Tag Archives: constitution

Reminder: Junta’s constitution pushes democracy back indefinitely

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Just in case anyone feels excited about the new Thai constitution, it is worth a little reminder.

The new military constitution was drawn up by gangsters and thugs in uniform, who murdered pro-democracy demonstrators and used violence to stage military coups and pervert the democratic process. It was “approved” in a referendum where people campaigning to oppose the constitution were arrested. This is not a democratic constitution which could open the door to democratic elections.

The general tone is patronising and banal, with constant references to the monarchy. It talks about the “duties of citizens to be loyal to King and Country and to maintain discipline”. Duty and discipline take priority over the rights of citizens. There are pages of rubbish about the qualities of “good” political leaders and naturally they must be loyal to “Nation, Religion and King”. It is also a neo-liberal constitution, like all the various constitutions since the 1996 economic crisis. So it talks of public health being organised according to a “fair” market economy, the need to maintain “fiscal discipline” and the importance of following the previous king’s reactionary “Sufficiency Economy” ideology. Free state education is not guaranteed up to the end of secondary school. As usual, this is all aimed against redistribution of wealth and state spending which benefits the poor. Naturally, military and Palace spending are not a threat to fiscal discipline.

The constitution outlaws what the reactionaries like to call “populist policies”. This is aimed directly at Taksin-style measures which were hugely popular among the electorate. Such policies need to be outlawed by wise men because the majority of the population are “too stupid” to know what is good for them.

People like Taksin and some other Pua Thai politicians will be barred from office for “legal” reasons, much like the gerrymandered electoral system in Singapore or Burma which bars opposition politicians for dubious legal reasons. However, state murderers like Abhisit and Sutep, will not be banned from office. The constitution white-washes all the crimes of the present junta and allows Generalissimo Prayut to carry on ruling by decree until so-called elections are held at some time in the future.

The Prime Minister need not be an elected MP, if supported by 2/3 of parliament. All ministers must have bachelor degrees, to weed out any ignorant poor people, and the Prime Minister cannot hold office for longer than 8 consecutive years.

The all-powerful senate will be made up of some elected senators but most will be appointed by the military and the elites. The senate will have extensive powers to appoint the Electoral Commission, the Anti-Corruption Commission and the Constitutional Judges. In the past these bodies exercised power over the democratically elected Yingluk government and paved the way for a military coup. The senate will also appoint the useless Human Rights Commission, no doubt ensuring that there are plenty of military and police officers on board. However, parliament will have reduced powers. The senate can also veto government policy. The electoral commission can also censor the manifesto policies of political parties seeking election.

The establishment of a committee to determine the strategy for anti-reforms and so-called reconciliation is designed to engineer “Guided Democracy”. This committee will in effect be a “Super Junta”, with powers to veto any decisions made by an elected government and to take power at any time via a “legalised coup”, if and when it deems fit. Naturally the Super Junta will be dominated by the military top brass. This Super Junta will be enshrined in stone for 5 years, but its length of duty can be extended at will.

The constitution can never be amended to make Thailand into a republic or to allow self-determination in Patani. Any other amendments which have been sanctioned by a parliamentary vote, must be approved by the elite appointed Constitutional Court. The Constitutional Court also has the power to sack an elected government.

In summary, in terms of freedom and democracy the constitution is worth less than a roll of toilet paper.

Western governments’ responses to Thai referendum: predictably weak

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

In this blog I have long argued that while any “international bad press” about the Thai junta, generated by the comments from Western governments is welcome, especially when they demand the release of political prisoners, none of these governments can be relied upon or trusted to maintain a principled stand against the military dictatorship. Democratic change can only come about by building mass movements of ordinary people within the country to overthrow military rule.

After the referendum results it was interesting to read the official responses of the United States and the European Union.

