Tag Archives: Coup d’état

Thai Junta’s draft constitution pushes democracy back indefinitely

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

No one with an ounce of intelligence would have expected the junta, and its herd of “academics for hire”, to come up with a democratic constitution or anything other than a host of anti-reforms to set the authoritarian political agenda for years to come. Tedious as it may be, I and many other activists and academics have had to plough through the endless pages of garbage in the new draft constitution in order to establish a facts-based critique of this offensive document.

Overall, it differs little in its tone from the previous draft, although there is a shocking additional article towards the end. The general tone is patronising and banal, with constant references to the monarchy. Since the late 1950s, the monarchy has been a tool of the military and other elites, justifying all manner of authoritarian measures and human rights abuses. At the same time the king has been a pathetic and cowardly character, always willing to do the bidding of his masters, while keeping up the pretence of being a “God-like genius”.

The draft constitution reads like a Thai-style kindergarten text, talking 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 and pages of rubbish about the qualities of “good” political leaders and naturally they must be loyal to “Nation, Religion and King”. We should not forget that this draft constitution is 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 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 King’s reactionary “Sufficiency Economy” ideology. 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 (in the interests of national security).

In this light, article 189 and other sections of the constitution outlaw 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. However, there will be “people participation” in managing communities through toy-like “citizens’ assemblies”.

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.

There will be 300 constituency MPs and between 150-170 national party list MPs. The number of party list MPs will be adjusted according to the national vote for each party and the number of elected constituency MPs, so that it will be a more proportional representative system. However, parliament will have reduced powers.

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 77 senators, elected in each province, and another 123 senators 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.

The illegal and highly oppressive “temporary” constitution, which was drawn up by the military in 2014 immediately after the coup, will be a guiding force for the new constitution, making sure, in article 285, that all the anti-democratic acts of the junta are “deemed to be legal”.

However, the worst aspect of this new draft is the last section, from article 259 onwards, with the establishment of a committee to determine the strategy for anti-reforms and so-called reconciliation. 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.

The upshot of this is that whoever is democratically elected to form a government will have very limited room to determine policy.

Of course, 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.

Now, it stands to reason that anyone who supports democracy and human rights would oppose this nonsense of a constitution. Yet, all manner of threats are being issued to silence critics. Apart from threatening to push back elections if the constitution does not pass in a referendum, the deputy Prime Minister Wisanu Kruangarm, and the head of the Electoral Commission, have stated that it is illegal to campaign against this constitution using social media and other means. Wisanu also took the opportunity of saying to the media that it was the “best constitution ever written”.

We all have rights, but some have more rights than the rest of us!

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“A Coup for the Rich” revisited

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Generalissimo Prayut’s junta has announced that it will scrap the 300 baht national minimum wage which was introduced by the previous Yingluk government. Instead they want to use the “floating” minimum wage system favoured by free-market fanatics like Pridiyatorn Devakul. This so-called “floating” minimum wage system allows businessmen and government officials in each province to set a local minimum wage according to their interests. Even though these provincial committees are supposed to have trade union representation, in practice they are either week stooges of the employers or not real representatives of unions at all. This will increase inequality throughout the country.

Deputy Prime Minister for economic affairs, Pridiyatorn Devakul, has claimed that the decline in Thai exports over the last 4 years is due to the 300 baht minimum wage policy. There is absolutely no evidence for this and declines in exports and imports have been experienced in all major emerging economies (see graph). The real cause is the continuing global economic slump.

EM Trade (from the Financial Times)
EM Trade (from the Financial Times)

The lesson from the Thai and Asian economic crisis in 1997 was that the low wage and low technology export strategy, followed by most Thai governments for decades, was making the country uncompetitive, since it had to compete with new entries to the low wage export market like Vietnam, China and Bangladesh. What is more, the neo-liberal free-market policies of previous military and civilian governments had allowed a speculative bubble to grow because of the removal of controls and the fall in profitability of the productive sectors in the economy.

Added to this, the low wages of Thai workers meant that when exports fell in 1996, the purchasing power of citizens within the country was not strong enough to rescue ailing businesses by substituting domestic demand for lost exports.

