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More injustices under the junta exposed

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

More injustices under the Thai parliamentary dictatorship of Generalissimo Prayut have been exposed in the media.

Following a gigantic traffic jam near the Victory Monument a few days ago, which was caused by police stopping all traffic to allow some minor royal parasites to travel at ease, there has been an avalanche of criticism about these royal motorcades. Criticism in social media with the hashtag #RoyalMotorcade, or #ขบวนสเด็จ in Thai, peaked at nearly 40,000 immediately afterwards. What added to the anger of most decent Thais was the fact that an emergency ambulance was help up by police who told the driver to turn off the blue flashing light.

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Traffic problems cause by royal motorcades are a constant source of irritation in Bangkok and people are becoming fed up with the strict application of rules under the vicious idiot King Wachiralongkorn. People are told to come down from pedestrian bridges and upstairs windows of buildings along the route are forced to close.

Following the mass criticism, mysterious text messages in English were sent to some people who had initiated the #ขบวนสเด็จ on Twitter. The messages were threatening and claimed to come from the Royal Palace. However it is more likely that they originated from some ultra-royalist thugs.

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Wachiralongkorn peering out of his ridiculous cage-like fancy dress

At the same time more people are refusing to stand up for the King’s anthem in the cinema and it has become a general topic of conversation in society. It is not actually illegal not to stand, but those doing this face strong social sanctions and intimidation from police and soldiers.

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All this points to a general dissatisfaction with the new King, who is known for his thuggish, anti-women and selfish behaviour. He spends most of his time in his palace in Germany, living the good life at public expense. Many people are misled into believing that he has power. No powerful dictator would choose to reside abroad for long periods of time and the King is despised by most royalists, including the military top brass. The real people in power in Thailand are the military and their current “parliamentary dictatorship”. The military need the King, despite his obvious unsuitability, because they depend on the ideas of Nation and Monarchy to legitimise their intervention in politics. That is why they sign off on lavish public funds for Wachiralongkorn and allow him to behave as he does. The transfer of some military units to his “guard” are merely ceremonial gestures and do not reflect any royal power to control the military. [See https://bit.ly/2EOjsNL and https://bit.ly/2VRw0v9 ].

Another great injustice which has been exposed, is the routine political interference in the judicial process. A few days ago senior judge Khanakorn Pianchana shot himself in Yala after delivering a “not guilty” verdict on a group of men accused of murder. The judge stated that there was a total lack of evidence to convict the accused who had spent extended periods in detention under Martial Law. Yet he had received “secret” orders from his superiors to change his verdict. If he had done so, innocent men would have faced the death sentence. Before shooting himself judge Khanakorn issued a long statement highlighting how local judges in all areas of the country routinely face orders from “above” to change their verdicts to suit those in political power.

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senior judge Khanakorn Pianchana

The fact that these issues are gaining a hearing and that people are angry with the state of Thai society can only be a good thing and hopefully these types of events can help to build a social movement for political change.

Further reading: Guided Democracy after the Flawed 2019 Election https://bit.ly/2Wm6bzI and “Parliamentary Dictatorship”   https://bit.ly/2RTlleU .

Thailand needs a movement like in Hong Kong

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Thailand desperately needs an anti-dictatorship mass social movement like in Hong Kong. When I say “like Hong Kong” I don’t mean that it should be a carbon copy of the Hong Kong movement, but it needs to be a real mass movement aiming to clear away the Prayut parliamentary dictatorship and the legacy of military rule, including the military constitution and all the institutions set up by the junta.

It is now 3 months after the so-called elections and no new government has been set up. But this means very little since the junta are still in charge with Prayut as Prime Minister.

It does not take a genius to see that there is no freedom, democracy or justice in Thailand. Those who cannot see this, chose not to see it because they favour authoritarian rule.

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The recent brutal attack on the pro-democracy activist Sirawit Seritiwat or “Ja New” and the continuing operations of military death squads in neighbouring countries, is one horrific aspect of the state of Thai politics. The fact that Generalissimo Prayut can come out and say recently that he doesn’t want to be forced to stage another coup, is another.

But what is lacking from many pro-democracy activists and politicians is a clear idea of how to bring down the junta. It is long past the time when people can still believe that the elections could change things. We all know that the constitution needs to be amended and the military reformed. But the question is how?

It is a pure pipe-dream to think that this can be done through a parliament which is a result of rigged elections. It shows a lack of responsibility to just say that the constitution or various junta laws need to be amended and scrapped and that the election laws need to be changed without saying how this can be done.

