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Total silence from the Human Rights Commission and NGOs as hundreds of pro-democracy academics and activists arrested

Total silence from the Human Rights Commission and NGOs

as hundreds of pro-democracy academics and activists arrested

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

As hundreds of pro-democracy academics and activists are arrested by the Thai military junta, it is obvious to anyone with half a brain that this is a coup to destroy the redshirts and the democracy movement as a whole. Yellow shirts and anti-democratic mobsters who used violence to wreck the elections have been allowed to go free and have been photographing themselves in army uniforms as part of their celebrations.

There has been total silence from National Human Rights Commission and the mainstream academics, both about the coup and about these gross abuses of human rights.

I have surveyed the various declarations published on the “Prachatai” web newspaper since the coup and we can see a clear pattern.

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     While brave activists defy the junta by taking part in flash mobs and some mass protests in Bangkok and other cities, a number of organisations have made declarations which unconditionally condemn the coup. These organisations include The Assembly for the Defence of Democracy, The Assembly of the Poor, The 24th June Democracy Group (set up by Somyot), The 4 Regions Slum Dwellers, The Common People’s Party, The Group of 91 academics and students from the deep south, The Students Federation of Isarn, P-Move & YPD, The Community Network for Reform in Society and Politics, The Non-Violent activists around Kotom Araya and the Volunteer Graduates for the Defence of Democracy. Other groups, including left wing groups and street activists have not issued declarations but have opposed the coup by their actions.

A second group of people have criticised the coup, but have justified it at the same time. They argue that “both sides of the political divide” were responsible for the crisis and must make amends. In practical terms this implies that those who won elections and those who wanted to protect the democratic process were “as guilty” as those who used violence on the streets to wreck elections or used their illegitimate roles in the courts to frustrate democracy. This is a mealy-mouthed way of trying to look democratic while supporting the coup. This is the position of the National NGO Coordinating Committee and also 11 NGO figures from organisations such as FTA watch, Bio Thai, Women & Men Progressive Movement Foundation, Friends of the People, The Consumers Association and The Foundation for Labour and Employment Promotion. They call for a return to democracy at the “earliest opportunity”, something which General Prayut would easily agree, because no time frame is demanded. Also the National NGO Coordinating Committee seems to be more concerned to stop the junta from proposing any large scale infrastructure projects than to care about abuses of democratic rights.

A third group of people accept the coup and try to give the junta advice. This includes the Thailand Development Research Institute, Political Science academics from Thammasart and the Society to Prevent Global Warming.

After the 2006 coup a number most NGOs accepted the coup and took part in the junta’s sham “reform” committees. Some “NGO academics” even sat in the junta’s appointed parliament.

For the last decade Thai NGOs have ceased to be advocates or activists for freedom and democracy and have treated the majority of citizens with contempt. To read more detail about this, go to: “Why have most Thai NGOs sided with the conservative royalists against democracy and the poor” at http://www.scribd.com/doc/221530131/Why-have-most-Thai-NGOs-chosen-to-side-with-the-conservative-royalists-against-democracy-and-the-poor

The true activists for freedom and democracy can be found in the flash mobs and street demonstrations, in the junta’s jails, or among the red shirts. However, the UDD red shirt leadership and the top politicians from Pua Thai Party, including Yingluk, have thrown in the towel. The UDD leaders are calling for calm and they have been trying to demobilise the movement since Yingluk’s election in 2011. Pictures of Yingluk obediently going to report to the junta are in stark contrast with the actions of those who have refused to report to this illegitimate body. Chaturon Chaisang, a former Minister of Education, was arrested at the Foreign Correspondent’s Club and is now facing a military court and two years in jail. Others are trying to cross the border to seek asylum. The UDD leaders could easily have done something like this in an attempt to lead the fight for democracy from abroad or while in hiding. But they have failed. New leadership must now come from grass roots activists.

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This is an aggressive and arrogant coup

Numnual Yapparat & Giles Ji Unpakorn

General Prayut Chan-ocha is aggressively trying to exercise his power. He arrogantly refused to answer two basic questions from reporters about whether he would be the next Prime Minister and when the elections would be held. In response to the first question he angrily pointed his finger at the reporter and asked “so do YOU want to be PM then?” In response to the question on the election time table he shouted “there is no time frame” and then stormed out of the press conference.  He clearly lacks any communications skills. The next day, the army summoned the reporters to give them a lecture on how to appropriately question His Excellency the Generalissimo.

The junta has let it be known what sort of punishment reporters will face if they do not comply with the New Order Regime.

Yesterday, soldiers were stupid enough to arrest the Former Education Minister Chaturon Chaisaeng while he was giving a press conference in front of hundreds of reporters at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand. He is now in jail and faces a military court. All those who have been detained will also face military courts if they are charged.