Today, as Thai exports fall again, repressing the spending power of Thai workers can only make matters worse. It exposes a “race to the bottom strategy” pursued by the neoliberals at the centre of the military junta. This would turn the clock back and make Thailand a low wage – low technology under-developed country. Domestic demand would be suppressed by low wages and could not compensate for the fall in exports, as in the last recession.

But the most important issue is that wages are still much too low to allow workers to enjoy a good standard of living. Three hundred baht per day is not enough for anyone. The level of economic inequality in Thailand is unacceptable. Yet, the generals and royalist officials who have never had to live on 300 baht a day, constantly lecture workers that their wages are too high. Since the coup last year these elites have been giving themselves huge pay rises and other benefits. They have created a bloated military budget and have multiplied the country’s economic problems by the uncertainty due to continued oppression against all critics of the junta and the militarisation of all branches of the administration.

Of course, the junta and its lackeys all profess to follow the King’s Sufficiency Economy. But the Sufficiency Economy is just a neoliberal ideology which aims to preserve economic inequalities because it says that the poor must adapt to their poverty while the rich can remain rich. This reactionary ideology has been constantly promoted by the two military juntas after the 2006 coup and after Prayut’s coup last year. My criticism of the Sufficiency Economy ideology in my anti-dictatorship book was the main reason why I was charged with lèse-majesté back in 2008.

After the 2006 military coup, I wrote in my book, “A Coup for the Rich”, that the new military appointed cabinet was stuffed full of neo-liberals. “The Finance Minister, Pridiyatorn Devakul, was a man who believed in neo-liberal fiscal discipline. He was opposed to too much spending on public health. After the coup the Budget Bureau cut the budget for Thai Rak Thai’s universal health care scheme by 23% while increasing military spending by 30%. Pridiyatorn threatened to axe many good mass transit projects which could solve Bangkok’s traffic…”

Today Pridiyatorn is back in government, keen to push forward with more neo-liberal policies like introducing “co-payments” for the currently free health care system. The junta has already privatised more universities, just like the previous 2006 junta.

Junta chief Prayut has also thrown in some nasty racist comments to back up his opposition to a national minimum wage. Firstly he has trotted out the usual neo-liberal nonsense about so-called “high wages” in Thailand frightening away investors. Worse than that, he tried to play the racist card by saying that it was “wrong” that foreign migrant workers were the main beneficiaries of the 300 baht minimum wage. This is a classic divide and rule policy to destroy solidarity among the working class. In reality, Thailand has a shortage of labour and needs workers from neighbouring countries. They are usually treated very badly anyway and may not receive the legal wage rate. As far as investors are concerned, many large foreign companies in the auto industry, and the high-tech end of the electronics industry, pay above the minimum wage for skilled workers. It is only the backward low investment domestic sweatshops who might complain about the 300 baht wage.

Thai trade unionists need to unite in solidarity across the different nationalities and they need to struggle for a decent standard of living along with freedom and democracy.

Download “A Coup for the Rich” here: https://www.scribd.com/doc/41173616/Coup-For-the-Rich-by-Giles-Ji-Ungpakorn

Thai junta turns the political clock back fifty years

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

The coup d’état that took place on 22nd May last year has turned Thailand’s political clock back fifty years. Today we have a vicious, patronising and self-deluded military government, headed by a mass murderer. Generalissimo Prayut is responsible for shooting down almost a hundred pro-democracy demonstrators in 2010. The military has continued its barbarity in Patani, with the killing in cold blood of innocent civilians. The junta and Thai security forces have also been involved in the human trafficking of Rohingya refugees and their cruel expulsion from Thailand’s borders.

Since the coup, human rights have been non-existent. People staging peaceful anti-dictatorship protests have been arrested. The number of prosecutions against free-thinkers, under the draconian and illegitimate lèse majesté law, have escalated dramatically. Those arrested face military courts and are denied justice. Academic seminars have been banned. Opposition activists have been dragged into military camps for “attitude changing” sessions. Opposition media are constantly closed down. Thailand is being ruled by the Law of the Gun.

