Why does Yingluk’s government do nothing? Permanent Revolution in the Thai context

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Many people might be wondering why Yingluk’s government seems to be paralysed in the face of violent and criminal actions by Sutep’s Democrat Party mob. The answer is not that there are “invisible hands” from the throne or that there is covert military support for Sutep. In fact, the top elites regard Sutep and his acolytes as lowly street gangsters. They also regard former Democrat Party PM Abhisit as a weak creature to be used and then ignored. But these disturbances are useful to the military and the conservatives because they can push Pua Thai and Taksin into further compromises. That is why the military is sitting on its hands with a smug smile. Naturally, Sutep is getting support from the backwoodsmen in the Constitutional Court and the Election Commission, but the street mobs are doing all the work. They are also supported by the reactionary doctors, vice chancellors and NGOs who represent the middle class.

The real reason why Pua Thai appears to be paralysed is that they face a choice. Either they order the sacking of the top generals and reactionary judges and the arrest of the violent protest leaders, using the police and the support of millions of Red Shirts, mobilised on the streets, or they go for a grubby compromise with the conservatives.

To put it more bluntly, either Pua Thai mobilise their supporters and the Red Shirts to tear down the old order, or they make peace with their conservative elite rivals. Given that Taksin, Yingluk and Pua Thai are basically “big business politicians”, they naturally choose the latter option. This is not to avoid civil war, but to avoid revolution from below.

When I refer to Thailand’s “old order” I am not talking about some semi-feudal state structure. I am talking about a modern capitalist semi-dictatorship controlled by the military, the business class and the top civil servants. They are all united in their royalism, but Thailand is not an absolute monarchy either.

Until the election victory of Taksin’s Thai Rak Thai Party in 2001, the old way of conducting politics was for the different elite parties to compete on the basis of personalities and patronage. Taksin introduced the central importance of policies to the electoral process. Before this, and before the 1997 economic crisis, the laissez-faire policies of successive Thai governments resulted in unplanned and chaotic public infrastructure and total lack of welfare. The elites and the middle class enriched themselves on the backs of the poor.

On an economic and social level, the rapid growth that the Thai economy experienced through the 1980s and early 1990s meant that more and more ordinary people were becoming urbanised, educated and more self-confident. People wanted to see change and they wanted a share in the fruits of development.

Growing conflict was emerging between the realities on the ground and the old political structures that had a stranglehold on society. Taksin and Thai Rak Thai played a part in increasing this conflict by proposing modernisation. Yet Taksin’s aim was not to pull down the old order, but merely to gently modernise it. Today, Yingluk, Pua Thai and Taksin are still determined to protect the main pillars of the old order. They fear revolt from below more than competition from the conservatives.

Thailand today is not the Europe of 1848, but there are some aspects of Europe in 1848, as explained by Karl Marx, which can help us understand the Thai situation. Marx wrote that the rising capitalist class in Europe were too cowardly to finish off the old order by leading a revolutionary movement of workers. The capitalist class preferred a compromise with the old feudalists rather than mobilising movements from below which might come to challenge the capitalists themselves. Marx announced that from then on, workers needed to lead an independent “Permanent Revolution” which would sweep away the old rulers and go on to challenge the capitalist class. Leon Trotsky developed this idea further by arguing that in under-developed countries workers should lead movements of workers and peasants to sweep away colonialism or feudalism and not merely stop at modern capitalism, but move on towards socialism. This happened in Russia in 1917 until the revolution was drowned in blood by Stalin.

What this means for Thailand is that we should not raise false hopes that Yingluk, Pua Thai or Taksin will carry out the necessary mobilisations to get rid of the old order. That task must be led by a movement from below whose aims should be to go further than just establishing capitalist parliamentary democracy as seen in the West.

In practice, given the weak state of independent red shirt and left-wing organisation on the ground, the best we can hope for right now is to build a movement from below which continues to push against the boundaries of authoritarianism and to continually criticise any nasty compromises which Pua Thai will want to make. But ultimately, in the long term, this movement will have to rise up and pull down the structures dominated by the military, big business and conservative officials.