The “Long Coup” from 2006 to the present day, when elected governments were overthrown by the military and the judiciary, with the help of royalist protestors and much of the NGO movement, did not finish when Prayut held false elections earlier this year. We are now in a process of “parliamentary dictatorship”, planned and implemented by the junta. What is important to remember is that this long destruction of democracy was never carried out using an elected parliament, or by respecting the law and the constitution. It was carried out using the brute force of the military in tandem with mass mobilisations of reactionary, anti-democratic, social movements.

For this reason it should be clear that the opposition MPs in the present parliament cannot hope to make any significant changes. The illegitimate rules of the junta cannot be used to get rid of the illegitimate junta.

It is high time for a serious discussion about building a real pro-democracy social movement. Such a mass movement needs to be better than the red shirts that came before. It needs to be independent of establishment parties that seek to control and limit the struggle and it needs to be linked to youth and labour.

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Hong Kong protest movement

It takes real people, meeting face to face, in order to build the networks necessary to construct this movement. The question is: are there enough activists on the ground to achieve this?

 

Further reading:  https://bit.ly/2RTlleU

After the Irish referendum: Thailand needs a Woman’s Right to Choose

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

After the recent referendum result in Ireland on abortion rights, it is worth revisiting the issue of a woman’s right to choose in Thailand.

The women’s movement in Thailand is weak and conservative, concentrating on issues that have little impact upon most women such as the number of women members of parliament, irrespective of their politics, or the number of women business leaders. In the past these women’s groups joined the anti-democracy movement and helped to usher in the military dictatorship.

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In recent times, the trade union movement has had the greatest role in advocating women’s rights and has won important improvements like maternity leave and child care facilities. Some sections of the trade union movement are also campaigning for the right to abortion on demand, something that has been ignored by most middle-class activists.

Abortion is severely restricted in Thailand because women have to convince clinicians that their physical or mental health will suffer from an unwanted pregnancy. Many clinicians are conservative and seek to impose their moral judgments on women who need abortions. This adds to pressure on women and prevents the right to choose.

Free and safe abortions should be routinely available through the universal health care scheme, but they are not. Even when there are clinics or a few hospital which are willing to perform abortions, workers or the rural poor need to raise large sums of money. It is very difficult for ordinary women to access free and safe abortions. Many women are therefore put at risk from visiting back street abortionists.

In the past there have been unsuccessful attempts to liberalise the Thai abortion law, especially after the 14th October 1973 uprising and later in the 1980s. One of the leaders of the anti-abortion campaign in Thailand was Chamlong Srimuang, a leading yellow shirt activist who called for and supported the military coup which overthrew Taksin’s elected government.

Abortion is about democracy and human rights.

Abortion is a class issue because it is working class and poor women who cannot access free and safe abortions. It is also an issue which affects young people who are more at risk of unwanted pregnancies.

With all the talk about new political parties and the need for a party of the new generation. The inclusion of a policy to liberalise Thailand’s abortion law will be a measure of the real progressive nature of such a party. So far none of the major parties, including the Future Forward Party have said anything about this issue.

How radical will the new “radical party” really be?

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.

How not to struggle for democracy in Thailand

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

In response to the junta crack-down on pro-democracy activists who were protesting against the junta’s postponement of elections, one of the female leaders declared in public that she would willingly go to jail if summonses and charges against other people who attended the same protest were dropped.

Despite this being a brave personal sacrifice, the tactic is highly problematic because she rejects the role of ordinary people and mass movements in the struggle for democracy, seeking instead to build herself into the sole embodiment of the fight against the dictatorship.

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Not only will this not change the minds of the junta leaders who are hell-bent on using repression against anyone who takes part in anti-junta protests, but it is a reflection of the kind of individualistic politics prevalent among some young activists. In practice it could lead to the demobilisation of any further protests, rather than trying to draw more and more people into a pro-democracy mass movement.

In Burma, this was the same kind of tactic used by Aung San Suu Kyi during the great 8-8-88 uprising, when she addressed the crowds and urged them to return home and put their trust in her leadership and the sincerity of the military. After the mass movement was demobilised, the military made sure that the democratic space remained closed off for decades. When they eventually allowed “Guided Democracy” style elections, Suu Kyi had not only become a semi-dictator in her own party, but she totally compromised with the military. She sank so low that she was complicit in the violence against the Rohingya people. This is what happens when leaders are no longer accountable to a mass movement. They make decisions on behalf of millions and can become egotistical.

Another problematic tactic proposed by a pro-democracy academic is to build a political party like Spain’s Podemos. Dr. Piyabutr Saengkanokkul has suggested that Podemos could be a model for a new political party in Thailand “because it goes beyond the left-right divide which, unlike Europe, does not exist in Thailand.” He also claims that a Podemos-like party could heal the rift between the reds and yellows and would be a “new-style” party.