Yet the generals and their civilian acolytes are self-proclaimed “good people”, unlike democratically elected politicians who win the hearts and minds of the people.

Thai society has experienced rapid militarisation, with the generals in charge of all branches of administration. Rich pickings have been laid bare for the corrupt and greedy military men.

The junta’s patronising attitude to most citizens and the self-delusions of the top generals are echoes from Thailand’s past during the 1960s. In those days top generals in the dictatorship would issue slogans such as “Do Good, Do Good, Do Good” or “Money is Work, Work is Money, the way to Happiness”. In those days the corrupt and murderous generals may have done little work, but they certainly knew how to line their own pockets. They were also in the habit of making ridiculous statements in public which merely exposed their stupidity. But they were confident that they could bully others to stay in power…. That is until mass protests erupted in the streets and workplaces and they could not shoot enough people to suppress the democratic movement.

Today Prayut is so arrogant, self-deluded and stupid that he thinks that he can appoint himself as the “moral guardian” of society. He issued his “12 commandments”, a list of reactionary attitudes, befitting any dictatorship. His ministerial toadies, who fawn over him and lick his boots, quickly sang Prayut’s praises and committed government funds for the promotion of these commandments. Some of these people actually have PhDs from western universities.

Prayut is fond of talking endlessly about “Thainess”, yet his knowledge of Thai history is rudimentary and out of date. He believes that Thais emigrated south from the Altai Mountains near Mongolia, an historical lie perpetuated in the past by nationalists.

Prayut also believes that women who wear bikinis on Thai beaches only have themselves to blame if they are raped and murdered.

When questioned by the normally docile press, on many occasions Prayut has exhibited toddler tantrums, lashing out and threatening violence against reporters.

The new draft constitution, written under the watchful eye of the military, will formalise the influence of the generals and the conservative anti-democratic elites, vastly reducing the democratic space. Elections will be crafted to fit specifications of the junta and self-appointed “good people” will control elected representatives of the people. If this were not enough, the whole document shows utter contempt for citizens. It is full of patronising definitions about the qualities “good” representatives and “good” governance, written by gangsters. It emphasises the duties of citizens rather than ensuring human rights. It outlaws “too much” government spending of pro-poor policies while ensuring that military spending remains high.

The draft constitution drones on ad nauseam about the monarchy. The monarchy has always been a useful tool of Thai dictatorships, rubber stamping all the abuses of democracy and human rights committed by the military. This time round, the elderly and feeble king was used by Prayut to justify his coup d’état without Prayut even bothering to speak to him. But anyone criticising the monarch or the relationship between the monarchy and the military will be charged with lèse majesté.

There can be no freedom of speech or democracy in Thailand without abolishing lèse majesté.

If you want to understand the relationship between the monarchy and the dictatorship you need to view the king like a deity. In the West in the past, kings claimed to be appointed by God. There was never any logical argument to prove this, since in the real world deities do not exist. Deities can never be heard to speak their real minds. So the King of Thailand is said to appoint dictators and guide their evil deeds without anyone needing to prove anything. He just does what he is told while pocketing the cash for his bloated wealth.

The anti-democratic thugs around Sutep Tuaksuban, who wrecked the elections last year in the name of the “People’s Democratic Reform Committee”, have now dropped all pretence at being “independent” from the Democrat Party. You had to be of feeble mind to believe this in the first place. But they have now “re-joined” the Democrat Party in preparation for the junta’s future gerrymandered elections. Most Pua Thai politicians will probably take part, hoping to get their snouts in the political trough. Politicians from both parties have called for the junta to stay on for another 2 years to give time for further “reforms”.

The junta’s filthy constitution needs to be opposed, whether a referendum is held or not, and the forces of reaction and authoritarianism must be brought down. But without addressing the issue of ruling class power and fighting it by political organisation, we will not succeed.

Below are some pictures of anti-junta protests by student activists in Bangkok and Khon Kaen on the anniversary of the coup (22nd May 2015). The junta’s thugs were quickly on the scene to protect Thailand from democracy.

