lèse majesté stifles debate and analysis of the crisis

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

The recent attempts to charge the red shirt local radio DJ “Kotee” under the lèse majesté law for claiming in a VICE news documentary that a “higher force” was controlling Sutep’s mob, goes to the heart of problems created by lèse majesté. It is my view that Kotee is mistaken in his understanding of the situation, but the use of the draconian lèse majesté law closes down all sensible discussion about the Thai political crisis within Thai society. Anyone trying to argue details about the various ruling class power groups seeking to destroy Thai democracy immediately runs the risk of being charged under lèse majesté. I was charged with lèse majesté for writing a book which opposed the 2006 military coup. The Lawyers Council of Thailand has just taken matters to a new dangerous extreme by accusing the Red Shirt lawyer Robert Amsterdam of lèse majesté for urging reform of the lèse majesté law! This is in the same vein as the ruling by the Constitutional Court that it was “illegal” for an elected parliament to seek to change the constitution and make all senate seats subject to democratic elections.

Open debate and analysis about the political crisis, which involves putting forward theories supported by evidence, in order that others can critique such ideas, is blocked.  As a result people are reduced to discussing rumours and conspiracy theories and making indirect allusions to powerful and absolutist forces which are supposedly controlling Thai society. Whose interests are served by this?

The 2006 military coup against Taksin Shinawat’s elected government was staged by soldiers wearing yellow royalist arm bands. Photos of the generals talking to the monarch were widely publicised. The initial military junta also called itself the “Council for Democratic Reform under Constitutional Monarchy”. There was a crude message in all this. The military has a long history of seeking royalist legitimacy for its destruction of democracy. It is in the military’s interests to stifle any discussion about the appropriateness or truth of these claims to legitimacy. The same can be said for the Yellow Shirts and Sutep’s mob today. Given the grey area covering the roles of the elites, many ordinary people could be forgiven for mistakenly thinking along the same lines as Kotee.

Allusions to unnamed, powerful and absolutist forces which are supposedly controlling Thai society is also beneficial to the conservative elites because it is a message that implies that resistance is pointless. It is also a message that lets the military off the hook. Conversely this also benefits Taksin, Yingluk and Pua Thai because it is such a convenient excuse to hold back on any real change, move towards a grubby compromise with the anti-democrats and calm down the more impatient Red Shirts. This has been the aim of Pua Thai since the election victory of 2011.

Yingluk and Pua Thai’s demands that Kotee be arrested and their continuing support for the lèse majesté law is also useful in countering the conservatives’ ridiculous accusations that Taksin is some kind of “republican”, when in fact he shares the conservatives’ views on the monarchy. Monarchies in Western Europe are useful in supporting the ideology that there is a “natural hierarchy” even in a capitalist democratic society.

Any meaningful democratic reform of Thai society needs to include the removal of the lèse majesté law and the release of political prisoners like Somyot Pruksakasemsuk or Da Torpedo.

 

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Migrants: political scapegoats

Numnual  Yapparat

I was very delighted to see the big red shirt rally last weekend. However, we have not seen the progressive demands yet from the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD). However, the UDD response to the latest yellow shirt accusations was not very progressive. The yellow shirts claimed that the red shirt rally was full of migrant workers. In 1976 fascist groups made similar false accusations about students in Thammasat University by saying that they were Vietnamese communist infiltrators.  This helped to legitimise the brutal killing of students and some of them were even burned alive. Today the Anti-Democrats and their friends want to use the same racist tactics again. Sadly, the majority of the red shirts are still under the influence of nationalist propaganda. They fought back by showing their Thai ID cards instead of showing solidarity with migrants. If we want to have equal rights we should see migrants as human beings too because we should believe in human dignity. The differences in language, ethnicity and skin colour should not be a barrier to building a progressive society. Better, more progressive, politics would help us get out of the current political crisis too. Let the yellow shirts breathe their filthy politics but we must not follow their rules. We need to be better in all aspects.

