Niti Eoseewong: The Democratic solution to the current crisis

Numnual  Yapparat

The academic world is sometimes very out of touch with ordinary people. Some of their views I cannot stand reading. Chaiwat Sata-anun, who claims to be a “Guru of Non-Violence”, but “understood” why the 2006 coup was necessary, suggested that on the ballot paper in the next election, we should have a box for those who disagree with the voting system. He claimed that in doing so, we might avoid any unwanted confrontation. I wonder then, whether we should have a box for those who want a Republic!!

Niti Eoseewong has written a number of books about Thai society, both contemporary and historical. Some of them have been translated into English, such as “Pen and Sail: Literature and History in Early Bangkok.” He is an activist/academic.

Niti has written an article in the mass circulating daily newspaper, Matichon, arguing that there can be no “middle ground” between Sutep’s mob and those who wish to defend the democratic process. Niti says that Sutep and his followers are behaving like “political criminals” and that the government should not be asked to negotiate with such criminals. According to him, the protesters are challenging the rule of law and the entire political norms of Thai society. These norms may be flawed, but what Sutep wants is even worse. Niti urges Yingluk to act decisively, using measured force if necessary, to ensure that the elections take place. “Yingluk should publically order the military to defend the elections and if they refuse, she should denounce them openly. Yingluk should not kid herself that she can deal with the military without support from wider society”, Niti wrote.

Niti fiercely criticised the thee Election Commission members who refuse to do their job and refuse to resign from their positions. Niti said that those who appointed these commissioners in the first place should ask themselves what sort of methods they used to select such sly and poisonous people who pose a great threat to democracy.

Personally, I could not agree more with Niti. Pua Thai should take the lead to fight back against Sutep and his criminal gang. They have complete democratic legitimacy in doing so. On the contrary, if Pau Thai choose to negotiate and tolerate the criminals’ demands, not only is Pau Thai kowtowing to them but also helping them to destroy democracy as well.


The roots of the Thai crisis

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

 It is insulting and patronising to see the present crisis as merely a dispute between two factions of the elite, just like a fight between supporters of two football teams, lacking any reasoned political arguments[1]. This is the point of view of some NGO activists who half supported the 2006 military coup and have said in the past that villagers who voted for Taksin’s party “lacked information”; a euphemism for “stupidity”.

It is also a lazy generalisation to argue that the Red Shirts are rural villagers from the north and north-east and that Sutep’s Yellow Shirt supporters are Bangkok residents.[2] The results from the 2011 general election showed that in the 33 Bangkok constituencies, the Democrat Party won 44.34% of the vote, while the Pua Thai Party won 40.72%. This shows that the Bangkok population is evenly split between Pua Thai and the Democrats and this is based on those who have house registrations in Bangkok. Thousands of rural migrant workers who work and reside permanently in Bangkok are registered to vote in their family villages. If they were registered where they actually live and work, Pua Thai might have achieved an overall majority in Bangkok. Many Red Shirt protests in the past have been made up of Bangkok residents.

The real division between the “Reds” and the “Yellows” in the current crisis is CLASS. There is a clear tendency for workers and poor to middle income farmers to support Pua Thai and the Red Shirts, irrespective of geographical location. This is because of Thai Rak Thai’s pro-poor policies of universal health care, job creation and support for rice farmers. In the provinces and in Bangkok, the middle classes and the elites tend to vote for the Democrats and want to reduce the democratic space and turn the clock back to pre-Thai Rak Thai times. Back in 1976 in Thailand, the middle class supported repression and dictatorship to destroy the Left. In the 1930s, the middle class were the back-bone of fascism in Europe.

But this is not just a simple class struggle. In fact, class struggle in the real world is seldom simple or pure. One way of understanding the “dialectical” relationship between Taksin and the Red Shirts is to see a kind of “parallel war” in the Red Shirt/UDD struggles against the conservative elites, where thousands of ordinary Red Shirts struggle for democracy, dignity and social justice, while Taksin and his political allies wage a very different campaign to regain the political influence that they had enjoyed before the 2006 coup d’état. However, at the same time, Taksin remains very popular with most Red Shirts.

Class is also very much connected to the roots of the long running Thai crisis. This political crisis is a result of an unintentional clash between the conservative way of operating in a parliamentary democracy and a more modern one. It came to a head with 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.

Thai political leaders since the early 1970s had always adopted a laissez faire attitude to development, with minimal government planning, low wages, few trade union rights and an abdication of responsibility by governments to improve infrastructure. This strategy worked in the early years, but by the time of the 1996 Asian economic crisis it was becoming obvious that it was seriously failing.

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 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 Thai Rak Thai Party won the elections. 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. Previously, the old parties had just bought votes without any policies.

