Sutep’s mob starts to lose momentum. But what about political reform?

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

For months now Sutep’s violent and anti-democratic mobs have tried their best to frustrate the functioning of the democratically elected government and prevent a general election from taking place. They surrounded offices where election candidates were trying to register, occupied government ministries, attacked police with guns and tried to “shut down Bangkok”. Recently they tried to occupy the government printing press which was printing ballot papers. But so far they have failed in their aims. The military has not obliged the protesters by staging a coup, Yingluk is still the care-taker Prime Minister and the election seems set to take place on 2nd February, at least in most provinces, including Bangkok. The hands-off approach of the government seems to be paying off in this war of attrition.

Sutep and his gang are not without powerful supporters. Many big business owners, including those from S&P and Sing Beer, have been seen supporting the protesters and one of the princesses has even worn the red white and blue colours associated with them. Rectors of all the universities, top civil servants and some sections of the electoral commission have given them support too. But the military is still sitting on its hands, refusing to stage a coup or to help the government by making sure that the election takes place.

What makes it different from the situation in 2006, when Yellow Shirts helped pave the way for a military coup, is that some military leaders know that a coup will achieve nothing to their benefit. It would only work if a long-lasting and brutal dictatorship was installed. More importantly, unlike 2006, there is a Red Shirt mass movement which is determined to defend democracy and even the academics and NGO activists who welcomed the 2006 coup are now wary of appearing to support the destruction of democracy. This is because the 2006 coup and the shooting of nearly 90 pro-democracy demonstrators in 2010 did nothing to dampen the enthusiasm of the electorate for Taksin’s Pua Thai Party and it was obvious to anyone who cared to look at the facts that people were voting for pro-poor policies.

Pro-democracy candle-light protests have now been taking place throughout the country. On these protests people are demanding that their vote be respected. They are also calling for an end to the violence. The significance is that large gatherings of these people, equalling those of Sutep’s mob, have taken place in Bangkok in recent days. Most residents of the capital city are sick and tired of what is going on.

Sutep’s mob have been suffering sporadic and isolated gun and grenade attacks by unknown assailants. The only thing we can say for certain is that this will act as a disincentive to middle class people to attend his protests. Many of the hard-core protesters are southerners, part of the Democrat Party’s patron-client network. Sutep seems to be redirecting his efforts to his southern home base, calling for people to occupy government offices in his fiefdom provinces while his “Shut Down Bangkok” strategy falls apart.

It should be noted that in the deep-south Muslim Malay provinces, the locals are not supporting Sutep.

It would be mere rumour-mongering to try to indicate who is behind the attacks on Sutep’s mob. There are many possibilities. It might be frustrated Red Shirts. It might be elements in the military who want to trigger a coup. Or it might be rogue Sutep supporters who want to rejuvenate the anger of their movement and also trigger a coup. But as yet there is not a shred of evidence to back any one of these possibilities.

It would be wrong to believe that we are seeing the beginning of the end to the crisis. If the election takes place in all provinces, except in the Democrat’s southern back yard, there will not be enough MPs, according to election law, to be able to open parliament and elect a government. The stale-mate will continue and any political accident can occur.

 

Political Reform

Much is being said about the need for political reform. Those who want reform to take place before an election are merely calling for the rules to be changed so that a conservative minority can dominate politics instead of Pua Thai. Their so-called reforms would shrink the democratic space.

But it is worrying that the government and many people who support democratic elections are just happy to have elite-driven “reforms” which merely scratch the surface.

For political reform to mean anything other than the partial destruction of democracy, it must be a process involving the majority of the population, not just elite experts and those in high places. It must aim to increase elections, not just for all senators, but also for those in charge of public enterprises, security forces, the judiciary, local schools and local hospitals. It must include the abolition of the lèse majesté law, the contempt of court law and the computer crimes law. These are all laws which censor dissenting voices. Reform should also tackle the problems of so-called “independent bodies”, such as the electoral commission, the human rights commission and the anti-corruption commission, which are stacked with right-wing conservatives. The whole concept of needing “independent bodies” to restrict the democratic wishes of the majority needs to be challenged.

Political reform should also aim to reduce inequality by building a welfare state and it should encourage the development of efficient infrastructure which does not harm the environment. High-speed trains and electricity generation from sunlight and wind would be important components of this. Such projects would also create jobs. We need education reform to move away from authoritarian teaching and learning by rote. We need to humanise the prison system and reduce the prison population.

Political reform will be meaningless without reducing the power and influence of the military, both in politics, the media and in state enterprises. Soldiers who stage coups and kill protesters should be brought to justice. A jury system should be introduced to democratise the courts. The military constitution of 2007 needs to be abolished and we need to make sure that a future constitution does not enforce free-market neo-liberal economic policies or the Sufficiency Economy, as the 2007 constitution does.

