The 2nd February election in Thailand has solved nothing

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

 The 2nd February election cannot solve the Thai political crisis because those lined up against the government and the holding of democratic elections, are fundamentally opposed to democracy.

The election was marred by violence from Democrat Party thugs who were determined to prevent the election taking place. Armed thugs fired automatic weapons into crowds of people who were expressing their wish to vote. These thugs have been enjoying total impunity for over a month while intimidating voters and candidates.

Democrat Party leaders such as Sutep, Satit and Abhisit want the electoral process to be changed so that the middle class and the elites can have an absolute veto over the views of the majority of the electorate. Democracy doesn’t work for them because they only have support from less than 30% of the population. They are supported in their thuggery by the Constitutional Court, the top civil service, the mainstream media, sections of the Electoral Commission and the NGOs. The military is happy to stand by and watch Yingluk and Pua Thai’s discomfort. They may not want to stage a coup right now, but they will not lift a finger to defend democracy and the election. They want Yingluk to make more concessions to those who are opposed to democracy.

Despite the violence and intimidation, voting took place in most provinces and 20.4 million people cast their votes. This compares to 35 million in 2011. Given that the Democrat Party has in the past won no more than 14 million votes, and that in this election they called for a boycott, the turn-out was not too bad. It can be assumed that more than 20 million people wish to preserve democracy and many of those support Pua Thai.

No amount of compromise or negotiations with the anti-democratic thugs will solve the crisis. The only short-term result would be shrinkage of the democratic space and the further empowerment of those who view the majority of the electorate with contempt.

No amount of outrage at the violence and impunity of the thugs will push Yingluk or Pua Thai or the authorities into a crackdown on those committing criminal acts. As I mentioned in a previous article on “permanent Revolution” in Thailand, Yingluk would rather do a dirty deal with Sutep than to mobilise the Red Shirts and the general population to fight for democracy.

This means that pro-democracy activists, whether they be 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 to prevent the destruction of the democratic space. They should also push forward with real reform proposals which will increase rights and the empowerment of the majority. The future of Thai democracy lies in their hands.

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SUTEP’S MOB DEPLOY GUNMEN AGAINST PEOPLE WHO WANT TO VOTE

This is a video taken near Lak-see polling station in Bangkok. The polling station has been surrounded by an extreme right-wing Buddhist gang and Democrat Party thugs from the south, in an attempt to stop people from voting in Sunday’s election.  As local people and red shirts gathered to demand access to the polling station and ballot boxes, Democrat leaders Satit Wong-nongtuay and Sutep Tueksuban called on reinforcements to rush to Lak-see.  Among these reinforcements we see at least one gunman.

In the video clip below you will see a man in a black balaclava  holding a green and yellow plastic bag. There is an automatic rifle inside the bag and the gunman starts to fire at locals and police.

Some pictures from Thairath newspaper and Facebook.

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The poison of Thai nationalism

Numnual  Yapparat

There is a video clip that was recorded on the day when advanced voting took place. We see a woman who wanted to vote, accompanied by her five year old son, being blocked by Sutep’s mob. Those thugs tried to intimidate the poor woman by asking her “can you speak Thai?” and “are you Thai?” The question is soaked with the blood of extreme nationalism.

When the woman gave up and walked away, those thugs shouted at her “don’t forget to eat grass!” In Thailand if you want to call someone stupid, you can insult them by comparing them with buffalos. The yellow shirts and Sutep’s mob love to call the red shirts and villagers buffalos.

Today one piece of news in Matichon newspaper, tried to create a rumour about an armed force entering Thailand from a neighbouring country. It claimed that they are based in the Burmese migrant workers’ areas. The reporter tried to link this news with the death of one of Sutep’s thugs a few days ago. However, even General Prayuth denied the connection between the two events. Migrant workers from Burma are always convenient scape-goats.

When the red shirts were gunned down by the military in 2010, some people tried to spread false rumours that the red shirts were killed by Cambodian soldiers. Many people swallow the nationalistic nonsense that Thais do not kill Thais. Actually, Thais are killed by the Thai military and the Thai ruling class, not by foreigners. Thai bosses exploit Thai workers. The Thai elites and middle classes have only contempt for fellow Thai citizens.

In 1976 the military and their right-wing allies encouraged people to kill students who protested against the return of the former dictator Tanom Kittikajorn, in Thamasart University.  They alleged that the students were not Thai, claiming that they were Vietnamese who wanted to turn Thailand into a communist country. The violence at the time was absolutely appalling because some students were brutally hit and burned alive.

