Tag Archives: Democracy

Answering Generalissimo Prayut about democracy

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Recently the dictator Prayut addressed some arrogant and stupid questions to the Thai people about democracy. I shall try to answer them, although I am not convinced he would understand the answers.

  1. Do you think at the next election you will get a government committed to “Good Governance”?

Answer Well, whoever gets elected cannot be worse than the present government made up of uniformed bullies and thugs who have abolished the democratic rights of citizens through violence. This despicable government is headed by yourself, a mass murderer, who is responsible for the deaths of nearly a hundred pro-democracy demonstrators, who were shot in cold blood.

But on the question of “Good Governance”, this is a contested concept, with different people having different ideas about what it means, mainly depending on one’s social class or political perspective. It might come as a surprise to you that some puffed-up murdering general does not have a monopoly on defining “Good Governance”.

  1. If you don’t get a government committed to “Good Governance” what will you do?

Answer It may also be a new concept for you that there are democratic ways to protest against and even remove what the majority of folk regard as a “bad government”. This involves street protests, strikes and the building of mass movements. Those committed to democracy do not wish to call on some tin-pot generals to sort out their political problems for them, despite this being the preferred practice of the whistle-blowing middle classes.

  1. Elections are an important part of the democratic process, but is it enough to just have elections without considering the future of the country, political reform and the need for a national strategic plan?

Answer Free and fair elections are a fundamental part of democracy which you have sought to frustrate and abolish. But yes, just electing the government is not enough. We need to elect the Head of State, top judges, generals and CEOs of companies. Without such elections for all public offices, there is a danger of having an unelected king who is a moron and only interested in his own pleasure. Without electing judges and generals there is a risk of having a biased and unaccountable judiciary and military men who are megalomaniacs. Without electing those who make investment decisions we can only have half a democracy.

Your junta’s so-called reforms are merely an excuse to restrict the democratic space and pave the way for your dream of Guided Democracy.

Again, the question of what constitutes “reforms” and what is a good plan for the country depends on your class and political persuasion. The fact that you fail to grasp this basic democratic concept probably means that you are long over-due for an “Attitude Changing Session” in a boot camp run by democratic citizens.

  1. Do you think that “bad” politicians should have the right to stand for elections and if they get elected who will step in to solve the problem?

Answer One thing is clear. Murdering military men who stage coups and have no respect for the democratic rights of citizens and who use their power to line their own pockets should never be allowed to run the country. Unfortunately that is the exact description of your junta. The fact that you claim to be a “good person” merely reinforces the fact that the definition of good and bad politicians depends on where you stand. These things need to be debated openly so that the mature and thoughtful citizens of this country can consider who they want in government and if they are disappointed with those they elect, they can throw them out and elect someone else. The last thing we need is for some egotistical military thugs to shoot their way into office, claiming that they are “saving the country”!!

Powerful idiots like Prayut are not used to the ideas of freedom and democracy, having grown-up in a military bubble. But if he is so cock-sure of himself, why doesn’t he stand in a free and fair election?

Junta Lies and Repression Continue

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Meechai Ruchupan, the Thai military junta’s pet legal expert on the destruction of democracy, has been complaining about people who keep demanding freedom and elections. “If democracy just results in the election of corrupt politicians, why have democracy, he asked.” He trotted out the usual excuses for military rule which have been used by anti-democrats for decades. Thai people are “stupid, backward and don’t have any discipline”, he claimed. “That’s why we can’t have democracy”.

Meechai

Dinosaurs like Meechai always crawl out of the swamp when the tanks roll into town. He, like other members of the elite believe that they are the only ones with any intellect and honesty. But his lies prove otherwise. The Thai military is renowned for its corruption and this always gets worse when they are running the country.  [See http://bit.ly/2nRS0BG ]

He is, however honest about one thing. His rants against democracy reveal that all the so-called “reforms” in which he is engaged are not really designed to restore democracy at all. The aim is bad old, Asian-style, “Guided Democracy”.

As for Generalissimo Prayut, there seems to be no need for a quick return to democracy either. According to his angry exchanges with reporters, he said: “I am a democrat….. If the country isn’t ready for democracy, I’ll stay on longer, even shutting the country off from the rest of the world. Those protesting against the government will be the first to be dealt with.” He went on to explain that “so-called human rights activists complain about people being detained and sent to military camps for attitude changing sessions. If this is an abuse of human rights we can just throw them in jail, how about that?”

