Constitutional Court: needs to be abolished

Numnual  Yapparat

It is another dark day for Thailand. The Constitutional Court (CC) ruled that the government high speed train policy is supposedly “unconstitutional”. After the press release from the court, a huge number of people expressed their anger at this Kangaroo court by posting pictures of shit on the court’s Facebook page.

Under the current circumstances, the unelected CC behaves like a dictatorship. Next the CC may wish to declare that the result of the recent election is null and void. If things develop in this way, sooner or later they will get what they want: the overthrow of the elected government.

The high speed train project would benefit millions of people. It would provide fast and safe public transport. At present the roads are a death trap for the poor, especially on public holidays. It would also help reduce carbon emissions from air travel. The CC claimed that such a project would “destroy fiscal discipline”. They and the anti-Democrats are all extreme neo-liberals. They hate government spending on useful projects for citizens, but support lavish spending on elite ceremonies and the military.

Why do we have to allow 9 idiot judges to turn the clock back on the country’s development? The CC has been working overtime to destroy democracy. I do believe that we need a serious campaign to abolish the Constitutional Court. We need to raise awareness among the public that the main national policies should be debated by citizens and decided through the democratic process instead of letting unelected conservatives make the decisions. In doing so, we need to mobilise the pro-democracy mass movement to fight back. Otherwise we will slip back into the dark days when the military ruled Thailand. Yingluk and the Pua Thai Party are failing to provide the necessary leadership and the UDD have become mere supporters of the government. We desperately need grass roots progressive leadership.

When we talk about democracy we need to go beyond elections and talk more about what changes to society that we want. We need to talk about what kind of economy policies that we would like to support and how to spend public money in the interests of the majority. We need to talk about how to reform the public institutions. We need to talk about how to systematically reduce the power of the old order.

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Women’s rights: where are we today?

Numnual  Yapparat

Thai women gained the right to vote in 1932, the year of the revolution that overthrew the absolute monarchy. However, women’s rights in Thailand have not made much progress since. The women’s movement in Thailand has experienced its ups and downs which are heavily dependent on the political situation. Some women activists are right wing and they supported the yellow shirts. The left wing groups are likely to be trade unionists, students and some academics. The other gender groups, such as GLBT people are focusing on single issues, but they came out to condemn Sutep’s mob, especially about the use of sexually abusive language against the Prime Minister.

Yes, these days we have lots of high profiles women. But high proportions of women, in high positions, do not guarantee that women in general will benefit from the current system.

When elite women talk about gender equality, it becomes like a fashion accessory to make them look good. It also becomes an excuse for governments not to do much to improve gender inequality. We have several kinds of women’s rights organisations which have been used as political tools to promote the role of ruling class women.

In 1973 when the student movement was in a fighting mode, the students raised issues about gender equality. They asked why women had to enter beauty contests because in doing so women would become only sex objects to promote the value in society that sex was for sale. They probed into the sex industry’s problems, family roles, marriage and sexual freedom. In 1990, trade unionists in the private sector won the right to paid maternity leave.

Today we have the first female Prime Minister, but she does not spearhead advances in gender issues. Yingluk chooses the conservative woman’s role in her behaviour and therefore she is very obedient, patient, compromising and unchallenging to the injustices in society. She may have been selected by Taksin and Pua Thai for that reason.

As the Prime Minister, she has been bullied by Sutep’s mob several times, but did not respond at all. If she accepts such unacceptable insults, then she gives legitimacy to those who want to entrench the idea that women should be second class citizens. If she had challenged Sutep’s mob’s sexism, it would have raised awareness about gender equality in society significantly.

Today, we still do not have abortion rights because the conservative elites give power to the monks and judges who claim to be our moral protectors. They claim that having abortion rights would encourage women to kill innocent infants and encourage promiscuous behaviour among women!  If we look at the role of monks in politics, some of them are very right-wing and even support violence.  Women should have the right over their own bodies.

