Tag Archives: Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Two main reasons why Thailand should be a republic

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

There are two main reasons why Thailand should be a republic and they do not include the myth that King Wachiralongkorn is supposedly an Absolute Monarch.

If we consider the reason why many countries such as Britain, Sweden, Spain, The Netherlands and Thailand have retained the institution of the monarchy from a previous era, we can understand the role of monarchies under modern capitalism.

Monarchies fulfill a reactionary ideological role which tries to promote the idea that class divisions and inequality are somehow “natural”. Monarchies are a statement that most people are born “low” while some are born “high”. It is only the high-born folk who deserve to be surrounded by immense wealth and it is only they who have the God-given right to determine political, social and economic policies.

The reactionary ideology of the monarchy serves to legitimise privilege, elitism and a lack of democratic space in society. It is an ideology which protects the ruling capitalist class. So it becomes “natural” for bosses to dictate policies in the workplace and for big business to exclude ordinary citizens from making economic policy. It becomes “unnatural” for anyone to suggest that we take away the immense wealth and power of the few in order to distribute it among the many.

The ideology of the monarchy also serves the purpose of trying to claim that we are all part of one nation with similar interests; the “National Interest”. This is an attempt to reduce class conflict.

Of course, this reactionary ideology is constantly being challenged from below, in Europe and in Thailand, which is why the elites seek constantly to reproduce it.

In this way, the monarchies and capitalist ruling classes of Britain, Sweden, Spain and The Netherlands are little different from the Thai monarchy and the Thai capitalist ruling class. This is despite some differences in detail, such as the functioning lèse-majesté law and the practice of crawling on the ground before the king in Thailand.

Many Thai political commentators are unable to break free from the socialisation by the Thai state and wrongly believe the ruling class myth that the king is all powerful. They are encouraged to believe this by ruling class nationalism which promotes the idea that Thailand is somehow unique. Therefore comparative studies of other countries are irrelevant. Therefore foreigners “cannot possibly understand Thai politics and society”. Some foreign academics, like the ones from the “Cornell Mafia”, but others too, just love to perpetuate myths about the unique Thai or Asian psyche which makes Thai or Indonesian politics so “mysterious”. Sharp analysis disappears among statements about “barami” (charisma) or about the “fact” that Asians love powerful leaders.

In Thailand the role of the monarchy is to legitimise the actions of the military, big business and the conservative bureaucracy. Thus, the military use the excuse about protecting the monarchy in order to install themselves in power and to try to crush opposition. Elected business politicians like Taksin also used the monarchy to help with his legitimacy. The difference between Taksin and the military is that the military have only royal legitimacy to justify their political interventions.

I have argued in many posts on this site, and also in longer articles, that King Pumipon and King Wachiralongkorn did not and do not have political power. The main obstacle to freedom and democracy today is the military junta. But it is the ideological role of the monarchy which we also need to abolish.

King Wachiralongkorn has not created a new “absolutist” regime, but what he has been busy doing is feathering his own nest. He insisted on a change in the military’s constitution so that he could continue to enjoy the good life in Germany without having someone else appointed over his head to act on his behalf. He has reorganised royal wealth by concentrating it in his own hands. He has asked the Bangkok zoo and other organisations to move out of prime real-estate land so that he can earn higher profits. It is all about personal greed and that is all he is interested in and all he can actually control.

This brings us to the second reason why we need a republic in Thailand. The Thai king is one of the wealthiest people in the world and given the average levels of wealth of the majority of ordinary Thai citizens, this is an obscenity. If all this ill-gotten wealth was taken off the monarchy we could improve education, health care and build a properly funded welfare state.

So the two main reasons for creating a republic in Thailand are the reactionary ideology symbolised by the monarchy and the fact that it is a parasitic institution wasting millions of much-needed resources.