The red shirts should deny the concept of “Thainess”. The politics of “Thainess” seeks to enhance inequality and backwardness in society because it demands loyalty to the Thai ruling class. In reality greater harm is likely to come from the yellow shirts than from any migrants. Ordinary Burmese have suffered for a long time from political repression and they desperately need safe shelter and employment in Thailand. If the red shirts want a better society they need to show solidarity with them.

Migrants in Thailand work in hard, dirty and low paid jobs that Thai workers do not want. Examples are in the seafisheries or domestic jobs. Lots of them are being treated like slaves and some of them are killed by police or employers. There are NGOs groups who campaign for migrants rights but only a few Thais are in sympathy with them.

The migrants make a huge contribution to society which is good for all of us. The majority of migrants are young and therefore they can fill the gap left by older workers who retire. Thailand should legalise all of the illegal migrants and therefore they can pay taxes, have access to health care and education. Big cities in the world are full of migrants and this is an indicator that those countries have healthy economies. If migrants have equal rights in our country it means that our democracy is very strong.  We should welcome migrant workers, not fall into the trap of the anti-democratic racists.

Our political goal should be to fight for a society that belongs to everyone, not only the elites. Migrants are not our enemy but those at the top are. Those who want to destroy democracy and kill citizens who hold different views are our real enemies.

Photo: INN

 

Festivals for sharing, not for sale

Numnual  Yapparat

There was an absurd piece of news late last month about the Songkran Festival. Some people have raised their concern that Singapore is competing with Thailand to organise the Songkran Festival. Tourists might choose to visit Singapore instead!

The “Songkran-Nationalists” suggested that the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) should apply for a copyright for the Songkran Festival. There has been much discussion in a well-known web board for a while. Not all people agreed with applying for a copyright for the Songkran Festival. Some of them also asked whether we should stop celebrating the Christmas, Valentine and Halloween festivals. The TAT office came out to calm down the debate by saying that they did not have the power to apply for such a copyright. Fortunately the TAT explained Songkran is a common festival in South East Asia as well as some parts of South Asia. “Songkran” itself is a Sanskrit word. This is a good example of why we should oppose nationalist propaganda.

Thai people have been bombarded with invented facts about our own history. The ruling class regard neighbouring counties with contemp. They unconvincingly portray Thai royal ancestors as brave and wise, while painting a picture of the rulers of Burma or Cambodia as barbaric and cowardly. Therefore, the story goes, Thailand could stay gloriously independent, whereas our neighbours became western colonies. However, progressive historians try to encourage students to study our own history by comparing the facts from different point of view, including Burmese and Cambodian accounts.

Not only do reactionary people not study international history or current affairs, but they also shamelessly claim that Thailand “owned” large parts of neighbouring countries. I believe that many readers might experience some Thais trying to shut out different views by arguing that Thailand is “unique” and therefore we cannot make any international comparisons. Unsurprisingly, some of them are awfully prejudiced and stupid, claiming that foreigners can never understand Thailand.

How are we celebrating Songkran these days? Mostly, people just have fun with it by playing with water. Lots of workers take the chance to go back home to their villages because of the long holiday. Thai authorities use Songkran to promote tourism, like at Kao Sarn Road in Bangkok. The ugly face of Songkran is that some men take this festival as a golden opportunity to harass women. We need to promote sexual equality, mutual respect and freedom without falling into the trap of adopting conservative morals.

The ruling class love to control women and claim to be our moral defenders. In 2011, there were drunken girls who had a topless dance on a car in public. The media and the authorities condemned their behaviour hysterically. They accused the young girls of destroying Thai tradition. Yet, the elites own and control strip bars where women are exploited on the very same street. In the previous year many red shirts were killed by the military and the anti-Democrat Party because they demanded democratic elections. But in this case the media and those moralists in power stayed silent. Hypocrisy is the dominant traditional culture among our rulers!