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The Things They Say in Junta Land

“Although my position was derived from a military coup, I am running the country in a democratic manner”. Speech to Japanese business people by Generalissimo Prayut, head of the junta that arrests pro-democracy activists, bans political meetings and protests and drags people in for “attitude changes” in military camps. Earlier he also said “ I am a soldier with a democratic heart. I am merely protecting democracy.”

Prayut 2

“Thailand attaches great importance to human rights”. Speech by junta General Tanasak Batimabrakorn, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign affairs, at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva. Meanwhile the junta jailed students for staging a political play and forced them to appear before a military court under lèse majesté charges. But perhaps when he says that they are “attaching great importance to human rights” he means that they are working hard to destroy these rights? Earlier in December General Tanasak said that “We have the support of 4.7 billion people world-wide”. This was after the rulers of various despotic regimes, including China, confirmed good relations with Thailand’s military regime.

พล.อ.ธนะศักดิ์ ปฏิมาประกร
General Tanasak

“This is not a dictatorship; otherwise we could not be sitting round here discussing (my suitability to give a speech commemorating Puey Ungphakorn).” Yongyut Yuttawong, scientist, ex Minister in the 2006 junta and present junta Deputy Prime Minister. While he was saying this, police were removing a pro-democracy banner from outside the meeting room. Earlier Yongyut saw fit to spend 6.6 million baht of tax payers’ money to produce “Line Stickers” for idiots to download, celebrating Generalissimo Prayut’s “12 Principles of Thai Dictatorship”.

Yongyut Yuttawong, lapdog of the militaryjunta
Yongyut Yuttawong, lapdog of the militaryjunta

“The appointment of their own relatives by members of parliament to paid advisor and assistant positions is not nepotism or wrong-doing. It is natural for people to appoint those whom they trust.” Bwornsak Uwano, law academic and Chairperson of the Constitution Drafting Committee, commenting on the recent scandal of junta appointed MPs paying members of their own families out of tax-payers’ money. Earlier he said that “it is wrong to talk about appointed senators. They are merely elected by indirect means”.

Bwornsak, law academic who has served anyone wishing to pay him
Bwornsak, law academic who has served anyone wishing to pay him

“We have to explain to foreigners that Western Democracy is all very well, but it isn’t suitable for Thailand and that is why it has never been successful”. Panitarn Wattanayakorn, Chulalongkorn University “academic for hire” by the military.

Academic for hire Panitarn, servant of the military and Abhisit regimes
Academic for hire Panitarn, servant of the military and Abhisit regimes

“We shall take into account people’s activity on social media when appointing new lecturers to the university.” Somkit Lertpaitoon, pro-junta Rector of Thammasart University, who sacked radical academic Somsak Jeamteerasakul, thus depriving him of his pension.

Somkit, junta creature and Thammasart University Rectum
Somkit, junta creature and Thammasart University Rectum

Thailand’s constitutions

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Thailand has had 18 “disposable” constitutions since 1932, most of them having being torn up by the military following a coup d’état. But it would be wrong to think that this treatment of constitutions was the root cause of political instability or any democratic deficit. Constitutions throughout the world can be rough guides to political practice; can act as a set of rules imposed by the ruling elite, or they can form ideal standards for civil rights which activists strive to achieve. What really matters in Thailand and elsewhere is the balance of forces between the ruling elites and the general population.

The U.K. has a constantly evolving constitution based on struggle against the ruling class and also on “custom and practice”. Democratic rights were not achieved by drafting a “democratic constitution”, but by constant struggle from below against the entrenched interests of the ruling class, spanning a period from the Peasant’s Revolt in 1381, through the English Revolution of 1640 to the Chartist movement in the mid-nineteenth century and beyond.

The written constitution of the United States was crafted by the elites in order to protect their privileges. It was a compromise between the slave owners in the South and the industrial capitalists of the North. Even when a series of amendments, known as the Bill of Rights, were adopted, the civil rights of citizens were constantly ignored and it was many years before various struggles from below gave men and women of all races formal constitutional equality . Of course, formal equality according to the law is no guarantee of equality in practice or even a participatory democracy. The United States has neither of these. Neither does Thailand.