The United States ambassador to Thailand issued the following statement. “Given (the result of the referendum), we, the United States of America, as a long-time friend and ally of Thailand, urge the government to return to civilian democratically elected government as soon as possible. As part of moving back to civilian elected government, we strongly urge the government to lift restrictions on civil liberties, including restrictions on freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.” [http://bit.ly/2aPzqGY ]

The European Union also issued a statement. “During the campaign period, however, there were serious limitations to fundamental freedoms, including restrictions on debate and campaigning….It is essential that the current restrictions on freedom of expression and assembly are lifted to allow for an open, inclusive and accountable political process. The EU continues to call upon the Thai authorities to create the conditions for a genuine democratic transition leading to early general elections.” [http://bit.ly/2auzDR7 ]

What is obvious here, if we read between the lines, is that the West are not demanding that the authoritarian constitution, which will prolong military domination of Thai politics, be scrapped or amended. That is the aim of all democratically minded Thais. The legitimacy for such a call comes from the fact that the referendum was neither free nor fair and that the military’s new constitution will not lead to a genuine democratic transition.

The governments of the West are ready to accept elections held under this constitution so long as the government lifts restrictions on the civil liberties of freedom of expression and assembly. The EU statement goes on to say that “all main stakeholders in Thailand need to engage in an inclusive dialogue and work together peacefully towards this aim.”

In practice this means that the EU would like to see pro-democracy activists cooperate with the military and the conservatives in the run up to elections, which, incidentally, may not be held until 2018. Talking about the need for “civil liberties” is also vague. Does it mean the abolition of lèse-majesté? Probably Western governments will not call for this. Does it mean that the military should stop banning demonstrations under the pretext of protecting national security? Given that governments in the West such as France and the United State do the same thing, it will not be serious issue.

The nice sounding pronouncement from Western governments, which in the main are right-wing pro-business governments, are there to legitimise future good relations with the Thai government, irrespective of whether we have genuine democracy or not. The pronouncements are as mainly for internal consumption within the West.

They are not really interested in freedom, democratic rights and social justice for the majority of the Thai population. They are blind to and terrified of the prospect of mass movements of the working class and the poor rising up to overthrow authoritarian regimes.

The lesson from this is that it would be a waste of time to believe that any foreign governments, especially those in the West, would ever be an important factor in bringing about democracy in Thailand. For them, their only interest is being able to conduct business with Thailand. They want to be able to “keep the lines open” to talk to the elites.

[See also http://bit.ly/22sCo67 ]

One Step back Two Steps Forward

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

The results of the referendum on the junta’s draft constitution are disappointing and are a set-back for democracy. But we should never forget that this was never a democratic referendum. The junta arrested and intimidated all those who wished to express their opposition to its appalling charter and tried to ensure that the media reported a one-sided pro-junta account. Troops were sent into communities to “explain” the authoritarian constitution. Many who live and work outside their home provinces were unable to vote for bureaucratic reasons.

A number of people would also have mistakenly voted to accept the constitution because they wanted to see elections as soon as possible. Yet any future elections will not be democratic and any government will be under the potential control of the military and the conservatives.

One reason (among many reasons) why the junta managed to gather more votes for its authoritarian constitution is that Taksin and the UDD demobilised the Red Shirts. Any social movement which has been demobilised will wither and die and its members lose confidence.

Given this situation it is remarkable that 10 million people voted to reject the draft charter.

Those who want to see democracy in Thailand will have to start by seeing these millions of people as their allies in any practical struggle against the junta. This is not a time to sink into depression. It is a time to turn anger into organisation and future action against the junta. Such action has full legitimacy given the undemocratic nature of the referendum and the constitution.

While we have to look reality in the face and admit this set back, we do not have to abide by the referendum results. To say this is nothing like the way the rabid conservative middle-classes rejected the democratic wishes of millions in previous general elections won by Pua Thai or Thai Rak Thai. Those elections were never held under the same authoritarian conditions seen during the referendum.

We should not overlook the fact that only 55% of those eligible to vote actually went to the polling stations. This means that only 33% of the population approved the junta’s awful constitution.

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4 provinces in the north, 14 in the north-east and the 3 Muslim Malay provinces in the south rejected the junta’s constitution. Now that tells us something!!

