What would a genuine Peoples’ Revolution look like?

Numnual Yapparat

 Most Thai people are obsessed with politics at the moment. The Democrats are intensifying their political fight and calling it a so-called “Peoples’ Revolution”. Interestingly, if you travel by taxi you might hear the driver’s opinion that they want a “Nepal Revolution Model”. In other words they want to get rid of the monarchy.

Sutep and his gang have named yet another “day of big action” on 13th of January. They want to shut down Bangkok and other major provinces. Sutep commanded his followers to be very well prepared because “it might take a few days before gaining a glorious victory”.  The megalomaniac added: “My dearest people, we are going to shut down Bangkok at 9.00 am and then we will fight until we reach our gaol….when we control absolute power, we are going to set up a Peoples’ Government and a Peoples’  Parliament so that we can start the process of reform. We shall amend the election laws. After finishing our mission, we shall just go back home and wait and see the finished look of the reforms.”

Since Sutep speaks in a southern dialect, it is necessary to translate a little bit. What he meant was that his goal of “reforms” is to ensure that the Democrats always win future elections against the wishes of the “uneducated” majority of citizens.

The Red Shirt UDD leadership also called for the Red Shirts to be in “alert mode” and to listen for any announcements from the UDD. Jatuporn Prompan said that “If someone wants to shut down our country, then we want to open it.” He said that the Red Shirts might demonstrate on the same day in order to protect democracy.

What would a Peoples’ Revolution look like? The nearest thing to a Peoples’ Revolution in Thailand happened in 1932 when the absolute monarchy was overthrown by the “Kana-Rasadorn”.

In their famous first statement, they declared that “we, the people are equal and everybody is under the constitution”. In the statement they also exposed and criticised the king’s lavish lifestyle while ordinary citizens lived in poverty. They said that the royals extracted wealth on the backs of the majority. Nowadays, mainstream media, both television and print, do not dare to discuss this statement because of the lèse majesté law.

However, the “Kana-Rasadorn” did not really stage a Peoples’ Revolution since it was an elite civilian and military action. It was, however, supported by ordinary people. What Sutep is suggesting is a fascist-style coup where the only “people” that count are the elites and the middle-classes. A real Peoples’ Revolution would place workers and peasants in power, something which even Pua Thai would never be prepared to consider. Yingluk has recently suggested that a reform committee be set up, headed by military generals, conservative bureaucrats and business leaders.

As the New Year approaches, Thai political prisoners are still in jail

Numnual  Yapparat

 What is happening in Thailand? The answers very much depend on who you are and which side you are on. We, who are still free and welcoming the New Year, must not forget the Thai political prisoners. They have been denied the right to celebrate the New Year with their families because they expressed their desire for democracy.  At the moment, there are about 23 political prisoners who are in jail.

If you are poor or are opposed to the Thai conservative ruling class, then you cannot trust the Thai justice system. For those who are charged with Lese Majeste, the trails are held in secret. The judges explain that these people insulted the king and that they pose a dangerous threat to “national security”. Naturally, the judges say that they cannot reveal what the detainees have said to insult the king or the queen. Put it simply, if you want to abuse someone you don’t like, you just tell the police that they insulted the king.

One interesting question that we should raise in such a context, is what should be done if the king insults the people and democracy? Should he say sorry for his wrong doings? These kind of questions are very simple to ask in the democratic world. But Thailand you can land in jail. Given that things are so wrong, how can people be prevented from thinking about a Republic?

I would like to give some examples of how the courts behave against Thai political prisoners.

“Ekachai” who was charged under the Lese Majeste law, distributed the ABC documentary which was produced by the news agency in Australia. The documentary is about the crown prince and his wife. The matters that have been said in the documentary are not new at all. People know very well about the facts and pictures that are mentioned in the documentary.  Ekachai also sold copies of the Wikileaks papers which were translated into Thai at a Red Shirt demonstration. In the papers, Prem Tinsulanonda, Siti Savetsila and Anand Panyarachun, who are on the Privy Council, openly discussed the crown prince’s ill-behaviour with the American Ambassador. During the trial, the defence wanted these people to be summoned to the court. Disgustingly, the court did not dare to summon these big names and anyway that would have exposed them as having criticised the prince. Ekachai is still in jail.

A Red Shirt protestor who was accused of setting fire to public buildings is still in jail. The evidence that the court used against him is very weak. For example, the court used only one picture to blame him and put him in jail.

There are countless other examples where the courts fail to deliver justice to ordinary people, especially in labour disputes between employers and employees.

The best solution to reform the Thai court system is to introduce a jury system. The judges also should be elected, otherwise the courts will just be the tool of those who are in power.

The mainstream parties will not make a positive change in Thailand unless a pro-democracy mass movement, which is politically independent from Pau Thai, is built. When Pau Thai tried to pass the amnesty bill a few weeks ago, it did not include lese majeste political prisoners but Pua Thai were ready to give a pardon to those who killed unarmed Red Shirt protestors. Shame on them!

