Tag Archives: education

Culture of dictatorship responsible for Thai education failings

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

While conservative newspapers like the Bangkok Post agonise over the state of the Thai education system, complaining about the inability of students to engage in critical thinking, they cannot identify the most important cause of this problem: the culture of dictatorship.

Today, anyone who criticises the military junta is faced with repression, insults from the authorities, or short stretches in military camps undergoing “attitude changing sessions”. The military are present at all levels of society, enforcing dictatorship down to grass-roots levels. Last year, the mere distribution of red plastic bowls at Songkran was enough to invite arrest.

However, when I talk about the culture of dictatorship in Thai society, I do not mean just the fact that the country is ruled by a military junta today and for long periods in the past. This is an important part of this appalling culture, but it is only one aspect.

The draconian lèse-majesté law, which forbids any critical thinking about the monarchy, is part of this culture of dictatorship even when there are elected civilian governments. The extreme right-wing ideology of “Nation, Religion and Monarchy”, enforced in all schools and constantly promoted by the military, is part of this. The ingrained hierarchical nature of Thai society, where citizens have to crawl on the floor before the royals, where lower-class people have to bow their heads and show respect to those who are richer and more powerful than themselves, and where all this nonsense is decreed to be “Thai Culture”, cannot possible encourage critical thinking.

Long periods when it was deemed to be a “crime” to be a communist or socialist also blocked off the flowering of alternative viewpoints in open society. “National Security”, for the elites, is used to silence dissent. The idea of “one Thai nation” was not even challenged by the Communist Party because of its nationalistic ideology. Public playing of the National Anthem and the fact that citizens are forced to stand to attention at 8am and 6pm mean that there is no room for critical thinking about Thai nationalism. This is reinforced by the extremely high levels of official racism.

Until recently, people were afraid to admit to being atheists on official documents because it would lead to accusations of being a communist. This is part of the culture of dictatorship.

The weakness of trade unions in Thai society is linked to the main stream anti-socialist ideology. This in turn strengthens hierarchy and undermines alternative views about society which could encourage critical thinking.

Justification for military coups and so-called “reforms”, which decrease the democratic space, send out a message that citizens are “too stupid” to be allowed to choose their own governments. The middle-class reactionaries claim the people are not ready for democracy because of poor education. Therefore they need to be educated “in the right way”. Of course, this is a lie. Lack of democracy, caused by the actions of the elites, is the real obstacle to critical thinking.

Given that no mainstream newspapers or TV stations and no mainstream academics ever question this culture of dictatorship, it is a wonder that any young students can learn to think for themselves. Even the term “think for yourself” has been hijacked by the dictatorship to imply that those who have dissenting views are somehow brain-washed by people like Taksin and therefore those who “think for themselves” must obviously agree with the military and the conservatives.

Yet, as a former university lecturer at Chulalongkorn University, and a follower of Thai current affairs, I know that each generation of young Thais throws up critical thinkers. But it takes courage to do this. Today there are young students locked away in Thai jails for thinking for themselves, most are charged with lèse-majesté.

Apart from the culture of dictatorship, inequality in education is also a factor helping to keep the Thai education system in a poor state. This was highlighted by a couple of Finish educational researchers recently. But here the issue is closely linked to the culture of dictatorship because this culture exists to entrench inequality and to protect the elites. Those who have taken part in the destruction of democracy in Thailand are extreme neo-liberals who are totally opposed to a welfare state, progressive taxation or increasing wages. They justify all this with free-market ideology, including the former king’s reactionary “Sufficiency Economy”. Finland’s high education standards are a result of a welfare state, strong trade unions and a history of democracy.

The struggle to educate oneself, and the struggle to liberate oneself, are part of the same struggle. Thai citizens do not need to be fed “better” education by conservative experts, they need to throw off the chains of the culture of dictatorship.