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Thai Electoral rules aimed to fragment political parties

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

The junta’s anti-reformists have devised a strange and complicated equation for allocating the number of MPs that each party would have in parliament after the next election. As in previous Thai elections, there will be MPs elected directly to various constituencies and also MPs elected from national votes for party lists. In other countries, such formulae are used to introduce proportional representation. But in Thailand the number of Party List MPs will be determined by a bizarre equation designed primarily to stop a popular party, especially “Pua Thai”, from achieving a majority in parliament. The formula means that more Party List MPs will be allocated to parties which fail to gain many Constituency MPs and those that win in many constituencies will have a reduced number of Party List seats. This would give added MPs to smaller parties such as the pro-military “Democrat Party” at the expense of a party like Taksin Shinawat’s “Pua Thai Party”.

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Unlike Taksin’s parties, the Democrat Party has never won a majority in parliament and it worked hand in glove with the military after Taksin’s parties were overthrown in military and judicial coups. Taksin’s Thai Rak Thai Party won a number of general elections due to its pro-poor and modernising policies, such as universal health care and job creation and poverty reduction schemes in the countryside. The party had to change its name to “Palang Prachachon” and then “Pua Thai” after the parties were dissolved by pro-military courts. “Pua Thai” means “for Thais”.

The junta’s election formula for allocating MPs is also designed to try to make sure that Thailand goes back to having a string of weak coalition governments where different parties fight for a place at the government feeding trough. A weak elected coalition government would be easier for the military to manipulate.

However, as they say, “every force has an equal and opposite reaction”. Politicians allied to Taksin have created 2 sister parties; “Pua Tum Party” (“for justice/virtuousness”) and “Pua Chart Party” (“for the nation”). Taksin’s allies hope that this will give the pro-Taksin coalition of 3 parties an increased number of MPs compared to if they all stood in the elections under a single Pua Thai banner.

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Pua Tum has also been set up in case the pro-junta courts decide to dissolve Pua Thai on some spurious grounds. Pua Thai MPs could then migrate to the party.

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Pua Chart Thai has been set up by a group of former Red Shirts.

The “The Prachachart Party”, set up by former Thai Rak Thai Muslim politicians in the South, might also support a Pua Thai government.

No doubt there are many other machinations and deals, involving other politicians, going on behind the scenes.

Of course, we must also not forget that whoever wins the election will be severely constrained by the junta’s 20 year National Strategy and its appointees in the Senate and the judiciary.

The state of the parties so far

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

At present the presumed date for the future Thai elections is sometime in February 2019 and various political parties are going through the process of registering with the Electoral Commission and holding meetings to elect people to leadership posts. However, political parties have been warned by the junta not to declare their manifestos or to start the process of electioneering.

There are a number of parties worth a mention on the anti-military side.

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The “Future Forward Party” has a clear policy of reducing the power and influence of the military by scrapping the military constitution and other junta inspired laws, and it is busy pushing its “new look” and claiming to be the party of the new generation. However, it is likely to be a party aimed at sections of the pro-democracy middle classes. It will prioritise the free-market and business interests while also claiming to support the poor in an abstract manner. Its leader, tycoon Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, has stated that it will “protect capitalism for the benefit of the majority”. In the past he has emphasised that business must make a profit before benefits for workers can be improved. It is in favour of devolving power to the provinces and has made sounds about self-determination in Patani. [See https://bit.ly/2Nf7fks and https://bit.ly/2IpUUJa ].

Without an extra-parliamentary mass movement for democracy it will be difficult for any elected party to reduce the role of the military. [See https://bit.ly/2O5ZNNx ].

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The “Commoners Party” claims to be a grass-roots party with no big-business backing and it is made up of NGO activists and villagers. It also has a position against the military’s involvement in politics, but so far its policies remain vague. It has recently been involved in a scandal when it was revealed that the elected deputy leader, Akechai Isarata, took part in the anti-election mob in 2014 which opened the door to Prayut’s coup. This stems from the NGO movement’s hatred of Taksin Shinawat and their reticence about democracy and the need to oppose military coups. He has now resigned after members of the party called on him to quit.