What about the racist issue? Women’s bodies become a source of wealth for the big cosmetic corporations. Lots of women are crazy about having white skin. It is very sad to see my fellow citizens hate their own skin. We need a campaign against advertisements which try to sell whitening lotion. We need a campaign for people to accept their own beauty.

There is a long way to go for gender equality in Thailand and it can only happen with democracy.

Where are we heading?

Numnual  Yapparat

The Thai army has demanded the prosecution of the Assembly for Democracy in Lanna (ADL). “Lanna” refers to the region around Chiangmai in the north. The army has painted the ADL as a separatist group who want to form a new country. Laughable! The army got it utterly wrong because the ADL is just a pro-democracy group in the north. The military mis-read the abbreviated name to mean “the Peoples’ Democratic Republic of Lanna”! Of course, this is at a time when some people are talking about separatism and some want a republic.

This is neither the first time nor the last time that the army has exposed itself with stupidity. However, yellow shirts jumped quickly to exploit the issue to create a climate of fear against red shirts. The Prime Minister came out to reassure the nation that there was no such separatist group. She can do better than that. She should ask the army to apologise to the ADL. Of course, she did nothing of the sort.

Sutep’s thugs are roaming across the capital to cause problems as much as they can. The end of the crisis cannot be seen on the horizon.

The current tactic from the yellow shirts and Sutep’s gangs is to accuse the government of failing to rule the country because it does not have the ability to open parliament. They then claim that Thailand needs an unelected prime minister to “satisfy all sides”.

Another alternative is to get the corrupt courts to prosecute Yingluk and her government over the rice subsidy scheme or for using the police to try to break up Sutep’s violent demonstrations. In the former case, it would be killing two birds with one stone, as it would destroy the rice scheme which is hated by the neo-liberals.

Sutep has 3 separate warrants for his arrest. One is for ordering the violent crack-down against red shirts in 2011 and the others are over his role in the recent protests. But there is little prospect of him actually being arrested.

If Pua Thai throws in the towel and gives all the power to Sutep and the military, will the crisis end? I do not think so. A good example was when the Democrats were a puppet government of the army in 2008. They could not control the red shirt protests for genuine democratic elections and it resulted in bloodshed on the streets. Eventually Pua Thai was elected with a huge majority. This pattern of events is radicalising the red shirts and polarising society. Can the big capitals afford to lose money while the crisis goes on?

Pua Thai and the UDD red shirt leadership have done too little too late to protect democratic principles. All they do is to bend over backwards to compromise with the “anti-Democrats”, the army and yellow shirts. They should mobilise the red shirts to challenge the power of the old order. As we have seen after the military bloodshed at Ratchapasong in 2011, many red shirts organised themselves with radical demands. But the radicalisation of red shirts was put on hold when Pua Thai came to power. The majority of red shirts are still waiting for the green light from Pua Thai to fight back. How long can this situation last?

 

Don’t protect the Thai State from disintegration, but why hand all the wealth to the conservative anti-democrats?

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

I have always opposed the nationalist first clause in the Thai Constitution that says that the Thai State cannot be separated. The most pressing reason is to give the people of Patani the right to self-determination.

Therefore I have no worries about the disintegration of the Thai ruling class’ state. It does not bother me, the way it bothers the military and the reactionaries, if Red Shirts want to split the country in half. This proposal is born out of anger against the impunity of the anti-democrats and the way the anti-democrats and the military, together with their academic and NGO supporters, are trampling over the rights of the majority.

But the proposal to split the country in half is a silly proposal.

Firstly, it is silly because it assumes that the political crisis results from a geographical split. This is simply not the case, with half the Bangkok population supporting the Yingluk government and more than half supporting the democratic process. In all provinces there are splits along complicated class lines. 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.