The Democrat Party is a dirty party. They lie straight-faced about democratic principles and demand that Thailand should go back to be under an absolute monarchy. The Democrats committed crimes in broad daylight. They were involved with closing down the airports in 2008 and now they are using violence to block candidate registrations for the coming elections. When the Democrats were the government, they killed people who demanded democracy. When in opposition, they call for democracy to be dismantled.  Yes, and they are still free and seem to have the right to commit crimes against innocent people and democracy repeatedly.

After the New Year, we are anticipating a fresh political crisis. However, we should not let those at the top, whether Democrats or Pau Thai, set the political agendas. Pro-democracy people have to set our own political goals. The lessons from the previous year teach us that we cannot trust any of them. In the short term, we have to move forward to the election and we should not end up as mere cheerleaders for Pau Thai. We have to put pressure on them to have progressive policies. We need to have our own party, the party that puts working peoples’ interests before that of the elites.

This New Year, remember the political prisoners; Somyot, Ekachai, Da and all the others.

Thai politics reaches a new low

Numnual  Yapparat

Thai politics reaches a new low every day. The Election Commission has just announced that the Election Day should be postponed because of the new round of violent caused by Sutep’s mob. One policeman died this morning from gunshot wounds.

In response to the crisis, Yingluck Shinawatra did not offer any alternative solution at all, but mimicked the Democrats’ proposals for “unelected reform”. Yingluck revealed her plan for political reform by suggesting that the Reform Assembly should be appointed by a Reform Committee made up of military generals, technocrats, conservative civil servants, business bosses, bankers and anti-democratic university heads. In short; this is an elites’ assembly. These people will choose and appoint people from “all occupations and professions”. But you can bet your bottom dollar that workers and farmers will be a tiny minority. No elected representatives will be in the Assembly.

Oh dear! Thailand is heading to the Dark Age now.

Pheu Thai has made an unforgiveable mistake again. Not only has it not protected democracy, but it is also helping Sutep and the Democrats destroy every shred of democratic principles. Pheu Thai won the 2011 election in the wake of bloodshed against Red Shirts by the Democrats in 2010. People pinned their hopes on Pheu Thai that they would make a change to Thai politics and bring those who committed the crime against innocent people to justice. However, Pheu Thai has chosen to make a deal with the Thai military instead of moving to restore democracy.

The NGOs are not much better. The Coordinating Committee of NGOs has suggested a so-called reform committee made up of Pheu Thai, the Democrats and the NGOs in equal proportions. Yet the Democrats only represent 1/3 of the voters and the NGOs, who claim to be “Civil Society”, have supported the military since the coup of 2006.

Pro-democracy activists feel betrayed by Pheu Thai. We need to be politically independent from Pheu Thai and we need to organise people at the rank and file levels. In not doing so, we can only wait for the next round of violence by those who oppose democracy.

We need to voice our demands that we do not want political reform by the government, the elites or Sutep and his gang. We need the election and then we need to move forward to political reform in which ordinary people can participate at all levels.  Such reforms should cut down the power and influence of the military, the business bosses and conservative civil servants.

Political reform is not possible without an election

Numnual  Yappart

On the day that party candidates started to register with the Election Commission, Sutep’s mob blocked the registration offices and they also threatened the Election Commission members, demanding that they should postpone the upcoming Election Day. What is more, Suteps’ supporters used violence against news reporters. Their actions were simply illegal and unacceptable because they want to destroy democracy and threaten the media. But so far no one dares to force them to obey the law.

There is one organisation that I would like to mention. It is the so-called “National Human Rights Commission of Thailand”. Normally, this organisation is supposed to protect the rights of citizens. However, it does not do anything to condemn the disgraceful behaviour of Sutep’s mob which blocked the registration venues. Ironically, in the past they have actively criticised the Red Shirts and the Pua Thai government whenever they could. The National Human Rights Commission became one of the most hated institutions among people who are pro-democracy. It remained silent when the Democrats killed the Red Shirts at Rachapasong in 2010.

What is the sort of political reforms that we need in Thailand? Of course, it must not be the same things that Sutep and his gang demand. Thailand needs fundamental change. The main institutions should have elected officials; the judges, the provincial mayors, police chiefs, military chiefs etc. We need to redistribute income in effective ways, such as having a welfare state. It is a great scandal to see Thai elite names published in Forbes Magazine. These are the filthy rich who lord it over the majority of Thai people who are very poor. We need to scrap the lèse majesté law, place the media in the hands of elected bodies instead of the military and we need to punish those who committed state murders and military coups.

These kinds of reforms can only be achieved if we have elections and democracy. The Democrats, including Sutep, want false “political reforms” to reduce the democratic space. They can then make sure only their friends can have the lion’s share of power. They actively promoted the ugly myth that people who are poor are stupid and are unable to understand democracy. 