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Democrat’s mad dogs unleash violence around Bangkok’s voting stations

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

On Sunday 26th January, The Democrat Party’s mad dogs unleashed violence around Bangkok’s voting stations. Voting stations throughout the country were supposed to be open for people to cast their votes in advance. Advanced voting is a required service since it is compulsory for people to cast their ballot.

In many areas of Bangkok, many angry residents argued with the anti-democratic protesters. They also protested against local election commissioners who closed voting stations whether or not they were surrounded by Sutep’s Democrat Party thugs. At some stations the thugs physically attacked citizens who wanted to vote. What happened on the day shows that significant sections of the Bangkok population are opposed to the Democrat Party’s attempts to wreck the election. This will only come as a surprise to those commentators who claim that the Thai crisis is a “rural vs Bangkok” dispute. At the last election almost half of the Bangkok electorate voted for Pua Thai.

Despite the roving gangs of thugs in Bangkok, 597 constituencies nationwide, or 91% of constituencies, managed to hold advanced voting. In the Muslim Malay south, village officials stood in line around voting stations to stop the Democrats intimidating voters. The head of the Department of Special Investigation is also looking to prosecute election commissioners who failed to do their duty to ensure that the elections took place where there were no anti-government protests.

The antics of the Election Commission, the Democrat Party thugs and the Constitutional Court are like a game of football. Sutep’s thugs want the government to resign and the elections to be scrapped. They want the constitution to be changed so that democracy is abolished. The thugs cause disturbances to try to wreck candidate registration, the Election Commission takes the “ball” and uses this as an excuse to call for the election to be postponed. They then pass the “ball” to the Constitutional Court to rule that the election can in fact be postponed. The “ball” now passes back to the thugs who cause more violence outside voting stations. The Election Commission jumps at the chance to point to this violence as an excuse to close polling stations and call on the government to call off the election. All the while these agents of dictatorship are cheered on by the university vice chancellors, sexist doctors, NGOs, the mainstream press and the mis-named National Human Rights Commission.

The academics, NGOs, backward middle-classes and other despicable creatures of the elites, bear a great responsibility for the growing destruction of democracy in Thailand. During the last months of Taksin’s TRT government, they insulted the majority of the electorate by claiming that they were “too ignorant” to have the right to vote. Before that they belittled pro-poor policies, such as universal health care, as being “mere vote-buying”. They are the ones who called for the army to stage a coup d’état against the elected TRT government in 2006. They then cooperated with the military junta. They are the ones who supported the blocking of the international airports in 2008 in order to urge the judiciary to stage another coup against the elected PPP government. It is they who gave tacit support to the killing of 90 Red Shirt protesters by the military in 2010. Today, they make hypocritical calls for “both sides to refrain from violence” and to “meet each other half way”. This is the same as saying that Sutep’s mob who want to destroy democracy, have the same legitimacy as the elected government which is supported by 70% of the population.

If this ragbag of middle class detritus cared one iota about creating peace and democracy in Thailand, they would join with those who have been lighting candles and urging Sutep to take his mob home. Instead, every time they open their mouths, they give confidence to the thugs.

I and my comrades have been discussing 5 urgent reforms that need to take place in order to increase the democratic space in Thailand.

You can read the details here: https://uglytruththailand.wordpress.com/ or here: http://bit.ly/1cLbFtr

In summary they are:

1. The need to address gross economic inequality by introducing a wealth tax and a welfare state.

2. The need to abolish Lèse Majesté, the Computer Crimes law and the Contempt of Court law which protects judges from criticism. Prisoners of conscience like Somyot Prueksakasemsuk should be released from prison. The entire judicial system should be overhauled.

3. The elite-appointed “independent bodies”, which are only independent from any democratic process, and which mis-use their power by over-ruling parliament, must be abolished. The worst offenders are the Election Commission, the Constitutional Court and the appointed half of the Senate. The whole despicable idea behind such bodies is that the general population cannot be trusted to elect the “right” people to parliament. If parliament and the government need accountability and transparency, it should be done through democratic processes.

