Category Archives: Thai politics

Thailand’s appalling record on migrants, refugees and asylum seekers

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

While all those who believe in basic human rights are appalled by the racist anti-refugee policies of Donald Trump in the USA and similar policies in the European Union, where over 9 thousand people have drowned in the Mediterranean since 2016, it is worth also looking at Thailand’s appalling record on this subject.

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Amnesty International issued a report in September 2018 which outlined abuses committed by the Thailand’s military government [see https://bit.ly/2BBLc4O ]. These included the arrest in August 2018 of nearly 200 asylum seekers and refugees, which included persecuted minorities from Cambodia and Vietnam. There were 63 children and two pregnant women included in this number and many had UNHCR recognised refugee status. Children were separated from their parents. Some were transferred to the notoriously over-crowded Suan Plu Immigration Detention Centre in Bangkok, where there is a lack of medical assistance and poor sanitary conditions. Many others were taken to court and ended up in jail.

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Thailand’s governments have refused to sign the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 protocol. This means that asylum seekers and refugees are treated as illegal migrants and face deportation back to countries where there is a grave danger of them being subjected to violence and persecution. Dissidents from Turkey, Cambodia and China have been sent back to face imprisonment and worse.

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Rath Rott Mony

In February 2018, Sam Sokha, a Cambodian political dissident was forcibly sent back to Cambodia and then imprisoned despite being recognised as a refugee by UNHCR. This week the Thai junta arrested construction union activist Rath Rott Mony while he was trying to claim asylum at a Dutch visa office. His so-called “crime” was to be involved in making a documentary exposing sex trafficking in Cambodia.

Chinese activists Jiang Yefei and Dong Guangping were deported to China in November 2015 as they awaited resettlement as refugees. In China they were sentenced to six and a half years and three and a half years in jail, respectively.

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In 2015 more than 100 Muslim Uighurs, who are persecuted in China, were sent back, sparking an outcry from human rights groups. Understandably, Uighurs living in Turkey responded angrily by smashing windows at the Thai consulate in Istanbul.

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Hakeem al-Araibi

One of the latest outrages concerns Hakeem al-Araibi, a political refugee from Bahrain who has refugee status in Australia. He was arrested by Thai police as he traveled to spend a holiday in Thailand. The junta are threatening to send him back to Bahrain, where he faces torture. The Australian government are complicit in his arrest in Thailand. The New York Times wrote that his case is a window into how vulnerable foreigners are treated in Thailand, a country with a history of deporting asylum seekers. [See https://nyti.ms/2RN0JnK ].

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Nearly 130,000 refugees have crossed the border from Burma, seeking to flee violence and persecution. Those refugees who are allowed to stay in Thailand do not have access to healthcare, employment, education or any government support. They are confined to refugee camps without the right to leave the camps. Those desperate enough to seek employment are easy prey to abuse by employers because they are deemed to be “illegal”. The military and the Internal Security Operations Command have a record of pushing back desperate Rohingya refugees who arrive by boat.

Migrant workers from Burma, Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam are vulnerable to physical abuses, indefinite detention, and extortion by Thai authorities. Recently 14 Burmese migrant workers were brought to court on criminal defamation charges after they filed a complaint with the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand alleging that their employer had violated their rights. [Further reading https://bit.ly/2vNcwry ].

Unfortunately, due to rampant racism and ultra-nationalism in Thai society, such abuses are not confined to Thai military governments, but have taken place under elected civilian governments. [See http://bit.ly/1JaeTJY , http://bit.ly/1ZEwTnj ].

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With various political parties jockeying for votes in the so-called general election, expected early in 2018, it is shameful that none of the progressive pro-democracy parties have any serious alternative policies towards asylum seekers and refugees. The Future Forward Party has raised the issue of helping Rohingya refugees by not pushing them back and holding talks with the Burmese government, but there is no policy to ratifying the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 protocol and no promise to change the way that refugees inside the country are treated by the government. The party’s policy towards migrant labour is to promise them the minimal rights under the law which Thai workers have, which is a step forward, but does not deal with thousands of migrant workers who are deemed to be illegal.

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Muddling along towards the flawed Thai elections

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

The Thai Junta’s party: Palang Pracharat Party, is going to nominate dictator Prayut for Prime Minister if it wins enough votes at the general election, which is scheduled for early 2019. Given that the junta has appointed the entire senate and given that the senate and lower house can vote on the Prime Minister together, Palang Pracharat does not even need a majority of elected MPs for Paryut to continue his authoritarian rule.