At the risk of repeating myself I have to stress that the way forward is to build a mass social movement against the junta. The mass action by ordinary people in Turkey prevented the recent military coup on the night of the 15th July 2016. The rich experience of Thai mass movements defeating the military in 1973 and 1992 and the huge potential of the Red Shirt movement should be revisited. It is time to stop playing symbolic games organised by a handful of self-appointed heroes. Such misguided views arise from a mistaken analysis that in the days of social media we do not need to build mass movements. The experience of the mis-led Red Shirt movement and the autonomist or atomist ideas of the brave young students has side-tracked us from the real tasks.

Ridding Thailand of the influence of the military will take time and determined political organisation to build a movement which is independent of the old Red Shirt leadership and Taksin. Taksin has never called for mass action to defeat the junta. All Taksin says when he speaks to the Thai people is to talk about himself.

The mass political movement for democracy should be an inclusive movement which is a united front of all those opposed to the junta. In the past activists have allowed their own sectarianism and their vain wish to remain “pure” to become an excuse to exclude people or act in small groups. Political differences in this united front should be celebrated. This also means that left-wing activists need to build a socialist party in order to be a significant part of this movement.

However, this is not really a discussion for English speaking readers. It is vital that debates about strategies take place in Thai among Thai activist. That is why I run a parallel Thai language blog in an attempt to speak directly to people inside the country [https://turnleftthai.wordpress.com/ ]. Of course, propaganda on its own is no guarantee that these ideas will be put into practice. However, it is all that exiles like myself can achieve under present circumstances.

Junta’s referendum on authoritarian constitution neither free nor fair

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

The Thai junta’s so-called “referendum” on its authoritarian constitution is not a genuine democratic referendum. It is being conducted in a climate of fear, bullying and harassment. Those wishing to oppose the constitution and campaign for a “No Vote” have been constantly arrested and thrown in jail and their literature confiscated. Even neutral meetings to discuss the constitution have been banned. Independent media have been raided by soldiers. The military controlled media is giving a one-sided, pro-junta view of this appalling constitution and soldiers are being sent into communities to “explain” the “benefits” of the constitution to the public.

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The junta’s paranoia has reached such levels that two 8 year old girls who tore a voter registration list because they wanted its pink paper have been arrested.

referendum-kids

The police will have more difficulty arresting a group of monkeys or the temple dogs that tore up registration lists in two other locations!

Criminal monkeys
Criminal monkeys

The junta’s paranoia is understandable and says much about the Thai political situation. Military coups in Thailand today can only be justified to the public if they claim to be carried out to prevent corruption and to “reform” democracy. The present junta had to say that when they had re-written the constitution they would put it to a referendum and then allow elections. This is because most Thai citizens have a democratic political culture and no longer tolerate permanent dictatorship. Military juntas, past and present, lie that under their rule Thailand is still a “democracy”.

Even generalissimo Prayut cannot just come out and say that he wants to make military rule a permanent feature. Yet that is exactly what their draft constitution aims to do through the back door. This is something which is understood by politically conscious Thais, especially those who are part of groups or social media networks which have analysed the document. So the referendum is a necessary but risky move on the part of the military.

This wretched draft constitution should be rejected because it is drawn up by people who have contempt for democracy and contempt for most citizens. This is reflected in the ridiculous “prologue” which also justifies and white-washes all the actions of the military junta. There are a number of measures which increase the powers of military appointed bodies over elected governments and parliament. It allows for a non-member of parliament to become Prime Minister in certain circumstances and there is a special additional question in the referendum which asks if people would like the parliament and senate to vote together to appoint someone from the junta to be the Prime Minister after the first elections. Of course the senate is to be fully appointed by the junta. In addition, the formula for determining the number of members of parliament favours the Democratic Party.

The constitution is the most neo-liberal constitution ever drafted in Thailand. At a stroke it turns the clock back and virtually abolishes the universal health care scheme and the right to free secondary education. It also entrenches Theravada Buddhism at the expense of other beliefs.

If the majority of voters vote it down it will be a huge slap in the face for Prayut and his junta and they will lose all remaining legitimacy. Yet their climate of fear, bullying and lies might just deliver them a yes vote. We have to be prepared for both eventualities.

Some people may vote to accept the constitution just to be able to move towards an election, hoping that the constitution can be amended in Future. Yet they will be disappointed. The rules for amending the constitution mean that it will be impossible for a democratically elected government to change the constitution without permission from the military and its conservative allies.