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Akechai Isarata

The Taksin controlled Pua Thai Party has a long pedigree of being supported by the rural poor and urban workers, which will give it an advantage at the polls. Taksin’s first party, Thai Rak Thai, brought in the first ever universal health care scheme and other pro-poor policies. But Taksin has a reputation for brutal repression in Patani and during the War on Drugs. Pua Thai also enjoys an “anti-military” image from the fact that 4 of its elected governments were overthrown, either by the military or the pro-military judiciary. Yet Taksin and most Pua Thai politicians, with handful honourable exceptions, have done nothing to oppose Prayut’s military junta over the last 4 years. It is known that they would rather do a deal with the military and the reactionaries. [See https://bit.ly/2pI87Ev ].

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Military and state murderers

In the pro-junta reactionary corner, we have the misnamed Democrat Party, which in 2008 became the “party of the military”. Abhisit Vejjajiva was appointed Prime Minister by the military and in 2010 ordered the cold-blooded shooting of unarmed pro-democracy demonstrators. The Democrats have never won a majority in any election and since the Taksin years have taken an extreme free-market position, opposing state spending on the universal health care scheme and job creation programmes. The party now pretends to oppose military coups and Prayut’s continued role in politics. But it has a record of taking part in events which create the conditions for military intervention. There is currently a contest for the leader of the party. [See https://bit.ly/2IrOIAr ].

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Also in the reactionary corner, we have the “Action Coalition for Thailand Party” set up by Sutep Tuaksuban and his mates. The Thai name is “Ruam Palang Prachachart Thai”, which means unite together the power of the Thai people. Included among founding party members are members of the Tuaksuban clan; a political mafia group who control areas of Surat Tani province in the south. They were formerly members of the Democrat Party. Sutep Tuaksuban, along with Democrat Party leader Abhisit and General Prayut, are responsible for the cold-blooded murders of Red Shirts in 2010. Sutep was also the leader of the anti-election mob which wrecked the February 2014 elections and paved the way to Prayut’s military coup. [See https://bit.ly/2QjpRS5 and https://bit.ly/2zF2bSS ]. Reactionary academic Anek laotamatat [https://bit.ly/2cPKRjP ] and former “professional student leader” turned PAD Yellow Shirt Suriyasai Katasila, along with Sutep’s lawyer, are also among the list of founding members of the Ruam Palang Prachachart Thai Party.

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Anti-election gun man associated with Sutep’s mob

Sutep’s “Ruam Palang Prachachart Thai Party” supports the military junta and it might well vote for Generalissimo Prayut to become the next Prime Minister. Prayut has refused to rule out extending his role in politics and the military constitution allows for a non-MP to be nominated as Prime Minister in some circumstances. However, anyone wanting to vote for the junta can now directly support the “Palang Pracharat Party” (power of the citizens party). It has been set up by Prayut’s cronies and is stuff full of junta officials. Naturally, when the reactionary parties talk about “the people” they really mean the military and the elites.

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Cartoon ridiculing Palang Pracharat’s connections to junta (from Lok Wan Nee)

Of course, we have to be absolute clear that these elections will not restore democracy to Thailand, as the political agenda is going to be tightly controlled by the military’s National Strategy and their powerful appointed supporters in the senate and the judiciary. However, this system of “Guided Democracy” will be enough satisfy Western governments who have never cared about freedom and democracy in most parts of the world.

Military Junta incapable of bringing peace to Patani

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Following an ambush by Patani freedom fighters, which resulted in the deaths of two army rangers and injuries to another 4 at Nong Jik, Patani, on 11th September 2018, Lieutenant General Piyawat Narkwanit, commander of the 4th regional army, declared Nong Jik to be a “Controlled Area”. He also stated that they may bring charges against relatives (mothers, fathers, wives etc.) of anyone arrested for the ambush. So far 8 so-called suspects have been detained. The local villages have also been surrounded and locked down while everyone has to register their weapons, boats and vehicles.

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Lieutenant General Piyawat Narkwanit

This heavy-handed response by the military is typical of the junta’s mentality and a gross abuse of human rights. Collective punishment of families and communities by the military for the actions of individuals is similar to what the Nazis carried out in occupied Europe or what the Israeli government is doing to the Palestinians. It is a form of terrorism.

