Tag Archives: Giles Ji Ungpakorn

The thugs that rule Thailand

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

There has been a spate of scandals concerning the level of bullying and physical abuse, leading to a number of deaths and serious injuries, among young military recruits and those in military training schools. The viciousness and violence associated with this abuse shows the general thuggish culture of the Thai military.

The top generals’ standard response to these events is firstly to lie and deny any wrong doing, and then, when they cannot sustain the lies, it is to justify the harsh life for young recruits or students in the army by claiming that this was designed to make sure that only the strong were moulded into soldiers.

In response to one recent death, Deputy Prime Minster General Pig-face Prawit said that he had been through the same training and it didn’t do him any long term harm.

However, this has nothing to do with genuine physical training but is a culture designed to create violent thugs who obey those above them and oppress subordinates or those who are weaker. It is training so that soldiers in the Thai army learn to abuse members of the general public and kill any citizens who oppose the political power of the military without the slightest remorse.

This killing of citizens can also be done with total impunity. No single soldier has ever been charged with killing unarmed protesters who were calling for democracy, in 1973, 1976, 1992 or 2010. No single soldier or policeman has ever been charged with the continuing killing and torturing of innocent civilians in Patani. No soldier or policeman has been charged with extra-judicial killings in Taksin’s “war on drugs”.

Officers in the Thai military are socialised to believe that they have a God-given right to intervene in politics and enjoy rich pickings from their political power. This only encourages them to stage military coups on a continuous basis. They arrogantly strut about claiming that they are the true defenders of the monarchy as though that excused everything. The present king is also an arrogant thug, beholden to the military.

Not only are the leading members of the junta guilty of ordering the shooting of innocent civilians, they also do not know how to talk to the public in a polite and respectful manner. Both General Pig-Face Prawit and Generalissimo Prayut regularly swear at, use obscenities and threaten reporters or members of the public who ask them difficult questions.

These are the thugs who rule Thailand and refer to themselves as “good people”, unlike the “bad” elected politicians!! Yet they claim that they are “reforming” Thai politics with a road map towards elections and democracy.

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Zimbabwe, Thailand, Egypt & Portugal: No such thing as a coup for democracy

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

The lessons from the military intervention in politics in Thailand are highly relevant to what is going on in Zimbabwe today, despite some of the differences.

Over the last few weeks and days we have seen jubilant crowds in Harare celebrating the military coup which overthrew the dictator Mugabe.

In Thailand in 2006 and 2014 we saw middle-class crowds urging the military to overthrow governments controlled by Taksin Shinawat. Despite the fact that these middle-class crowds were dominated by reactionary elements, who felt that democracy was not suitable for Thailand, there were many deluded fools, especially among the NGOs, who welcomed the intervention of the army to overthrow what they considered a “parliamentary dictatorship”. Of course Taksin abused human rights, but the governments which were controlled by him were not dictatorships. However, the point I wish to discuss is the belief among many people that a military coup can somehow bring about freedom and democracy.

Now the crowds celebrating in Harare were not mainly deluded fools. There was genuine elation at the overthrowing of a brutal dictator. Some, however, were indeed deluded fools believing that Mugabe’s former “enforcer” Mnangagwa was somehow a democrat and because he was a businessman he would restore the economy. Businessmen restore economies on their own class terms, on the backs of the working class and the poor.

The common idea held by those who believe that military coups can bring about democracy is the feeling that ordinary people, especially workers, can never change society and bring about freedom and democracy. That is why NGO types suspend their intellect and cheer the military. They believe that ordinary poor people need to be “helped” and can never act collectively to change society.

A similar event to Zimbabwe and Thailand took place in Egypt. There were mass protests when the elected President Mohamed Morsi started to betray the revolution. A majority among the crowds were under the illusion that the Egyptian military were the friends of the people. Only the radical Left warned that the military could not be trusted. Events showed that the military encouraged these protests and then hijacked them in order to come to power and roll back the revolution.

In Zimbabwe a significant number of people celebrating in Harare, had deep reservations about the military and Mnangagwa. The make up of the “new” military-civilian government shows they were right. The radical Left is encouraging workers and students to organise independently in order to bring about real change. The working class of Zimbabwe is capable of this if there is strong enough political organisation. Workers in neighbouring South Africa also have significant power and could provide solidarity. But it is the events in Portugal in 1975 which show the importance of working class self-organisation following a military coup. Chris Harman’s wonderful book “The Fire Last Time: 1968 and after” makes the point clearly.

