta has once again postponed the date of future elections to 2019. Previously it made many promises about elections in 2017 and then in 2018. But as usually, the junta’s promises all turned out to be lies.

Meanwhile General Pig-Face Prawit, Prayut’s deputy, has been crying that he has been unfairly criticised for displaying numerous highly expensive watches on his wrist and not declaring his assets. Generalissimo Piggy claimed that they were all “loans” from friends. People have had a field day on social media making jokes about watches and borrowing items from friends. No one with an ounce of intelligence believes him, especially after his lavish spending on an official junket to Hawaii.

At the same time the minimum wage level for millions of workers has been raised by a mere pittance because the junta are keen that any wage increases should not affect the profits made by their friends in the business community.

Some commentators claim that the junta has no credible exit strategy [ http://bit.ly/2FX1lBZ ]. But this is not the case. They have been planning for the nature of any future elections for some years with the new elections rules and the National Strategy. The whole process is designed to ensure that the reactionary undemocratic ideas of the junta remain in place to control any future “elected” governments and also to ensure that as many obstacles are in place to make political life hard for Taksin’s allies. [See http://bit.ly/2l63Z1I ]

Prayut starting his make-over to look like a civilian

The junta are not really interested in an exit from politics as such. They merely wish to install a system of guided, Thai style, “democracy” under their control. It is a strategy to exit from a military dictatorship to a military controlled civilian government. Included among so-called civilian politicians could be generals like Prayut who merely slip out of uniform and put on a suit. There is even talk of setting up a pro-military party or encouraging many so-called small “independent” parties to fragment parliament and allow Prayut to be chosen as Prime Minister in the future.

Part of the junta’s strategy continues to be the stifling of any criticism. A whole barrage of laws now exist, alongside lèse-majesté, which are designed to limit freedom of expression. A prominent academic has been summoned by the police over a social media post concerning the price of a hand bag belonging to General Prayut’s wife. The satirical “Kai Meaw” internet page which poked fun at the junta, through its cartoons, has mysteriously disappeared. The site enjoyed the highest number of visits among those interested in politics. Naturally the junta has denied all knowledge of this, just like they denied all knowledge of how and why the 1932 revolution plaque disappeared.

What we must never forget, however, is that the strength and the ability of the junta to survive is always inversely related to the strength of pro-democracy social movements. The Egyptian revolution and the overthrow of Suharto in Indonesia were never predicted in advance and events can change rapidly. But what makes the overthrow of the junta and its legacy more likely is a large body of people who are prepared to get organised.

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Buddhism and Sexism

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Recently a long-running controversy about Thai Buddhist temples in the north erupted into the public consciousness again. The issue is the fact that a number of temples with golden pagodas in the north of Thailand ban women from entering the inner areas of the pagodas.

This controversy previously surfaced some years ago when a fairly conservative woman senator complained about the signs banning women in these northern temples. She, and those who defended her, were subject to much abuse. We were labelled as being “foreign” or “southerners”.

Those that defend the indefensible vary from the most banal superstitious types to those who defend this scandal on the grounds of local culture.

For the banal superstitious idiots, they claim and actually believe, that women are somehow “unclean” because they have menstruation. This is said to reduce the magical powers of holy relics buried in these pagodas. This kind of mumbo-jumbo would be laughable in the 21st century if it were not for the fact that a number of Thai Buddhists actually believe it!

The more sophisticated, but erroneous, argument is that it is the “local culture” of northern Thailand. Well, slavery used to be a local culture in the area as well and so did the fact that the northern rulers used to rape local young women with impunity. One famous anthropologist described how parents used to have to hide away their daughters or cover their faces with excrement when rulers and their thugs ventured into their villages.

Culture is an ever changing and always disputed human phenomenon. There is more than one local culture and many decent citizens in northern Thailand struggle against sexism. Many decent Buddhists also campaign for women’s rights, some maintaining that women have the right to become monks. This is a struggle against the prevailing Buddhist ideology and the power of the state. The Thai state bans women from becoming monks. It also attacks those Buddhist who do not believe in the state approved version of the religion.

Yet, women actually provide the majority of offerings to monks, ensuring the survival of Buddhism.

Reactionary Buddhists claim that Buddha decreed that women do not have the discipline to become monks. I was taught this at school. Now, I have no idea what Siddharta really said. He quite possibly was a sexist or maybe he wasn’t. But Siddharta and all the reactionary Buddhists today would never have been born if it were not for the discipline of women who endured the pain of child birth. Their uteruses would not have been ready for the implantation of an embryo if it were not for the menstrual cycle.

As Karl Marx once wrote, the real nature of religion is not what is written in the religious texts, but how people actually practice their religion in the real world, in different social contexts. Those Buddhists who believe in equality and human rights need to raise a campaign to get rid of the sexist practices in northern temples.

