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)

Top Doctors Disgrace themselves!

Numnual  Yapparat

Deans of Medical Faculties from 8 universities[1] have disgraced themselves by issuing a statement in support of “reforms before the election”. It is deeply disappointing. I was expecting them to condemn the senior doctor from Songkla who used sexually abusive language against Yingluk. But no, they seem not to care at all about gender equality. More disgracefully, they are on the wrong side of democracy.

These are their demands:

  1. Political reform as soon as possible, before holding the election.
  2. To end the violence the caretaker-government must resign and make way for an elite appointed government.
  3. The election should be take place after drawing up new election rules acceptable to anti-government forces.
  4. All parties should refrain from violence and distortion of the truth.
  5. Negotiations to take place between Sutep’s mob and the caretaker-government in an attempt to move forward to reconciliation.

Practically, what does this mean?

“Political reform before an election” means that they want to fix the election and make sure that the Democrats win. In this way, they can make sure that all the power will still be in the hands of elites. They wish to cheat shamelessly. They cannot bear to see ordinary people have equal rights.

Who has been causing the violence in the last few months? It is Sutep’s mob who have forced the closures of government offices and tried to wreck the election. It is Sutep’s mob who abused the tax officer who was accused of going to work in the south. It is Sutep’s mob who used guns against the police. So what is this nonsense about “both sides refraining from violence”?

Reconciliation between anti-democratic forces and those who want democracy can only result in a “half democracy”.

I would love to see ordinary doctors who are pro-democracy come out to say something about their seniors’ ill-behaviour.

Top people from prestigious institutions are really disgusting! University deans have recently degraded themselves by suggesting that we do not need an elected Prime Minister. Yes, they supported the coup in 2006 and cooperated with the junta. They claim that we need someone who is “knowledgeable” to do the Prime Minister’s job. These people are working in education sectors where they are supposed to enlighten their fellow citizens. But they are very backward. They have become a great barrier to progress. They do not support students who dare to ask questions about the world around them. They like to teach students to be slaves.

To be honest I think these people need to be removed and in the future all the high public positions should be elected.

[1] Siriraj Teaching Hospital, Mahidol University, Thammasat University, Burapha University, Chulalongkorn University, Songkla University, Naresuan University and Rangsit University.

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


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.

Thai politics