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].

It was so predictable

Numnual  Yapparat 

“Shameless”, seems to be too polite to use with the Democrat Party. It has just announced that it is not going to participate in the coming round of elections on 2nd February 2014. One simple fact to bear in mind, before probing into the false arguments of which the Democrat Party choose to use, is that the Democrat Party will not gain a majority from the voters and that is why they have to boycott the election. The Democrats has never had policies that benefit the poor. They have never polled more than a third of the votes in the last 20 years, even before Thai Rak Thai was formed.

Here are their excuses why they choose to boycott the election. They claim some groups in Thailand have distorted the democratic principles, which makes people lose faith in parliamentary democracy and the electoral system. More importantly, they claim that political reform cannot emerge from these circumstances. The Democrat Party wants to stop the election because they say it will lead to a new crisis, endless violence and corruption.

I just want to gently remind the readers that the Democrat Party has had endless record of corruption scandals from when it was in power. The Agricultural Land Reform Policy was a good example.

Abhisit Vejjajiva, the leader of the Democrat Party, proudly boasts that this is not the first time that his party has boycotted an election. It did it in 1952 and again in 2006 at the time when he was the leader of the party. In the coming round of the planned general election, his party will do it again and they also demand that if fellow parties want to participate in the election, they should declare to the people that they want to promote the “Taskin System” and therefore they must be blamed for they failure of political reforms.

Abhisit said, the unforgivable mistake that the Pau Thai Party has made recently, was to try and pass the amnesty bill for those who are corrupt. He also criticised Pau Thai’s plan to amend the constitution in order to make sure that all senators are elected. Abhisit hates elections. The Democrat Party wants to finish the “political reform” process before any general election, in order to make sure that the minority of the middle class who support the party can gain more influence than the majority of the electorate.

Naturally, Abhisit failed to mention his crime when he ordered the killing of 90 un-armed Red Shirted protesters in 2010.

What is the truth in their hoity-toity words?

Yingluk sleep-walks into the trap set by elite anti-democratic forces

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

 Yingluk and her Pua Thai government were pressurised into dissolving parliament by a nasty coalition of Sutep Tuaksuban’s Democrats, middle-class protesters, pro-military academics, conservative civil servants and NGO groups. This is the same coalition which supported the 2006 military coup.

Having now tasted blood, they want more. They are demanding that Yingluk resigns her position as caretaker Prime Minster, a role stipulated by the Constitution. They want the election to be boycotted by opposition parties. They also want to postpone the general election, which is due in early February. They are justifying this by their dishonest claim to want to “reform” Thai politics before any new election. But what they are really seeking is to change the election rules so that the Democrat Party can win more parliamentary seats. The Democrats have never won more than a third of the national vote over the last 20 years. This is because the party is a conservative party of the elites and big business which is against using public funds to provide jobs, welfare and decent health care. In addition to the vote-fixing which they seek, they want to reduce the role of elected politicians and increase the role and power, even further, of elite-appointed conservatives. Already the military appointed Constitutional Judges have ruled that they can prevent an elected parliament from changing the Constitution.

Disgracefully, the Electoral Commission, which is supposed to over-see free and fair democratic elections, is also putting pressure on the government to postpone the election and compromise with those who wish to reduce the democratic space. The Pua Thai Party and their supporters in the UDD Red Shirt leadership have failed to counter these attacks on democracy. Yingluk is sleep-walking into a trap set by elite anti-democratic forces. Earlier, her party made a dirty deal with the military, promising to give amnesty to the generals and the Democrat politicians who murdered protesters in 2010. Pua Thai hoped then to be able to bring Taksin home. Another part of that deal was to assure the military that it would retain all its power and privileges and also defend the continued use of lèse majesté. So far the military has been sitting on the fence in the confrontation between Sutep and Yingluk.

Real democratic reforms would involve a complete overhaul of the judiciary, the introduction of a jury system, the withdrawal of the military from politics and the media, the scrapping of the lèse majesté law and the end to impunity for state murderers and coup makers. However, this is very far from the minds of those who now bleat out the call for “political reform”.

It’s class, not geography, stupid

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Many commentators on the Thai political crisis continue to trot out nonsense about the Red Shirts being rural villagers or migrant workers to the city and Sutep’s Yellow Shirt supporters being Bangkok residents. Yet the results from the 2011 general election showed that in the 33 Bangkok constituencies, the Democrat Party won 44.34% of the vote, while the Pua Thai Party won 40.72%. Pua Thai even won 2 seats from the Democrats. Overall, Pua Thai managed to increase their Bangkok seats by a total of 4. The Democrats still had more seats, but lost 7. 

This shows that the Bangkok population is evenly split between Pua Thai and the Democrats and this is based on those who have house registrations in Bangkok. Thousands of rural migrant workers who work and reside permanently in Bangkok are registered to vote in their family villages. If they were registered where they actually live and work, Pua Thai might have achieved an overall majority in Bangkok.

The only area of the country where the Democrats have some strength, are some areas of the south where Sutep Tueksuban’s family dynasty control politics through a system of patronage. Some members of his family are also MPs. Other areas of the south are also controlled by long-standing Democrat Party patronage, such as Chuan Leekpai’s constituency. Such patronage makes a mockery of Sutep’s avowed aims to “reform” politics. The Democrat Party patronage predates Taksin and Thai Rak Thai and one factor which helped create it was the support given to the Democrats by ex-Communists in the region. Apart from these historical aspects, the South is also the most prosperous part of Thailand, with the exception of Bangkok. Much income is generated from tourism and higher value agriculture.

The real division between the “Reds” and the “Yellows” in the current crisis, which dates back to 2005, is CLASS. There is a clear tendency for worker and poor to middle income farmers to support Pua Thai and the Red Shirts, irrespective of geographical location. This is because of Thai Rak Thai’s pro-poor policies of universal health care, job creation and support for rice farmers. In the provinces and in Bangkok, the middle classes and the elites tend to vote for the Democrats and want to reduce the democratic space and turn the clock back to pre-Thai Rak Thai times.

Thai politics