Pro-democracy activists, progressive academics, red shirt leaders and students have been told to turn themselves in to the military junta at the army club. Many have been immediately detained and sent to military camps. Some of them refused to go and are now in hiding.

Not only has the military detained decent people who believe in freedom and democracy, but also their relatives and children too. People like Somyot’s wife and his son were temporarily detained after troops raided their house. The brother of the nurse who was shot dead by army snipers in 2010 was also detained and later released. Political activities are forbidden in universities. Students are arrested because they protested against the coup. Soldiers are breaking into red shirt leaders’ houses in the North and Northeast and threatening them not to organise people against the coup.

In marked contrast, members of Sutep’s gang, who carried weapons and used violence on the streets to wreck the February elections are set free. The army are trying to arrest anybody who has the potential to lead a rebellion against them.

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photo: Facebook

Generalissimo Prayut, the Great Leader, has giving an order to put up banners in several provinces to “thank” him for helping the farmers. Basically he just carried on with the previous government’s rice subsidy programme.  He desperately wants to give an impression that he is a strong leader who can “save” Thailand from the crisis. But he and his anti-democrat mates started the crisis in the first place.

Generalissimo Prayut wants to show that he is a tough man. He and his junta are issuing a huge number of decrees, covering nearly all aspects of life. One recent decree is to ban all gambling. We bet that this will not work.

He tries to flex his muscles and claim that he, as The Great Leader, can fix the all the nation’s problems much better than any elected civilian government. In order to try to stimulate the economy, he is in favour of bringing forward large infrastructure projects which Pua Thai was originally trying to do. Of course those who shouted loudest against Pua Thai’s projects, including the Constitutional Court judges, are now strangely silent. Prayut has placed his military and anti-Democrat cronies in positions of power. Creatures from the 2009 junta, like Pridiyatorn, have been creeping back to help the present regime in its dirty work.

Generalissimo Prayut’s behaviour reminds us of the old dictator Field Marshal Sarit Tanarat, one of the most brutal and corrupt Prime Ministers in Thai history. Sarit was in the power from 1958 to 1963. He died of cirrhosis of the liver and had hundreds of wives. After his death a committee was set up to retrieve the millions that he had stolen from the nation. Throughout his time as dictator, he issued many stupid decrees, but more importantly he carried ordered gangster and drug dealers who were encroaching on his own interests to be summarily executed without trial. Some executions were carried out in public. Socialist and Communists were also killed.

But Thailand in the 1950’s and 60’s is not the same as Thailand today. In 1954 88% of the working population were involved in agriculture. By 2002, at the beginning of the Thai Rak Thai government, this figure had declined to 37%, with 63% in industry and services. Even those people classified as working in agriculture were in fact involved in “occupational multiplicity”, mixing “farm jobs” with “off-farm jobs”. The majority of Thais are now part of the urbanised working class.

In 1960 no more than 20% of the population attained lower secondary school qualifications. By 1999 the Ministry of education reported that 84% of all 12-14 year olds were in lower secondary school. People do not need to be educated at school or college in order to understand democracy, human rights or social justice, as many of the conservative elites continuously make out, but education can increase self-confidence to get organised and stand up and fight. The proliferation of secondary education in Thailand can help to partly explain why the red shirt movement became the largest social movement in Thai history. Education and basic computer skills have also been useful for rank and file red shirts in a climate of severe government censorship, in order to access alternative websites, blogs and internet radio, as well as for communicating with each other via e-mail, Facebook and Skype.

Generalissimo Prayut may dream that he is the Supreme Leader. He may dream of bringing in a New Order police state. But his dreams are starting to fall apart. Throughout the first few days of after the coup there have been spontaneous anti-military protests by hundreds of people in Bangkok and other cities. Some protests attracted a couple of thousand people. Soldiers have often been berated by middle-aged women. On more than one occasion soldiers have been forced to retreat in the face of angry crowds. The majority of Thailand’s 70 million strong population are totally opposed to the junta and have shown this in repeated elections.

On the 28th May 2014, the junta tested its ability to block Facebook and other social networks but they could not do this for long because people would have become very angry. They cannot block the internet as a whole because it would wreck the economy. What they can do is to block certain websites, including the Midnight University and hundreds of other sites. They can also shut down Facebook at strategic moments if they think that it is being used to organise certain political actions.

Pro-democracy activists are organising to protest again on 1st of June 2014 at Ratchapasong and people keep returning to gather at the Victory Monument.

It takes immense courage to defy a military junta and stand in front of armed soldiers. In 2010 General Prayut ordered the killing of nearly 90 redshirt demonstrators who were demanding democratic elections after a judicial coup. The hope is that this movement will grow and will reach out to the organised working class. But this will take time. It may well be a case of “two steps forward, one step back”. The junta will not be overthrown over night.