There have been some activists who have advocated a boycott of the referendum. However, in the absence of a huge campaign for a boycott, this will be ineffective and hand a Yes Vote to the junta. The best tactic is to support the existing campaign for a No Vote.

If a No Vote is successful there should be mass protests to demand the ousting of the junta. But nothing is automatic and such protests need to be built. If the Yes Vote wins, we need to be clear that neither the referendum nor the constitution have any democratic legitimacy. The struggle for democracy must therefore continue.

The Chronic Problem of Single-Issue Politics

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Single-issue politics has been a chronic problem which has dogged the Thai movements for many years. The root cause of this debilitating disease started with the collapse of the Stalinist communist parties and the rejection of what the Post Modernists and Anarchists called “Grand Political Theories or Narratives”.

When the Communist Party of Thailand collapsed in the mid-1980s, activists turned towards single-issue campaigns along with a rejection of politics and the need to overthrow the repressive state. They may have kidded themselves that they could somehow turn their backs on the state or steer a path round the state, as advocated by people such as John Holloway or Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt, but reality they just transformed themselves into NGO lobbyists. These NGO activists were happy to lobby anyone in power, irrespective of whether they were democratically elected or military juntas. They also ignored the politics of the powerful elites and rejected the idea of class.

Therefore Thai NGO activists, who called themselves “the peoples’ movement”, enthusiastically lobbied Taksin’s government. When the Taksin government out-manoeuvred them with its pro-poor policies and also threatened them with mild repression, they became disenchanted with Taksin. As a result they chose to make an alliance with the most backward and conservative elements among the powerful elite, forming the royalist yellow-shirt “Peoples’ Alliance for Democracy”. They celebrated when the military eventually overthrew Taksin in the 2006 military coup. Some members of international NGOs based in Thailand, such as “Focus on Global South”, supported this reactionary position. The Thai NGOs continued along this path, trying to work with or lobby various dictatorships and some even joined with Sutep Tuaksuban’s anti-democratic mob.

Lately the NGOs have become “disappointed” in the junta’s reforms. What a farce!

The NGOs may or may not have learnt a lesson about supporting the destruction of democracy, but most have not given up their single-issue politics. Some of the recent NGO critics of the junta’s draft constitution, especially those concerned with health issues, have merely concentrated on their own single issues in their opposition. Instead they should be combining a general analysis about the destruction of democracy with a multitude of concrete issues to build a big picture criticism of the junta’s plans. This big picture analysis should go beyond the crude listing of all the various single issues in one place, as NGO coordinating networks tend to do. It should explain why all the issues are linked to the political and economic system. In terms of the present draft military constitution links must be made to military rule and the destruction of democracy since 2006.

When I was involved with the Thai Social Forum in Bangkok in 2006 I and my comrades tried to promote the inter-linking of various issues but experienced stiff resistance from most Thai NGOs.

The problem of “single-issue cretinism” is not confined to just some NGOs. On International Workers’ Day this year the “New Democracy Movement” issued an 8 point statement about why workers should reject the constitution. It was a dumbed-down document which merely talked about workers’ bread and butter issues. It failed to mention the attack on the universal health care system, presumably because they thought it was “nothing to do with workers” who have their own national insurance scheme. Yet workers’ families rely on the universal health care system. The worst offence by the “New Democracy Movement” was a failure to mention the problem of prolonging the dictatorship and the destruction of democracy. It was like they assumed that workers were too stupid to understand general big-picture politics.

The labour movement in Thailand contains progressive groups who have a big picture analysis of politics and have already rejected the military junta. Yet the “New Democracy Movement” ignored them and chose instead to take up a position alongside the most backward elements of the labour movement who reject or ignore politics.

This is such a shame because the “New Democracy Movement” has a good record of organising anti-dictatorship events, the latest of which, was the recent march to the democracy monument on the anniversary of Prayut’s coup.

One aspect of the NGO-style single-issue disease is that the former leadership of the railway workers union also supported the yellow-shirts and celebrated the 2006 military coup because they hated Taksin. But now the military have turned on them, threatening sections of the railways with privatisation. Of course, Taksin would have done the same as the military, but there was no excuse for the support given to the reactionaries.