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Why the junta’s draft2 of the constitution should still be opposed

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

If we look at the various attempts by the junta and its acolytes to draw up constitutional drafts which give them power over elected governments, one cannot help feeling that these attempts are the pathetic work of people whose world view is so narrow and inferior that they have no ability or wish to actually draw up some basic democratic political rules which will be accepted by the majority of citizens. Their attempts have range from the extremely childish first draft which talked constantly of the need to elect “good people” to this latest version which is painfully transparent in its attempts to retain the power of the junta. [See http://bit.ly/1Jv5QDC and http://bit.ly/1ScVIR6 …]

This is not a draft constitution; it is a document outlining the prejudices of those who have seized power through the barrel of a gun.

This draft, written under the direction of arch-conservative Meechai, has a 3 page prologue which full of lies. The aim of the prologue is to write a script for the king to praise Generalissimo Prayut and all his “achievements”, highlighting the fact that Pumipon is just a tool of the military. The prologue claims that the constitution will prevent politicians seizing power for their own ends, thus justifying the use of coup d’états by the military for its own ends. It talks about “Thai-style” democracy, which history has shown to be the opposite of democracy. It tells blatant lies about how the population has been involved at all stages in drafting this piece of toilet paper. The truth is that soldiers have repeatedly shut down discussion meetings about the constitution and threatened all those who advocate opposition. Finally it repeats the old worn-out lie that king Rama 7th “gave democracy” to the Thai people, when in fact the People’s Party had to put a gun to his head to force him to give up his absolute powers in the 1932 revolution.

Any piece of nonsense with this kind of prologue is never going to build freedom and democracy.

Article 5 of the draft constitution gives special powers to a group of political leaders to determine the future of the country “in times of crisis”. This super body has a junta appointed majority and it will be they who determine the definition of a crisis.

Like the previous draft an opening has been created for a Prime Minister to be chosen from a non-elected person who is not an MP under certain circumstances. Article 5 deals with this, but especially article 272, which “iLaw[1]” has highlighted as allowing a non-MP to be chosen after the first election. If this were to happen and a military man was chosen as the next Prime Minister, they could then entrench military rule further.

According to iLaw, Article 67 gives special privileges to Teravad Buddhism over all other religions and cuts out the sentences in previous constitutions about promoting good relations between religions. In addition to this article 31 only allows religious freedom if it is not a threat to national security. This opens the door to the persecution of Muslims or Buddhist sects which are not approved by the military.

In a new development, this awful draft destroys welfare rights for citizens in a typical neo-liberal fashion so popular with the conservatives.

Article 47 destroys the concept of universal health care by merely stating that the government has a duty to provide the very poor with free treatment. At a stroke the clock is being turned back to the bad old days.

On the issue of free, state education, article 54 in this draft has been roundly criticised by many school student activists because it talks about providing free pre-school education while cutting the aim of free education in the final years of secondary school.

As with the previous draft, the method used to calculate the number of MPs that each party will receive is designed to help middle-sized parties like the Democrats. But the senate is now to be 100% appointed by the military and senators are to hold office for 5 years, 1 year longer than elected MPs. The senate has increased powers over elected governments.

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The junta has made sure that any constitutional amendments will be very difficult to achieve because they will require a majority vote of the two houses sitting together, 20% support from the opposition and support from at least 1/3 of appointed senators.

At the end of this worthless scrap of paper article 16 insults the intelligence of citizens, claiming that they need to be “taught” about democracy, no doubt by conservative military types who hate the concept in the first place.

This draft constitution not only has a prologue but also has an epilogue. Both are equally appalling. The prologue is all about white-washing and justifying the crimes of the junta and about ensuring the continued influence of the military after elections.

On 12th April the blood-stained Generalissimo Prayut admitted that he does not trust the Thai people to elect a “good” government. This was his justification for the draft constitution. We certainly don’t trust him or his allies to bring about political reform or democracy!

Notable supporters of this authoritarian document among politicians include Sutep Teuksuban, Democrat Party mobster leader who violently opposed the last general elections, and highly corrupt politician Banharn Silapa-archa. One would not expect anything else from these two.

This draft constitution needs to be vigorously opposed. Even if it somehow passes in a flawed referendum where all discussion about the document is banned and more and more people are being dragged into army camps for “re-education”, the struggle to overthrow the dictatorship must continue.

[1] http://freedom.ilaw.or.th/en

Latest update: Prayut threatens all those who campaign against the military draft constitution before the so-called referendum with 10 years in jail…. some referendum!!