Tag Archives: Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Mafia style military rule ensures impunity

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Last year I reported that soldiers in Chiang Mai shot down Chaiyapoom Pasae, a 17 year old Lahu activist. This killing was committed in cold blood. A villager who witnessed the event, which took place at a military check point, told Thai PBS news channel that soldiers dragged Chaiyapoom out of his car and beat him up, stamping on his face. They fired two warning shots and then deliberately let him go. While he was running away they shot him dead. [See https://bit.ly/2o4Wq99 ].

After many attempts by lawyers to get the military to release the CCTV footage of the event, which they repeatedly claimed they had, it now appears that the footage has been “lost”. This is despite the fact that a senior military officer, General Wijuk Siribanpot, commander of the 3rd Region Army gave a televised interview saying that if he had been at the scene he would have switched his gun to automatic mode and riddled Chaiyapoom with bullets because “he had drawn a knife and attempted to throw a bomb” at soldiers. How would he know what happened, given that there is now no physical evidence available?

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The “loss” of CCTV footage is no surprise and it paves the way for the continued impunity enjoyed by the thugs in uniform.

Another recent news item reported that Sawai Tong-om, a pro-democracy red shirt protestor, who was shot and seriously injured by troops in 2009, has had his legal case against the military appointed Abhisit government and the military overturned. Initially the courts awarded him damages of more than a million baht. But the court of appeal overturned this ruling, and worse still, ruled that he must pay the military’s legal expenses. His property has now been seized and sold for this purpose.

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So not only do security forces and their political lackeys enjoy impunity for state crimes, the victims have to pay for legal fees.

Witnesses to military killings are intimidated in order to silence them. “Wan” or Nattathida Meewangpla, was a volunteer paramedic who witnessed the military killings of red shirts at Wat Patum in 2010. Because she was a key witness to this event, she was fitted up with terrorism and lèse-majesté charges by the military and she has been languishing in jail for the past 3 years.

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Nattathida Meewangpla

Of course, this kind of thing happens all the time over the situation in Patani, where innocent people end up being abused and jailed while security forces go unpunished. Fa-ist Mayu, a community volunteer from the NUSANTARA foundation, is the latest person to be arrested on questionable grounds by the security forces for a shooting incident in Naratiwat.

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Fa-ist Mayu

Many Malay Muslim students, studying a Ramkamhaeng Open University fall foul of indiscriminate arrests by the police and military. They are then often subjected to torture in order to confess crimes they did not commit.

No politician, military officer or policeman has ever been punished for the disappearance of the lawyer Somchai or the massacre of unarmed civilians at Takbai.

The entire situation makes it feel like the country is being run by the Mafia, with a total lack of justice and no one at the top ever being accountable to the public.

Meanwhile it has been revealed that over the last 5 years the Mafia Bosses in Uniform have spent 1,061,171 million baht on the ever-increasing military budget…..

 

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The ASEAN Dictators and their Sham Elections

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

The recent sham election in Cambodia was yet another example of the lack of democracy in many countries of South-East Asia. Dictator Hun Sen banned opposition parties, outlawed dissent, controlled the media and then held an “election”. Not surprisingly, Hun Sen’s governing party “won” a land slide victory.

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Generalissimo Prayut, the Thai dictator, must have been following events in Cambodia with interest.

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Another example for him to follow has been the “Burmese Model”. This involved fixing the constitution to ensure that the Burmese military remained in charge, with powers to veto government decisions and step in at any time, regardless of who may win elections. This is the situation under which Aung San Suu Kyi is operating, although after years of opposition to the generals, she seems to have decided to willingly go over to their side and adopt the military’s policies. She has even become a mini-dictator in her own party.

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Of course, the dictatorships of the “Stalinist” communist parties in Lao and Vietnam have been holding sham elections since the end of the Indo-Chinese war in the late 1970’s. Only candidates approved by the ruling party are allowed to stand in elections and there is heavy control and censorship of the media.

Prayut’s much delayed elections in Thailand may or may not take place next year. But what is clear is that the military will still be in charge, whatever the outcome of the election. This will be achieved through the National Strategy, outlining junta approved policies which all governments must adhere to for the next 20 years. The military domination of the Senate and the judiciary will also ensure this.