But you would be hard-pressed to hear any of these proposals among the present chatter about political reform in Thailand.

This article should be read along-side 2 other articles:

There is no “crisis of succession” in Thailand

The Democrat Party is a party of Old Political Patronage

 

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More sexually abusive language from Sutep’s mob

Numnual  Yapparat

(Please check new updates at the end of this article)

On the previous post I have mentioned the dirty professor who sexually insulted Yingluck. Yesterday was even worse. A group of doctors from the Faculty of Medicine at Songkla University, gave appalling speeches. Yes, I am waiting to see the reaction of women’s rights groups, but none of them have come out so far. In Thailand we have had plenty of so-called “rights’ groups” but some are utterly useless because they are on the wrong side; the side of those opposing democracy.

When Doctor Prasert Vasinanukorn, from Songkla was giving his speech, his colleagues stood behind him cheering, grinning and laughing.

  1. “If you want to be a heroine, just resign and then we will salute you by presenting you with a medal with your naked body featured on it”.
  2. “Please pay attention; if the Prime Minister is expecting a baby, I would pick her up in an ox-cart to give birth at Had Yai. I will have an extra service for you by doing virginal repair surgery. I can guarantee that your new husband will feel on top of the world”.
  3. “The Prime Minister still has some time left to be a nude model. Resign now before your periods come to an end. Otherwise it would be too late to start a new career”.
  4. “If the Prime Minister became unwanted, seriously, I would volunteer to be her servant. I would buy and change her sanitary towel for her”.

The most disturbing fact is that these are doctors who need to work under the strictest code of conduct. Hearing their words you might ask yourself, how we can trust these people. What sort of methods will they use to diagnose patients? How do we know that they do their job properly? How do we know that they are not going to strip patients’ dignity? Will patients’ confidential details be disclosed when these doctors get angry?  Their behaviour is so horrifying. If this happened in Europe, these doctors would be suspended and have their licenses revoked.

I was a little bit in shock and furious after listening to them, but then I had a thought. It is great to know who they are. Normally, they used to live and work in the shade, enjoying their privileges. These dirty doctors have been brought under the spot light and now they need to be pasteurised, otherwise they would spread their filthy sexist disease to others. In our political reforms we need to work out how to prevent this sort of doctor reaching a high position. We need doctors who respect patients regardless of their gender and race. We need a health care system that puts patients before profits.

Thai women gained the right to vote in 1932 after the revolution that overthrew the absolute monarchy. But even today, we do not have abortion rights. When discussions about abortion take place, the authorities give the right to make decisions to monks instead of women.   Sexist speeches can be heard both from the Yellow Shirts and Red Shirts. However, the Red Shirts are more careful. Nuttawut Saikua, a UDD leader, used to say on Red Shirt stages that the speakers need to pay respect to GLBT and women’s rights.  But on Yellow Shirt stages we have seen this barbaric sexist carnival.

NEWS UPDATE 16/01/2014

* I got welcome news today.  Women and GLBT rights groups have come out and issued statements to condemn the sexist speeches. They demanded that all political speeches should respected women and GLBT rights.  This is an important step forward.

However, the bad and disgraceful news is that the president of the Thai Medical Council Somsak Lo-leka, has stated that the sexually abusive speech given by Doctor Prasert Vasinanukorn, from Songkla, did not break any medical professional ethics. However, he said that doctors need to be more polite.

Heading to a new level of political crisis

Numnual  Yapparat

The Free television channels have been giving more than 70% of their air time to anti-democracy protesters in Bangkok. If you look at the majority of Sutep’s supporters faces, you will see that these people are Southerners who live in rural areas. Yet Sutep and others claim that his main support comes from the Bangkok middle classes.

What sort of speeches can be heard from their stage? Dr Jate, a professor at Narasuan University, openly insulted Yingluck in a disgracefully sexual manner. What kind of political reform can this species want to push forward?

Several main roads have been blocked; if ordinary folk want to pass they need to pay a “fee” to those thugs who are Sutep’s storm-trooper guards. The fee depends on the guards’ mood.

Most Thais support the Election. Many have come out on the streets to light candles, wearing white t-shirts as a symbol. Today, some have been to one of the military bases to voice their demands that the military must not intervene in politics to destroy democracy.  Some police stations also stated that they support the election. Many who disagree with the Sutep’s gang live in Bangkok. These campaigns have spread to numerous areas, both in Bangkok and the provinces.

The most stunning pro-election rallies are those organised by the Red Shirts in a number of provinces, especially in the North and North East. The numbers of people who turned out are very impressive.  The Red Shirt leaders announced that they are going to hold big rallies in four provinces.

