Giles Ji Ungpakorn
The announcement of the creation of a new “radical party” of younger activists has caused a stir and raised the hopes of many among the current generation of democracy activists. The party is the brain child of billionaire tycoon Thanathorn Juangroongruangki and law academic Piyabutr Saengkanokkul, who is a member of the pro-democracy Nitirat group. [See http://bit.ly/2CXa3NP ].
In a recent Facebook post, Piyabutr Saengkanokkul indicated that the party would model itself on the new left parties in Europe and would be opposed to neo-liberalism. He mentioned Syriza, Podemos, La France Insoumise and the Italian Five Star Movement.
The problem is that Syriza, which was elected on an anti-austerity programme, is now implementing vicious neo-liberal cuts to the living standards of Greek workers and pensioners. The question is how the new Thai party will resist the junta’s laws which entrench neo-liberal economic policy in the Constitution and the National Strategy. Will it be able to resist the mainstream consensus in favour of “fiscal discipline” which was previously used against Taksin’s use of state funds to improve the lives of the poor? Will the new party propose a Welfare State funded by progressive taxation of the rich and the large corporations? How would such a policy conflict with the interests of billionaire tycoon Thanathorn Juangroongruangki who is deputy chairman of Thai Summit Corporation? Summit is a leading auto parts manufacturer of automotive, motorcycle, electrical appliance, and agricultural machinery. It also has media holdings.
Thanathorn has stated in public that he had a role in a factory lock-out in order to stop a strike over bonus payments. All employees were sacked and when the factory reopened, only those who agreed to the company’s conditions were allowed back.
Parties like Syriza and La France Insoumise have made serious attempts to link up with the organised labour movement. Will Thailand’s new “radical party” also reach out to the Thai trade union movement? Will it propose scrapping restrictions on trade union rights, raising the minimum wage to coincide with the demands of the unions and reduce working hours? How does this fit with the behaviour of Thai Summit Corporation? The company has a history of opposing effective trade unions.
What is worrying is that in the past Piyabutr has said that class “is not an issue in Thailand”. Is this a way of ignoring the working class in order to build an alliance with a billionaire tycoon? [See http://bit.ly/2Fcp9Fm ].
In the past all mainstream political parties have been run or funded by rich businessmen. Thailand desperately needs a new radical party of the working class and poor farmers. That would truly be something “new”.
In terms of Podemos, the internal democracy of this party can be seriously questioned as ordinary members are not really empowered to determine policy and the leadership is in the hands of charismatic national leaders who appear in the media. When Piyabutr talks of “new” devolved structures of his party, relying on social media, will this denial of a centralised leadership lead in practice to unaccountable leadership by charismatic national leaders who appear in the media such as Thanathorn and Piyabutr?
Podemos has also played a shameful role in defending the Spanish State against the Catalonian independence movement. What position will Thailand’s new “radical party” take in terms of self-determination for Patani?
As far as Italy’s Five Star Movement is concerned, it doesn’t seem to have many real policies. Its main claim is to be “new” and different from mainstream politicians. Yet one of its policies, concerning asylum seekers and immigration, is highly reactionary. What position will Thailand’s new “radical party” take on Rohingya asylum seekers and the terrible treatment on non-Thai citizens and workers within the country?
In the past, just after the 14th October 1973 uprising against the military, Thailand had a so-called left-leaning “new” party of youth. It was called “New Force”. It had no concrete policies except claiming to be “new”. This was in direct contrast to the Communist Party. New Force disappeared into thin air in a few years.
Any new radical party in Thailand needs to have a policy of scrapping the lèse-majesté law, the immediate freeing all political prisoners, massive public investment in renewable energy and clean public transport and, last but not least, policies which promote gender rights, especially the right of women to choose safe abortions on demand, funded by the public health system.
In the immediate future, it is unlikely that the new “radical party” could win enough seats to form a government and it is a good thing that Piyabutr is aware of this, saying that the party would not just give up after the first election. The question is whether the party will merely concentrate on winning elections or whether it will help build mass movements of people who wish to push forward progressive demands.