But secondly, and much more importantly, dividing the country between the north/north-east and the rest, would leave the majority of wealth in the hands of the anti-democratic elites. The new break away country would have no seaport or natural gas and millions of pro-democracy people would be trapped in a repressive regime. What is more, the military and the conservative elites have always been ultra-nationalists and they would wage a bloody civil war to prevent it happening.

Economic data from the national economic and social development committee shows that the GDP for metropolitan Bangkok, the central region, the eastern seaboard and the south, stood at 7,148,323  million baht in 2009. The equivalent figure for the north and north-east was 1,902,393 million baht. Any new country in the north and north-east would be very poor, with little industry and investment.

What is even more important is that this GDP comes from the work of ordinary workers and peasants. It was not created by the capitalists and various parasitic organisations like the military. So it is a very bad idea to just hand it over to them.

What we should be striving for is a “new state” where the rich are highly taxed and the military domination of society is ended. We need a welfare state, an end to impunity for state crimes, the abolition of the never-independent bodies and complete freedom of expression and democracy. Ultimately ordinary working people should collectively own and control society. This can be created when we destroy the old authoritarian Thai State.

The Thai working class

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

The Thai trade union membership stands at less than 5% of the workforce. However, such an average figure can be misleading. Most State Enterprises and large factories in the private sector are fully unionised or at least dominated by unions. This includes some offices, especially the banks. Apart from this, unionised workers are mainly concentrated in Bangkok and the surrounding provinces of the Central region and the Eastern industrial Seaboard. Such concentrations of working class organisations allow for more influence than would be supposed from just looking at the national figures for unionisation. Strikes occur on a regular basis and trade union membership has expanded in manufacturing on the Eastern Seaboard, especially in auto-parts and auto assembly factories.

In Thailand, as in other countries, trade union bureaucrats enjoy a better standard of living than their members. However, networks of unofficial rank and file activists, independent of top leaders, exist in “Area Groups”. Even official groupings, such as the Federation of Textile, Garment and Leather Workers’ Unions, are able to bring together different unions at rank and file level, independent of the various bureaucratised peak bodies and congresses. These area groupings are considerably more democratic than the peak bodies. The entire committee of the group is usually elected every year and made up of men and women lay-representatives covering different workplaces and industries. These rank and file union groupings are a way in which “enterprise unions” can build solidarity with one another across workplace boundaries.

Trade unions and strikes have existed in Thailand for many years, but it is ideological factors which have held back the working class. This is due to a number of factors. Firstly, the Communist Party of Thailand, which originally organised urban workers in the 1940s and 1950s, took a Maoist turn away from the working class, towards the peasantry, in the 1960s. For this reason there have been few left-wing activists willing to agitate among workers. Unlike South Korea, where student activists had a long tradition of going to work in urban settings with the aim of strengthening trade unions, Thai student activists headed for the countryside after graduation. After the collapse of the CPT we can see the influence of NGOs, using funds from U.S. and German foundations, and more recently the arrival of “international” bureaucratic union federations. This is the second main factor which accounts for the ideological weakness of the Thai labour movement.

Labour-NGOs run by Thais receive funds from international foundations such as “The American Center For International Labor Solidarity” or the “Solidarity Center”, funded by the AFL-CIO and “The Friedrich Ebert Stiftung”, funded by the German Social Democrat Party (SPD). In recent years highly bureaucratised “international” unions have organised recruitment drives in some Thai workplaces. The aim is to increase membership of these international bodies, not to increase the combative and political nature of Thai unions. These NGOs and international unions have a number of commonly held beliefs. They actively support trade unions as long as they stay within the law. Thai labour law stipulates that trade unions must remain “non-political” and most NGOs are totally opposed to trade unionists taking up socialist politics or forming political parties. Thai labour law also makes it hard to carry out strikes.

NGO activists are known as “Pi-lieng” (Nannies). These “nannies”, help “child-like workers” to organise unions, to know their rights under the labour laws and to conduct themselves properly in labour disputes. When a dispute arises at a workplace, various NGO nannies will be sent out to stay with the workers’ “mob” in their picket tents. On some occasions, more rebellious workers will be scolded like children.