Taksin’s policies and his overwhelming electoral base came to challenge many elements of the old elite order, although this was not Taksin’s conscious aim at all. The Democrats lost the election. The military could not compete in terms of democratic legitimacy and support. The middle class started to resent the fact that the government was helping to raise the standard of living of workers and poor farmers.

Another military coup, or a rolling back of democracy by other means, will not make it easier to rule over the majority of the electorate who have been politicised and mobilised by the Red Shirt movement. A “compromise” between Sutep and the Pua Thai care-taker government would not be a step forward either. It would result in reducing the democratic space and reducing the power of the electorate.

[This article should be read in conjunction with my articles: There is no “crisis of succession” in Thailand and “Thai Spring?” Paper given at the 5th Annual Nordic NIAS Council Conference, November 2011, Stockholm University, Sweden. ]

[1] Jon Ungpakorn “What is the real nature of hatred in Thai society” Prachatai 5th January 2014.

[2] Duncan McCargo “The Last Gasp of Thai Paternalism”. New York Times, 19th December 2013.

Thailand’s Election Commission allows the electoral process to become Sutep’s hostage

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Thailand’s election commission is sitting on its hands and refusing to organise a democratic election for early February. Its actions are tantamount to support for Sutep’s anti-democratic movement.

In 28 constituencies, located in some of the southern provinces control by the Democrat Party’s patron-client machine, candidates wishing to register for the election have been blocked by violent mobs. Yet the election commission is refusing to organise registrations in police or military barracks or to extend the time for registration and make alternative arrangements.

Pua Thai is preparing to take the election commission to court, but this is unlikely to solve the crisis.

The actions of the election commission mirror those of other institutions where the conservative elite have influence. The courts have blocked the right of an elected parliament to amend the military constitution and they are refusing to issue sanctions against Sutep and his gang for using violence to frustrate the democratic process. One policeman was shot dead in Bangkok while this mob tried unsuccessfully to prevent candidate registrations.

The military are also refusing to guarantee a smooth election. But it would be wrong to believe that they are secretly backing Sutep. Unlike politicians like Sutep, the military do not depend on elections for their power and influence. What they want is for the government to give them a huge budget, let them off scot-free when they killed demonstrators or staged coups in the past, allow the military to control their own appointments, let them carry on making huge profits from the military controlled media and allow them to rake in huge salaries from the state enterprises. Yingluk’s government gave them all this and more. When there is talk of political reform, they want to be in the centre of the process in order to protect their interests. So the military don’t need to back Sutep’s mob. That doesn’t mean however, that they will lift a finger to defend Pua Thai or the election process. They can just sit back with a smug smile on their faces and see what happens, ready at any time to defend their golden goose or to defend “state stability” and act like “heroes”.

For an authoritarian regime to be installed in Thailand for any length of time, it would require severe repression and a police state. Democrat Party leaders Sutep and Abhisit may not care about the long-term consequences of restricting democracy in order that they have more immediate political influence, but the military top brass and the intelligent sections of the conservative elite know that they cannot just ride rough-shod over the wishes of the majority of the electorate by abolishing democracy. That is the logic of the situation. But in politics we must always allow for accidents and illogical decisions by any number of actors.

It will take the mobilisation of a mass pro-democracy movement to make it less likely that Sutep will be successful in his quest. The Red Shirts can perform this function, but there are many who are not prepared to just be pawns in Pua Thai’s political strategy. There are others who wish to close their eyes and mistakenly hope that the bad dream will just go away. They argue that a Red Shirt mobilisation would just lead to a military coup. But without such a mobilisation, the elites cannot be reminded that the majority will not tolerate a dictatorship. Without such a mobilisation a military coup would be more likely.

What would a genuine Peoples’ Revolution look like?

Numnual Yapparat

 Most Thai people are obsessed with politics at the moment. The Democrats are intensifying their political fight and calling it a so-called “Peoples’ Revolution”. Interestingly, if you travel by taxi you might hear the driver’s opinion that they want a “Nepal Revolution Model”. In other words they want to get rid of the monarchy.

Sutep and his gang have named yet another “day of big action” on 13th of January. They want to shut down Bangkok and other major provinces. Sutep commanded his followers to be very well prepared because “it might take a few days before gaining a glorious victory”.  The megalomaniac added: “My dearest people, we are going to shut down Bangkok at 9.00 am and then we will fight until we reach our gaol….when we control absolute power, we are going to set up a Peoples’ Government and a Peoples’  Parliament so that we can start the process of reform. We shall amend the election laws. After finishing our mission, we shall just go back home and wait and see the finished look of the reforms.”