Photo: Khaosod newspaper

Mass resistance to the coup smashes political myths

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

The most striking thing about this coup d’etat is the speed and size of the anti-coup protests. For the last 3 days, immediately following the coup, mass protests of ordinary people have simultaneously erupted in many areas of Bangkok but also in Chiangmai and other towns. This is history in the making.

These protests are spontaneous but it would be a mistake to think that they were “unorganised”. For years pro-democracy activists have been creating their own grass roots networks which are independent from Taksin, Yingluk, Pua Thai and the mainstream UDD leaders of the redshirts. Never the less, many redshirts who are still loyal to the UDD are also taking part. So are ordinary working class people, although not as organised trade unionists. The more the protests grow, the more confidence is gained by those taking part and those watching and sympathising. Such grass roots protests make it more difficult for the military. There are hundreds of grass roots leaders, with new ones emerging every day. Arresting a few will only enrage people. It is not like arresting the UDD leaders and stopping the redshirt protests as before. Communication in these networks can be via social media, but “word of mouth” is also extremely important. This is the most positive development in Thailand’s political crisis for years.

Do not doubt for one moment that it is easy to defy a military junta and stand in front of armed soldiers who in the past have not hesitated to shoot down unarmed protesters. Some activists have been arrested and taken away. Others have been taken from their homes. Many people have been ordered by the junta to report to the army. This includes prominent progressive academics, some from the Nitirat group, and also including people like Ajarn Charnwit and Ajarn Suda. Some have been incarcerated in army camps. Those who are charged with “offences” will face military courts and prison.

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     But amazingly the protesters return in larger numbers. The hope is that this movement will grow and will reach out to the organised working class. But this will take time. It may well be a case of “two steps forward, one step back”.

There are a number of myths that have been shattered in the last few days. The first myth, constantly repeated by lazy journalists and elitist academics, is that the pro-democracy movement is predominantly rural. Millions of rural people will be enraged by this coup and hopefully they will organised themselves to oppose it in the coming days. But what we are seeing is an anti-coup movement developing in Bangkok and containing many redshirts. I have argued for years that the redshirt movement has significant support in Bangkok and that the capital city is not just made up of the conservative middle classes.

The second myth that has exploded is the idea that the palace is all powerful and controls the army. General Prayut staged his coup d’etat without even bothering to inform the king until one day after the event. There were no pictures of the monarchy behind the junta as they read out their declaration. Again this is something I have been arguing for years. The military is a law unto itself, only using the monarchy to legitimise what it does. Given this fact, the Thai crisis cannot be explained as merely an elite dispute over the issue of royal succession. There is no point in fighting over a weak and powerless institution.

What the succession mongers are saying to the brave people who are on the streets and facing arrests is that they “shouldn’t bother”. “The gods on Mount Olympus will fight it out and determine your fate”.

The crisis is really about the democratic space in society. It is a two-dimensional struggle with an elite fight over the conduct of politics linked, in a contradictory and dialectical manner, to the struggle of millions of ordinary people for freedom, democracy and social justice. On the streets this is not a fight between two groups of people who support different elites, as conservative academics and NGO leaders claim.

Whether the rumours put out by Robert Amsterdam that Taksin is considering setting up a government in exile are true or not, such a move would be irrelevant to the real struggle for democracy. Taksin is firmly in the camp of the elites, though he favours the democratic process as a means to achieve power. He and his fellow party members have no intention of leading a real struggle for democracy which could tear down the structures of the old order, destroying the power of the army, abolishing lèse-majesté, punishing state killers and bringing in standards of human rights and equality via a welfare state. As Leon Trotsky argued in his theory of Permanent Revolution, such a task lies with the modern urban working class, in coalition with the small farmers.

A third myth which has been exploded is the claim by the junta that it was “an honest broker”, trying to bring about peace and stability between two warring sides. No one with half a political brain really believed this because the army and Sutep’s mobs were working together. They also were on the same side as the PAD yellow shirts back in 2006. What is now very clear is that almost all the people who have been arrested and ordered to report to the military are redshirts or progressive pro-democracy activists.

There has been a total silence from the various NGO and conservative academic “worthies” over this coup. In fact they helped create the conditions for it to occur in the first place, by demanding the elected government resign and compromise with anti-democratic thugs. The National Human Rights Commission, which is stacked with uniforms, has pleaded with the junta not to be too harsh. It is a disgrace to its name. The most that a small group of NGO figures linked to “FTA Watch” and consumers’ and environmental groups could bring themselves to say is that they hoped that the junta would return Thailand to democracy “at the earliest opportunity”. In other words, the junta should relinquish power when it feels the time is right. They also called on “both sides” in the crisis to negotiate and compromise. The result would be “half democracy”.