Thai nationalism poisons the minds of the population. It obscures the brutality and exploitation by the Thai elites. We need to smash the myth about the beauty of “Thainess”.

 

 

Why does Yingluk’s government do nothing? Permanent Revolution in the Thai context

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Many people might be wondering why Yingluk’s government seems to be paralysed in the face of violent and criminal actions by Sutep’s Democrat Party mob. The answer is not that there are “invisible hands” from the throne or that there is covert military support for Sutep. In fact, the top elites regard Sutep and his acolytes as lowly street gangsters. They also regard former Democrat Party PM Abhisit as a weak creature to be used and then ignored. But these disturbances are useful to the military and the conservatives because they can push Pua Thai and Taksin into further compromises. That is why the military is sitting on its hands with a smug smile. Naturally, Sutep is getting support from the backwoodsmen in the Constitutional Court and the Election Commission, but the street mobs are doing all the work. They are also supported by the reactionary doctors, vice chancellors and NGOs who represent the middle class.

The real reason why Pua Thai appears to be paralysed is that they face a choice. Either they order the sacking of the top generals and reactionary judges and the arrest of the violent protest leaders, using the police and the support of millions of Red Shirts, mobilised on the streets, or they go for a grubby compromise with the conservatives.

To put it more bluntly, either Pua Thai mobilise their supporters and the Red Shirts to tear down the old order, or they make peace with their conservative elite rivals. Given that Taksin, Yingluk and Pua Thai are basically “big business politicians”, they naturally choose the latter option. This is not to avoid civil war, but to avoid revolution from below.

When I refer to Thailand’s “old order” I am not talking about some semi-feudal state structure. I am talking about a modern capitalist semi-dictatorship controlled by the military, the business class and the top civil servants. They are all united in their royalism, but Thailand is not an absolute monarchy either.

Until the election victory of Taksin’s Thai Rak Thai Party in 2001, the old way of conducting politics was for the different elite parties to compete on the basis of personalities and patronage. Taksin introduced the central importance of policies to the electoral process. Before this, and before the 1997 economic crisis, the laissez-faire policies of successive Thai governments resulted in unplanned and chaotic public infrastructure and total lack of welfare. The elites and the middle class enriched themselves on the backs of the poor.

On an economic and social level, the rapid growth that the Thai economy experienced through the 1980s and early 1990s meant that more and more ordinary people were becoming urbanised, educated and more self-confident. People wanted to see change and they wanted a share in the fruits of development.

Growing conflict was emerging between the realities on the ground and the old political structures that had a stranglehold on society. Taksin and Thai Rak Thai played a part in increasing this conflict by proposing modernisation. Yet Taksin’s aim was not to pull down the old order, but merely to gently modernise it. Today, Yingluk, Pua Thai and Taksin are still determined to protect the main pillars of the old order. They fear revolt from below more than competition from the conservatives.

Thailand today is not the Europe of 1848, but there are some aspects of Europe in 1848, as explained by Karl Marx, which can help us understand the Thai situation. Marx wrote that the rising capitalist class in Europe were too cowardly to finish off the old order by leading a revolutionary movement of workers. The capitalist class preferred a compromise with the old feudalists rather than mobilising movements from below which might come to challenge the capitalists themselves. Marx announced that from then on, workers needed to lead an independent “Permanent Revolution” which would sweep away the old rulers and go on to challenge the capitalist class. Leon Trotsky developed this idea further by arguing that in under-developed countries workers should lead movements of workers and peasants to sweep away colonialism or feudalism and not merely stop at modern capitalism, but move on towards socialism. This happened in Russia in 1917 until the revolution was drowned in blood by Stalin.

What this means for Thailand is that we should not raise false hopes that Yingluk, Pua Thai or Taksin will carry out the necessary mobilisations to get rid of the old order. That task must be led by a movement from below whose aims should be to go further than just establishing capitalist parliamentary democracy as seen in the West.

In practice, given the weak state of independent red shirt and left-wing organisation on the ground, the best we can hope for right now is to build a movement from below which continues to push against the boundaries of authoritarianism and to continually criticise any nasty compromises which Pua Thai will want to make. But ultimately, in the long term, this movement will have to rise up and pull down the structures dominated by the military, big business and conservative officials.

Democrat’s mad dogs unleash violence around Bangkok’s voting stations

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

On Sunday 26th January, The Democrat Party’s mad dogs unleashed violence around Bangkok’s voting stations. Voting stations throughout the country were supposed to be open for people to cast their votes in advance. Advanced voting is a required service since it is compulsory for people to cast their ballot.