At the top, among the elites, it is another story. Yingluck said today that she wants to hold a special meeting to see whether they could be able to postpone the election. If this happens, it will be bad news for democracy. Pua Thai has let down their pro-democracy supporters again and again.

The good news is that some Pua Thai politicians are saying at various rallies that the election must not be postponed. Ajarn Vorajet from the progressive Nitirat Group has also written an article condemning those who want to postpone the election. These people are trampling on the rights of the majority, he said. He further explained that if some districts cannot hold the election, the law allows the Election Commission to hold special elections for those districts at a later date.

However, we know that the Election Commission is working hand in glove with Sutep. The military is also refusing to protect the democratic election and has sent soldiers to prevent the police from using violence against the protesters! No doubt they believe that in Thailand only the army is allowed to kill protesters.

The other side of Bangkok

Today, thousands Bangkok people, including many university students and political activists, held a protest to demand an end to Sutep’s mob violence. They called for everyone to respect the right to vote. These photos support our earlier post explain why the political crisis is not really about “Bangkok vs the rural areas”, as suggested by many journalists and academics. As we previously mentioned, the 2011 election results showed that the registered Bangkok electorate were evenly split between the Democrats and Pua Thai.

The protests in Bangkok today, were mirrored by similar protests in the provinces.

BK 10 Jan

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Constitutional Cretins

Numnual  Yapparat

The buffoons of the Constitutional Court have been at it again. Chalermpol Egg-uru, a Constitutional Judge, stated that the government’s plan to build a high speed rail project was “unconstitutional” because it “was against the King’s Sufficiency Economy”. Supot Kaimuk, another Constitutional Clown, claimed, in all his wisdom, that Thailand is still an under-developed country and therefore “not ready” for such a railway. He said that the government should concentrate on paving the dirt roads in the countryside first. The poor deluded idiot is no doubt too afraid to venture out of Bangkok to see that most roads are already paved. Of course, there is nothing unconstitutional in spending billions on the military budget.

download Suphot_Khaimuk

In the present military Constitution, it is clearly written that the economic policies of all governments should be based on the Sufficiency Economy and Neo-liberalism.

Before this latest court “mis-judgement”, the Constitutional Idiots, ruled that it was illegal for parliament to change the law and make sure that all senators were elected rather than being appointed.

If Thailand needs real democracy we need to abolish the constitutional court. In 2007, the military junta allowed anyone who disagreed with parliament to ask the Constitutional Court to make judgements on new legislation. This encouraged these judges to pronounce on anything over and above their role.

Sadly, most judges in Thailand do not care anything about justice or democracy.

Progressive law academic, Vorajet Pakeerat, from the Nitirat group, commented on the ill-behaviour of the Constitutional Court. He said that they behave as if they were the most powerful institution in the country, more powerful than the elected parliament. He complained that politicians are too scared of the courts. Courts protect themselves against criticism with the “contempt of court” law. Vorajet encouraged people to challenge this situation by suggesting that we should ask why the judges have no respect toward the elected government.

The anti-government protesters and the Democrats love to say that the majority of people should not have the right to vote because they are uneducated. They want to give the right to only a few people. Now we should have a close look at their “well-educated” people.  Those judges talked about the economy without having any knowledge about how the economy functions.

We have to ask why Thailand is still a developing country, why the previous governments before Thai Rak Thai did not do anything to improve living standards, why the military gain so much money each year whereas people live in poverty, why we Thailand still has a very old railway system and why road transportation is in the hands of the mafia?

Personally, I would love to have the high speed rail project. Then we can send the Constitutional Buffoons to some far away desert and make them follow the path of the Sufficiency Economy. They would have to grow their own rice, make their own clothes and travel on bullock carts. I do not like that way of life but if they want it, I fully respect their wishes.

Niti Eoseewong: The Democratic solution to the current crisis

Numnual  Yapparat

The academic world is sometimes very out of touch with ordinary people. Some of their views I cannot stand reading. Chaiwat Sata-anun, who claims to be a “Guru of Non-Violence”, but “understood” why the 2006 coup was necessary, suggested that on the ballot paper in the next election, we should have a box for those who disagree with the voting system. He claimed that in doing so, we might avoid any unwanted confrontation. I wonder then, whether we should have a box for those who want a Republic!!

Niti Eoseewong has written a number of books about Thai society, both contemporary and historical. Some of them have been translated into English, such as “Pen and Sail: Literature and History in Early Bangkok.” He is an activist/academic.