On the 25th April 1975 General Spinola, an old fascist, headed a military coup which overthrew the dictator Caetano. Spinola’s aim was to run an authoritarian regime. It was planned as a Palace Coup. Yet the massive upsurge in working class struggle, which immediately followed his coup, split the military and prevented Spinola from achieving his goal. The fact that the Portuguese revolution could have moved society further along towards socialist freedom and democracy is a tragedy, but the lesson from Portugal for Zimbabwe, Thailand and Egypt is the vital role of independent working class struggle.

23 Nov 1975, Lisbon, Portugal — Portugal after Carnation Revolution — Image by © Alain Keler/Sygma/Corbis

Unfortunately those who understand this are a tiny minority among pro-democracy Thais. The hope in Zimbabwe is that this will not be the case.

Lies, more lies and even more lies

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

On the day when student activist Pai Daodin was refused bail once again by a military court because he held a banner opposing the military junta, Generalissimo Prayut stood up and spouted a tissue of lies about human rights. It was also a few days after leaders of rubber growers in the south had been detained in a military camp for complaining about the low price of rubber.

In the same week the junta also announced that it was strengthening the powers of the Internal Security Operations Command. Commentators have explained that this is yet another weapon for the army to control politics and elected governments in the future.

Without any sense of shame Prayut claimed that the junta was making “human rights part of the national agenda”, under a modernisation programme put forward by the so-called Ministry of Justice. Prayut’s lies were supported by two government spokes people, both military officers.

Prayut’s lies included the following bullet points:

  1. “Raising standards of human rights to international levels”. He probably meant the kind of international standards exhibited in Burma with regard to the Rohingya or the standards seen in Cambodia or even Saudi Arabia.
  2. “Encouraging businesses to respect human rights and human dignity in order to build stability and sustainability”. But the junta has prevented trade unions from staging protests and strikes and also capped pay rises for already low paid workers. It has also allowed large extraction companies to ride roughshod over the rights of local communities.
  3. The Generalissimo stated that he had no fear in proudly announcing Thailand’s human rights record to the world! This is when all reliable surveys put Thailand among the worst countries for rights and freedoms. Basically this man has no fear or shame of telling bare-faced lies to the world, probably because world leaders like Donald Trump, Xi Jinping and the leaders of the EU, don’t give a damn about human rights anyway.
  4. The wise General warned against nasty academics who just taught about democracy and human rights without being interested in the junta’s crafted laws. Such laws were drafted after the junta took power in an illegal military coup, overthrowing an elected government!
  5. Prayut promised to make speeches to bodies like the United Nations to explain the development of sustainable human rights.

Prayut also claimed that the junta would promote “a culture of respecting human rights in society”, no doubt by dragging those who do not understand the definition of the junta’s “human rights” into military re-education camps.

The fact of the matter is that Prayut’s military dictatorship has one of the worst human rights records of any Thai government. For the first time since the end of the Cold War Thailand has a large number of political prisoners and activists forced into exile. The use of the lèse majesté law has sky-rocketed and numerous opponents of the junta have been subjected to “attitude changing” detentions in military camps. Not only did Prayut stage an illegal coup to destroy democracy, but he is also guilty of mass murder for his role in shooting down redshirt pro-democracy demonstrators in the streets. His government has significantly militarised Thai society and is busy designing a system of sham democracy with fixed elections so that the influence of the junta can be extended for decades. The so-called National Human Rights Commission is also stuffed full of military and police officers.

Every time Prayut and other members of the junta open their foul mouths we just hear lies, lies and more lies.

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Latest: Junta’s security forces break up protest against Teppa coal-fired power station and arrest leading activists in late November 2017.

Junta accused of preventing political parties from preparing for election so as to give “Army Party” an advantage

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

The Thai military junta has been accused of preventing political parties from preparing for any future election so as to give the “Army Party” an advantage. Despite promising to announce elections in the middle of 2018, the junta have not allowed political parties to organise any activities. These activities would be vital in pulling together and recruiting party members, raising funds and drawing up party rules and policies; all a requirement under the junta’s new law regulating political parties.

At the same time the military junta is floating the idea of an “Army Party” as a vehicle to allow Generalissimo Prayut to become Prime Minister again after the elections. The military constitution also allows for a non-MP to be nominated as Prime Minister under certain circumstances. The junta is also justifying why it would be “legitimate” for it to support a particular political party in the future.