The junta shut down the non-government Voice TV station for a week for daring to air programmes critical of the junta. At the same time the junta has been explaining that democratically elected politicians in the past wanted to keep the people ignorant so that they could rule over them with ease. The military want people to “think for themselves”, they claimed. The way to encourage people to think for themselves is obviously to make sure they all think in the same manner as the junta.

This explains why the junta has been cutting the education budget and always sends round the uniformed thugs to close down any academic seminars or meetings about the political situation in the country.

The junta’s Foreign Minister also criticised a United States report on the lack of democracy in Thailand. He explained that Thailand now had “more democracy than before”. It is a wonder he didn’t go on to affirm that the Earth was flat and that democratically elected politicians in the past had all been aliens from outer space!

While the junta is busy crafting “democracy”, the brutality continues. Following the extra judiciary murder of Chaiyapoom, the Lahu activist in the north, two further extra judiciary killings have taken place in the south, in Patani. [See http://bit.ly/2o4Wq99 about Chaiyapoom.]

In addition to this, the culture of militarism and violence is proving fatal for some young recruits. Private Yutenun Boon-nium is the latest to die after being violently punished for “breaking military discipline”. His mother has vowed not to cremate his body until a proper investigation is carried out. Even if some low-ranking officer is found guilty of this latest crime, which is unlikely, the top commanders will get off scot-free. So will the generals who placed themselves in control of the country. This isn’t just an isolated event. The fact that the junta placed soldiers in charge of every level of society and have created a culture where uniformed thugs can just search peoples’ houses, drag them off for having the “wrong politics” and close down meetings and media at will, teaches soldiers at all levels that they can be as violent as they like.

There will be no freedom and democracy or any civilised society in Thailand until we get rid of the military.

The sorry tale of Anek Laotamatat’s “Tale of Two Democratic Cities”

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

On 12th April 2016 the blood-stained Generalissimo Prayut admitted that he did not trust the Thai people to elect a “good” government. This was his justification for the draft military constitution which restricts the power of any democratically elected governments in the future. It is also the justification for the 2006 and 2014 military coups. It has the support of liberal, right-wing, academics in Thailand.

Liberal academics in Thailand believe that Taksin cheated in elections by “tricking or buying the ignorant rural poor”. For them the rural poor were trapped in a patron-client system. The person who mapped out this view most clearly was Anek Laotamatat in his 1995 book: “The Tale of Two Democratic Cities”.

Anek Laotamatat’s book attempted to claim that the major divide in Thai democratic society was between the rural and urban areas. These were the “two democratic cities” of Thai politics. According to Anek, the divide was not just geographical but it was an issue of class too. In his view, the rural electorate were mainly small farmers and the urban electorate were “middle-class”.

The overwhelming dominance of the rural electorate in various constituencies meant that they had the voting power to elect governments. Anek claimed that these governments were mainly corrupt and deeply involved in money politics. In Anek’s view, the rural people voted for these politicians because they were “patrons” of the poor who had to prove themselves by their work record of helping local communities. Vote buying was a ceremonial part of this “patron-client” relationship and not seen as “wrong” by the rural voters. Anek believed that rural people did not vote by using “independent thought” about political policies, but were bound by ties of obligation to their patrons.

For Anek, the urban middle-classes were well educated and chose their governments and politicians using independent thought and a strong sense of “political morality”. They cast their votes after carefully considering the policies of various parties, and when the governments which were chosen by the rural poor turned out to be corrupt and immoral, they took part in street demonstrations to bring those Governments down.

This was an inaccurate and extremely patronising view of Thai political society. The Thai middle-classes have a history of political opportunism, sometimes supporting barbaric and repressive regimes, like in 1976 and the present junta, and sometimes opposing military dictatorships, such as in 1992. Marxists have long defined the middle-classes as fickle and cowardly, bending with the wind according to strong political currents either from above or from below.

The present anti-democratic position of the middle-classes is based on strong currents from the conservative elites to ditch democracy because it gave too much power to Taksin and too much benefit to ordinary working people in urban and rural areas. Their so-called “anti-corruption” crusade has helped place the military in power. The military is one of the most corrupt institutions in Thailand. Not only this, the main political leader of the anti-corruption crusade, which opened the door to military rule, Sutep Tueksuban, is a longstanding and classical old-style politician of the Democrat Party which uses pure “patronage” and corruption to maintain votes in the south of Thailand. This is because the party has never had any real policies.