While such NGO and international union activity has resulted in more trade unions being established, it also breeds worker dependency on outside funding and socialises union representatives into a life-style made up of seminars in luxury hotels and foreign trips to conferences.

Yellow Shirts influence in some unions

The Yellow Shirts, and later Sutep’s mob, gained some influence in the trade union movement, although this is severely limited to sections of the State Enterprise workers. These unions are influenced by retired railway union boss Somsak Kosaisuk, who has joined Sutep’s mob. They have personal connections with Somsak Kosaisuk and his allies in NGO-type organisations like “Friends of the People” (FOP). Somsak and his allies organised “top down” educational groups for these trade unionists, funded by outside bodies such as The Solidarity Center and The Friedrich Ebert Stiftung. Another factor is the “State Enterprise union mentality” of putting more faith in talking to “sympathetic” management or elites, rather than organising and building a mass base. This drew some trade unionists towards the yellow shirts and later towards Sutep.

The left in the unions

Many active trade unionists who wish to fight in a more politicised manner have turned to militant Syndicalism. They are organised in networks of unofficial rank and file activists. Militant Syndicalism in the present day Thai context means engaging in the class struggle, supporting and organising strikes and being against cooperation with the State or the elites. These militants, who are mainly in the private sector workplaces, opposed the 2006 coup d’état and the Yellow Shirts. But Syndicalists are also very anxious to protect their independence while being wary of all political parties or of forming political organisations. This means that Thai Syndicalists are wary of cooperating too closely with pro-democracy social movements and this remains a political weakness.

Violence begets violence

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Indiscriminate violence against ordinary people, whether they be involved in politics or not, is always appalling and serves no progressive or democratic purpose. The recent killing of children is even worse. We have no idea who has been committing these latest atrocities in Bangkok or in Trat and it would be foolish to make wild guesses. It could be those on the side of dictatorship who want to create conditions favourable for a military coup or the resignation of Yingluk and it could also be disgruntled hot heads from the Red Shirt movement who are angry with the impunity of Sutep’s mob.

However, we must never lose sight of the fact that the violence in Thailand’s political crisis was started by the military when they used force to overthrow the democratically elected government in 2006. The military and the Democrat Party then shot down Red Shirt pro-democracy demonstrators in Bangkok in 2010. Among the dead was a young boy.

Since the beginning of the year Sutep’s thugs have been openly carrying automatic weapons in the streets and they have been filmed using them against unarmed civilians. They used systematic violence to intimidate voters. Yet no one has been arrested and the conservative elites, mainstream academics, NGO leaders and mainstream media have done all in their power to condone or ignore Sutep’s mob violence.

Violence and intimidation has been used by the anti-democratic side against progressive academics and activists like Sombat Bun-ngarmanong.

We must also put this political violence in a wider context. Over the last month children and adult civilians have been gunned down in the Patani region, probably by the Thai security forces. Sometimes they pose as separatists, like in the most recent incident when a crude note was exposed as not being written by anyone with a proper knowledge of Yawi or Malay.

Systematic state violence against civilians has taken place in 1973, 1976, 1992 and in 2004 and also in Taksin’s war on drugs. The real source of violence is the Thai ruling class. They create the conditions to breed more violence.

The solution is to establish standards of human rights by punishing the state actors and big men who commit these crimes. Today that means bringing Sutep, the generals, Abhisit and Taksin to court. The democratic space needs to be expanded and strengthened. All those who have been involved in destroying democracy since 2006 are only shedding crocodile tears over the recent tragedies.

We are being blackmailed with the spectre of civil war

Giles Ji Ungpkorn

Reactionary academics, NGO leaders and the “Great and Good” are all warning of the perils of civil war in Thailand. All this is designed to put pressure on those who support the democratic process, to accept a grubby compromise.

