Giles Ji Ungpakorn
Many commentators on the Thai political crisis continue to trot out nonsense about the Red Shirts being rural villagers or migrant workers to the city and Sutep’s Yellow Shirt supporters being Bangkok residents. Yet 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%. Pua Thai even won 2 seats from the Democrats. Overall, Pua Thai managed to increase their Bangkok seats by a total of 4. The Democrats still had more seats, but lost 7.
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.
The only area of the country where the Democrats have some strength, are some areas of the south where Sutep Tueksuban’s family dynasty control politics through a system of patronage. Some members of his family are also MPs. Other areas of the south are also controlled by long-standing Democrat Party patronage, such as Chuan Leekpai’s constituency. Such patronage makes a mockery of Sutep’s avowed aims to “reform” politics. The Democrat Party patronage predates Taksin and Thai Rak Thai and one factor which helped create it was the support given to the Democrats by ex-Communists in the region. Apart from these historical aspects, the South is also the most prosperous part of Thailand, with the exception of Bangkok. Much income is generated from tourism and higher value agriculture.
The real division between the “Reds” and the “Yellows” in the current crisis, which dates back to 2005, is CLASS. There is a clear tendency for worker 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.
Sutep Tueksuban is calling a new round of big demonstrations against Yingluck’s caretaker government on 22nd December 2013, which is causing growing concern about increased tensions. The Thai Print Journalists Association, The Thai Broadcasting Journalists Association and The News Broadcasting Council of Thailand issued a statement expressing their concern about the current crisis. They demanded that the caretaker government enforce the laws without showing double standards or the use of force against the protesters. They urged both sides to be patient and urged the protester to strictly follow a non-violent path.
The media organisations claim to support elections as a basic principle in the democratic system. However, they are afraid that the new round of elections on 2nd February would not end the crisis; the elections are being held in such unusual circumstances where there are deep divisions among people. Such an environment would distort the judgment of many voters, they claim. Therefore, the election rules should be based on negotiations and consensus, according to these media associations.
This statement is hypocritical and dishonest and it insults the intelligence of the electorate. It is hypocritical because it is Sutep and his mob who have used violence while the Government has shown great restraint. The Government’s actions are totally different from those of the previous Democrat Party government, of which Sutep was a senior cabinet member. Sutep’s government shot down 90 un-armed pro-democracy demonstrators in cold blood.
The media associations claim to support the democratic system, yet they want the democratically elected government to compromise and reach a consensus with those who wish to see a dictatorship.
Finally, the insulting idea that the majority of the electorate will somehow be “confused” by the crisis and will not use considered judgement when voting, is merely another version of the Yellow Shirts’ claim that the majority of Thais are too ignorant to deserve the right to vote.
Most of the Thai broadcasting media is controlled, either by the military or by anti-government forces. The English language print media has always supported the Yellow Shirts and the military, while about half the Thai language print media is on the side of the elected government.
The Thai prime minster has given the new motto for Children’s Day; 11th January 2014. “Repay the kindness shown by your elders, know your duties, strictly adhere to disciplines and strengthen the Thai nation”. On the day, the government is going to welcome all the children into Government House. Children can sit on the Prime Minister’s chair and take photos.
For the sake of the Thai ruling classes, children are not allowed to learn the truth about Thai or international history. They have been taught that “one man one vote” is a Western value which is not suitable for Thai society. When these children finish their courses at university some may use Adolf Hitler as a famous icon to celebrate their graduation. If they want to run their own businesses; like a fried chicken shop, they might use Adolf Hitler as the brand name. Amazing Thailand!
This year we are witnessing how the authorities are abusing students in university and secondary school. Netiwit Junrasal, who is studying at secondary school, began to demand the right to choose what to do with his hair. He criticised the head teacher who favoured military hair-styles to control students. He challenged the core of Thai conservative ideas about “Thainess” and nationalism. He started encouraging his fellow students to abandon such poisonous myths. He has been bullied by his teachers. Of course, if he follows the Thai Prime Minister’s motto he would not be free.
Aum Neko, who is studying at Thammasart University, asked the simple question about student uniforms. Lots of Thai universities still force students to wear uniforms. Will it help students to better understand the World or democracy, she asked. She was condemned by right-wing lecturers and students. Lately, she openly criticised the Vice Chancellor of Thammasart University who supported the coup in 2006 and suggested that Thailand might not need democracy. She was threatened by his deputy, who said he wanted to punch her in the face. Welcome to Thailand, the land of backwardness!
The neo-liberal Thailand Development Research Institute (TDRI) is suggesting that “reforms” need to be made before holding new elections. This apes the demands of the reactionary protesters led by Sutep Tuaksuban.
Somchai Jitsuchon, from the TDRI has “offered” a way out from the current Thai political conflict. He said that so far, all the political reform proposals, from several fractions, have not yet addressed the real problems. According to him there are two critical issues.
First, the many proposals did not represent the real demands from all sides of Thai society. A Lack of consensus about political reform would lead to fresh and endless crises. Second, Thailand is lacking a political mechanism to take reform proposals into account. There is no law to force the government to do so unless people come out on the street to raises their own demands.
Somchai suggested a Political Reform Assembly (PRA) alongside a Constitution Drafting Assembly (CDA). The PRA should function before and after the election. However, the PRA should work as an advisory body because the CDA should make the decisions about political reform. Somchai suggested that the PRA should be made up of appointed experts [people like himself ;)]. He went on to say that the CDA be elected. In the process of writing the new constitution the CDA would collect all demands about political reform. However, the new constitution must give power to “minority groups” (presumably the pro-dictatorship middle class) to exercise their power in order to monitor the government on the various issues such as corruption etc. However, he did not mean that the so-called “minority groups” should include ethnic minorities, GLBT groups, the very poor, or people who want to see a republic.
TDRI is a right-wing think-tank. It has been advocating neo-liberal policies for years. It always stands against policies that would benefit workers, farmers and poor people.