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But just in case this scenario does not happen, the junta’s servants have been gerrymandering the constituencies to help ensure an advantage for the junta’s Palang Pracharat. [See https://bit.ly/2EbX685 ].

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Then there is the 20 year National Strategy, which I have previously written about, which will tie the hands of any elected government which is opposed to the military junta.

Taksin’s Pua Thai Party has budded off into at least 3 sister parties to try to get round the ridiculous voting regulations which will give smaller parties an advantage in terms of the number of seats they gain from the party list system.

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So all in all the elections are likely to be a farce. That is, if they aren’t postponed under some pretext!

The only positive thing to be said about this period before elections is that it has raised interest among the population about alternative policies to the junta and it has exposed a number of politicians for being opportunist mercenaries who have switched allegiance to join up with the junta. No doubt there have been financial incentives promised to them.

In addition to this, when the elections are finally held, the total number of votes for pro-democracy, anti-junta parties, will be of interest in terms of measuring the political pulse of the nation.

Meanwhile the Future Forward Party has been shaken by an internal dispute between the leadership and the youth wing (NGN). Committee members of the youth wing were suspended. The official reason is that they are supposed to have spent money inappropriately. But no details have been given and no real explanation has been offered either. This does not bode well for transparency and internal democracy.

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Some commentators have explained that it is a dispute over policy, with the youth wing wishing to engage in more militant activities than the leadership. According to this explanation, the youth wing were trying to emphasise progressive policies while the mainstream of the party was relying more on the personal charisma of business tycoon and party leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit. The Future Forward Party has tended to stress that it is “New” without bothering too much about detail. It also seems to have attracted a diverse group of people with different political stand-points who want to oppose the dictatorship and are disillusioned with Taksin’s parties.

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Another explanation put forward by observers is that the youth wing are “left-leaning”, whereas the top leadership are pro-business liberals. The fact that the party has tried to create an image of “moving beyond left and right” may account for left-leaning youth joining a pro-business liberal party. Sooner or later tensions arising from this contradiction and the emphasis on Thanathorn, with its associated imbalance of power between the leadership and the rank and file, were bound to cause problems. Similar tensions may arise between the handful of trade union members and the pro-business leadership. [See https://bit.ly/2IpUUJa ].

It is difficult to see how the democratic space can be significantly expanded if people remain mesmerised by these flawed elections.

 

“Critical thinkers have to either pretend to be asleep or go to jail or leave the country”

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

This is one of many sharp critiques contained in the “My Country has this” (#ประเทศกูมี) rap sung by the group “Rap Against Dictatorship”, in late October.

Much has been written about this rap, but it is worth roughly summarising the content. The music video is set against a re-created background of the state-sponsored barbaric events at Thammasat University on 6th October 1976. [See http://bit.ly/1TKgv02    or   http://bit.ly/2d1iZbj ]. It shows that discussion about 6th October is not just about “history” but it is highly relevant to the political situation in Thailand today.

The “My Country has this” rap outlines almost everything that is wrong with Thailand today. This includes the impunity enjoyed by the rich when they break the law or the impunity enjoyed by junta leaders when they are accused of corruption. It mentions the hypocrisy promoted by the junta and suit-wearing elites who talk endlessly about “good people” and the need to “respect the law” while they engage in corruption and the creation of immoral laws. It describes how Bangkok has often been turned into a killing field, for example in 1973, 1976, 1992 and 2010. It talks about the present “parliament” which is just a lounge for soldiers and various constitutions which are written and then rubbed out by the military jack-boots, where a gun is held to our throats while claiming that we all have “freedom”. It criticised suppression of dissent and state surveillance, but also the fact that many so-called dissenters line up to follow the dictatorship like ants.

When the music video was first released it had a few hundred thousand views. But when the junta’s police threatened to prosecute the artists and production team the number of views shot up to over 55 million by the first week of November. Hundreds of people on social media “thanked the police” for promoting the video. After the junta realised that their response to the video had made them a laughing stock in society, the prosecution threats were withdrawn.