Civilian political parties which cannot fulfil the requirements laid down by the election law will be barred from standing in an election. This is a basic “snap election” tactic, aimed at giving advantage to those already in government. However, instead of a real snap election, the long-overdue elections, which have been continuously postponed, could eventually be held as a “fixed” race where the junta’s party is starting the race well ahead of civilian parties.

Even if these worst fears do not come to fruition, the elections will still not be free and fair, as there are a number of junta-controlled “super-bodies”, associated with the junta’s “National Strategy” which will neuter the power and freedom of any elected politicians or governments. Observers have also pointed out that the “Army Party” would have a total monopoly  of members in the appointed Senate which can veto anything that an elected government wishes to do.

The junta has planned to make sure that its dark shadow blots out the light of freedom and democracy in Thailand for decades.

However, the idea of an “Army Party” is risky because it could backfire if the population express their opposition to the junta at the ballot box. After the 1992 uprising against a former military junta, the public decisively rejected all political parties which were associated with the 1991 military coup. If this happened next year it would be a slap in the face for the junta.

The present junta has lied about its so-called role in building reconciliation, by claiming that it is a “neutral” party. Most Thais know this to be untrue, but if Prayut uses the future elections to become Prime Minister again, there could be wide-spread public anger.

An election outcome where none of the political parties wins an overall majority is probably one important aim of the junta. The weaker any coalition government might be, the stronger the influence of the military on such a government can be.

In the past, before the rise of Taksin’s Thai Rak Thai Party, elected governments were all weak coalitions of political parties without any real policies. Politicians and unelected members of the elite just used the political process to bargain and horse-traded personal benefits aimed at enriching themselves. Meanwhile the majority of the electorate were ignored and the gross inequality in power and economic status between ordinary citizens and those at the top, was allowed to get worse. This is the state of affairs that the reactionaries among those at the top of society, together with their middle-class allies, will be looking to with a big dose of nostalgia.

It will take a powerful mass movement on the ground and progressive left-wing ideas, coming from those organised in a new political party, before the dual legacies of the junta’s repression and Taksin’s betrayal of the redshirts’ dreams of democracy can be erased.

Economic Deja-vu

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

A recent analysis of the state of the Thai economy from the research department of Phatra Capital indicated two important structural problems. Firstly, continuing economic inequality means that any GDP growth at the present rates does not translate into increased well-being for the majority of the population. Secondly, Thai rates of productivity are too low to compete on the world market which is still growing slowly due to the long recession since 2008. A big factor here is that most industrial companies are still relying on cheap labour rather than trying to invest in modern technology and a higher skilled labour force. The cheap labour today comes from migrant workers from neighbouring countries. In rural areas productivity among small agricultural producers remains too low to raise people out of poverty. Where agriculture has a higher productivity it is among the agribusiness conglomerates.

This is exactly the same problem which faced the Thai economy just before the 1997 economic crisis. For this reason Taksin Shinawat and his newly formed Thai Rak Thai party set out to modernise Thailand, develop a higher skilled work force, increase productivity and raise the general standard of living of most working people, both in rural areas and in the city.

Thai Rak Thai called this a “dual track” policy, mixing grass-roots Keynesian state investment with promotion of the free-market at a national level. Among the policies initiated by Taksin’s government were universal health care for all, job creation at village level through cheap loans, measures to reduce farmers’ debt and increased investment in education and the promotion of digital skills. The Yingluck government’s rice price subsidy scheme was part of this kind of policy.

Taksin’s policies did not wipe out poverty or bring in economic equality. He denied that he wanted to build a welfare state, which would have been a vast improvement, and he was totally opposed to raising taxes on the rich. However, the policies did raise the living standards of most citizens and gave them hope for the future. This is why millions voted for his parties in elections without Taksin having to spend millions in buying votes like political parties in the past.

Yet the conservatives and neo-liberals derided these policies. The Democrat Party, the conservative bureaucrats, the right-wing academics and the middle classes called it “Populism”. Some foreign academics have gone along with this kind of right-wing discourse. For all these people, supporting the poor and the majority of the population was “bad for the country”. They wanted to return to the bad old days when the poor knew their place, state spending was concentrated on the military and the elites and elections were nothing to do with real policies.