4. The need to reduce the power and influence of the military in politics and society.

5. The need to punish those who commit gross violations of human rights, including military generals, Abhisit, Sutep and Taksin. This is in order that real standards of human rights can be established. The pro-elite National Human Rights Commission needs to be abolished.

We in no way claim a monopoly on ideas for political reform. Other groups, such as the Nitirat group of progressive law academics, have many interesting proposals. There are also many other long term reforms that are needed.

But it is safe to say that if anyone talks about political reform without mentioning our five main points above, they are merely rebranding “reaction” and “dictatorship”.

Photo credit: ( Pornchai Kittiwongsakul / AFP from http://alj.am/1eWY8iH)

Let’s talk about politics reform (5) We need basic standards of human rights

Numnual  Yapparat

Today advanced voting was taking place in Thailand and we have seen disturbing scenes. Sutep’s mobs tried to block the election venues in Bangkok by working closely with the election commission’s staff. They used violence against ordinary people who wanted to vote. However, in several areas, especially in Bangkok, pro-democracy people came out to resist the thugs and to vote.  In Pattani and Yala provinces the heads of the villages and religious leaders faced down Sutep’s mob and ensured that people could express their democratic will smoothly. The activities of pro-democracy groups have been ignored by the mainstream media but in the social media it is another world. There is hope that we can have real political reform, but pro-democracy movements must be the main force to achieve it.

The international human rights organisation, FIDH and its member organizations in the Union for Civil Liberty (UCL) has condemned Sutep’s mob. But the Thai National Human Rights Commission remained silent. As the crisis goes on, the main stream institutions are finding it more and more difficult to hide their real personalities. There are no standards of human rights in Thailand. Why is this so? The main explanation would be the prevailing conservative attitude which does not tolerate the fact that citizens should be equal. The Thai people are usually called “Ras-sa-don” which means a group of people who live in the land belonging to the king. The concept was used during the Absolute Monarchy. It is an out of date concept and is incompatible with the modern democratic world.

The concepts supporting inequality have been re-emphasised by the military which staged coups and committed crimes against the people again and again. Such crimes happened in 1973, 1976, 1992 and under Taksin’s government at “Tak-Bai” and in the “war on drugs”. In 2010, the Democrat Party and the military killed red shirts in Bangkok. None of those who committed these crimes have been punished. We need to learn from Argentina, South Korea and Chile about punishing state criminals.

In the work places, employers think that they have absolutely rights over their employees. The attitude is fully enshrined in labour laws as well as in the minds of the judges who fail to deliver justice. When judges sit in court they look at the poor with contemptuous eyes as if the poor were only animals. These people ignore modern views that respect prisoners as human. The children of the rich can get away easily when they kill people because “daddy” buys the police and judges.

There is a very hostile view against migrants or refugees, but there are a few groups who show solidarity with unfortunate people from neighbouring countries. Lots of Thais have no feeling at all when they hear the news about migrants being exploited. They just ignore the news or explain that these people are “not Thai” so why should we brother about them. But Thais themselves do not have rights.

What can we see in the mainstream body language in Thai society? “Good Thais” have to crawl to show their respect to people who are in power or are their seniors. The main purpose of this practise is that the Thai elites need us to believe that “people are unequal”. This grotesque culture has been taught through schools and families. In the elite households they make their maids crawl to them as well. The unequal concepts can be easily seen in daily conversations, especially with personal pronouns which signify social position. Women are told that they need to call themselves “Noo” which means “little mouse” in a childish fashion. The idea simply identifies women as second class citizens.

The first step to standardise human rights is to abolish the National Human Rights Commission. The organisation is full of soldiers, police and academics who stand against democracy.

Then, we need to campaign that Thailand accept the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court so that we can punish state criminals such as the generals, Abhisit, Sutep and Taksin.

In the long term, we need to increase the rights in work places, schools, and universities and we need full gender rights. We need human dignity and respect.