Interestingly, Anek’s solution to the problem of political patronage which he claimed resulted in corrupt politicians being elected from rural areas, was to get the state to increase rural development projects so that these areas became more urban-like and linked into the capitalist market through technological advances. Equally important was the need for political parties to develop clear policies and propose new solutions. The book was written before Taksin’s Thai Rak Thai Party was ever established and it appears that TRT followed closely all the major points put forward in the book for developing Thai politics. Not only was TRT the only party for over two decades to take the issue of party policies seriously, the party took a keen interest in winning votes from the rural and urban poor on the basis of such policies. The 30 baht Universal Health Care Scheme was typical. The Taksin Government then proceeded to actually honour its election promises and use state funds to develop rural areas so that they could be linked to the world market. The Village Funds and “One Tambon One Product” (O.T.O.P.) are a good examples. In short, Taksin and TRT followed Anek’s prescriptions to the letter and therefore the rural voters started to vote for clear pro-poor policies, while reducing their personal attachment to local political patrons or bosses.

This is supported by the work of Australian anthropologist Andrew Walker who found that rural voters were carefully weighing up policies of various parties at election time.

Yet during the Yellow Shirt PAD campaign against Taksin before the 2006 coup, liberal academics and some social activists often quoted Anek’s book to “prove” that the rural poor were too stupid to understand democracy and that they were tied into Taksin’s new “patron-client system” via TRT’s populist policies. This was reinforced by Anek himself, who claimed, in a later book that TRT had built a new patron-client system and that this showed that Thailand could never have fully functioning democracy.

The very concept of a “patron-client system” is not about a political party which offers populist policies to the entire national electorate, carries them out and then gets overwhelmingly re-elected on a national ballot. Political patron-client systems are about individual relationships between a local political boss and the boss’s constituents. The relationship results in preferential treatment for some. It is pure nonsense to state that TRT was building a new strong patron-client system in the countryside on a national level. For those who genuinely believe in democracy, governments and political parties ought to carry out policies which the people want.

Anek Laotamatat is now promoting the idea of “Asia Values” in his attempt to justify the military regime. He argues that Thailand needs a “mixed” system where elected governments share power with the King and Thai Rak Thai Populism is replaced by “Third Way” social welfare. Anek is an ardent admirer of the British academic Anthony Giddens, favourite of Tony Blair.

The reality in Thailand is that the “two democratic cities” are made up, on one side, of the elites and middle-classes who hate democracy because it threatens their privileges, and on the other side, the urban and rural working people who cherish freedom and democracy because it is in their class interests to do so.

Can the Red Shirts rebuild Thai Democracy?

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

The simple and brutally honest answer to this question is NO.

Ever since Pua Thai’s election victory in 2011 and even more so since the same Pua Thai government was overthrown by the military in 2014, the Red Shirts have become a spent force. This is because Taksin and his allies in the UDD Red Shirt leadership have prevented the movement from being part of any serious pro-democracy struggle.

When social movements like the Red Shirts are frozen out of activity and starved of the oxygen of struggle, they die.

This is one reason, among a number of reasons, why the military’s draft constitution was accepted in the recent referendum.

Many people might wonder why the Red Shirts and their leaders seem to be paralysed in the face of violent and criminal actions by Prayut’s military junta and by the anti-democratic mobs who set the scene for the 2014 military coup.

The reason why Pua Thai and the Red Shirts are paralysed is that Taksin and his allies in the political leadership of these organisations were faced with a hard choice. Either they had to encourage a mass uprising in response to the coup, which would have involved the mobilisation of millions of Red Shirts, or they could choose to go for a grubby compromise with the conservatives and the military in the future.

To put it more bluntly, either Pua Thai and the UDD had to mobilise their millions of supporters to tear down the old order, or they had to make peace with their conservative elite rivals. Given that Taksin, Yingluk and Pua Thai are basically “big business politicians” wishing to return to the fold of the elites, they have naturally chosen the latter option. This is to avoid revolution from below which risks sweeping them all away.