Various Thai constitutions have also reflected struggles against the ruling elites. The most democratic constitutions were written after the 1932 revolution against the monarchy and after the 1992 uprising against the military dictatorship. However, in the main, Thai constitutions are generally a set of rules imposed by the ruling elites and nearly all of them, except the first post-1932 constitution, reflect the use of the monarchy in order to give legitimacy to the power of the military in its intervention in politics. Yet the role of the military in politics is never explicitly mentioned.

The first section of these elite-driven constitutions also states that Thailand is an “indivisible unitary state”, which is an obstacle to achieving peace in the southern conflict.     Both the domination of politics by the military and the ultra-nationalist concept of the “indivisible unitary state” have been vigorously contested by social and political movements.

The constitution written by the military in 2007, one year after the coup d’état that toppled the elected government of Taksin Shinawat, went one step further in entrenching the role of the military. It absolved the coup makers of any wrong-doing and enshrined the power of the judiciary to intervene against elected governments. The judiciary has long been a conservative ally of the military.

However, according to progressive academic Niti Eauwsiwong, what is also interesting is that ordinary Thais have an un-written “popular constitution” in their minds, where they have clear views on how politics should be conducted, irrespective of any formal elite-driven constitutions. We could call this “political culture” and we should be aware that there is more than one single political culture in any society.

The struggle of social movements and oppositional political groups is much more important than constitutions in determining the state of freedom and democracy in. A study of Thai history reveals the presence of a political culture associated with the struggle for democracy, freedom and justice. High points of such struggles include the 1932 revolution, the 1973 and 1992 uprisings against the military, the rebellion by the Communist Party of Thailand (CPT), the rebellion by southern Malay Muslims, and the recent Red Shirt struggles against the military-backed government between 2008 and 2011.

Today, the military and its academic and political servants are busy writing yet another constitution. It is no surprise or secret that it will probably be one of the worst that Thailand has ever had. It will further enshrine the authoritarian power of the military and the conservative elites and severely restrict any freedom to elect a democratic government. There will be meaningless phrases about gender rights and freedom of the press, but they will merely be like a sprinkling of icing sugar over a poisoned cake. Yet this does not stop many bird-brained NGOs from making suggestions on how various rights can be improved in this piece of political toilet paper.

The Morals of Thugs and Gangsters

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

A sex scandal is doing the rounds of the Thai media.Video clips of middle aged officials and business people touching naked young women in a “Fitness Centre Party” have been widely circulating. The junta have come out and condemned this behaviour and promised an investigation.

This is just blatant hypocrisy. Thai elite males regularly pay young women for sex and the military is well known for its parties where women are paid to parade naked in front of young men in uniform. The Crown Prince is also well known for making his women pose naked for photographs. Thai elites have no respect for women or the majority of the population.

Previously, head Coupster Prayut and his acolytes announced that they were to set up a “National Moral Forum” as part of their anti-reform process. If it were not for the expense involved and the vicious nature of the junta, it would be a joke.

Just like the so-called “reforms” which they lie about, their “morals” will be exactly the opposite of any moral principles. This is their first crime: lying. The junta and its supporters have lied about why they took power, they have lied about their intentions for democracy, they have lied about the law and the constitution, they have lied about how the majority of the population “support” the government and they have lied about being able to extradite the many Thai exiles who are charged with lèse-majesté. They also lie repeatedly about the killing of unarmed pro-democracy demonstrators in 2010… which brings us to their next immoral crime.

Generalissimo Prayut and his hired gunmen deliberately shot down unarmed red shirts in 2010, using special snipers. Nearly 90 civilians were killed in cold blood, some of them while sheltering in a temple. This was murder, pure and simple. But according to the so-called “National Moral Forum”, cold-blooded murder like this is the peak of moral fortitude.