The good news is that human rights lawyers and young student activists from Patani have come out to oppose such measures taken by the military. However, a number of Thai nationalist groups, including one Buddhist organisation, have tried to pressure the police to take action against the students. Patani University has also tried to put pressure on them to stop their so-called anti-state activities. Given the repressive nature of the Thai state, it is impossible to defend human rights without carrying out anti-state activities.

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The fact of the matter is that the war against the Thai State is a direct result of years of oppression and human rights abuses by various Thai governments. [See https://bit.ly/2xFce7Y ]. The military junta continue to insist that the military should play a leading role in “solving” this war. They pretend that they want to bring about peace, yet their only solution is to hold talks with representatives of the insurgents with an aim to getting them to surrender. No political solutions are on the table.

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There can be no peace unless the Thai military are withdrawn from the occupation of Patani, human rights abuses are put right and the local people of all ethnicities are allowed to freely discuss how to move forward to self-determination. Peace can only be achieved by all-inclusive political discussions led by civilians. This is not something that the military are prepared to contemplate. [See https://bit.ly/1QCoOWs ]

Meanwhile a new political party of Patani Muslims has been set up. The Prachachart Party is made up of established mainstream politicians from the area. Former policeman Tawee Sordsong, one of the founding members of this party, recent gave an interview where he stressed the need to accept multiculturalism in society, devolve political power to local communities and promote human rights. The party proposes reforming the police to ensure that it has a different structure from the military. Yet, the party does not advocate withdrawal of the military from the region or criticise the use of security laws or martial law. It merely wants troops confined to barracks and local civilians to have more say and increased political participation in security matters. Apart from advocating multicultural policies in the whole of Thailand, the party has little to say about other social and political issues such as the need for a welfare state, workers’ rights or the removal of the military from politics.

The Future Forward Party is committed to cutting down the influence of the military in politics and on the issue of Patani it proposes that the military should withdraw from the area and that the future of Patani be determined by civilians. [See also https://bit.ly/2tZG5JK ]

However, both the Future Forward Party and the Prachachart Party do not envisage the possibility of independence for Patani, if a majority of locals want this. They are not prepared to challenge the conservative nationalist view about Thailand as an “indivisible nation state”. However both parties have tentatively talked about some form of regional autonomy.

As for Pua Thai, the party is still stuck in the past with little to say about Patani.

Local mass social movements in Patani will have to mobilise to push for a more progressive political agenda for ending the war. To be successful they need to also concern themselves with issues other than Patani in order to build alliances with progressive groups outside the region.

Further reading: https://bit.ly/2eBAzDjand https://bit.ly/2bemah3 .

WHO praises Thai Universal Health Care while junta wants it destroyed

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Recently the deputy head of the World Health Organisation, Dr.Soumya Swaminathan, visited Thailand to prepare a Memorandum of Understanding which would allow the WHO to share the experiences of the Thai Universal Health Care scheme with other poor and middle-income countries, especially those in Africa.

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The success of the Thai Universal Health Care scheme means that ordinary Thai citizens receive better health care than millions of people living in the United States.

It is worth reminding ourselves of the history of the Thai Universal Health Care scheme. It started out as a proposal by progressive doctors like Sanguan Nitayarumpong. Taksin Shinawat’s political team who were building the Thai Rak Thai Party in order to fight their first election in 2001, listened to people like Sanguan and took his idea on board to make it an important part of their election manifesto. After winning the election, Taksin implemented this health care policy which charged everyone a flat rate 30 baht for visits to hospitals. The scheme was designed to cover anyone who was not already part of the National Insurance or Civil Service scheme for employees and resulted in everyone being covered by a health care scheme. It was especially valuable to villagers in rural areas, people in informal employment and their children.

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This health care scheme has always been opposed by the extreme neo-liberals in the Democrat Party and within the two military juntas which staged coups against Taksin-led governments.

The Democrat Party spent most of the time during Taksin’s first government attacking his pro-poor policies, including the Universal Health Care scheme, as being a waste of government money and against “fiscal discipline”. No wonder most working class or poor Thais never voted for the Democrats. When the Democrats eventually formed an unelected government with military backing in December 2008, they cut the universal health budget by almost a third. The military budget was increased and has continued to increase under the two military juntas that followed the 2006 coup.