Photo credit: (The Nation Newspaper)

Let’s talk about political reform (4) Reduce the role of the military

Numnual Yapparat & Giles Ji Ungpakorn

The two main activities of the Thai army are to kill pro-democracy citizens and to tear up democratic constitutions by staging military coups.

The army has committed crimes against civilians again and again, but none of the generals have ever been punished. Most disgusting is the way that those generals who staged coups, are constantly invited by the media to give opinions about democracy. In fact they are interviewed by the media on all aspects of Thai politics. If the murderous generals are not charged with crimes against the people, how can we establish justice? The military is the main barrier to democracy.

Today, they are not yet staging a coup, but they refuse orders from an elected government to ensure that elections take place. They are a law unto themselves.

In the process of “political reform” we need to challenge and weaken the power of the military in all aspects of society. We need to raise questions in public about whether we should have a military at all.

If we have a military, it should be drastically reduced in size. We should abolish military service. We should retire most of the generals without the usual retirement perks and abolish the post of “commander in chief of the army”. The military should be firmly under the command of the elected government of the day.

Given that the majority live in poverty and need improvements to their living conditions, we should cut the bloated military budget and use that money to invest in the basic needs of the people, such as schools, hospitals and modern transportation.

We must ask more important questions. Why does the military own so much of the broadcasting media? They use their power over the media to spread their anti-democratic propaganda and also to line the pockets of the generals with the huge profits. The military should be excluded from controlling the media. The generals should also be removed from the boards of state enterprises.

Pua Thai, the Democrats, the middle classes, the NGOs and the top academics, who are now all shouting about “reform”, will never raise demands to reform the military. The task must lie with pro-democracy activists and progressive red shirts.

Let’s Talk about Political Reform(3): Independent bodies the ugly myths!

Numnual  Yapparat

(Please see the new updated at the end of this article)

Lots of problems are getting out of hand at the moment because we let those so-called “independent bodies” exercise too much power. The worst examples of Thai independent bodies are the constitutional court, the election commission and the half of the senate which is appointed by the elites. Every time when I hear people calling for an “independent body” to sort out the current crisis I feel sick to the bottom of my stomach.

People who are operating such organisations have never been elected to their posts. They are all appointed by the military or the elites. Therefore, the entire concept of having so-called “independent bodies” is to restrict the democratic process. Put simply, those who support the idea of these bodies do not respect the electorate and do not respect democracy. These so-called “independent bodies” are never accountable to the public.

Independent bodies should be abolished. If we need “checks and balances” this should be done by elected representatives who are chosen in a different way to parliament. Elected judges and regional representatives are one choice. The use of referendums should be expanded.

In reality, the independent bodies are not independent at all. They sit at the heart of elite and corporate interests.

“The constitutional court” over-stepped its power by vetoing the economic policy of an elected government and an elected parliament. They claimed that a proposed high speed rail link was unconstitutional. Thailand desperately needs infrastructure investment. They also ruled that it was “unconstitutional” for parliament to propose an amendment to the constitution to make sure that all senators would be elected. Now they are trying to help their friends in the election commission to cheat the electoral process by postponing the election day. Of course they support Sutep’s mob.

“The election commission” is trying to postpone the election by mounting pressure on government.  In the past, it declared the 2006 election to be null and void because the ballot boxes were “the wrong way round”. This was a convenient excuse to legitimise the military coup. The duty of the election commission is to organise a clean and fair election. Yet they are now doing the opposite, bowing to the wishes of Sutep’s gangsters.

The extreme neo-liberal Thailand Development Research Institute (TDRI) constantly calls for unelected economists to curb government spending that is beneficial to the poor. There is never a peep out of them about the astronomical levels of military spending or spending on state ceremonies.

“The human rights commission” has proved itself again and again to be useless. It has never protected the Red Shirts even when they were gunned down in the streets of Bangkok by the military and the Democrats. It has never protected the human rights of political prisoners who are charged with Lèse Majesté. When Sutep’s mob come out and use violence on the streets, it urgently issued statements to demand that the government must not use violence against protesters. It seems that human rights are reserved only for those who are members of the elites; the democrats and their supporters. The human rights commission remained silent abot the coup in 2006. Now they are supporting Sutep’s mob.