The use of deadly force, including military coups, in order to have your way, in opposition to the democratic wishes of the majority, is the behaviour of gangsters. But naturally, coup-making does not figure in the National Moral Forum’s list of immoral acts.

The junta has given out jobs to its boys and Prayut and his fellow generals have lined their own pockets with multiple salaries; corruption, pure and simple. Yet the National Moral Forum will view corruption as a “relative” issue. It depends on who is involved. If it is the junta’s opponents then it is most certainly corruption. But if it is the junta and its lackeys, then it is “justifiable reward for hard work”. Prayut has complained repeatedly about how tired he is with all his responsibilities. People need to relieve him of them all and allow him to rest for years in a prison cell.

Physical and mental torture are accepted as immoral acts by decent people. Yet the National Moral Forum will work on the idea that to criticise the ruling order or the monarchy is a heinous crime, whereas the destruction of free speech and the incarceration of innocent people in appalling conditions under the abominable lèse-majesté law is “defending the morals of the nation”. Threatening to kill or rape people, as part of the junta’s “attitude changing activities”, is torture. But the National Moral Forum will regard this activity as “bringing peace and happiness to society”.

The National Moral Forum will no doubt praise “egotism” and “arrogance”, special qualities shown by Thailand’s Dear Leader Prayut.

But in reality, the National Moral Forum is about “obedience”. It should be the National Obedience Forum because what these megalomaniacs believe is that the majority of the Thai people should bow their heads, crawl on the ground, and fix false happy smiles on their faces while being obedient and doing what the junta tells them. This is a measure of the moral degeneration of Thai society under the jack boot of the military.

Thailand’s Cycles of Class Struggle

Thailand’s Cycles of Struggle

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

A recent editorial in the Sydney Morning Herald begins with the phrase: Let’s stop pretending about Thailand….The evidence of this century is that Thailand is not a democracy at all. It is a good thing that international newspapers come out and clearly denounce the coup. But we need to add important details. In Thailand the democratic space has been fought over for almost a century. It has been a constant struggle between the rulers and the ruled.

14Oct

The military domination of Thai politics, started soon after the 1932 revolution which overthrew the absolute monarchy. But its consolidation of power came with the Sarit military coup in 1957. The economic development during the years of the highly corrupt military dictatorship in the 50s and 60s, took place in the context of a world economic boom and a localised economic boom created by the Korean and Vietnam wars. This economic growth had a profound impact on the nature of Thai society. The size of the working class increased as factories and businesses were developed. However, under the dictatorship trade union rights were suppressed and wages and conditions of employment were tightly controlled. Illegal strikes had already occurred throughout the period of dictatorship, but strikes increased rapidly due to general economic discontent in the early 1970s.

Economic development also resulted in a massive expansion of student numbers and an increased intake of students from working class backgrounds. The new generation of students, in the early 1970s, were influenced by the revolts and revolutions which occurred throughout the world in that period, May 1968 in Paris being a prime example.

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In late 1973 the arrest of 11 academics and students for handing out leaflets demanding a democratic constitution, resulted in hundreds of thousands of students and workers taking to the streets of Bangkok in October. As troops with tanks fired on unarmed demonstrators, the people of Bangkok began to fight-back. Bus passengers spontaneously alighted from their vehicles to join the demonstrators. Government buildings were set on fire. The “Yellow Tigers”, a militant group of students, sent a jet of high-octane gasoline from a captured fire engine into the police station at Parn-Fa bridge, setting it on fire. Earlier they had been fired upon by the police.

The successful 14th October 1973 mass uprising against the military dictatorship shook the Thai ruling class to its foundations. For the next few days, there was a strange new atmosphere in Bangkok. Uniformed officers of the state disappeared from the streets and ordinary people organised themselves to clean up the city. It was the first time that the pu-noi (little people) had actually started a revolution from below. It was not planned and those that took part had only vague notions about what kind of democracy and society they wanted. But the Thai ruling class could not shoot enough demonstrators to protect their regime. It was not just a student uprising to demand a democratic constitution. It involved thousands of ordinary working class people and occurred on the crest of a rising wave of workers’ strikes.