This whole controversy exposes the weakness of the Thai women’s movement which long ago disappeared into a cloud of post-modernism and elitism. Many supported the two military coups. It also is a warning for those who uncritically embrace “communalism”. Some communities in northern Thailand have reactionary views about HIV/AIDS or LGBT people. That cannot be defended.

Religion should be separated from the state and all oppressed groups should be free to worship as they choose without being discriminated against.

In terms of religion and women’s rights when applied to Islam, socialists start from an understanding that Muslims are oppressed by Western Imperialism and the Islamophobic rhetoric of Western politicians. This means that we defend the rights of women who choose to wear the hijab in the West and the rights of women in countries like Iran or Saudi Arabia who wish not to wear it. We are also opposed to state sanctions against burqa in the West, while sensitively arguing, when we can, with those women who wear it, that they should not be subjected to the oppression of the burqa. People need to liberate themselves.  [For more on this see:  https://www.marxists.org/archive/harman/1994/xx/islam.htm ]

I am an atheist, but I would always defend the rights of women when it comes to Buddhism. In northern Thailand, those who advocate banning women from pagodas are not an oppressed group. They are oppressing women who wish to worship freely and they do not have the “right” to do so.

Reviewing the past year: Wachiralongkorn is just an irrelevant side show.

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Looking back over the past year we can make a number of observations about the political situation in Thailand.

The king’s lavish funeral has been done and dusted and the new king is on the throne. Wild conspiracy theories about a royal civil war for the throne between Pumipon’s son and daughter have proved to be totally untrue. So has the idea that the country would experience instability after the former king’s death. The latter theory was based on the incorrect view that Pumipon had political power, some, like Somsak Jeeamteerasakul, even claiming that Pumipon was the most powerful figure in the country. [See http://bit.ly/2AF9ozT ]

The fact of the matter is that there has been no instability at all in the military junta’s grip on power. They have continued to oversee the building of a future “Guided Democracy” system under their control. Important elements of this consist of the “National Strategy” and various junta-appointed bodies designed to control and fix elections, political parties and the actions of any future governments. [See http://bit.ly/2x1Ov43 ]There is absolutely no evidence that Pumipon ever had any input or opinion about this plan. He was totally incapacitated for some years.

The junta’s Road Map towards “Guided Democracy” and its backward conservative “National Strategy” has not featured in the new King’s role either. Wachiralongkorn has never expressed any opinions about this and he has no interest in such important matters of State. Wachiralongkorn is certainly an odious creature; selfish, nasty and lacking in any respect for others, especially women. But everything that he has done over the last year has been about himself and his quest for pleasure and riches at the expense of the Thai public. [See http://bit.ly/2l63Z1I ]

The change in the person who is now on the throne has not had any significant impact on the nature of Thai society, politics, or economics. It is just an expensive side-show. This is despite the sensational press articles which have claimed that Thailand has been plunged into the dark ages under king Wachiralongkorn.

Some even point to the new fashion for “buzz cuts” in the military and police as “evidence” of the dictatorial power of Wachiralongkorn, as though that was a crucial aspect of politics rather than a demented obsession by the deluded king and those who wish to suck up to him. We shall see whether Generalissimo Prayut and General Pig-Face Prawit follow the same fashion! [See http://bit.ly/2AWacAq ]

Obsession with the monarchy merely diverts attention away from the real democratic tasks ahead.

The real show in town is the continued grip on power of the military and how the policies of the junta are affecting democracy, human rights, social policy and the state of the economy. Their so-called “Road Map to Elections” is like an elastic band, with an unlimited stretch, and even with elections we will still have a junta controlled Guided Democracy.

Generalissimo Prayut seems to be positioning himself to become the next Prime Minister after the fixed elections. Recently he claimed that he was not a soldier, but a politician. Electoral rules are designed to discriminate against large political parties, especially any party associated with Taksin. The idea is that a fragmented parliament, along with an appointed senate could more easily be manipulated into choosing someone like Prayut to lead the country.

The junta represent the conservative, authoritarian, neo-liberal wing of the Thai ruling class. They are dead against rapid modernisation of society, any steps towards basic empowerment of citizens and the use of state funds to address economic inequality. This was at the core of their disagreement with Taksin and his allies. They are also totally opposed to young people becoming more politically engaged and to any notions of justice.

Getting rid of the military and its legacy cannot be left to Taksin and Pua Thai. As I have argued in previous articles on this site, Taksin and his allies have no interest in the kind of upheaval from below that would be necessary. The middle-classes and NGOs cannot be relied upon to carry out this task either. They have shown a preference for authoritarian rule over mass empowerment of ordinary people. What is holding back the real struggle for democracy is the fact that the most progressive people in society, especially students and working class activists, are yet to be convinced of the need to build a grass-roots left-wing political party that can play a significant role in building a much needed independent, pro-democracy, social movement.