Thailand’s “old order” is not some semi-feudal state structure. The state and the conservative elites are part of a modern capitalist semi-dictatorship controlled by the military, the business class and the top civil servants. They are all united in their royalism, but Thailand is not an absolute monarchy either. These conservatives are extreme neo-liberals who are totally opposed to spending state funds on improving the lives of ordinary people. They denigrated Taksin’s “dual-track” economic policies, which were a mixture of grass-roots Keynesianism to help the poor and free-market policies at a national level. They also hated the electoral advantage which Taksin had over them because of his pro-poor policies.

The Marxist theory of Permanent Revolution explains that we cannot hope or trust mainstream political parties of the business class to launch a serious fight for democracy against the conservatives. This means that we should not raise false hopes that Yingluk, Pua Thai or Taksin will ever carry out the necessary mobilisations to get rid of the old authoritarian order. That task must be led by a movement from below whose aims should be to go further than just establishing capitalist parliamentary democracy as seen in the West or just turning the clock back to Thailand’s political system before 2008.

If the Red Shirts are now a moribund force for change, it does not mean that individual activists from the movement cannot form an important part of a new movement for democracy.

Unfortunately, those claiming to be a “New Democracy Movement” in Thailand today do not take the important task of building a mass social movement seriously. They falsely believe that symbolic actions can “expose” the lack of democracy and lead to change. They are not serious in their analysis of power in society. This is a failure of politics. For too long now, activists in Thailand have rejected the need to study and debate political theory and to see the importance of class. They still reject the need to build a political party of the left.

Lessons from Thai history show that the power to take on the military and the elites lies with mass movements. The power of mass movements can be boosted to significant levels by building roots within the working class and utilising this economic power to confront the elites.

It is clear from the experience of the Red Shirts that we cannot rely on people like Taksin. We need to build a mass movement from below with links to the organised working class.

Further reading: http://bit.ly/1NsZDDa , http://bit.ly/1syU03r , http://bit.ly/245WxhD

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 ]

No such thing as the “Deep State” in Thailand

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

The theory of the “Deep State” often wrongly presupposes that there is such a thing as a “regular state” which is visible, accountable and serves the people. The Deep State is supposed to be a unique set up in some countries appearing as “a state within a state” which is unaccountable to democratically elected governments. This flies in the face of reality.

For a start, states in the modern world today exist in order to facilitate the dominance of the capitalist ruling class over the majority of the population who are working people. This can be seen in many ways. For example, the state enshrines the so-called “right to manage and own” whole sections of the economy by business leaders. There is no requirement for them to be elected by the population or the workforce. Investment decisions affecting millions of people are never subjected to democratic control. The so-called “hidden hand” of the free-market attempts to claim that this is the “natural order”. The views of business leaders are given much more importance than the views of ordinary citizens. The media is mainly controlled by big business. Police and the military are used to break up strikes by trade unionists who try to redress the balance of power. These armed bodies of men are never used to arrest CEOs for closing factories, sacking staff, cutting their wages or moving investments out of communities.

In most Western countries which claim to be democracies, the secret services, top civil servants, judges and military commanders are not subjected to democratic election and are mostly a law unto themselves. In the past, the policies of elected governments, such as Labour governments in Britain, have been frustrated by these sections of the state, working with big business. It is a myth that controlling parliament means controlling the state.

The use of the term “Deep State” might be useful when talking about core remnants of the security apparatus which originated from a repressive authoritarian time and still exist under parliamentary democracy. The term has been applied to Turkey and some Latin American countries. However it is extremely questionable whether it is a useful term in Thailand. Yet, Eugénie Mérieau, in a recent article in the Journal of Contemporary Asia, and also at a seminar at the London School of Oriental and African Studies, has attempted to use this concept in analysing the Thai political crisis.

[See http://bit.ly/25RMW44 ]

In order to argue for the existence of a so-called “Deep State” in Thailand, the author has had to exaggerate the power of the king, overlook the long-running fractures within the military, ignore the fact that the Thai judiciary have never been strong nor independent of those in power and write mass movements out of Thai history. Her theory is yet another one-sided top-down view of Thai society, much favoured in the past by right-wing academics.

The author seems to imply that the so-called Deep State always opposed Taksin. Yet, she has to ignore the fact that Taksin Shinawat, as a member of the ruling class, commanded a great deal of influence over sections of the military and judiciary in his early days as Prime Minister. He was very popular among nearly all sections of the ruling elite because of his promise to modernise Thailand after the 1996 economic crisis. The king even praised his brutal extra-judicial killings in the War on Drugs. The conservatives only turned against him when they could not compete with his electoral advantage because they were either not prepared to join him, or were not prepared to offer the population the kind of policies that would improve their lives. The conservatives are extreme free-market neo-liberals.