Painting by Sompop Budtarad

 

The politics of superstition

Numnual  Yapparat

I have seen clairvoyants play a major role in a number of issues, such as family life or even politics. When I was doing my women’s studies course, one of my fellow students, who had given birth, told us that she chose to have a caesarean birth so that she could choose the right auspicious time for her baby. Therefore, the baby’s future would be filled with good prosperity. She came from the middle class with a well-educated family background. I was perplexed why they were so superstitious.

A scary example of superstition is a coach driver who he drinks a can of beer before setting off. When his assistant expresses concern, the driver tells them that everything will be okay because he has got lots of monk medals in front of his seat!

In Bangkok, lots of modern offices buildings have spirit houses where the employees can confide their hopes or sadness. The office management regularly place bottles of warm Coca Cola for the spirits to drink, but only the ants seem to like it. Newly appointed government ministers, before entering the ministry building, have to worship the spirits first. They place pig’s heads and joss sticks in front of the spirit houses, praying that they can enrich themselves before they get transferred.

Every year, we have the Ploughing Ceremony where the oxen will predict the rainfall in coming months and the quality of the harvest. So there is obviously no need for modern agricultural science to maximise crop production. The Thai ruling class seem to think that oxen are more intelligent than humans.

Why does Thai society still believe in mumbo jumbo? Who is benefiting from this superstition?

It is understandable if people live in an insecure society where governments give no guarantee at all about citizen’s futures. Ordinary working people have to find comfort from something among this insecurity. The superstition will fill this gap. Karl Marx explained that religious superstition was “a heart in a heartless world”. It isn’t that poor people are ignorant, stupid or lacking education. It is more a sign of desperation. In advanced countries the number of people who believe in religion is decreasing steadily. The exception is the United States, where there is no welfare state. In Western Europe they have welfare states which provide necessary security to citizens.

Superstition in Thailand is a great tool for the ruling class. People who believe in mumbo jumbo are less likely to question inequality or injustices that they face in their daily lives. If they suffer they might blame fate or “Karma” rather than confronting the establishment. Superstition reinforces the “natural order” in society. The elites and the middle classes need to believe this and that is why they are extremely superstitious themselves.

Were there any groups that challenged superstitious ideology? Traditionally, only the Left challenged this superstition. The Communist Party of Thailand stood for scientific thought. Kularp Saipradit, writing under the pen name “Si Burapa”, wasa famous left-wing intellectual after the Second World War.  He wrote the novel “Lare Bai Kang Na” (Looking to the future) to criticise the old order under the absolute monarchy which was steeped in superstition. In “Lare Bai Kang Na” one of the elite ladies tells the protagonist that in the natural order serfs cannot have doctors like their masters. Kularp asks the question “who invented these customs”? Kulap also criticises those villagers who believed that the cause of illness came from ghosts. He was arguing for scientific thought in the new Thailand.

The strength of superstition and mumbo jumbo in Thai society is a symptom of the weakness of the Left and the rampant inequality between the rich and the poor. It is also a symptom of a lack of democracy.

The power of the people is real but the Constitutional Court is disposable

Numnual  Yapparat

There is no magical smoke and mirrors that will be able to disguise the real nature of the Constitutional Court (CC) and the old order alliance. The CC is a recently invented institution. It has a long record of violating democracy principles. We did not have it in the past and in a better future we will not have it.

The constitution is less important than the will of the people. If the constitution has been written to benefit the few and it is against the interests of the majority, then we should tear down the constitution. We have to draw up a new draft that suits our goal; the goal of regarding all citizens as equal. The best way to guarantee fairness in society is the participation of the people. We need to smash the myths about “the experts know best”. No they do not. If we look at the CC we know they are the liars and reactionaries who want to destroy democracy. Ordinary people can understand complicated issues if they have a chance to do so. This is not medicine or engineering where we need expert explanations for diseases, epidemics or mechanical failures.