Success in over-throwing the military dictatorship bred increased confidence. Workers, peasants and students began to fight for more than just parliamentary democracy. In the two months following the uprising, the new Royal appointed civilian government faced a total of 300 workers’ strikes. On the 1st May 1975 a quarter of a million workers rallied in Bangkok and a year later half a million workers took part in a general strike against price increases. In the countryside small farmers began to build organisations and they came to Bangkok to make their voices heard. Workers and peasants wanted social justice and an end to long-held privileges. A Triple Alliance between students, workers and small farmers was created. Some activists wanted an end to exploitation and capitalism itself. The influence of the Communist Party of Thailand (CPT) increased rapidly, especially among activists in urban areas.

The first democratic elections, since the October 1973 uprising were held in January 1975. Parliament had a Left colouring and government policies reflected a need to deal with pressing social issues. Left-wing parties, such as the New Force Party, the Socialist Party of Thailand and the Socialist Front Party gained 37 seats (out of a total of 269) but did not join any coalition governments.

It was not long before the ruling class and the conservative middle classes fought back.

In the early hours of 6th October 1976, Thai uniformed police, stationed in the grounds of the National Museum, next door to Thammasat University , destroyed a peaceful gathering of students and working people on the university campus under a hail of relentless automatic fire  . At the same time a large gang of ultra-right-wing “informal forces”, known as the Village Scouts, Krating-Daeng and Nawapon, indulged in an orgy of violence and brutality towards anyone near the front entrance of the university. Students and their supporters were dragged out of the university and hung from the trees around Sanam Luang; others were burnt alive in front of the Ministry of “Justice” while the mob danced round the flames. Women and men, dead or alive, were subjected to the utmost degrading and violent behaviour.

The actions of the police and right-wing mobs on 6th October were the culmination of attempts by the ruling class to stop the further development of a socialist movement in Thailand. The events at Thammasat University were followed by a military coup which brought to power one of the most right-wing governments Thailand has ever known. In the days that followed, offices and houses of organisations and individuals were raided. Trade unionists were arrested and trade union rights were curtailed. Centre-Left and left-wing newspapers were closed and their offices ransacked.

Thousands of activists joined the armed struggle led by the Communist Party of Thailand in remote rural areas. The struggle was ultimately unsuccessful, but it managed to put a great deal of pressure on the ruling class.

Three years after 1976, the government decreed an “amnesty” for those who had left to fight alongside the communists. This coincided with splits and arguments between the student activists and the conservative CPT leaders. By 1988 the student activists had all returned to the city as the CPT collapsed. Thailand returned to an almost full parliamentary democracy, but with one special condition: it was a parliamentary democracy without the Left or any political parties representing workers or small farmers. But the economic boom helped to damp down discontent.

Three years later the military staged a coup against an elected government which it feared would reduce its role in society. Resistance to the coup took a year to gather momentum, but in May 1992 a mass uprising in Bangkok braved the deadly gunfire from the army and overthrew the junta. Many key activists in this uprising cut their teeth in the struggles from the 1970s.

Four years after this uprising, Thailand experienced a deep economic crisis. Activists pushed for a new, more democratic constitution, in the hope that the country could escape from the cycle of corruption, human rights abuses and military coups.

In the general election of January 2001, Taksin Shinawat’ Thai Rak Thai Party (TRT) won a landslide victory. The election victory was in response to previous government policy under the Democrats, which had totally ignored the plight of the rural and urban poor during the crsisi. TRT also made 3 important promises to the electorate. These were (1) a promise to introduce a Universal Health Care Scheme for all citizens, (2) a promise to provide a 1 million baht loan to each village in order to stimulate economic activity and (3) a promise to introduce a debt moratorium for poor peasants. The policies of TRT arose from a number of factors, mainly the 1997 economic crisis and the influence of both big-business and some ex-student activists from the 1970s within the party.

Read more in my book “Thailand’s Crisis”….at: http://www.scribd.com/doc/47097266/Thailand-s-Crisis-and-the-fight-for-Democracy