At the same time, the Thai junta is harassing opposition parties for organising meetings or making statements in the media. Both the Future Forward Party and Pua Thai are facing such repression through bogus legal sanctions. If necessary the junta can even convict party leaders on trumped-up charges and get them banned from politics. Incidentally, this latter tactic is a favourite of the ruling party in Singapore, yet another ASEAN dictatorship.

Prayut himself has not ruled out running in the elections, although this could be risky. Quite a few “politicians for hire” are jumping over themselves to join the military party.

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Democracy difficult for Prayut to swallow

At a recent junta event, the police issued “guide lines” to the press on how to approach the “Dear Leader”. No one was to approach him at a distance of less than 5 metres, journalists were told to bow and scrape before taking pictures or asking questions and no unflattering photos were to be taken. After an avalanche of amusement on social media, with people referring to Prayut as a dangerous wild animal who should not be approached, he relented and ordered the police to scrap the guide lines. But he hates being brought to account by some sections of the media.

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Prayut talking to a frog

There are some in ASEAN who oppose Prayut’s dictatorship. A recent article in the Jakarta Post argued that Thailand should not be allowed to be the next chair of ASEAN, given that Prayut has not stepped down to hold free elections [see https://bit.ly/2vHiHOM ]. It is good that this article was published, but it is doubtful that it will prevent Prayut from being the next chair of ASEAN. It is interesting to note that Indonesia is the most democratic of all ASEAN countries at the moment.

Of course there are many voices of opposition to the destruction of democracy from within Thailand and these voices, should they succeed in mobilising large numbers of people, will be key to achieving democratisation. At the same time we need to condemn the various European governments, and that of the United States, for deciding that it is “business as usual” in their relations with Thailand.

Junta’s repression and double standards regarding forest conservation

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Three villagers in the north-east province of Chaiyapum have been given prison sentences and fines for supposedly encroaching on forest reserves. Another woman is due to be sentenced early in August. This is all part of the military junta’s so-called policy of “taking back the forests”.

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Previously other villagers have been sentenced to jail for collecting mushrooms in forest reserves.

This contrasts with the treatment of those who have power and wealth.

A government funded housing scheme for senior judges on the forest slopes of Doi Sutep, in Chiang Mai, has caused public outrage, both for the damage to the forest, but also for the ugly scar left on the hill side. The junta has refused to stop the scheme and demolish these houses, claiming that they would face law suits from contractors.

The houses of poor villagers are often demolished by forestry officials and soldiers without any care for the effect on peoples’ lives.

As previously mention on this site, encroachment of forest reserves and the shooting of protected wild life by the rich and powerful takes place with impunity. Premchai Gunasoot, president of the Italian-Thai Development PLC (ITD) construction company, was initially arrested by forestry officials in the Tungyai Naresuan Wildlife Sanctuary, in the west of Thailand, near the Burmese border. He was in possession of skinned carcasses of protected wild animals, including a black Indochinese leopard. Yet, unlike poor villagers, this rich businessman is not in prison [See https://bit.ly/2mLFh4W ]. Pol Gen Srivara Rangsibrahmanakul was even photographed apparently grovelling to Premchai.

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This same policeman was involved in further controversy when he warned the volunteers trying to rescue the football team from the cave that they must not break the law by trying to drill down to find an alternative access to the boys.

The military junta and previous governments have not been reluctant to grant forest land to large companies for them to exploit various resources. What has never been on the agendas of governments is the provision of housing and land for poor farmers to use.

There has been a long-running problem regarding forest reserves which were often declared in the past with no recognition of the fact that villagers were already living and working there. Apart from Thai villagers, those from ethnic minority groups are particularly vulnerable.

Over fifty years ago Thailand had a small population with large amounts of unsettled land, much of it forests. It was normal practice for villagers to move in and clear land for agricultural purposes.

Typical of any military dictatorship, the present junta’s “taking back the forests” policy is carried out with a heavy hand, disregarding the needs of ordinary people.

A sensible and just way to manage Thailand’s forests would be to turn them into social forests where local people have a collective and important role in managing and conserving forests together with government organisations. But the culture of officialdom dictating policy in a top-down manner is preventing this from happening. Having a military dictatorship in charge of the country only makes things worse, especially when military personnel are now in charge of every facet of public life at a local level.