In the end the conservatives and neo-liberals got their way with military and judicial coups. They are now ensuring that in any future elections, governments will not be allowed to support the poor, bring about modernisation or lower inequality.

In terms of the structural problems in the Thai economy, we are back to Square One.

But if we look at Taksin’s side, he and his party were reluctant in mobilising the mass of the population against the military and the conservatives. They have deliberately destroyed the pro-democracy red shirt movement. This is because they feared the results of any future mass uprising more than they feared the continued dominance of the military and the conservatives. We could even say that Taksin’s attempts to drag Thai society into the modern world and solve the problems of inequality were just half-hearted.

This reminds me of Leon Trotsky and Karl Marx’s theories of Permanent Revolution. The theory of Permanent Revolution argues that in less developed countries the modern capitalists and the conservative monarchists will seek compromise with each other and real progress towards a modern and equal society will need to be led by the working class and a working class based revolutionary party. This holds true for Thailand today. Taksin’s capitalist party attempted to carry out half-hearted modernisation, while always seeking to find ways to compromise with the conservatives and hold back the mass movement, and this has ended in the destruction of democracy and the fossilisation of society.

Materialist Power or Abstract Mystical Power of the Thai Monarchy?

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

For some years I have argued that king Pumipon of Thailand never had any real power and that his role was purely to give legitimacy to the political actions of the elites, especially the military. He was used by them as a symbol of the “natural order of things in society” in order to maintain the status quo.

When I have debated the power of the Thai king with some of my colleagues, especially Ajarn Somsak Jeamteerasakul and more recently Eva Hanson, their argument against my position is to say that I am looking at a narrow definition of power: the power to order something to happen. But in my view this is the essence of political power. It is a materialist, real world concept of concrete power. No other power exists. Examples of this concrete power are the power to order the military to stage a coup, the power to order the shooting down of pro-democracy demonstrators, the power to order the judiciary to make decisions according to the views of the monarchy, or the power to dictate political, economic and social policy. Quite a few Thais actually believed that king Pumipon had such concrete power. Yet it could never be proved.

However, those who argue against my definition of power claim that the Thai king never had to order anything directly because people would “know” what he desired and would therefore issue the orders on his behalf.

Now, in my view, this is just playing with words. Those that claimed to “know” the king’s wishes, without him ever ordering anything must have been engaged in self-delusion for nothing can be proven. It is not only self-deception, but a great public lie in order to justify to society what they choose to do. Without clear instructions or rebukes from the monarch there is no way of knowing that these people have correctly read the mind of the king. In fact I would go so far as to state that those claiming to be carrying out the king’s wishes in this way are merely using the king to give legitimacy to their own political agenda. This leads straight back to my position which states that the king was weak and used by the elites.

There are people all over the world who claim to be carrying out “God’s work”. This claim is made without any attempt to ever show a concrete instruction from God. There are no letters, e-mails or sound recordings of God’s wishes for us to investigate. At most there are only ancient “holy books”, which were in fact written by ordinary human beings, who claimed to be carrying out God’s work, and often these books are full of contradictions.

As an atheist I do not believe that God exists. But surely Ajarn Somsak or Eva Hanson would have to agree that using their thesis, God is in fact a very powerful and real being?

Or is it really that God is a powerful excuse used by ordinary mortals, to legitimise their actions to other humans who also believe in God?

So surely those who claim to have carried out Pumipon’s wishes are really only using what they hope is a powerful symbol in the eyes of some Thais in order to legitimise their own actions. In plain language, Pumipon was a powerful excuse to legitimise the policies of the Thai elites, irrespective of whether he agreed or disagreed with them and he never had any say in the matter either. In other words, he had no power. He was just a tool.

Of course, the Thai ruling classes had to attempt to socialise the population into respecting and loving the king in order that he could be a useful tool in the first place. But this was just propaganda which could be countered. At certain moments in history, the Communist Party successfully countered royalist propaganda. More recently some Red Shirts have done the same on a smaller scale. This is just an example of Gramsci’s “War of Position”, an ideological war.

In many societies “the law” is used by the ruling class to legitimise their actions. But “the law”, which the ruling class has written for its own benefit, is only powerful if the general population accept it. Once they do not, the real naked power of the police and army have to be used. We have seen this recently in Catalonia. We also see how the Thai junta constantly quote their own laws to justify their actions, but they are commanding the guns, tanks and the courts. Once the theatrical mask slips, we see the true nature of power.