Until large numbers of people decided to organise together against the military junta, who represent the real dark forces in society, the Thai Spring will not occur.

The militarisation of labour relations

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

As we approach the end of 2017 we are seeing another aspect of the militarisation of Thai society.

The end of the year is traditionally a time when workers look forward to bonuses, which are essential additions to their low wages. Most workers rely on these bonuses as an integral part of their annual wages in order to survive. Since the military overthrew the Yingluk government in 2014, the junta have been forcing down wages by refusing to adequately increase the minimum wage. The Yingluk government had previously made a significant increase to the minimum wage rate, even though this was still not enough to provide ordinary working people with a decent living. The military junta has said that it will carry on the policy of decreeing different minimum wage levels for different provinces, something which is designed to keep down wages in the interests of the bosses.

Immediately after Prayut’s coup, and also after the 2006 coup, military personnel were stationed outside key factories which had strong trade union organisations with reputations for pro-democracy struggles.

Lately there have been two disputes over bonus payments, resulting in mass meetings and factory gate protests. The first one was at Fujikura Electronics factories in a number of different provinces. The second dispute was at Triumph underwear factories. Triumph has a long history of strong trade union activity, although in recent times the union has been weakened by the victimisation of key activists. [See http://bit.ly/2kPNX9E ]

In the case of Triumph, the employers broke an agreement with the union to pay the end of year bonus.

What is noticeable is that the military have been involved in both disputes, blatantly intervening under the age-old excuse of “national security”. Of course the presence of security forces was not to ensure that the employers kept to their agreements or treated their employees fairly.

At Triumph the military were photographed sitting in on negotiations between the union and the employees.

In addition to this, the present minister of Labour is a military general.

Minister of Labour

All this has echoes of the militarisation of labour relations under the Suharto dictatorship in Indonesia. This was carried out under the “dwifungsi” doctrine of the military having a double function of defending the country and also intervening in politics and society.

Vedi Hadiz, wrote in his book, “Workers and the state in new order Indonesia”, that the involvement of security organisations in labour matters was legitimised by the characterisation of industrial disputes as a threat to national stability. This military intervention in labour disputes was supported by law under the Suharto dictatorship. Local military dominated committees in each region were created in order to control labour disputes and the workings of trade unions. The Minister of Manpower was often also a military officer.

The situation in Suharto’s Indonesia was worse than what we currently see in Thailand under Prayut’s dictatorship, but there are significant similarities in terms of the militarisation of society. I have also posted an article on this site comparing the Thai “National Strategy” with the use of Pancasila under Suharto. [See http://bit.ly/2l63Z1I ]. Pancasila was also used as an enforced “guide” to labour relations in order to weaken trade union struggles.

If we do not put a stop to this creeping militarisation of Thai society, there can never be freedom and democracy.

The Thai monarchy has changed many times. It can be abolished.

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

This year’s anniversary of the 1932 revolution, which occurred on the 24th June, was an important one. There is a major ideological battle to achieve hegemony over the history of the event. [See http://bit.ly/2pwS5Pg ]

The importance of history is in what it can tell us about the present. It is important not to see the present monarchy, even in Pumipon’s time, as an unchanging “left-over” from feudalism. A brief study of Thai history can explain this. But the important conclusion is that it is possible to abolish this parasitic institution once and for all.

Before the major transformation of the Thai state into a centralised capitalist model in the 1870s, “Thailand” as a nation-state did not exist. The back-projection of “Thailand’s history” from the modern era to Sukotai (1270) and Ayuttaya (1350-1782) must therefore be seen as rewritings of history by people such as Luang Wichitwatakarn and Prince Damrong, to serve modern nationalistic ideology.

Before the early Bangkok period the dominant economic and political system in the central and northern region can best be described as the “Sakdina” system. This was a loose political entity based on clusters of powerful cities, such as Sukotai, Ayuttaya, Chiangmai, and Krungtep (Bangkok), whose political power changed over time and also decreased proportionately to the distance from each city. Not only was there no such thing as a centralised nation-state under an all-powerful king, but political power to control surplus production was also decentralised.

In this Sakdina system, control of surplus production, over and above self-sufficiency levels, was based on forced labour and the extraction of tribute. This was a system of direct control over humans, rather than the use of the ownership of the means of production to control labour. Its importance was due to the low population level. The majority of common people (Prai) living near urban centres were forced to perform corvée forced labour for monthly periods. There were also debt slaves (Taht) and war slaves (Chaleay Seuk). This direct control of labour was decentralised under various Moon Nai, nobles and local rulers (Jao Hua Muang) who had powers to mobilise labour. The result was that under the Sakdina system both economic and political power was decentralised away from the king.