Niti has written an article in the mass circulating daily newspaper, Matichon, arguing that there can be no “middle ground” between Sutep’s mob and those who wish to defend the democratic process. Niti says that Sutep and his followers are behaving like “political criminals” and that the government should not be asked to negotiate with such criminals. According to him, the protesters are challenging the rule of law and the entire political norms of Thai society. These norms may be flawed, but what Sutep wants is even worse. Niti urges Yingluk to act decisively, using measured force if necessary, to ensure that the elections take place. “Yingluk should publically order the military to defend the elections and if they refuse, she should denounce them openly. Yingluk should not kid herself that she can deal with the military without support from wider society”, Niti wrote.

Niti fiercely criticised the thee Election Commission members who refuse to do their job and refuse to resign from their positions. Niti said that those who appointed these commissioners in the first place should ask themselves what sort of methods they used to select such sly and poisonous people who pose a great threat to democracy.

Personally, I could not agree more with Niti. Pua Thai should take the lead to fight back against Sutep and his criminal gang. They have complete democratic legitimacy in doing so. On the contrary, if Pau Thai choose to negotiate and tolerate the criminals’ demands, not only is Pau Thai kowtowing to them but also helping them to destroy democracy as well.

 

The roots of the Thai crisis

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

 It is insulting and patronising to see the present crisis as merely a dispute between two factions of the elite, just like a fight between supporters of two football teams, lacking any reasoned political arguments[1]. This is the point of view of some NGO activists who half supported the 2006 military coup and have said in the past that villagers who voted for Taksin’s party “lacked information”; a euphemism for “stupidity”.

It is also a lazy generalisation to argue that the Red Shirts are rural villagers from the north and north-east and that Sutep’s Yellow Shirt supporters are Bangkok residents.[2] 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%. 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. Many Red Shirt protests in the past have been made up of Bangkok residents.

The real division between the “Reds” and the “Yellows” in the current crisis is CLASS. 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. 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. Back in 1976 in Thailand, the middle class supported repression and dictatorship to destroy the Left. In the 1930s, the middle class were the back-bone of fascism in Europe.

But this is not just a simple class struggle. In fact, class struggle in the real world is seldom simple or pure. One way of understanding the “dialectical” relationship between Taksin and the Red Shirts is to see a kind of “parallel war” in the Red Shirt/UDD struggles against the conservative elites, where thousands of ordinary Red Shirts struggle for democracy, dignity and social justice, while Taksin and his political allies wage a very different campaign to regain the political influence that they had enjoyed before the 2006 coup d’état. However, at the same time, Taksin remains very popular with most Red Shirts.

Class is also very much connected to the roots of the long running Thai crisis. This political crisis is a result of an unintentional clash between the conservative way of operating in a parliamentary democracy and a more modern one. It came to a head with attempts by Taksin and his party to modernise Thai society so that the economy could become more competitive on a global level, especially after the 1996 Asian economic crisis.

Thai political leaders since the early 1970s had always adopted a laissez faire attitude to development, with minimal government planning, low wages, few trade union rights and an abdication of responsibility by governments to improve infrastructure. This strategy worked in the early years, but by the time of the 1996 Asian economic crisis it was becoming obvious that it was seriously failing.

In the first general election since the 1996 crisis, Taksin’s party put forward a raft of modernising and pro-poor policies, including the first ever universal health care scheme. Because the Democrat Party had told the unemployed to “go back to their villages and depend on their families, while spending state finances in securing the savings for the rich in failed banks, Taksin was able to say that his government would benefit everyone, not just the rich. Taksin’s Thai Rak Thai Party won the elections. The government was unique in being both popular and dynamic, with real policies, which were used to win the election and were then implemented afterwards. Previously, the old parties had just bought votes without any policies.

Taksin’s policies and his overwhelming electoral base came to challenge many elements of the old elite order, although this was not Taksin’s conscious aim at all. The Democrats lost the election. The military could not compete in terms of democratic legitimacy and support. The middle class started to resent the fact that the government was helping to raise the standard of living of workers and poor farmers.

Another military coup, or a rolling back of democracy by other means, will not make it easier to rule over the majority of the electorate who have been politicised and mobilised by the Red Shirt movement. A “compromise” between Sutep and the Pua Thai care-taker government would not be a step forward either. It would result in reducing the democratic space and reducing the power of the electorate.

[This article should be read in conjunction with my articles: There is no “crisis of succession” in Thailand http://links.org.au/node/3633 and “Thai Spring?” Paper given at the 5th Annual Nordic NIAS Council Conference, November 2011, Stockholm University, Sweden. http://www.scribd.com/doc/73908759/Thai-Spring ]

[1] Jon Ungpakorn “What is the real nature of hatred in Thai society” Prachatai 5th January 2014. http://www.prachatai.com/journal/2014/01/50958

[2] Duncan McCargo “The Last Gasp of Thai Paternalism”. New York Times, 19th December 2013. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/20/opinion/the-last-gasp-of-thai-paternalism.html?_r=0

Thai politics