Academics like Tirayut Boonmi and Ammar Siamwalla talked about Taksin building “a climate of dependency” with “too much” welfare. Other rich snobs in the academic world claimed that the ignorant poor would just visit hospitals “every day”. In fact the health care policy fulfilled an urgent basic need for millions.

After the 2006 coup the military junta announced that they were scrapping the 30 baht treatment fee. What looked like a progressive measure was really an attempt at a neo-liberal trick. The plan was to gradually introduce means-tested fees in the future. For those deemed to be too well-off, a system of “co-payments” or health charges, way above 30 baht, would be introduced at a future date. Meanwhile the very poor would receive bad quality free health care. Even some members of the Yingluk government toyed with the same idea under pressure from the neo-liberals.

By a slight of hand, the military constitution of 2017 has changed the clause concerning health care. The key word removed from the previous constitution is “equality”. The junta’s 20 year health development plan also talks about co-payments.

So far the various military regimes have not dared to introduce health charges. But General Prayut and his team keep talking about the health care scheme, which covers 48 million Thais, being a “burden” when the country “cannot afford it”. The real burden is actually the role of the military and its huge budget. The Royal Family, especially Wachiralongkorn, are also a useless burden.

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Now, once again, voices in the junta’s Ministry of Finance are suggesting that anyone earning over 100, 000 baht per year should be charged up to 20% of their health care costs. Workers on the minimum wage earn about 90,000 baht and struggle to make end meet. This is a serious neo-liberal attack on the Universal Health Care scheme and if it is introduced it would be the thin end of a wedge to create a two-tear system within the scheme, but to also allow for bigger increases in health charges in the future.

We desperately need a mass movement which both campaigns for democracy and against the neo-liberal policies which exclude the majority from fully enjoying the benefits of society.

 

Brazil-Thailand “Neo-Liberalism versus Democracy”

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

A recent book by Alfredo Saad-Filho & Lecio Morais titled “Brazil: Neoliberalism versus Democracy”, describes how the Brazilian elite conspired with the middle-classes and right-wing politicians to destroy the Workers’ Party (PT) government and its pro-poor policies.

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The events in Brazil have a similarity with the destruction of democracy in Thailand.

Obviously the events in Brazil and Thailand are not the same. For a start, the PT was a social democratic party with roots in the trade union movement and Lula, their first president was a former metal worker and trade unionist. Taksin Shinawat is a big business tycoon and his party was not in any way social democratic nor allied to the working class.

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Lula’s PT government, which came to power in 2002, continued to pursue neo-liberal policies which the previous right-wing government had used. Lula had toned down his social democratic policies and built an alliance with national capitalists in order to look respectable. However, the PT needed to reach out to its base among workers and the poor, who were suffering from the effects of neo-liberalism. So when Lula was re-elected in 2007 the government started to use what Saad-Filho & Morais refer to as “Developmental Neoliberalism”. This policy did not abandon neo-liberalism but added to it the role of the state in creating an economic atmosphere beneficial to national private capital. Developmental Neoliberalism also accepted that economic growth could not be sustained unless such growth was reconciled with tackling social inequality. This was the policy which was also used by Lula’s successor, Dilma Rousseff.

After the 1996-7 Thai economic crisis, which was a symptom of extreme neo-liberal policies in the past, Taksin Shinawat’s party proposed a “dual track” economic policy, combining neo-liberalism with “grass-roots Keynesianism”. This used state funds to raise living standards of the poor and bring in a universal health care system.

Workers’ Party governments in Brazil were lucky because when “Developmental Neoliberalism” was introduced, the Brazilian economy entered a period of rapid growth due to rising prices of raw materials which Brazil exported to China. Increased state revenues were successfully used to fund pro-poor schemes involving health, education, housing, and attempts to eradicate poverty. This caused discontent among the elites and the middle-classes who resented such state policies which they saw as giving “hand-outs” to the undeserving poor. Accusations of corruption were levelled at PT political leaders.