The Military dictatorship have affirmed that a general election will be held around February 2019, but it will hardly be democratic. Continuing threats against dissenters continue unabated. Last week a former whistle-blowing campaigner, who was part of the mob which opposed the 2014 elections and welcomed General Prayut’s military coup, stated that he felt that he had been “used” by both the military and mob leader Sutep Taugsuban. He was paid a visit by a group of soldiers. Around the same time people with calendars bearing the photos of former Prime Ministers Taksin Shinawat and Yingluck Shinawat were taken into military camps for “attitude changing” sessions. Trials of pro-democracy activists, accused of breaking the law by peaceful protests, are still being held in military courts. Political prisoners remain in prison, including those accused of lèse majesté. Some prisoners have not yet been tried in court because the prosecution witnesses “fail to turn up”. Yet they are refused bail. This is the kind of atmosphere in which the so-called elections will be held.

The military’s constitution and their 20 year National Strategy mean that any elected government will be severely constrained within the military’s policy agenda and the powerful military-appointed senate and judiciary are there to police this agenda. New election laws have been designed to discriminate against parties which are supported by the majority of the electorate ie. Taksin’s parties.

Some new parties such as the Future Forward Party and the Commoners Party have announced that they will oppose the legacy of the dictatorship. But even if they manage to win enough seats in parliament, which is unlikely, they will not have the power to over-rule the National Strategy, the senate and the judiciary. Only a powerful pro-democracy social movement outside parliament could do that. Such movements have been built in Thailand in the past, and it would be possible to do so again. The fact that millions of Thais were able to identify with the “My Country has this” rap is a ray of hope for the future. But there is a danger of people being mesmerised by the prospects of the election without properly thinking about the issue of entrenched military power.

Thais are not the only ones mesmerised by the election. Western governments cannot wait to re-establish “business as usual” with Thailand, irrespective of whether the elections are democratic or not.

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Prayut’s election poster

 

Thailand needs a socialist party of the working class

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

In a recent article in Thai on the Turn Left Thailand blog site [https://turnleftthai.wordpress.com/], I argued that trade union activists should not put their faith in business tycoon Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit’s Future Forward Party. This is because it is a middle class party in the interests of business. This is despite the fact that it has a clear anti-dictatorship position, some abstract statement about building a welfare state, and has been busy trying to recruit some trade union activists to create an image that it supports workers. In reality, the party has no commitment to raising the minimum wage to significant levels which would eradicate poverty, or to scrap and rewrite labour laws which restrict the right to strike and build free trade unions. What is really needed, I argued, is a party of the working class. [See the importance of class in Thailand here: https://bit.ly/2qG1Ytl ].

The article received much interest and some criticism. A former high paid finance worker who claims to be a “Marxist” dismissed the idea of a workers’ party by saying that the working class had shrunk and was no longer a majority in society. The opposite is actually true, with formerly middle class professions like teaching and nursing seeing unionisation. There have also been active trade unions among white collar bank workers for some time. Unionisation levels may be low, but that is a political problem rather than a structural one. Part of the political problem is a lack of a socialist party of the working class. Among the most radical sections of the Thai labour movement, “revolutionary syndicalism” is a dominant current, although very small in proportion to the whole of the movement. These anti-capitalist, anti-junta, activists do not see the need to build a party, but see their trade unions as the main vehicle for struggle.

Some Maoists from the defunct Communist Party of Thailand have also criticised my article, claiming that workers need to build cross-class alliances with capitalists because “the time is not right for a workers’ party”. For them, the time will never be right!

Another criticism of my article came from a former trade union activist who stated that Thai workers do not have a culture of political struggle. She accused me of not knowing Thai workers. Both statements are untrue.

The “cultural” argument has a long right-wing tradition among commentators. Western conservative academics used to pontificate about a Thai “lack of political culture”, ignoring repeated cycles of mass struggle for democracy. Even today this finds an echo among NGO activists in the Commoners’ Party. It fits nicely with the patronising attitude that claimed that the rural poor who voted for Taksin were ill-educated, ignorant of politics and sold their votes. It also seems to have an echo among demoralised former labour activists.

In the late 1990’s I was involved in re-establishing a Marxist and Trotskyist current among small groups of students and trade unionists. We managed to establish a presence for about ten years. But our organisation was not strong enough to withstand the repression and use of lèse-majesté following the two recent military coups. Never the less, interest in Marxism and Socialism, especially among some young people, has been on the rise recently, with some left-wing seminars being held. Unfortunately, serious party builders are yet to emerge.