Some say “the only solution” is to have a “neutral Prime Minister” or an unelected government while others suggest a coalition government including Sutep and Yingluk. None of these “worthies” discuss expanding the democratic space. They are not interested in doing so because all they want is to get rid of Taksin’s influence. They are also sceptical about democracy because the majority keep voting for “the wrong people”.

A neutral Prime Minister would either have to be a liar or an idiot because being neutral in Thailand today would mean having kept your head in a bucket for the last 8 years.

The present German coalition government has been raised as an example for Thailand. However Germany only has a coalition government because no party received an overall majority. The coalition may also be very damaging for the SPD as it goes along with the CDU’s conservative policies. Perhaps a better example from Germany might be how Adolf Hitler was appointed as the chancellor of Germany by President Paul Von Hindenburg in 1933? At that time the Nazis did not have majority support.

Civil war is not an immediate threat right now and in such a bloody war the well-equipped military would win. Dividing up the country between the north/north-east and the central/south is merely a wet dream born of anger. The Malay Muslims in the south know how hard it is to break away from the Thai state and dividing up the country would mean handing over Bangkok to the reactionaries.

But this is not the point.

The real point is that all these reactionary academics, NGO leaders and the Great and Good have played important roles in creating this crisis and increasing the tensions and violence. If in the future a civil war were to break out, it would be their fault.

The reactionary academics, NGO leaders and the Great and Good supported the semi-fascist PAD, called for the monarchy to use article 7 to sack Taksin, supported the 2006 military coup, cooperated with the military junta, helped draw up the undemocratic military constitution, supported the overthrow of the second elected government by the military and the judiciary in 2008, helped to occupy the international airports, gave legitimacy to the Abhisit dictatorship, lined up against the red shirts who wanted elections, and kept quiet about the military massacre of ninety unarmed red shirts in 2010. If you were not following Thai politics, you might think this was exaggerated! Today some claim “not to like” Sutep and his tactics, but they have not condemned the authoritarian judges, joined the white shirt “respect my vote” campaign or urged everyone to respect the democratic process. All they are doing now is to say that we must all accept the shrinkage of the democratic space in order to “keep the peace”.

It is unbelievable hypocrisy and blackmail.

For those who wish to protect and expand the democratic space, it means that pro-democracy activists, whether they are progressive Red Shirts, pro-democracy trade unionists, White Shirts, Nitirat supporters, socialists, or members of the Forum for the Defence of Democracy, all have to work together. There is an urgent need to build a strong network of pro-democracy groups. In the long-term this network also needs to expand into the organised trade union movement. For too long, the right-wing has been allowed to have a monopoly of influence among some state enterprise unions.

On an international level, the organised working class has played a crucial role in developing and strengthening democracy, especially in Europe and also in South Korea. Recently, the labour movement strikes in Egypt in early 2011 were a significant factor in the fall of Mubarak. For years activists of the Egyptian Left had worked underground among workers and they were present in the great strike wave of 2006.

Trade unions and strikes have existed in Thailand for many years, but it is ideological factors which have held back the working class. This is due to a number of factors. Firstly, the CPT, which originally organised urban workers in the 1940s and 1950s, took a Maoist turn away from the working class, towards the peasantry, in the 1960s. For this reason there has been a lack of left-wing activists willing to agitate among workers for the past 30 years. Unlike South Korea, where student activists had a long tradition of going to work in urban settings with the aim of strengthening trade unions, Thai student activists headed for the countryside after graduation. After the collapse of the CPT we can see the influence of NGOs, using funds from U.S. and German foundations, and more recently the arrival of “international” bureaucratic union federations. These groups are opposed to political trade unionism and strikes. This is the second main factor which accounts for the ideological weakness of the Thai labour movement. There is still no political party of the trade union movement and the lack of a clear pro-democracy political current within the Thai unions is a fundamental weakness in the struggle for participatory democracy and social justice.

Thai politics