The stupid legacy of the Thai conservatives in language

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

What do Thaksin Shinawatra, Abhisit Vejjajiva, Suthep Thaugsuban, Prayuth Chan-ocha and Prem Tinsulanonda all have in common?

What they all share is the idiotic way in which their names are spelt in English. It is almost as if there is a conspiracy by Thais to spell names so that all foreigners who do not know Thai will mis-pronounce their names. Then backward Thais can laugh at the ignorant “Farangs”.

What we have to remember is that in the Thai language there is no “th” sound (as in “this” or “that”) and there is no letter in the Thai alphabet which corresponds to the sound. Hence many Thais will pronounce an English “th” with a “d”.

Even the word “Thai” or “Thailand” has an idiotic “h” added to it and I have often heard some Westerners pronounce the words exactly as they are written.

Those old hands who have travelled to Thailand will no doubt have landed at “Suvarnabhumi Airport” in order to go on to “Phuket” after a few Singha beers. They may have travelled along “Phahonyothin Road”. What is even more appalling is that many Thai Airways staff even refer to “Fuket” instead of calling the island of “Puket”, as it is pronounced in Thai. The beer is also pronounced by those who sell it to tourists as “Sing-ha” instead of “Sing”. The airport is really called “Suwanapoom” and the road which I once lived near is “Paholyotin”.

So the politician that all the anti-democrats love to hate is in fact “Taksin Shinawat” and the mobster leader is “Sutep Tuagsuban”. The appalling head of the army is “Prayut” and the past-his-sell-by-date privy councillor is in fact “Prem Tinsulanon”. The anti-Democrat Party leader is also “Appisit Wecha-chiwa”, not “Mr Vegi-burger” which perhaps his class mates at Oxford or Eton may have called him.

So why all the spelling nonsense and the added crap at the end of names and words? Blame the conservative linguists and conservative educationalists.

Thai spelling, even in Thai, is unnecessarily complicated. But at least where there are extra bits hanging off the end of words or names there is a “Karan” symbol to indicate that the specific letter is not pronounced. All this spelling nonsense was abolished in the Laotian language after the communist victory in 1975 and progressive Thais tried to bring in similar measures in the 1930s and 40s. Such measures encourage literacy among the general population and modernise the language to fit how it is used. But just as the conservatives want to freeze Thai politics and society in the stone-age, they also want to keep the language “pure” according to the conservative linguists. The linguists are fanatical about preserving the archaeology of the language to show its Sanskrit roots. They are the only people in the country who give a damn about this. They fail to see that language is a living organism, constantly changing by its use among ordinary people. Just like the anti-democrats, they only have contempt for ordinary people and their choices.

The conservative linguists have decreed that when Thai names are written in English, all the letters in Thai, and even more, should appear in English without any “Karan”. They are fanatical in there explanation that the letter “” is not exactly the same as “t” or that “ and ” are not identical to “p”. Maybe so, but they are sure as hell never like “th” or “ph”!!! I removed the “h” after the “p” in my surname long ago so that British people wouldn’t use it as a swear word.

Just to further illustrate my point, I suggest that when we try to explain “democracy” to the block-heads in Sutep’s mob, we call it “demos-kratos” according to the original Greek. We can also talk about the economist “Adamus” Smith or the fictitious character “Alicia” in wonderland and the dangerous twins “Antonius” Blair and “Georgius” Bush, thus preserving the original Latin roots.

Finally I would just like to say that it shows how far conservative racism has spread among Thais because the word “Farang” is as offensive as calling Thais “slitty-eyed Chinks”.

In order to expand the democratic space in Thailand, we have to get rid of the military and the judiciary, but also revolutionise the language. I feel tired already.


General Prayut Chan–Ocha: a man of wrong doing

Numnual  Yapparat

Today we have seen the so-called independent bodies offer a silly and undemocratic solution to the crisis. They suggested that Sutep and Yingluk each should name 10 acceptable neutral people to solve the crisis. If any of the names coincided then the Election Commission would appoint those people to draw up a new road map for Thailand.  Laughable!

Then the head of the army came out to support the idea. Prayut also made a comment about the new UDD leader, Jatuporn Prompan. Prayut warned Jatuporn by saying “do not use the violence, respect the law”. He has a cheek!

It was Prayut who ordered the killing of 90 un-armed red shirts who were demanding democracy in 2010. He is the one who needs to be put on trial for using violence and murdering innocent people. He and the so-called “independent bodies” are holding the February elections to ransom. They are preventing the formation of a democratically elected government. He allows Sutep’s mob to use violence without condemning them. He has stationed troops in bunkers around Bangkok, but not to defend democracy. It is unacceptable to let army officers like him to make comments about the UDD leader in this way. The head of the army does not have the right to make any comments about politics. They have a duty to follow the orders from the government; not the other way round.  We need to establish this rule in order to have democracy.

Do not pin your hopes on the mainstream media because they have never supported democracy and condemned the military. We always see them interview the chiefs of the army on important issues instead of hearing what ordinary people say.

Will the red shirt UDD leadership be more progressive or militant under Jatuporn? No, he talks tough, but is short on concrete measures. He has said nothing about the political prisoners or the need to down-size the military. He will be no different from the previous leader Tida Tawornset.

The political deadlock continues…

Photo: Prachatai



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.

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.

Thai politics