Inequality is still a huge problem in Thailand

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

According to Dr Anusorn Tamajai, Dean of the Faculty of Economics at Rungsit University, the Gini Coefficient for Thailand in 2015, when the last measurements were taken, stood at 0.45, a slight improvement from the figure in 2006 of 0.51 [ see https://bit.ly/2kc3KPy ]. The Gini coefficient is a measure of inequality, with the highest inequality defined as a Gini Coefficient of 1.

Dr Anusorn believes that the improvement in inequality can be explained by pro-poor policies of previous governments, especially the Yingluk government’s fairly large increase in the minimum wage level, the rice price guarantee scheme and pro-poor policies introduced by the Taksin government such as the village job creation fund and the universal health care policy. Improvements in the social insurance scheme also helped.

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However, inequality in wealth is still a huge problem given the low level of wages for workers and lack of land among poor farmers. The top 100 billionaires increased their wealth rapidly over the last 3-4 years while there was no increase in wealth among most ordinary citizens.

Thailand is among the top five unequal countries of the world with the top 1% of rich people owning 58% of the country’s wealth. Under the present military dictatorship the top 50 billionaires increased their ownership from 26% of GDP in 2014 to 30% in 2017.

None of this is unexpected since the two military juntas that have ruled Thailand since 2006 and the military appointed Democrat Party government all pursued extreme neo-liberal policies [see https://bit.ly/2kiUZSl ]. They and the middle-classes who supported the coups, hated Taksin and Yingluk’s pro-poor policies, complaining that such “Populism” was destroying fiscal discipline and ruining the country. The Democrat Party was a harsh critic of the universal health care scheme. Right-wing academics and media analysts liked to claim that pro-poor policies were just a form of corrupt vote-buying where the “uneducated poor” just used their improved economic position to buy frivolous luxuries.

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The pro-military courts have also been used to try to punish members of the Yingluk government for the rice price guarantee scheme and also to prevent elected governments spending money on infrastructure development.

Today these neo-liberals are continually trying to erode the universal health care scheme by suggesting that citizens be made to pay for health care. The present junta also wants to enshrine neo-liberalism in the National Strategy in order to prevent pro-poor policies by future elected governments.

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Of course none of the neo-liberals ever complain about the huge amount of wasted money spent on the monarchy and the military.

The building of a welfare state, funded through progressive taxation of the rich would go a long way towards reducing inequality. It would also improve political participation by citizens as their lives became more secure. Unfortunately, none of the political parties which are hoping to contest the next election, including the Future Forward Party, are prepared to tax the rich and the corporations in order to build a welfare state. This only goes to show that Thai society needs a stronger trade union movement and a workers’ party in order to campaign for such reforms.

It was a good thing that Elon Musk was not involved in the Thai cave rescue

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Following the outrageous Twitter attacks by Elon Musk on the Thai and international cave rescue team, including accusing Vernon Unsworth of being a “paedophile” and saying that the former governor of Chiang Rai, Narongsak Osottanakorn, did not knowing what he was talking about, it is worth looking into the way Elon Musk runs his Tesla electric car company in the USA. [See “Elon Musk apologises for calling Thai cave rescuer a ‘pedo’” https://bit.ly/2LgLML1 ]

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Musk made these attacks after his offer to provide a mini-submarine was turned down by the rescue team for being impractical. Unsworth has said that it could not be used due to the narrow and curved nature of some of the cave tunnels. Instead of unconditionally applauding the successful rescue, like most people in Thailand and around the world, it seems that Musk took umbrage to the fact that he was unable to steal the lime-light and help promote himself.

In April this year the Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR) in the Unites States published an article about working conditions in Musk’s Telsa electric car factory in Fremont, California. [See https://bit.ly/2qGLpgf ]

Economy Manufacturing

The CIR reported that the former “Safety Lead” at the factory had tried to raise serious concerns about safety with higher management and had been ignored. The rate of accidents in the factory was between 8.1-8.8 per 100 workers in 2016-2017, compared to 6.2-6.7 for the US auto industry as a whole.

Worse than that, CIR reported that Tesla illegally tried to keep a number of accidents off the books by mislabelling them. California’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health has cited Tesla for more than 40 violations since 2013. Tesla’s rate of serious injuries that required time off or job restrictions was 83 percent higher than the industry in 2016.