The Thai elites and middle-classes also resented Taksin’s pro-poor policies for similar reasons. The elites also felt that they were unable to compete electorally with Taksin’s mass base.

“Anti-Corruption” is a useful political weapon for the middle-classes because it is difficult to oppose and can be a vague cover for attacking political opponents while ignoring the real underlying class issues. “Corruption” can also be conflated with pro-poor policies and this is what happened in both Brazil and Thailand.

Corruption, both of the legal and illegal variety, is part and parcel of capitalism and mainstream politics throughout the world. Attempts by the PT to become more “respectable” by dropping radical ideas, meant that they decided to do corrupt deals with right-wing politicians and local businesses. The rise of less political PT politicians who emphasised their administrative capabilities, also encouraged corruption. But Saad-Filho & Morais claim with good reason that there is so far little evidence to prove that either Lula or Dilma Rousseff were directly guilty of corruption.

Despite some of Taksin’s odious policies, especially in the field of human rights, and his tax avoidance manoeuvres, there has been little evidence that he was directly guilty of corruption.

In Brazil and Thailand, charges of corruption have been selectively used, ignoring the behaviour of opposition party politicians and the military.

The neo-liberals in Brazil and Thailand also complained about pro-poor policies being against “fiscal discipline”, although in the Thai case, huge military and royal budgets are never subjected to the same complaints.

The PT’s “Developmental Neoliberalism” in Brazil went off the rails after the 2008 world economic crisis and the drastic fall in raw material prices. Cuts were made to pro-poor policies under Dilma Rousseff. This alienated the PT’s base among the poor and was a golden opportunity for the right-wing and middle-classes to overthrow her government and impeach her. A Judicial-Senate coup took place. What was interesting was that Dilma Rousseff was actually removed, not for corruption, but for not adhering to “fiscal discipline”. This is exactly the same excuse used to punish Taksin’s sister, ex-Prime Minister Yingluk Shinawat, in the Rice Price scheme.

After the over-throw of PT and Taksin allied governments, the regimes which replaced them in Brazil and Thailand turned back towards extreme neo-liberal policies.

The comparison between Brazil and Thailand reinforces the class and political economic reasons for the destruction of democracy in Thailand. Conspiratorial theories about the role of the Thai monarchy in destroying democracy explain nothing.

 

Further reading on Thailand: “What Led to the Destruction of Thai Democracy?” https://bit.ly/2cGAi1E

“Thailand’s Crisis and the Struggle for Democracy” https://bit.ly/1TdKKYs

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Military Thuggery Rewarded

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Not only do the Thai military killers and thugs enjoy impunity after killing pro-democracy demonstrators, Malay Muslims or human rights activists, they also get promoted.

Army thug Apirat Khongsompong has been appointed as the new Commander-in-Chief of the Army. In early April 2010 he led a group of soldiers to attack unarmed pro-democracy Red Shirts at the Thai Khom Satellite Ground Control Station in Patum Tani. Several Red Shirts were injured in that attack. He can be seen in video footage shooting a handgun at the protesters. Obscenities were also mouthed.

The video can be seen on YouTube (assuming it isn’t removed at the request of the junta). The link is below.

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The Thai military attack unarmed civilians as though they are enemy combatants, rushing forward as though they were involved in great feats of heroism. In fact they behave like cowardly thugs.

Some people have commented that because the new military reshuffle and appointments were done in the name of the king that Wachiralongkorn is somehow in charge of the military. This is just the usual nonsense from the conspiracy theorists. All such appointments have always been carried out in the name of the Head of State.

There is no evidence at all that Wachiralongkorn has any power over the armed forces and the military reshuffle was directed by the top generals and the ruling junta.

Military reshuffles and promotions are an occasion for top generals to get their turn to stick their snouts in the corrupt feeding trough and therefore much behind the scenes bargaining takes place between different factions.

In most European countries where there is a monarchy, top appointments of soldiers, Prime Ministers or judges are usually carried out in the name of the monarchy without the monarchy having any power whatsoever.

General Apirat clearly hated the Red Shirts and this is just another example of how the Thai military can never act as an honest broker between the different political factions.