The CC shamelessly nullified the 2nd of February Election. This action is helping to precipitate a new level of the crisis. There were positive reactions from pro-democrats who expressed their anger against the CC. Pro-democratic academics openly released their statements to declare that the CC judgement was illegitimate. I was deadly scared that Pua Thai might kowtow to the CC but fortunately they also issued their statement to condemn the CC.

Ajarn Worajet Pakeerat, from the Nitirat group, fiercely criticised the CC and explained that their judgements have been carried out without any base in law. Worajet said that the CC’s ruling was also destroying the options that the law can provide to break the political deadlock.

Worajet went on to say that “we can only talk about law if we use reason, but the CC are people who do not use reason”. Can we abolish the CC? To answer the question, Worajet said that “under the current constitution, no, because the various independent bodies have the power to make that decision”. He suggested that only political struggle can save us. We needed to maximise the number pro-democracy activists and expand democratic values.

Surely if the old order wants to move forward towards the destruction of the democratic process, they will not be able to rule smoothly. When the anti-Democrats Party were the government, they could not govern at all. Everywhere the anti-Democrats like Abhisit went, they would be confronted by the red shirts. The red shirts also protested against and chased traitor politicians who helped the anti-Democrats form the military backed government in 2008.

The main issue at the moment is how we can prevent Pua Thai from compromising with the old order. One way of doing so is that the progressive rank and file must draw up their own demands such as the release of political prisoners immediately. Another useful demand would be to scrap the Lèse-majesté law and charge state murderers who killed innocent red shirts. We need to have our constitution which states clearly that all politicians and all those who hold public positions need to be elected. At this stage we need to brainstorm and sketch the new society that we want. We can discuss what sort of morals should be the core principles in our new society. We need the kind of morals that enhance human dignity and freedom. We do not need religious morals that legitimise the elite’s oppression of citizens. We need to start thinking now. Otherwise the experts in hypocrisy and politicians who lack any back-bone will draw up their own reactionary road maps.

Kangaroo-Constitutional Court helps wreck 2nd Feb elections

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

The notorious Constitutional Court has once again worked hand in glove with the anti-democrats, ruling that the 2nd February 2014 election was “unconstitutional”. This is a re-run of the ruling that the election on 2nd April 2006 was null and void. The 2006 ruling, along with anti-democrat protests, led to a military coup and the continuous destruction of Thai democracy. Previous court rulings abolished Taksin’s Thai Rak Thai Party and brought down the elected Palang Prachachon Party government in 2008. Recently the court also ruled that the government could not proceed with plans for a high speed rail link.

The excuse for wrecking the 2nd February elections was that many constituencies had no candidates and were unable to hold elections. But there was no recognition of the illegal acts of Sutep’s mob in using violence to prevent voting and the unconstitutional boycott of the elections by the un-Democrat Party because it knew it would lose. Nothing was mentioned about the fact that the military, known for its repeated unconstitutional coups, stood by and did nothing to ensure security during the election.

In demanding a new election, the court stated that it did not care that Sutep’s mob had promised to disrupt any future elections.

The elite appointed courts and non-“independent” bodies have been working hand in glove with Sutep’s mob. They along with the middle classes, hate the democratic process which gives the majority of the population some say in politics. They view most ordinary Thais with contempt.

The anti-democrats now hope that throwing the ball back to the biased Election Commission and the government will allow more time to push out Yingluk and start a process of changing the election rules to reduce the democratic space. Many academics and NGO leaders in the anti-democrat camp are hoping for a compromise and make dark predictions about “civil war”. But such a compromise would give the same weight to a minority of anti-democrats as to the majority of citizens who want democracy. A compromise between democracy and dictatorship can only lead to “half democracy”.

The only way to defend the democratic space is a total mobilisation of the red shirts and other progressive forces. But unfortunately the UDD leadership cannot be relied upon to do this.

The National Anti-Corruption Committee’s ultimate farce

Numnual  Yapparat

Many international news reports about the Thai crisis say that Sutep’s mob accuse Yingluk of corruption. What does “corruption” really mean for the middle class anti-democrats?