Political theories and strategies have real concrete effects. It is not just an academic debate.

We need a revolutionary Marxist party in Thailand that can act as a bridge to link all the various single bread and butter issues with a class analysis of Thai capitalism in order to agitate for fundamental change. Such a party would also be at the forefront of building a mass social movement to get rid of the military. This is something we are trying to do, but so far the progress is painfully slow.

Further Reading

http://bit.ly/1UpZbhh On Thai NGOs and their politics

http://bit.ly/1TdKKYs  “Thailand’s Crisis and the Fight for Democracy”

 

Not the tortoise and the hare

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

There are a number of Thais who watch political developments in Burma and despair when comparing things with Thailand. The above cartoon about the tortoise and the hare sums up such feelings. Some academics have been warning that Thailand is moving backwards while Burma is moving forwards.

This is just not true. The reality is that the political systems of the two countries are converging.

The Burmese junta has made a great show of “handing power” over to Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy (NLD). But this has only come about because the Burmese generals are convinced that Suu Kyi is not a threat to their long term interests. Rather than a naked military junta, why not have Suu Kyi fronting a civilian government while the military retain key and powerful ministries, retain the power of veto by their appointed representatives in parliament and by writing a pro-military constitution? It is obviously a “win-win” situation for both the military and Suu Kyi, but those who have lost the right to freedom and democracy are the citizens of Burma, and especially Muslims and other ethnic minorities.

Recently Suu Kyi was overheard complaining about being interviewed by a Muslim BBC news presenter. She had been grilled about her islamophobic position over the violent Buddhist pogroms against the Rohingya people. Her Foreign Ministry has asked the US to stop referring to “Rohingya”. In the past she has been patronising towards other ethnic groups, for example writing that “Karens make good nannies”. Those who defend her say she needed to refuse to support Muslims so that the military would not block her rise to a key position in the government. So Suu Kyi has proved that she is a trustworthy Burmese politician who won’t threaten the military and the Burman Buddhist hold on power in the country. The military have used Burman Buddhist nationalist ideology for years. The Thai military use a mixture of Monarchy and Buddhism in their version of nationalist ideology.

The Thai generals have been keenly watching the Burmese drama. They are busy giving instructions to their hirelings to write a similar constitution to the Burmese military constitution. They want to enshrine the power of the military into the future and emasculate the power of any elected government. Generalissimo Prayut promises elections, perhaps around July 2017, but at the same time says “give me 5 more years to sort things out”!! He also expects his despicable political “road map”, guaranteeing the power of the military, to last at least 20 years. They are using terror against those who oppose this and the Internal Security Operations Command are prepared to mobilise non-state right-wing extremist thugs to support the dictatorship.

 

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Thai junta arrests people opposed to its constitution (photos from BBC)
Thai junta arrests people opposed to its constitution (photos from BBC)

Before the recent elections in Burma, the military turned a blind eye or supported Buddhist extremist thugs who rampaged against Muslim villagers. People can still be punished for insulting Buddhism while Buddhist extremists enjoy impunity. The double standards of the Thai court system have often been discussed in this blog. The latest being the acquittal of various royalist thugs while jailing and harassing pro-democracy activists. In the past the Thai Constitutional Kangaroo Court punished the elected Yingluk government for trying to build a high speed rail system. The doddering judge whined that it would be better to upgrade the dirt roads in the provinces. However, there has been silence from such fools now that Prayut’s junta has announced a similar but inferior version of the rail project.

For the Thai generals, the attraction of the Burmese model is that they can create an image of democracy and hope to silence any criticism from outside and inside the country. Ordinary Burmese people seem to have been very enthusiastic about the recent elections there. What is more, if things go badly in Burma, the NLD civilian government can be made to take the blame. The Thai junta is currently starting to be blamed for economic problems and needs to off-load this blame on to civilian politicians while still maintaining power.

In Thailand opponents of the junta are being threatened daily and many are dragged into military camps for attitude changing sessions. The use of lèse majesté to lock up the government’s opponents continues. The junta are trying to soften up some politicians from the Taksin political wing so that they can become domesticated tame creatures, willing to compromise with the military.

