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.

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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

Thailand’s Election Commission allows the electoral process to become Sutep’s hostage

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Thailand’s election commission is sitting on its hands and refusing to organise a democratic election for early February. Its actions are tantamount to support for Sutep’s anti-democratic movement.

In 28 constituencies, located in some of the southern provinces control by the Democrat Party’s patron-client machine, candidates wishing to register for the election have been blocked by violent mobs. Yet the election commission is refusing to organise registrations in police or military barracks or to extend the time for registration and make alternative arrangements.

Pua Thai is preparing to take the election commission to court, but this is unlikely to solve the crisis.

The actions of the election commission mirror those of other institutions where the conservative elite have influence. The courts have blocked the right of an elected parliament to amend the military constitution and they are refusing to issue sanctions against Sutep and his gang for using violence to frustrate the democratic process. One policeman was shot dead in Bangkok while this mob tried unsuccessfully to prevent candidate registrations.

The military are also refusing to guarantee a smooth election. But it would be wrong to believe that they are secretly backing Sutep. Unlike politicians like Sutep, the military do not depend on elections for their power and influence. What they want is for the government to give them a huge budget, let them off scot-free when they killed demonstrators or staged coups in the past, allow the military to control their own appointments, let them carry on making huge profits from the military controlled media and allow them to rake in huge salaries from the state enterprises. Yingluk’s government gave them all this and more. When there is talk of political reform, they want to be in the centre of the process in order to protect their interests. So the military don’t need to back Sutep’s mob. That doesn’t mean however, that they will lift a finger to defend Pua Thai or the election process. They can just sit back with a smug smile on their faces and see what happens, ready at any time to defend their golden goose or to defend “state stability” and act like “heroes”.

For an authoritarian regime to be installed in Thailand for any length of time, it would require severe repression and a police state. Democrat Party leaders Sutep and Abhisit may not care about the long-term consequences of restricting democracy in order that they have more immediate political influence, but the military top brass and the intelligent sections of the conservative elite know that they cannot just ride rough-shod over the wishes of the majority of the electorate by abolishing democracy. That is the logic of the situation. But in politics we must always allow for accidents and illogical decisions by any number of actors.

It will take the mobilisation of a mass pro-democracy movement to make it less likely that Sutep will be successful in his quest. The Red Shirts can perform this function, but there are many who are not prepared to just be pawns in Pua Thai’s political strategy. There are others who wish to close their eyes and mistakenly hope that the bad dream will just go away. They argue that a Red Shirt mobilisation would just lead to a military coup. But without such a mobilisation, the elites cannot be reminded that the majority will not tolerate a dictatorship. Without such a mobilisation a military coup would be more likely.

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.

Thai politics