It is unfortunate that Piyabutr’s analysis is so shallow and out of date. It is simply not true that there is no left-right division in Thailand. The divisions between left-wing and the right-wing politics throughout the world, and over the last 200 years, reflects class and differing class interests in capitalist society. Workers and small farmers in Thailand have and still have profound differences in their class interests with the middle-classes and the business and military elites. What is more, the Red-Yellow conflict reflects this class antagonism with the yellows opposed to using state funds to decrease inequalities of wealth or build a universal health care system.  The Yellows are also in favour of limiting the democratic participation by poorer citizens. Pipe-dreams about uniting Reds and Yellows are neither realistic nor desirable and could only result in a limited form of democracy. [See http://bit.ly/2nAiXvZ ]

The last thing Thailand needs right now is a new political party which does not side with workers or poor farmers, but seeks a populist-type fudge between Left and Right. Since the collapse of the Communist Party, there has been an urgent need for workers and peasants to be represented by a political party. Ironically, Taksin’s Thai Rak Thai was actually a populist party run by big business leaders, seeking to bridge the class divide between rich and poor!

In terms of a “new-style” political party, Podemos has become a top-down party, run by Pablo Iglesias, with little internal democracy. One commentator from Ireland wrote that: “a politics that is neither left nor right is almost always linked to a desire for charismatic leaders. Once charismatic leaders are in place, they must develop an extremely hierarchical and centralised organisation. [See http://bit.ly/2sc9VtP ]

Any party that hopes to be a key part of the struggle for democracy in Thailand needs to prioritise building mass movements over standing candidates in the next election, where the rules set by the juntas are going to restrict the functioning of radical or progressive parties. Unfortunately Podemos has become a party which prioritises elections over principles. It is hardly a good example for Thailand.

For more on Podemos, see http://bit.ly/2nINgj3   and  http://bit.ly/2nJb6vm .

 

Thailand Towards Absolutism? Or Military Guided Democracy? Watch the video

One discussion you will not find at the Thai Studies Conference in Thailand!!

Watch the talk and the debate from Cologne on the 85th anniversary of the 1932 Revolution organised on 24th June 2017 here.

 

This kind of discussion could never be held in Thailand under the military dictatorship or the Lèse Majesté law. The military dictatorship and the new king will be the elephant in the room that everyone pretends not to see during the Thai Studies Conference. So what of substance are the academics at the Thai Studies Conference talking about??

Death of a Tyrant

Special article on Singapore by Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Lee Kuan Yew was a repressive and corrupt leader of Singapore. His death will not be mourned by all those who believe in democracy and social justice. Lee came to power by courting the British and offering them an “anti-communist” alternative at a time when the Left were very influential in the labour movement and society in general. He used the mass base of non-communist socialist organisations to win his first election and then turned on them and destroyed and repressed the entire Left. Lee rebuilt his electoral support among civil servants instead. He was not shy to use internal security laws to detain activists without trial and torture his opponents. He was a master at using the corrupt courts to ban opposition politicians from running for office. Singapore was also a firm supporter of the Burmese junta.

Elections in Singapore were sham pretences in democracy with constant manipulation of the electorate, government spies in social housing blocks and the use of development budgets to keep people loyal to his People’s Action Party.

Lee Kuan Yew and his friends often boasted that Singapore had very tough anti-corruption laws, but high level government corruption occurred by legal means. His government manipulated elections in order to stay in power and then they voted themselves huge salaries. Singaporean politicians are paid more than U.S. politicians. In 2012 the present Prime Minister, Lee Kuan Yew’s son, Brigadier General Lee Hsien Loong, helped himself to an annual salary of $US 1.69 million. Government cronies and relatives of ruling party bosses gain wealth and influence from managing state enterprises or controlling those which were later privatised.

Lee and his cronies justified their repressive regime by claiming that it conformed to “Asian Values” and that so-called “Western” democracy was not suitable. This has been the excuse of tyrants in many Asian countries, including Thailand.

Despite the much publicised housing and social benefits system for citizens, many workers who work in this city state come from outside and are not regarded as citizens. Even workers who are citizens earn poor wages compared to top politicians, business people and the middle class. Singapore is an unequal society; it has a higher Gini Coefficient than India, Indonesia, Japan, and Western European countries.

The legal system in Singapore is extremely backward. There are laws punishing people for not flushing the toilet, chewing gum or performing oral sex, and school students and adults found guilty of petty crimes are regularly flogged.

That is the legacy of Lee Kuan Yew.