Tesla’s safety issues include hazardous chemicals, serious cuts due to machinery, accidents involving fork-lift trucks, electrical injuries and burns from molten metal. The factory floor was described in the report as being chaotic and some machinery, such as hoists, were not tested before use.

The conclusion of the CIR is that pressure to speed up production meant ignoring safety issues. Musk’s name was often was invoked to justify shortcuts and over-rule safety concerns. Musk also had a reputation for an authoritarian management style and workers were often forced to do 12 hour shifts, 6 days per week.

The Guardian reported that Musk often said boastful things and then did not follow them up in practice. Tesla also seemed to have a problem with racial and sexual discrimination and harassment.  [See https://bit.ly/2K2hnjq ]. An employee complained that they had to choose between eating and going to the toilet. In another Guardian article from February, it was reported that some employees were attempting to set up a union. The company responded by making unproven accusations in an attempt to prevent unionisation. [See https://bit.ly/2ljDiDj ]. The factory building formerly belonged to General Motors and there had previously been a union.

All in all it seems from these reports that Musk was not the kind of person to work as a team, using a high regard for safety, in the rescue of the football team from the cave.

The Thai State cares little about ordinary people

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Now that we have heard the good news about the successful recue of the young football team from the cave, we are in a position to draw some serious lessons from this event and also from the tragedy of the sinking of a tourist boat off the southern island of Puket, where a number of people drowned. We should also not forget the death of a Thai diver during the cave rescue operation.

There are three important lessons which I wish to discuss.

Firstly, safety standards for ordinary citizens and visitors to Thailand are extremely poor. We must not blame the football coach or the parents of the football team who got stuck in the cave. They have suffered enough and are clearly in a position to learn lessons. It is about collective responsibility in society for safety standards, not about the actions of an individual. The political situation in Thailand means that the Thai State has never given priority to the safety of citizens. There are few regulations and enforcement is lax. In the West adults who take children on outdoor activities have to be fully trained and have to follow strict guidelines. Access to places like caves which are liable to dangerous flooding would be strictly controlled.

Transport safety standards in Thailand are extremely bad. The tourist boat that sank off Puket put out to sea in storm conditions. There seems to have been little coordination between the harbour authorities and the meteorological office. There were no strict enforcement of safety standards for different sized boats and the greedy tour operators were allowed to get away with murder, literally. This is similar to the total lack of safety standards for road transport, where unacceptably high accident rates occur during public holidays due to a lack of good public transport and long working hours with few days off for many working people. Instead of the police trying to ensure safe travelling all the year round, many motorists experience being stopped by corrupt police in order to collect illegal payments.

The Thai State cares little about the safety of ordinary citizens, children, tourists, or workers in construction and manufacturing industry. It is a state which is blatantly run by and on behalf of the upper classes. It is only through pressure from trade unions and social movements that this situation can change.

Secondly, the Thai State has neglected the creation of rescue organisations and other types of infrastructure to protect citizens. Thailand needs a properly organised emergency service throughout the country, including rescue teams. The use of soldiers, who are not properly trained for such duties, is just not good enough. These teams need to be locally based, properly funded and they need to be civilian organisations run by experienced permanent crew. Instead, we still see emergency ambulances, where they exist, stuck in traffic with no one clearing the way for them. In contrast, we see much police activity to clear the way for various royals and big-shots when they want to travel.

The neglect by the Thai State of the rights of citizens to enjoy high standards of safety and decent government services is due to decades of military rule and/or rule by the elites, with little political input from below. The Left and the trade unions are still too weak. This is why Thailand still does not have a welfare state funded by progressive taxation of the rich and large corporations.

Many have rightly praised the role of the governor of Chiang Rai. But the elite and hierarchical nature of society meant that he had to start his press statement by praising the king and the fact that the royals had somehow shown great concern for the safety of the football team. The genuine concern shown by millions of people in Thailand and other countries was just ignored. It should be emphasised repeatedly that the efforts of hundreds of ordinary volunteers was crucial. Needless to say, the king did not fly in and roll up his sleeves to help with the rescue work!