For genuine political reform, we need to cut through the ugly myths about “independent bodies”.

Latest crimes of the Constitutional Court:

The court ruling of 24th January stated that it was OK to postpone the 2nd February election. The court is working in tandem with the Election Commission to wreck the election and make sure that when an election is eventually held, it will be fixed to reduce the voting value of the majority. These  are the same aims as the Sutep mob.

Let’s talk about political reform (2): Scrap Lèse Majesté

Numnual  Yapparat

We are writing a series about political reform where we will focus on the main areas that need to be reformed to serve the interests of the majority.

I have written articles about the justice system and why it desperately needs to be changed. You can find those articles in this blog. The law that has been used to bully people who think differently from people in the power is “Lèse Majesté”. This is the ugliest law in Thailand because anyone can be a victim. The most progressive part of the pro-democracy movement has been advocating abolishing or reforming the law. But, Pua Thai and the parties that are participating in the coming election, do not want to touch “Lèse Majesté”. If we are to achieve full democracy we seriously need to scrap this law.

Lèse Majesté is a political law designed to restrict freedom of expression and the ability of citizens to criticise or check the power of those in public positions. The law protects the elites, especially the military.

There are several political prisoners sentenced to jail for decades, especially those who are charged with “Lèse Majesté”.  The only way to get released is to admit guilt. Somyot Prueksakasemsuk has refused to admit guilt. He has done nothing wrong. He has told stories about the conditions in jail. The prisoners have to wear chains on both legs which weigh 5 kg. The prisoners have to clean the chains regularly otherwise they go rusty and people’s legs become infected. It will leave a nasty scar on prisoners’ bodies for life.  Somyot found the clinking of the chains, every time he tried to walk, very depressing. Standard practices in jail are mainly designed to reduce the humanity of prisoners. If you are in jail you are treated like an animal.

According to Somyot, the court hearing processes have been designed to intimidate defendants. The judges have unlimited power. The justice system is long overdue for reform. Thailand needs a jury system and we need the right to criticise judges. At present they are protected against any criticism by their own version of lèse majesté.

Today Somyot wrote about political reform. He said only idiots would believe that real political reform would come from Sutep’s mob. He reminded us that the Democrat Party is a party that has a long record of opposing reforms such as decentralisation, labour rights and the establishment of a social security fund.

Somyot ended his article with the statement: “Since ivory cannot emerge from a dog’s mouth, so political reform can never grow out of the protests of the political scum who are trying to shutdown Bangkok and lead Thailand to the edge of  catastrophe”.

Reform will be meaningless if it does not result in Somyot’s freedom.

Let’s talk about real “Political Reform” (1) Promoting economic equality

By Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Oxfam has reported that the richest 85 people on the globe between them control as much wealth as the poorest half of the global population put together. Those richest 85 people across the globe share a combined wealth of £1tn, as much as the poorest 3.5 billion of the world’s population. The wealth of the 1% richest people in the world amounts to $110tn (£60.88tn), or 65 times as much as the poorest half of the world[1].

Many top billionaires are in the West. Thailand’s GDP is 40 times smaller than that of the USA , but Thailand has 3 billionaires who are among the world’s richest 85 people. According to Forbes, they are:

King Pumipon,  8th richest man in the world with  $44.24B

Dhanin Chearavanont,  58th richest man in the world with $12.6 B

Charoen Sirivadhanabhakdi,   82nd richest man in the world with $10.6B

Taksin Shinawat is the 882nd richest man in the world and the 7th richest Thai with $ 1.7B

These figures show that there is an urgent need to address economic inequality in Thailand by introducing a Super Tax on the rich in order to build a welfare state. Such a tax was originally proposed by Pridi Panomyong in 1933, but vetoed by the elites. But when we hear the “good and the great” preach about the need for “reform”, don’t hold your breath waiting for them to talk about a wealth tax or a welfare state.

(Photo Credit: tankist276/Shutterstock.com)

Thai politics