The so-called “independent” bodies, appointed from the time of the military regime in 2006-7, have lost all legitimacy in the eyes of the majority.

The National Anti-Corruption Committee (NACC) is one of them. The NACC was founded in order to tackle corruption. We all know that the corruption is posing a great harm to society, but we also know that most of elites on all sides are corrupt. The obvious examples are the top brass in the military. When many former generals were in the power, they stole millions from the nation’s wealth to line their own pockets. Almost all top military officers today enjoy wealth far beyond what they would receive from their army salaries. Lots of rich business people in the country do not pay taxes. Lots of the anti-Democrat politicians use public resources to support Sutep’s mob. Top civil servants from the Ministry of Health hung anti-democratic banners from public hospital buildings.

Why are these cases not investigated?  If the NACC wanted to do their job properly 24 hours a day would not be enough, undoubtedly.

However, at the moment they are focusing on a nonsense accusation against Nattawut Saikua, one of the UDD red shirt leaders. They claim that Nattawut wants to separate the country between red shirt areas and anti-democrat areas. They claim that Nattawut gave a “dangerous speech” to incite the red shirts to use the violence in fighting back against the anti-democrats. There is no evidence to support their claims. As far as we can see, the violence comes from Sutep’s mob and the army.

The idiots in the NACC are even trying to link Natawut’s behaviour to Yingluk. They are accusing her of allowing such a speech happen and not taking measures against Nattawut.

I listened to Nattawut’s speech. There was nothing new in his speech, but it was very powerful because he highlighted human dignity and equality and confirmed that Thailand belongs to people. He attacked the myth that people needed to be highly educated in order to have a say in society. He spoke the words that people wanted to hear.

There were two demands that came out from his speech:

First, the Prime Minister must not resign. This is in order to protect democracy. Second, the Prime Minister has no need to respect the NACC and other “independent” bodies. If they make a judgement based upon undemocratic methods or a lack of justice, then the government should be resist.

He went on to say that because of the fact that Sutep’s mob is an armed group, the government should arm the police to cope with them. Also, the government should recruit volunteers across the country to assist the police in handling the armed groups from Sutep’s mob. If the situation becomes ungovernable, then the government needs a “plan B”. The government might need to move its offices to the North or North East.

Nattawut said, “we are trying to avoid confronting, but we see that there is no room left for us anymore because if Sutep wins, then not only is he going to destroy democracy, but he also wants to banish all of us. We need to fight back, but how”?

Nattawut summarised the strategy to fight back, which has been brainstormed by red shirts who participated in a national meeting. Some of them stated that they want to mimic Sutep’s mob by blocking some people’s houses as well as public buildings, because the courts seemed to allow this in the case of Sutep. The red shirts need to organise guard groups in order to protect themselves from the armed thugs in Sutep’s gang.  If the situation is uncontrollable, they want to shut down all the offices of the “independent” bodies. They want to establish shadow organisations to balance the lies coming from the anti-democratic “independent bodies”.

We can debate whether some of Nattawut’s proposed strategy is useful. The red shirts should be trying to mobilise the organised working class so that strikes can take place to protect democracy. Otherwise the anti-democrats can monopolise the ideas in the unions, such as we saw among the National Savings Bank employees. A much more radical agenda should be pushed, including the release of political prisoners and the prosecution of state murderers. Social and economic equality should be emphasised to win the hearts and minds of the population. The UDD should also invite all the radical red shirt groups to join a coalition, as proposed by Jakrapop Penkare.

But what has all this to do with “Corruption”?!

The NACC is now acting like some state security organisation. The judges think they can determine economic policy and block much needed infrastructure investment. The Election Commission thinks that its role is to wreck elections according to the wishes of Sutep. The National Human Rights Commission is dedicated to protecting the so-called rights of the anti-democrats while ignoring violence against citizens. What a farce!!

Thai politics