Thirdly, there is the role of Nationalism in Thai society, fostered by the elites. The “Nation, Religion and Monarchy” ideology is constantly used to exclude people and to enforce obedience towards the upper classes. This has resulted in many racist comments in social media about the drowned Chinese tourists and the Chinese tour operator. Ordinary Thai citizens may count for nothing as far as the Thai State is concerned, but foreigners count for even less as far as the racists are concerned. [See https://bit.ly/1JaeTJY  ]. In addition to this, there are thought to be a million or more stateless people living in Thailand. The Thai government has refused to grant them citizenship. Some of these stateless people were among the members of football team stuck in the cave. One of them was the one with the best language skills who was able to communicate with the British divers. We need to demand that all stateless people be granted citizenship.

Those who support the junta and its plan for Guided Democracy have said that the spirit of cooperation shown in the rescue of the football team proves that Thais can unite across political differences and no doubt forget the destruction of democracy. But for me, the spirit of cooperation shown during the cave rescue shows the potential to build a new and inclusive society in Thailand based upon democracy, equality and socialism.

Why is the Thai Left so weak?

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

The answer to this question lies with the history of past struggles against the military and especially the role of the Communist Party of Thailand (CPT). The CPT was established in the late 1920’s among urban workers of Chinese ethnicity who made up the early Thai working class. Unlike some other communist parties, there is no indication that it was ever anything else but a Stalinist organisation.

In 1973 half a million people, mainly young school and university students, but also ordinary working people, managed to overthrow the military dictatorship of the time. It was the first mass popular uprising in modern Thai history.

Under the dictatorship trade union rights had been suppressed and wages and conditions of employment were tightly controlled. Yet, illegal strikes occurred throughout the period and increased rapidly in the early 1970’s due to general economic discontent.

Economic development also resulted in a massive expansion of student numbers and an increased intake of students from working class backgrounds. These students became radicalized due to the 1968 events abroad and the defeat of the USA in Indo-China.

In October 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. The successful 14th October 1973 mass uprising against the military dictatorship was a watershed event. Workers, peasants and students began to fight for more than just parliamentary democracy. In the two months following the uprising, the new appointed civilian government faced a total of 300 workers’ strikes. New radical student bodies sprang up. 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. 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 illegal Communist Party of Thailand increased rapidly, especially among activists in urban areas.

Originally the party organised urban workers in the 1940s and 1950s, but it took a Maoist turn away from the working class and towards the peasantry, in the 1960s.  This Maoist turn to the countryside became a serious problem for workers and the Left in general.

The Thai ruling class’ desire to destroy the further development of the socialist movement, came to a head with the 1976 bloodbath at Thammasat University. Thousands of students went to the countryside to join the armed struggle against the Thai State led by the CPT but the problem with the party’s Maoist strategy was that it more or less abandoned the city and the working class to government repression.

Three years after 1976, splits and arguments between the student activists and the conservative CPT leaders resulted in an exodus from the CPT camps. It was the failure of the CPT to develop a credible strategy for the Thai socialist revolution and a failure to relate to the new generation of young activists who joined the struggle in the 1970s. The emphasis on rural armed struggle in Thailand did not fit reality. Since 1932 all significant social changes have taken place in the cities. The authoritarian nature of the CPT leadership alienated the students. The main experience of student activists in the jungle with the CPT was a stifling of all original ideas and a lack of any freedom to debate. Finally, the party’s Maoism backfired when the Chinese government turned its back on the party in order to build a relationship with the Thai ruling class in the new geo-political situation after the Vietnam War.

By 1988 the student activists had all returned to the city as the CPT collapsed. In the eyes of thousands of activists their experience of communist ideas and organisation was a deep disappointment. Unfortunately, unlike in the West, alternative and “new” Marxist organisations, especially those from a Trotskyist tradition, had no significant presence and could not rescue the Marxist tradition.

Today, even among the best anti-junta activists, there is still an unwillingness to build mass movements and an aversion to party organisation. [See https://bit.ly/2cj7nCx ].

In the late 1990’s I was involved in re-establishing a Marxist and Trotskyist current among small groups of students and trade unionists. But our organisation was not strong enough to withstand the repression and use of lèse-majesté following the two recent military coups. Never the less, interest in Marxism and socialism, especially among some young people, has not been totally snuffed out. It is hoped that this will eventually lead to a revival of the organised Left at some stage in the future.