To build a socialist party of the working class today, activists need to refrain from being mesmerised by elections, especially those held under the rules set down by the junta. There is no need to create a registered party to fight elections right now. What is needed is to build an activist party among workers with the involvement of young students. The activists need to train and educate themselves in theory while engaging in day to day struggles alongside other social activists. People need to learn from the successes of the illegal Communist Party of Thailand while rejecting its Stalinism and Maoism. The CPT had many activists who recruited students and workers in the early days.

One of the most important tasks is for a socialist party to bring together a big picture political analysis to counter single issue lobbying which has long been promoted by the NGOs and the trade unions.

History tells us that without a socialist party of the working class it is difficult to make serious advances on building a welfare state, reducing inequality and expanding the democratic space by promoting participatory democracy in society.

From Peterloo 1819 to Thailand 2019

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

The dead Tory tyrant Margaret Thatcher used to bang on about the importance of the Magna Carta in the development of British democracy. This was just a lie designed to ignore the key role of the workers’ movement in fighting for British democracy. The Magna Carta was just an agreement between King John and the nobles to share power.

Two hundred years ago, in the middle of deep austerity, appalling conditions and a total lack of democracy, 60,000 men, women and children gathered in a massive protest at St Peters’ Field in Manchester. This was roughly equivalent to half the population of Manchester. It was a huge mass movement against poverty and for democracy. Other rallies had already taken place in London and other cities.

The Times newspaper reported that in Manchester thousands of spinners and weavers lived in “squalid wretchedness” and “repulsive depravity”. But this ruling class paper also denounced the role played by women in the mass movement: “We cannot conceive that any but a hardened and shameless prostitute would have the audacity to appear on the hustings on such an occasion and for such a purpose.”

Given that the French revolution had erupted less than 30 years ago and radical uprisings were still happening, the British ruling class was fearful of a full-blown working class revolution here. Local magistrates ordered the peaceful Manchester protest to be brutally suppressed. The armed Yeomanry played a key role. They were a paramilitary force drawn from the ranks of the local mill and shop owners. Many were drunk. On horseback, armed with sabres and clubs, they rode through the crowd in an orgy of violence. Many were familiar with, and had old scores to settle with, the leading protesters. Six hundred Hussars, several hundred infantrymen; an artillery unit with two six-pounder guns, 400 men of the Cheshire cavalry and 400 special constables, also took part. At least 18 people were killed, including a two year old child and a pregnant woman. Six hundred were injured. Women were singled out for violent treatment to teach them a lesson about why they should not engage in politics.

This brutal massacre of workers by the British ruling class resulted in mass protests throughout the land. It also shaped the increased radicalisation of the working class Chartist movement that pushed for universal male suffrage. Emmeline Pankhurst’s paternal grandfather had narrowly escaped death at Peterloo and no doubt the story was told to her daughters, Christabel and Sylvia, who all became active suffragettes. Sylvia also became a socialist.

Peterloo is not just an interesting chapter of history. It has great significance today in Britain and also in Thailand. Those gathered at St Peters’ Field in 1819 had already learnt the lesson that just petitioning to parliament was not enough. Mass movements had to be built. Today, as a British general election looms, with the prospect of a possible Corbyn Labour government, we need to be aware that the British ruling class will do everything in their power to obstruct Labour’s policies. We will need a mass movement outside parliament, among the trade unions, to defend any democratic mandate given to such a government.

Thailand

In Thailand, the military junta has said it will hold a general election in February. Yet this election will not be free and fair. The junta’s 20 year National Strategy will empower junta appointees in the judiciary and the senate to overrule and even remove any elected government that does not conform to the junta’s “Guided Democracy” policies.

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Liberal bourgeois political parties like the Future Forward Party have stated that they intend to rewrite the military’s constitution and reduce the legacy and political power of the military. Yet even if they manage to get elected and hold a parliamentary majority, they will be hampered by the National Strategy. The only solution will be to build a large pro-democracy social movement outside parliament to push for real change. This movement should be rooted in the Thai working class. The middle class has already shown itself to be supportive of military coups and opposed to all pro-poor policies.

As in Britain, the brutal behaviour of the Thai ruling class is plain to see with the shooting of unarmed pro-democracy activists in 1973, 1976, 1992 and 2010.