So it isn’t a matter of the Thai hare being left behind by the Burmese tortoise in the race for democracy. It is more a picture of two gun-toting gangsters walking off hand in hand into the sunset and a dark future without freedom looming.

Yet there is one ray of light on this darkening horizon. The Thai junta have become increasingly worried that the vast majority of citizens are switching off their television sets during the junta’s daily broadcasts on all channels after the news. The level of electricity consumption is said to dip significantly at this time.

 

Will you come and join the dance? Will you, won’t you? Will you, won’t you?

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Like the song of the “mock turtle”, the distorted machinations of Generalissimo Prayut in Thailand’s Alice in Wonderland story continue. The junta is clearly in a state of deep paranoia concerning the draft constitution and the so-called referendum to legitimise it.

On the issue of even holding the referendum it is a case of “Will you, won’t you? Will you, won’t you?” because they are afraid that they will lose.

On the issue of elections next year, which have already been postponed from the junta’s original timetable, it is also a case of “Will you, won’t you? Will you, won’t you?” The junta are hinting that if the draft constitution is rejected in the referendum they might postpone elections to continue with their political anti-reforms.

On the issue of when the junta will step down, it is also a case of “Will you, won’t you? Will you, won’t you?” The Generalissimo has recently asked for “5 more years”, breaking previous false promises.

The junta’s state of deep paranoia is indicated by the prohibition of any campaigning around the referendum, except for, of course, the military’s own pro-constitution campaign. Those found to have taken part in any campaigns to reject this non-democratic constitution face up to 10 years in prison. Re-education programmes for dissidents have also been extended to at least 7 days detention in secret military locations.

For details of the military draft constitution see:[https://t.co/Ucy5GL5pVd] .

Latest victim of the junta’s re-education programme of detentions is ex-Pua Thai MP Watana Muangsook, who has repeatedly been detained for opposing the draft constitution and criticising the junta.

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Yet an article by Teeranai Charuvastra and Pravit Rojanaphruk in Khaosod on 22nd April was totally misleading about this. [http://bit.ly/1XOtnBN]

The article claimed that “It wasn’t until (the junta) came for a wealthy, privileged and well-connected luminary of the Pua Thai Party that calls of action went out for people to take to the streets”. Academic in exile Pavin Chachavalpongpun was also quoted as saying that the past week’s protests for Watana, who married into Thailand’s wealthiest Forbes-listed family, show the party prefers instigation over participation.

The truth is somewhat different. It was not Pua Thai or Taksin who instigated Watana’s opposition to the junta or called for street protests in response to his detention. It was a small group of activists calling themselves the “Resistant Citizens” who organised the modest protests.

ทักษิณรอ

Pua Thai, Taksin and the UDD have long set their faces against any protest or struggle for democracy. While they are only interested in re-joining the feeding at the top table when elections are eventually held, whether they are democratic or not, the important point to understand is that Taksin and his allies are afraid of promoting a mass movement which would move beyond his control and try to bring about more fundamental change in Thai society. Therefore we should not place any hopes in leadership coming from Pua Thai, Taksin or the UDD.

The problem is that an alternative grass-roots united front movement is yet to be built. The attitude of pro-democracy activists quoted in the Khaosod article reveals the kind of sectarianism which is all too rampant among activists. These activists also make a virtue out of small publicity stunts or symbolic protests, instead of trying to build a movement.

It does not matter at all that Watana Muangsook was a Pua Thai MP or that he is married to someone from a wealthy family. It does not matter that he is based in Bangkok. He is certainly not a socialist like me and that does not matter either. What matters is that he opposed the military and refused to give in. This is the kind of leadership which, on this occasion, we should have followed to build a mass protest, irrespective of how Watana will act in the future. The struggle should not be about individuals, but should be determined by principles and the various opportunities that arise.

All democracy activists should have rallied round to stage a united protest when Watana was detained. Instead, a tiny group were left isolated in their protests. Only by mass actions can we prise open a bigger democratic space and build the campaign against the terrible military constitution and the dictatorship in general.