Trade also played an important part in the economy. Control of river mouths as export centres became more important as long distance trade increased. Local rulers sought a monopoly on this trade in cooperation with Chinese merchants who ran sailing junks as far as China and the Arab world.

Although the increasing penetration of capitalism and the world market into the region had already increased the importance of money and trade, in the early Bangkok period, it was direct pressure from Western imperialism and class struggle from below that finally pushed and dragged the Bangkok rulers towards a capitalist political transformation. The British imposed the Bowring Treaty of 1855 on the rulers of Bangkok. This treaty established free trade and the freedom for Western capital penetration into the area without the need for direct colonisation. While the monopoly over trade, enjoyed by the Sakdina rulers of Bangkok, was abolished, vast opportunities were created for the capitalist production and trade of rice, sugar, tin, rubber and teak. An opportunity also arose to centralise the state under a powerful ruler. Thailand’s Capitalist Revolution was not carried out by the bourgeoisie in the same style as the English or French revolutions. In Thailand’s case, the ruler of Bangkok, King Rama V or “Chulalongkorn” brought about a revolutionary transformation of the political and economic system in response to pressure from an outside world, which was already dominated by capitalism, political rivalry with the nobles and class struggle from below in the form of people avoiding forced labour.

This revolution involved destroying the economic and political power of Chulalongkorn’s Sakdina rivals, the Moon Nai, nobles and local Jao Hua Muang. Politically this was done by appointing a civil service bureaucracy to rule outer regions and economically, by abolishing their power to control forced labour and hence surplus value. Forced labour was abolished.

The Absolute Monarchy of Rama V was a thoroughly modern centralised institution, created in order to serve the interests of the ruler of Bangkok in an emerging capitalist “Thai” nation. It is this modern form of capitalist monarchy which was overthrown only sixty years later in 1932. The further transformation of the monarchy into a Constitutional Monarchy, as a result of the 1932, revolution was a contested area. Radicals wanted a republic, moderates wanted a Western-style Constitutional Monarchy and the ultra-conservative among the military wanted to create a false image of a god-like and powerful monarchy which they could manipulate for their own purposes. The ultra-conservatives were the ultimate victors with the help of the royalist old guard who had now given up any hope of restoring the Absolute Monarchy.

With Wachiralongkorn on the throne the importance of the monarchy will be reduced as he is not fit for purpose. [See http://bit.ly/2l63Z1I]

The monarchy today is a mere puppet of the military with a falsely created image of “power”. But “power” is always concrete and political power cannot be separated from the power to determine state policies on social and economic issues or international relations. Today that concrete power lies with the military. [See http://bit.ly/2AF9ozT   ]

The thugs that rule Thailand

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

There has been a spate of scandals concerning the level of bullying and physical abuse, leading to a number of deaths and serious injuries, among young military recruits and those in military training schools. The viciousness and violence associated with this abuse shows the general thuggish culture of the Thai military.

The top generals’ standard response to these events is firstly to lie and deny any wrong doing, and then, when they cannot sustain the lies, it is to justify the harsh life for young recruits or students in the army by claiming that this was designed to make sure that only the strong were moulded into soldiers.

In response to one recent death, Deputy Prime Minster General Pig-face Prawit said that he had been through the same training and it didn’t do him any long term harm.

However, this has nothing to do with genuine physical training but is a culture designed to create violent thugs who obey those above them and oppress subordinates or those who are weaker. It is training so that soldiers in the Thai army learn to abuse members of the general public and kill any citizens who oppose the political power of the military without the slightest remorse.

This killing of citizens can also be done with total impunity. No single soldier has ever been charged with killing unarmed protesters who were calling for democracy, in 1973, 1976, 1992 or 2010. No single soldier or policeman has ever been charged with the continuing killing and torturing of innocent civilians in Patani. No soldier or policeman has been charged with extra-judicial killings in Taksin’s “war on drugs”.

Officers in the Thai military are socialised to believe that they have a God-given right to intervene in politics and enjoy rich pickings from their political power. This only encourages them to stage military coups on a continuous basis. They arrogantly strut about claiming that they are the true defenders of the monarchy as though that excused everything. The present king is also an arrogant thug, beholden to the military.

Not only are the leading members of the junta guilty of ordering the shooting of innocent civilians, they also do not know how to talk to the public in a polite and respectful manner. Both General Pig-Face Prawit and Generalissimo Prayut regularly swear at, use obscenities and threaten reporters or members of the public who ask them difficult questions.

These are the thugs who rule Thailand and refer to themselves as “good people”, unlike the “bad” elected politicians!! Yet they claim that they are “reforming” Thai politics with a road map towards elections and democracy.