The radical poet Percy Bysshe Shelley wrote “The Mask of Anarchy” in response to Peterloo …

Listen to the poem here: https://bit.ly/2yIQsBO

How to deal with Thai State Crimes

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Both the Commoners Party and the Future Forward Party have pledged to remove the influence of the military from Thai politics. This would involve re-writing the military constitution and scrapping the 20 year National Strategy; a laudable but impossible task without building a mass social movement. [See https://bit.ly/2O5ZNNx ]

In addition to destroying the political power and legacy of the military, it is important to punish state criminals who were responsible for violence. Without this, they will continue to enjoy impunity.

The Commoners Party has also stated that it wants to punish state officials who are guilty of state crimes, although there is little detail about how they would achieve this. What is also worrying is that they say that there is a “hidden history” of these events which needs to be exposed. Given that there have been many studies and publications about Thai state crimes, this sound a bit like an excuse to delay any action.

The fact of the matter is that we know who is responsible for various atrocities. [See http://bit.ly/1TKgv02  or   http://bit.ly/2d1iZbj ]

Those guilty of the 6th October 1976 blood bath are known, but they have all died of old age. However, when it comes to those who ordered the shooting of demonstrators on 14th October 1973, although Tanom Kittikachorn and Prapart Jarusatien are both dead, the third tyrant, Tanom’s son, Narong Kittikachorn is still alive. He needs to be brought to trial.

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Narong Kittikachorn

We know the architect of the 1992 atrocities against pro-democracy demonstrators. It was coupster Suchinda Kraprayoon. He also needs to be brought to trial.

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Suchinda Kraprayoon

We also know that Taksin Shinawat was responsible for the extra judiciary killings in the War on Drugs and also the killings of Malay Muslims at Takbai in 2004. He should be in the dock.

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Taksin Shinawat

Finally, Anupong Paochinda, Prayut Chan-ocha, Abhisit Vejjajiva and Sutep Tuaksuban all have blood on their hands from ordering the killings of pro-democracy red shirts in 2010. Prayut and other dictators also need to be prosecuted for staging military coups and destroying democracy. This is especially important given that the newly appointed heads of the army and air force have hinted that if there is “chaos” in the future there might have to be another coup.

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Prayuth Chan-ocha
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Abhisit Vejjajiva and Sutep Tuaksuban
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Anupong Paochinda

Bringing these tyrants to justice is not an easy matter. But it has been done in other countries like Argentina and South Korea. However, anti-military political parties need to be honest and open about what it will take to achieve this.

How to access my publications

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

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The Failure of Stalinist Ideology and the Communist Parties of Southeast Asia (1998). https://bit.ly/1OEfsJo 

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Thailand: Class Struggle in an Era of Economic Crisis (1999).   http://bit.ly/2kPNX9E  Book about the Thai labour movement.

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From the city, via the jungle, to defeat: the 6th Oct 1976 bloodbath and the C.P.T. http://bit.ly/1TKgv02   or   http://bit.ly/2d1iZbj

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A Coup for the Rich (2007).  https://www.scribd.com/doc/41173616/Coup-For-the-Rich-by-Giles-Ji-Ungpakorn or http://bit.ly/2aE7zc6  Book written in response to the 2006 military coup.

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Why have most Thai NGOs chosen to side with the conservative royalists, against democracy and the poor (2009).   http://bit.ly/1UpZbhh

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Thailand’s Crisis and the Fight for Democracy (2010).  http://bit.ly/1TdKKYs  Book written during the continued crisis of democracy.

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Thai Spring? Structural roots of the Thai political crisis (2011). http://bit.ly/245WxhD

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Lèse Majesté, the Monarchy, and the Military in Thailand (2011) http://bit.ly/1cLbFtr or http://bit.ly/2cexlW1

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The Festering Sore: Thai State Crimes Go Unpunished (2012)   http://bit.ly/1qGYT9r

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The Bloody Civil War in Patani (2013) http://bit.ly/2bemah3

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The role of Thai Social Movements in Democratisation (2015). http://bit.ly/2aDzest

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What led to the destruction of Thai democracy? (2016). http://bit.ly/2cmZkAa or http://bit.ly/2bSpoF2

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Thai Military Re-adjusts its Relationship with the Monarchy (2017).  http://bit.ly/2xGDiSu Paper which looks at the role of the military and the monarchy after Pumipon. Also discusses the 20 year National Strategy for “Guided Democracy”.