It is not some Deep State that is fearful of the loss of privileges, as claimed by the author. Taksin never threatened privilege nor wealth. He was no socialist. But he did threatened their share of political power by his overwhelming electoral base. Instead, it is the whistle-blowing crazed middle-classes who saw the rural electorate as a threat to their privileges. Yet the middle-class do not appear in this paper.

Thailand does not have some stable, unchanging core, of conservative reactionaries embedded deep within the state. There are fluid and dynamic bonds between members of the ruling class as the various factions make or break alliances in an opportunistic manner. Some of Taksin’s faction were drawn from the left, others came from the conservative and royalist right-wing who took part in attacks against democracy during the Cold War.

Mérieau argues that the Deep State is trying to use the judiciary as a surrogate king as Pumipon nears his last years. She implies that the “power” of the king is being transferred to the judiciary. Yet, Pumipon has never been powerful. He is, and always has been, a tool of the elites, especially the military, who turned him into a semi-god for their own purposes. The king symbolises the conservative ideology which gives legitimacy to the authoritarian actions of the military and their allies. It is a double act of military “power” and royal “ideological legitimacy”. In this double act the weak-willed King has no real power, but he is a willing participant. Taksin also used the king during the time that he was Prime Minister. His Government took part in the hysterical promotion of the King around the 60th anniversary of his reign and started the “Yellow Shirt Mania”, where everyone was pressurised into wearing royal yellow shirts every Monday. Both the Taksin and Yingluk governments were keen to use the lèse-majesté law. All evidence points to the fact that Taksin is a royalist.

If the oath of allegiance of judges to the Thai king is evidence that the king controls the judiciary, as claimed by Mérieau, then Britain must be ruled by an absolute monarchy! We need to understand the ideological and ceremonial roles of monarchies in the modern world.

It is also rather too simplistic for many people to make glib conclusions that middle class demonstrators who hold up pictures of the king or military officers who wrap yellow ribbons around their troops are acting “on behalf” of the king or that they are under his command.

The only difference between Taksin and his supporters and the yellow shirts and the military is that Taksin’s side could use economic and political policies to legitimise their role alongside royalism. The yellow shirts and the military could only use royalism.

Mérieau’s Deep State theory about Thailand is just another way to express the opinion that the king has been an all-powerful figure at the centre of the state. The dominant academic view which sees the king as all powerful, includes Paul Handley, Duncan McCargo, Same Sky (Fa Deaw Kan) Press, Kevin Hewison, Michael Connors and Niti Eawsriwong. There is a suggestion by these academics that Pumipon organised the 2006 coup and had been manipulating politics since the 1970s. Many of these intellectuals rely, consciously or unconsciously, on the old Maoist analysis, from the Communist Party of Thailand (CPT), that under-developed countries like Thailand had yet to complete their bourgeois revolutions and were therefore “semi-feudal”. This analysis sees the major confrontation among the elites as being between the old semi-feudal order and the new rising capitalists. It is a mechanical and banal application of the 1789 French Revolution to Thailand in the 21st century.

This school of thought ignores the fact that the ruling class networks which support the monarchy also include the major bankers and industrialists, including Taksin. They also ignore the capitalist nature of the king’s vast investments. They therefore believe the Yellow Shirt accusation that Taksin and TRT are crypto-republicans. This is the logic of Duncan McCargo’s network conflict and the logic of those who believe in the 2006 “Royal Coup”.

[See http://bit.ly/1UjXEaX   p107 onwards]

The Thai judiciary, civil service and bureaucracy have always been weak and under the control of whoever was in power at the time. Those with power or influence can always intervene in the bureaucracy and subvert the rules in order to obtain what they want. This is the reason for a total lack of any standards of justice and also the reason for rampant corruption among the entire bureaucracy. The mountains of paper work associated with the Thai bureaucracy only prove that all the individual petty bureaucrats are fearful of making any decisions themselves and hide behind red tape, passing decision making responsibilities up the ladder.