You can drink our beer, but you don’t deserve the right to vote

Chitpas Bhirombhakdi, the spokesperson for Sutep’s mob and the Democrats, has created a sharp conflict with her own family “patriarch”, Santi Bhirombhakdi. The Bhirombhakdi dynasty are the owners of Sing and Leo beers, which rely heavily on sales in the North and North East. Red Shirts throughout the country have been calling for a boycott of these two brands because Chitpas thinks that villagers are too stupid to be allowed to vote. This has greatly angered Santi since he fears that sales and profits will start to plummet. Blood might be thicker than water, but beer profits are thicker than blood! 😉

Activists and academics join forces in defence of democracy

Numnual Yapparat

Last Sunday, 22nd December 2013, the Assembly for the Defence of Democracy (AFDD) held a large rally in Thammasart University. The AFDD advocates moving forward to the election in February. They launched the campaign “We are equal, we support the election and political reforms.

Sombat Boonngamanong, a high profile Red Shirt, who has called successful protests by radicals when the official UDD leadership preferred to do nothing, stated that it is now impossible for to turn Thailand back to the past.

Vorajet Pakeerat, from the Nitirat group, highlighted that people should be the real masters of Thailand; no one should rule over them. “We are equally citizens who have one vote and we are going to use it on 2nd February 2014”, he said. “For those who believe that people are unequal, not only are they looking down on others, but they debase themselves too”. Vorajet added that “Sutep claims to want democracy, but in truth he wants Rule by Thugs”.

Vorajet also condemned the Democrats for boycotting the election. He said, “the political crisis has reached the turning point. Are we going to have democracy or not? For sure we do not want a few people to make decisions for us; we need the right to express our will. The Democrats need to urgently reform their own party. Vorajet also sent a message to the Thai Ruling Class; “they cannot kill or expel us all from the country to prevent change”.

Jittra Cotchadet, a labour leader, said that the dictatorship only views us as dust. “Ninety un-armed Red Shirts have died but those in the power don’t give a damn. The dictatorship cannot accept that we are all equal. If we allow the election to be postponed, nothing will change.”

My heart is with them.

The Democrat Party is a party of Old Political Patronage

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

     For decades Thai electoral politics was influenced at local level by political “bosses” and their patronage system. Patronage can result in real benefits to people in local areas who support the bosses. Those who follow Thai politics will know the names of many local political bosses such as Banharn, Sanoh, Chalerm and Sutep. Some are associated with Thai Rak Thai / Pua Thai and some with the Democrat Party.

However, the important thing about patronage politics is that it is a local phenomenon and mainly associated with a lack of political policies or ideology. This means that the role of those local political bosses in Thai Rak Thai and Pua Thai was greatly over-shadowed by Taksin’s national policies. The same cannot be said of the Democrat Party patronage system in Sutep’s Surat-tani province.

Sutep Tuaksuban has two other brothers who were Democrat Party members of parliament for Surat-tani in this out-going parliament. His family have been local bosses for generations and apart from their numerous and lucrative local business interests, they also try to control local councils.

Apart from the Democrats support among sections of the middle class in Bangkok, their only other area of significant support is in the south. The main explanation lies with the local patronage system controlled by the Democrats. Historically the communists helped build support for the Democrats in the south and more recently Taksin lost many votes in this area after massacring Muslim Malays at Takbai, Naratiwat in 2004.

The significance of this is that the Democrat Party cannot hope to win on a national level until they propose serious policies which would benefit the majority of the electorate. But they have consistently opposed the universal health care system, the job creation policies, the rice support scheme and any infrastructural development projects. They reject state spending on the population and instead favour local patronage. They are clearly a party of the “old politics”. Even Abhisit Vejjajiva, with his posh English public school accent, and attempts to have a “modern image” cannot get away from the fact that he has long been in the same political bed as the military and the arch conservatives. The Democrats are a hybrid party combining some middle class urban support with southern regional “bossism”.

Facts destroy the vote-buying myth

Numnual  Yapparat

New research has revealed the truth about how Thai people vote in an election. The research was conducted by Associate Professor Siripan Nogsuan from Chulalongkorn University on the 2011 election. The results are a slap in the face to the Democrat Party and their well-educated middle class supporters.

According to the excuses that the Democrats and their right-wing academics love to use, the votes of the poor, especially among people in the North and North-East, were just bought by Pua Thai and Thai Rak Thai because these villagers are supposedly “uneducated”. But the results of the research show that only 10% would vote for a party that gave them money. On the other hand, 90% of voters would use their own judgement on who to vote for based on party policies.

The research also confirmed that there are problems with just throwing money at voters. Interestingly, politicians who tried to buy votes with huge amounts of money did not win. Vote buying was only significant in a few constituencies where support for the 2 major parties was roughly equal. But in most constituencies, parties won by large majorities which could not be explained by vote-buying, even if it took place. In addition to this, the 2010 bloodshed committed against protesters in Bangkok by the Democrats, lost the party many votes among the well-educated.

Generally speaking, the results of the research are not new at all; academics who have studied Thai politics have said that Thai Rak Thai made a fundamental change to elections because they offered concrete policies to people, whereas the Democrat Party used only empty political slogans. A good example is the research in northern villages by Andrew Walker [“The rural constitution and the everyday politics” in the Journal of Contemporary Asia, 2008].

Thai politics