The argument that Pumipon never had to order anyone to do anything directly, but somehow remained the most powerful man in Thailand does not hold water. It is merely another way of saying that he was used by the powerful elites to justify their actions.

New Monarchy now less important to Thai Junta than before

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Despite the manic funeral ceremony from Pumipon, the new monarchy in the form of Wachiralongkorn will be less important for the junta and its conservative allies in the future.

King Pumipon was never a powerful figure who could order the military, the capitalists or the politicians to do his bidding. The reality was that Pumipon was merely a willing tool of those in power, especially the military. His role was always to provide a strong ideological legitimacy for the elites and their actions, especially the actions of the army. Pumipon was never brave or resolute enough to be a political leader. His ideological role was not just about defending the military and the undemocratic elites. His reactionary “Sufficiency Economy” ideology was designed to oppose any redistribution of wealth and to support neo-liberalism by opposing state intervention to alleviate poverty. [See http://bit.ly/2oppTvb]

King Wachiralongkorn is even more weak and pathetic than his father. This is because he lacks all credibility because of his terrible behaviour, which robs him of any respect, even among royalists, and the fact that he has absolutely no interest in affairs of state. In terms of providing any legitimacy for the actions of the military or the elites, Wachiralongkorn is not fit for purpose.

So what is the junta going to use to replace the role of Pumipon? One option which they are engaged in right now, is the crafting of the “National Strategy”. This is a set of political and economic rules which will have a higher status than any laws. It will restrict all future governments and government institutions to the narrow path laid down by the junta. It will be policed by the National Strategy Committee, headed by Generalissimo Prayut, various sub-committees filled with junta appointees, and by the military backed Constitutional Court and the Election Commission.

It is claimed that this National Strategy Committee, which is part of the grand design for a system of “Guided Democracy” will ensure good governance and good stewardship of the nation. The junta and its friends have been banging on about “good” people for years. Not surprisingly, good people are those who think and act like the authoritarian generals. So Thailand has had a number of “good” military coups and other “good” acts have included shooting down “bad” unarmed pro-democracy demonstrators.

It is also falsely claimed that the National Strategy can create unity, reconciliation and political reform.

The ruling class, and especially the military, will still cling to, quote and enforce the reactionary ideology of “Nation, Religion and Monarchy” and the use of the draconian lèse majesté law will continue when the military and the status quo is criticised by dissenters.

But those in power will now depend much more on quoting the “sacred” National Strategy, as though it had genuine legal status, in order to legitimise suppression of the opposition.

We should not be surprised at the changing role of the monarchy. It has never been set in stone. In the period up to the overthrow of the generals in 1973, King Pumipon was just one factor among many providing legitimacy for the military. Anti-communism and the ideology of “Nation Religion and Monarchy” were the mainstays of the dictatorship. Of course Pumipon was promoted as a symbol of anti-communism. But the manic propaganda promoting him to a god-like status only took off after the communist threat had subsided.

The lèse majesté law is also flexible in its purpose. After the recent military coups it was used more to protect the military than Pumipon and the recent  lèse majesté charge against Sulak Sivaraksa because of a public speech about King Naresuan, who ruled the Ayutthaya Kingdom 400 years ago, shows that it can be used against those who question Thailand’s manufactured nationalist history.  Questioning this history is a threat to the status quo.

In addition to this, the junta has drawn up a law to prevent anyone from criticising the Constitutional Court. Anyone who does this will risk a prison sentence. As already mentioned, the Constitutional Court is to be used to police the National Strategy and in the past it has been used to overthrow elected governments.

In some ways the Thai National Strategy can be seen as similar to Indonesia’s “Pancasila”, which was a set of five guiding principles initiated by President Sukarno and later used to suppress left-wing or religious opposition, especially under the dictator Suharto. Pancasila was also used to repress the rights of populations to break away from Indonesia and to justify a lack of democracy. Pancasila’s so-called legitimacy was based on the need for national unity and order and General Suharto often pointed to the chaos of the early years after independence to justify it. The Thai junta will use the same justification.

Whether or not the Thai National Strategy can become the “New Monarchy” remains to be seen and depends on whether the junta can convince the majority of citizens to willingly accept it. In the meantime, Wachralongkorn will enjoy spending his millions in his palace in Germany and the Thai ruling class will try to keep him out of the limelight.

Read full paper here: http://bit.ly/2xGDiSu