The military have always been divided by factionalism. This has often limited its power, although the military are the only force that was able to topple elected governments in recent years. Some military leaders accept democratic elections and others are more authoritarian. Some military leaders were against the monarchy in the 1950s, and others have shown leanings towards left-wing politics. Prayut’s faction is the extreme right-wing of the military today. This is not a unified part of a so-called Deep State. What affects the power of the military more than anything is the strength of social movements. Thailand’s political history since the early 1970s is a history of struggle from below against the power of the ruling class. Periods of democracy were the result of the strength of pro-democracy movements. Ironically, the present period of dictatorship has also been determined and influenced by the social movements. Firstly, because many social movement activist called for military intervention, but also because the conservative elites are still mindful of the democratic current within society. The democratic current means that the present junta need to write a constitution that fixes elections rather than just returning to the days of the dictator Sarit. Eugénie Mérieau acknowledges that this democratic spirit means that judiciary intervention is a preferable choice for the conservative elites to direct intervention by the military or even the king. But the key role of mass movements is totally ignored. For Mérieau it is almost as though the elites granted democracy to the plebs as some kind of experiment.

The concept of a Thai Deep State may appear to be an exciting, sexy, new fad in the rarefied world of academia, but it does not help us understand the Thai political crisis.

Further reading:  http://bit.ly/1WKss8d, http://bit.ly/1HFxyLM,  http://bit.ly/1Uu6oZz , http://bit.ly/1TdKKYs

 

Managed Stability or Democracy?

Giles Ungpakorn

Recently I had a conversation with a researcher associated with the British Foreign Ministry and I was surprised and shocked to hear him say: “Burma is the most democratic country in South-east Asia”. He went on to say that the worrying thing about Burma was that Aung San Suu Kyi might be too inflexible to work with the military.

Now, as far as I am concerned, The Philippines and Indonesia are by far the most democratic countries in the region, despite their flaws. And let us face it, Britain and the United States do not exactly have perfect democracies. As far as Burma is concerned, it has a constitution which allows for long-term military domination of politics and the most worrying thing about Suu Kyi is that she has completely compromised with the military, has Burman nationalistic and Islamophobic ideas, and that she is a neo-liberal. [See http://atfp.co/291UWUR ]

So what accounts for this absurd idea about Burma?

The views about democratisation among mainstream officials and politicians close to Western governments are heavily influenced by right-wing “comparative politics” theories associated with academics like Guillermo O’Donnell. For these people, democratic transition is all about the behaviour of elite factions and how they manage a stable transition to so-called democracy. In fact they are not really interested in freedom, democratic rights and social justice for the majority of the 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.

Guillermo O'Donnell
Guillermo O’Donnell

Reading through political science literature about democratic transitions in the days before the overthrow of Suharto in Indonesia or before the overthrow of Marcos in the Philippines, you can see that the idea that these dictators might be overthrown by mass movements from below is totally lacking. But this is in fact, exactly what happened. The same can be said of the Arab Spring uprisings and uprisings against the military in Thailand in 1973 and 1992. And the most important social force which can push forward and develop democratisation in all these countries, including Thailand, remains mass movements of workers and the poor.

Even when the right-wing theorists are forced to confront reality that a regime has been overthrown by a mass movement, they try to re-write history to say that it was a movement of the middle-classes.

In other words, right-wing “comparative politics” ideas look down on workers and the poor and see the elites and the middle-classes as the only people who can bring about progress in democracy. This is a view which fits exactly with views expressed in Thailand by the yellow shirt P.A.D., Sutep’s anti-democratic mobs, the military junta and those idiots responsible for drafting constitutions and anti-reform agendas for the military.

Pit Pongsawat
Pit Pongsawat

Unfortunately, my friend and Chulalongkorn University political scientist, Pit Pongsawat, also seems to go along with this right-wing “comparative politics” nonsense. Recently he suggested that we need to find ways to open a dialogue with the military in order to bring about democratisation. But such “democratisation” will only be the “Managed Stability”, much loved by the right-wing. The present Burmese military dominated half democracy is a clear example of the end product of such ideas.

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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 and the military and there are voices raised in British government circles critical of the mildly democratic principles of the out-going British Ambassador to Bangkok for “isolating” Britain from the military junta.

No doubt the United States government is also trying to tread a fine line between being seen as anti-dictatorship and pushing the Thai junta into the arms of the Chinese.

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As we have stated many times in this blog, democracy, freedom and social justice will only be achieved through the building of mass social movements from below.