Since Sutep speaks in a southern dialect, it is necessary to translate a little bit. What he meant was that his goal of “reforms” is to ensure that the Democrats always win future elections against the wishes of the “uneducated” majority of citizens.

The Red Shirt UDD leadership also called for the Red Shirts to be in “alert mode” and to listen for any announcements from the UDD. Jatuporn Prompan said that “If someone wants to shut down our country, then we want to open it.” He said that the Red Shirts might demonstrate on the same day in order to protect democracy.

What would a Peoples’ Revolution look like? The nearest thing to a Peoples’ Revolution in Thailand happened in 1932 when the absolute monarchy was overthrown by the “Kana-Rasadorn”.

In their famous first statement, they declared that “we, the people are equal and everybody is under the constitution”. In the statement they also exposed and criticised the king’s lavish lifestyle while ordinary citizens lived in poverty. They said that the royals extracted wealth on the backs of the majority. Nowadays, mainstream media, both television and print, do not dare to discuss this statement because of the lèse majesté law.

However, the “Kana-Rasadorn” did not really stage a Peoples’ Revolution since it was an elite civilian and military action. It was, however, supported by ordinary people. What Sutep is suggesting is a fascist-style coup where the only “people” that count are the elites and the middle-classes. A real Peoples’ Revolution would place workers and peasants in power, something which even Pua Thai would never be prepared to consider. Yingluk has recently suggested that a reform committee be set up, headed by military generals, conservative bureaucrats and business leaders.

As the New Year approaches, Thai political prisoners are still in jail

Numnual  Yapparat

 What is happening in Thailand? The answers very much depend on who you are and which side you are on. We, who are still free and welcoming the New Year, must not forget the Thai political prisoners. They have been denied the right to celebrate the New Year with their families because they expressed their desire for democracy.  At the moment, there are about 23 political prisoners who are in jail.

If you are poor or are opposed to the Thai conservative ruling class, then you cannot trust the Thai justice system. For those who are charged with Lese Majeste, the trails are held in secret. The judges explain that these people insulted the king and that they pose a dangerous threat to “national security”. Naturally, the judges say that they cannot reveal what the detainees have said to insult the king or the queen. Put it simply, if you want to abuse someone you don’t like, you just tell the police that they insulted the king.

One interesting question that we should raise in such a context, is what should be done if the king insults the people and democracy? Should he say sorry for his wrong doings? These kind of questions are very simple to ask in the democratic world. But Thailand you can land in jail. Given that things are so wrong, how can people be prevented from thinking about a Republic?

I would like to give some examples of how the courts behave against Thai political prisoners.

“Ekachai” who was charged under the Lese Majeste law, distributed the ABC documentary which was produced by the news agency in Australia. The documentary is about the crown prince and his wife. The matters that have been said in the documentary are not new at all. People know very well about the facts and pictures that are mentioned in the documentary.  Ekachai also sold copies of the Wikileaks papers which were translated into Thai at a Red Shirt demonstration. In the papers, Prem Tinsulanonda, Siti Savetsila and Anand Panyarachun, who are on the Privy Council, openly discussed the crown prince’s ill-behaviour with the American Ambassador. During the trial, the defence wanted these people to be summoned to the court. Disgustingly, the court did not dare to summon these big names and anyway that would have exposed them as having criticised the prince. Ekachai is still in jail.

A Red Shirt protestor who was accused of setting fire to public buildings is still in jail. The evidence that the court used against him is very weak. For example, the court used only one picture to blame him and put him in jail.

There are countless other examples where the courts fail to deliver justice to ordinary people, especially in labour disputes between employers and employees.

The best solution to reform the Thai court system is to introduce a jury system. The judges also should be elected, otherwise the courts will just be the tool of those who are in power.

The mainstream parties will not make a positive change in Thailand unless a pro-democracy mass movement, which is politically independent from Pau Thai, is built. When Pau Thai tried to pass the amnesty bill a few weeks ago, it did not include lese majeste political prisoners but Pua Thai were ready to give a pardon to those who killed unarmed Red Shirt protestors. Shame on them!

The Democrat Party is a dirty party. They lie straight-faced about democratic principles and demand that Thailand should go back to be under an absolute monarchy. The Democrats committed crimes in broad daylight. They were involved with closing down the airports in 2008 and now they are using violence to block candidate registrations for the coming elections. When the Democrats were the government, they killed people who demanded democracy. When in opposition, they call for democracy to be dismantled.  Yes, and they are still free and seem to have the right to commit crimes against innocent people and democracy repeatedly.

After the New Year, we are anticipating a fresh political crisis. However, we should not let those at the top, whether Democrats or Pau Thai, set the political agendas. Pro-democracy people have to set our own political goals. The lessons from the previous year teach us that we cannot trust any of them. In the short term, we have to move forward to the election and we should not end up as mere cheerleaders for Pau Thai. We have to put pressure on them to have progressive policies. We need to have our own party, the party that puts working peoples’ interests before that of the elites.