Supporters of Thai democracy abroad can do two simple and very important tasks. The first is to try to protect and publicise the plight of those who are arrested and imprisoned, including those who are already in jail for lèse-majesté. The second thing is to try to counter the lies and nonsense coming from the junta which appears in your own national media.

Photos: Facebook

 

Activists ordered to report to military junta

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As street protests against the military coup gather momentum in Bangkok and other locations, pro-democracy academics and activists have been ordered to report to the military. We must ensure that our friends return home safely. It is time for serious solidarity work. Those on the military list include Ajarn Worachet, Suda, Somsak, Surachai and the Nitiwat, lead singer of the Fai Yen band.

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 Photos from facebook 24/05/2014

Meanwhile those who love conspiracies and rumour mongering are  busy telling any international media stupid enough to believe them, that the Thai crisis is really about royal succession. What these succession theorists  are saying to the brave people who are on the streets opposing the military and risking arrest, is that they should not bother. They are saying that the gods on mount Olyumpus are fighting it out and will determine everyone’s fate. It is an insult to the redshirts and all those who are right now fighting for democracy.

Q & A about the coup

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Did the army “have no choice” but to intervene to stop the warring factions?

This is one hell of a stupid question, since the military staged the 2006 coup and appointed the unelected officials who helped with the various judicial coups in the first place. When Sutep’s mob started to cause havoc using armed gangs to take over government buildings and wreck the elections, the army stood by and did nothing, knowing that their time would come to intervene again. So the army are firmly part of the anti-democratic faction and Prayut has killed pro-democracy demonstrators back in 2010 to prove it.

Will the army now organise democratic political reforms before the next elections?

LOL!!!! The military is the main obstacle to democracy, freedom and transparency in Thailand. Will they reform themselves away, cut their own budget, retire all the bloated generals, stop meddling in politics and relinquish control of their media holdings? The hell they will!! They’ll be looking to the Burmese model where they stack parliament with their men and neuter any future elected government.

What is the crisis about?

The long running Thai crisis is a result of a clash between the conservative way of operating in a parliamentary democracy and a more modern one. It is equally related to attempts by Taksin and his party to modernise Thai society so that the economy could become more competitive on a global level, especially after the 1996 Asian economic crisis. In the first general election since the 1996 crisis, Taksin’s party put forward a raft of modernising and pro-poor policies, including the first ever universal health care scheme. Because the Democrat Party had previously told the unemployed to “go back to their villages and depend on their families, while spending state finances in securing the savings for the rich in failed banks, Taksin was able to say that his government would benefit everyone, not just the rich. Taksin’s TRT won the elections and his parties have won every election since. The government was unique in being both popular and dynamic, with real policies, which were used to win the election and were then implemented afterwards. This is something that the conservative elite could never accept. Taksin’s government committed human rights abuses, but none of the elites and middle classes care about this.

Was Taksin corrupt?

Probably. Are the rest of the elites, Democrat Party politicians and military men corrupt? Do bears shit in the woods?

Who are the guilty people?

Those who have joined the anti-government protests and supported military and judicial coups are the guilty people. They include the top conservative elites and officials, the military, the Democrat Party, the middle class academics and the NGO leaders. The National Human Rights Commission, the Election Commission and the Counter Corruption Commission and the courts are also guilty.

Will the Redshirts fight back?

Either Pua Thai mobilise their millions of supporters and the Redshirts to tear down the old order, or they make peace with their conservative elite rivals. Given that Taksin, Yingluk and Pua Thai are basically “big business politicians”, they naturally choose the latter option every time. This is not to avoid civil war, but to avoid revolution from below. They want to use the Redshirts as voting fodder, but not risk mobilising a mass movement. The UDD leadership of the Redshirts is tied to Pua Thai. After the 2011 election Pua Thai and Taksin made an uneasy peace with the military and this was reinforced in late 2013 when the Pua Thai government tried unsuccessfully to push through a disgraceful amnesty bill covering the military and Democrat Party leaders who murdered red shirts in 2010. Naturally, it also covered Taksin, but not lèse majesté political prisoners. This blew up in Yingluk’s face and gave an excuse to Sutep and his mobs.

To organise a real fight-back, grass roots Redshirts and other democracy activists need self-leadership independent of the UDD, real organisation, and most importantly, the confidence to organise like this. They need to link with the progressive sections of the working class. This is a long term project which needs to be started now and all those who believe in freedom, equality and democracy should actively encourage such a development.

[There are two other “sensitive questions” which I answer elsewhere on my facebook wall and also my redthai socialist blog…..]