In many areas of Bangkok, many angry residents argued with the anti-democratic protesters. They also protested against local election commissioners who closed voting stations whether or not they were surrounded by Sutep’s Democrat Party thugs. At some stations the thugs physically attacked citizens who wanted to vote. What happened on the day shows that significant sections of the Bangkok population are opposed to the Democrat Party’s attempts to wreck the election. This will only come as a surprise to those commentators who claim that the Thai crisis is a “rural vs Bangkok” dispute. At the last election almost half of the Bangkok electorate voted for Pua Thai.

Despite the roving gangs of thugs in Bangkok, 597 constituencies nationwide, or 91% of constituencies, managed to hold advanced voting. In the Muslim Malay south, village officials stood in line around voting stations to stop the Democrats intimidating voters. The head of the Department of Special Investigation is also looking to prosecute election commissioners who failed to do their duty to ensure that the elections took place where there were no anti-government protests.

The antics of the Election Commission, the Democrat Party thugs and the Constitutional Court are like a game of football. Sutep’s thugs want the government to resign and the elections to be scrapped. They want the constitution to be changed so that democracy is abolished. The thugs cause disturbances to try to wreck candidate registration, the Election Commission takes the “ball” and uses this as an excuse to call for the election to be postponed. They then pass the “ball” to the Constitutional Court to rule that the election can in fact be postponed. The “ball” now passes back to the thugs who cause more violence outside voting stations. The Election Commission jumps at the chance to point to this violence as an excuse to close polling stations and call on the government to call off the election. All the while these agents of dictatorship are cheered on by the university vice chancellors, sexist doctors, NGOs, the mainstream press and the mis-named National Human Rights Commission.

The academics, NGOs, backward middle-classes and other despicable creatures of the elites, bear a great responsibility for the growing destruction of democracy in Thailand. During the last months of Taksin’s TRT government, they insulted the majority of the electorate by claiming that they were “too ignorant” to have the right to vote. Before that they belittled pro-poor policies, such as universal health care, as being “mere vote-buying”. They are the ones who called for the army to stage a coup d’état against the elected TRT government in 2006. They then cooperated with the military junta. They are the ones who supported the blocking of the international airports in 2008 in order to urge the judiciary to stage another coup against the elected PPP government. It is they who gave tacit support to the killing of 90 Red Shirt protesters by the military in 2010. Today, they make hypocritical calls for “both sides to refrain from violence” and to “meet each other half way”. This is the same as saying that Sutep’s mob who want to destroy democracy, have the same legitimacy as the elected government which is supported by 70% of the population.

If this ragbag of middle class detritus cared one iota about creating peace and democracy in Thailand, they would join with those who have been lighting candles and urging Sutep to take his mob home. Instead, every time they open their mouths, they give confidence to the thugs.

I and my comrades have been discussing 5 urgent reforms that need to take place in order to increase the democratic space in Thailand.

You can read the details here: https://uglytruththailand.wordpress.com/ or here: http://bit.ly/1cLbFtr

In summary they are:

1. The need to address gross economic inequality by introducing a wealth tax and a welfare state.

2. The need to abolish Lèse Majesté, the Computer Crimes law and the Contempt of Court law which protects judges from criticism. Prisoners of conscience like Somyot Prueksakasemsuk should be released from prison. The entire judicial system should be overhauled.

3. The elite-appointed “independent bodies”, which are only independent from any democratic process, and which mis-use their power by over-ruling parliament, must be abolished. The worst offenders are the Election Commission, the Constitutional Court and the appointed half of the Senate. The whole despicable idea behind such bodies is that the general population cannot be trusted to elect the “right” people to parliament. If parliament and the government need accountability and transparency, it should be done through democratic processes.

4. The need to reduce the power and influence of the military in politics and society.

5. The need to punish those who commit gross violations of human rights, including military generals, Abhisit, Sutep and Taksin. This is in order that real standards of human rights can be established. The pro-elite National Human Rights Commission needs to be abolished.

We in no way claim a monopoly on ideas for political reform. Other groups, such as the Nitirat group of progressive law academics, have many interesting proposals. There are also many other long term reforms that are needed.

But it is safe to say that if anyone talks about political reform without mentioning our five main points above, they are merely rebranding “reaction” and “dictatorship”.

Photo credit: ( Pornchai Kittiwongsakul / AFP from http://alj.am/1eWY8iH)

Let’s talk about politics reform (5) We need basic standards of human rights

Numnual  Yapparat

Today advanced voting was taking place in Thailand and we have seen disturbing scenes. Sutep’s mobs tried to block the election venues in Bangkok by working closely with the election commission’s staff. They used violence against ordinary people who wanted to vote. However, in several areas, especially in Bangkok, pro-democracy people came out to resist the thugs and to vote.  In Pattani and Yala provinces the heads of the villages and religious leaders faced down Sutep’s mob and ensured that people could express their democratic will smoothly. The activities of pro-democracy groups have been ignored by the mainstream media but in the social media it is another world. There is hope that we can have real political reform, but pro-democracy movements must be the main force to achieve it.