This New Year, remember the political prisoners; Somyot, Ekachai, Da and all the others.

Thai politics reaches a new low

Numnual  Yapparat

Thai politics reaches a new low every day. The Election Commission has just announced that the Election Day should be postponed because of the new round of violent caused by Sutep’s mob. One policeman died this morning from gunshot wounds.

In response to the crisis, Yingluck Shinawatra did not offer any alternative solution at all, but mimicked the Democrats’ proposals for “unelected reform”. Yingluck revealed her plan for political reform by suggesting that the Reform Assembly should be appointed by a Reform Committee made up of military generals, technocrats, conservative civil servants, business bosses, bankers and anti-democratic university heads. In short; this is an elites’ assembly. These people will choose and appoint people from “all occupations and professions”. But you can bet your bottom dollar that workers and farmers will be a tiny minority. No elected representatives will be in the Assembly.

Oh dear! Thailand is heading to the Dark Age now.

Pheu Thai has made an unforgiveable mistake again. Not only has it not protected democracy, but it is also helping Sutep and the Democrats destroy every shred of democratic principles. Pheu Thai won the 2011 election in the wake of bloodshed against Red Shirts by the Democrats in 2010. People pinned their hopes on Pheu Thai that they would make a change to Thai politics and bring those who committed the crime against innocent people to justice. However, Pheu Thai has chosen to make a deal with the Thai military instead of moving to restore democracy.

The NGOs are not much better. The Coordinating Committee of NGOs has suggested a so-called reform committee made up of Pheu Thai, the Democrats and the NGOs in equal proportions. Yet the Democrats only represent 1/3 of the voters and the NGOs, who claim to be “Civil Society”, have supported the military since the coup of 2006.

Pro-democracy activists feel betrayed by Pheu Thai. We need to be politically independent from Pheu Thai and we need to organise people at the rank and file levels. In not doing so, we can only wait for the next round of violence by those who oppose democracy.

We need to voice our demands that we do not want political reform by the government, the elites or Sutep and his gang. We need the election and then we need to move forward to political reform in which ordinary people can participate at all levels.  Such reforms should cut down the power and influence of the military, the business bosses and conservative civil servants.

Political reform is not possible without an election

Numnual  Yappart

On the day that party candidates started to register with the Election Commission, Sutep’s mob blocked the registration offices and they also threatened the Election Commission members, demanding that they should postpone the upcoming Election Day. What is more, Suteps’ supporters used violence against news reporters. Their actions were simply illegal and unacceptable because they want to destroy democracy and threaten the media. But so far no one dares to force them to obey the law.

There is one organisation that I would like to mention. It is the so-called “National Human Rights Commission of Thailand”. Normally, this organisation is supposed to protect the rights of citizens. However, it does not do anything to condemn the disgraceful behaviour of Sutep’s mob which blocked the registration venues. Ironically, in the past they have actively criticised the Red Shirts and the Pua Thai government whenever they could. The National Human Rights Commission became one of the most hated institutions among people who are pro-democracy. It remained silent when the Democrats killed the Red Shirts at Rachapasong in 2010.

What is the sort of political reforms that we need in Thailand? Of course, it must not be the same things that Sutep and his gang demand. Thailand needs fundamental change. The main institutions should have elected officials; the judges, the provincial mayors, police chiefs, military chiefs etc. We need to redistribute income in effective ways, such as having a welfare state. It is a great scandal to see Thai elite names published in Forbes Magazine. These are the filthy rich who lord it over the majority of Thai people who are very poor. We need to scrap the lèse majesté law, place the media in the hands of elected bodies instead of the military and we need to punish those who committed state murders and military coups.

These kinds of reforms can only be achieved if we have elections and democracy. The Democrats, including Sutep, want false “political reforms” to reduce the democratic space. They can then make sure only their friends can have the lion’s share of power. They actively promoted the ugly myth that people who are poor are stupid and are unable to understand democracy. 

You can drink our beer, but you don’t deserve the right to vote

Chitpas Bhirombhakdi, the spokesperson for Sutep’s mob and the Democrats, has created a sharp conflict with her own family “patriarch”, Santi Bhirombhakdi. The Bhirombhakdi dynasty are the owners of Sing and Leo beers, which rely heavily on sales in the North and North East. Red Shirts throughout the country have been calling for a boycott of these two brands because Chitpas thinks that villagers are too stupid to be allowed to vote. This has greatly angered Santi since he fears that sales and profits will start to plummet. Blood might be thicker than water, but beer profits are thicker than blood! 😉

Thai politics