The international human rights organisation, FIDH and its member organizations in the Union for Civil Liberty (UCL) has condemned Sutep’s mob. But the Thai National Human Rights Commission remained silent. As the crisis goes on, the main stream institutions are finding it more and more difficult to hide their real personalities. There are no standards of human rights in Thailand. Why is this so? The main explanation would be the prevailing conservative attitude which does not tolerate the fact that citizens should be equal. The Thai people are usually called “Ras-sa-don” which means a group of people who live in the land belonging to the king. The concept was used during the Absolute Monarchy. It is an out of date concept and is incompatible with the modern democratic world.

The concepts supporting inequality have been re-emphasised by the military which staged coups and committed crimes against the people again and again. Such crimes happened in 1973, 1976, 1992 and under Taksin’s government at “Tak-Bai” and in the “war on drugs”. In 2010, the Democrat Party and the military killed red shirts in Bangkok. None of those who committed these crimes have been punished. We need to learn from Argentina, South Korea and Chile about punishing state criminals.

In the work places, employers think that they have absolutely rights over their employees. The attitude is fully enshrined in labour laws as well as in the minds of the judges who fail to deliver justice. When judges sit in court they look at the poor with contemptuous eyes as if the poor were only animals. These people ignore modern views that respect prisoners as human. The children of the rich can get away easily when they kill people because “daddy” buys the police and judges.

There is a very hostile view against migrants or refugees, but there are a few groups who show solidarity with unfortunate people from neighbouring countries. Lots of Thais have no feeling at all when they hear the news about migrants being exploited. They just ignore the news or explain that these people are “not Thai” so why should we brother about them. But Thais themselves do not have rights.

What can we see in the mainstream body language in Thai society? “Good Thais” have to crawl to show their respect to people who are in power or are their seniors. The main purpose of this practise is that the Thai elites need us to believe that “people are unequal”. This grotesque culture has been taught through schools and families. In the elite households they make their maids crawl to them as well. The unequal concepts can be easily seen in daily conversations, especially with personal pronouns which signify social position. Women are told that they need to call themselves “Noo” which means “little mouse” in a childish fashion. The idea simply identifies women as second class citizens.

The first step to standardise human rights is to abolish the National Human Rights Commission. The organisation is full of soldiers, police and academics who stand against democracy.

Then, we need to campaign that Thailand accept the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court so that we can punish state criminals such as the generals, Abhisit, Sutep and Taksin.

In the long term, we need to increase the rights in work places, schools, and universities and we need full gender rights. We need human dignity and respect.

Photo credit: (The Nation Newspaper)

Let’s talk about political reform (4) Reduce the role of the military

Numnual Yapparat & Giles Ji Ungpakorn

The two main activities of the Thai army are to kill pro-democracy citizens and to tear up democratic constitutions by staging military coups.

The army has committed crimes against civilians again and again, but none of the generals have ever been punished. Most disgusting is the way that those generals who staged coups, are constantly invited by the media to give opinions about democracy. In fact they are interviewed by the media on all aspects of Thai politics. If the murderous generals are not charged with crimes against the people, how can we establish justice? The military is the main barrier to democracy.

Today, they are not yet staging a coup, but they refuse orders from an elected government to ensure that elections take place. They are a law unto themselves.

In the process of “political reform” we need to challenge and weaken the power of the military in all aspects of society. We need to raise questions in public about whether we should have a military at all.

If we have a military, it should be drastically reduced in size. We should abolish military service. We should retire most of the generals without the usual retirement perks and abolish the post of “commander in chief of the army”. The military should be firmly under the command of the elected government of the day.

Given that the majority live in poverty and need improvements to their living conditions, we should cut the bloated military budget and use that money to invest in the basic needs of the people, such as schools, hospitals and modern transportation.

We must ask more important questions. Why does the military own so much of the broadcasting media? They use their power over the media to spread their anti-democratic propaganda and also to line the pockets of the generals with the huge profits. The military should be excluded from controlling the media. The generals should also be removed from the boards of state enterprises.

Pua Thai, the Democrats, the middle classes, the NGOs and the top academics, who are now all shouting about “reform”, will never raise demands to reform the military. The task must lie with pro-democracy activists and progressive red shirts.

Thai politics