Tag Archives: Giles Ji Ungpakorn

From Catalonia to Patani

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

The recent events in Catalonia throw up some similarities and lessons for understanding the struggle of the people of Patani. The independence movements in Catalonia and Patani both deserve our support and solidarity.

In both cases, a conservative constitution rules out the democratic right of self-determination for peoples in different regions. The Spanish constitution, which was drawn up by many of Franco’s nationalist supporters after his death, stipulates that the Spanish state is indivisible. For many people living in Catalonia and the Basque country, the unitary Spanish state was imposed upon them by force. In the years of the Franco fascist dictatorship their local languages were also banned. We have just seen the brutal violence of the national police and the hated Guardia civil in trying to prevent voting in the referendum and the Spanish king also went on television to condemn Catalan independence.

In Thailand, the first constitution, which was written under the guidance of Pridi Panaomyong immediately after the 1932 revolution, did not stipulate that Thailand was a unitary and indivisible state. Pridi even supported a level of autonomy for the Muslim Malays of Patani. But successive right-wing military dictators inserted the clause about an indivisible state in all subsequent constitutions. The formation of the Thai state was carried out using military force and an agreement with the British to carve up the independent state of Patani. The Thai state has also systematically tried to suppress the local Malay language in Patani and used brute force to enforce its rule. The Thai Queen is also on record as saying that she wished she could pick up a gun to fight against the Patani separatists.

The current Catalan government has introduced measures against evictions and energy poverty; a ban on fracking; a tax on nuclear power; a law promoting women’s equality at work and against sexual harassment; a ban on bullfighting… All of these measures have been overturned by the Spanish Constitutional Court.

In Thailand the Constitutional court has been used to axe progressive infrastructure improvements and to sack democratically elected governments

In recent years those who wish to see an independent Patani state have mainly resorted to taking up arms against the Thai state. This is quite understandable given the level of repression. A recent example of such repression is the massacre at Tak Bai in 2004.

In contrast, the recent independence struggle in Catalonia has taken the form of a mass movement, including organised labour. The mass of the population turned out to defend polling stations and dockers, fire fighters and other workers staged actions in support, including the general strike to protest against police violence.

In terms of the power to challenge the state, the Catalan mass movement is much more powerful than the armed struggle in Patani. Of course the small population in Patani and the low level of unionisation means that the struggle in Patani cannot copy the exact tactics from Catalonia. However, an emphasis on building a mass social movement and on attempting to win solidarity for their demands in other areas of the Thai state would be much more productive than the current armed struggle. Linking up with those who are opposed to the Thai military junta would also be vital. This would mean that those seeking independence for Patani should view ordinary Thai citizens as potential allies and ordinary Thai citizens need to be encouraged to support the people of Patani rather than listening to islamophobic politicians and priests. Progressive Thais need to oppose Thai nationalism and the current clause in the constitution about an indivisible Thai state. To achieve this we need to build a left-wing party. The present situation means that this will not be achieved easily in the short term but there is no objective reason why it cannot be done in the longer term.

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Why have the Thai generals no shame in talking rubbish about democracy?

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

We are ruling in a democratic system without elections” – General “Pig-face” Prawit, deputy junta leader.

“Thailand’s democracy has not developed properly because Thai people have no morals” –Generalissimo Prayut, head of the junta.

“I am a democrat….. If the country isn’t ready for democracy, I’ll stay on longer. Those protesting against the government will be the first to be dealt with.” Generalissimo Prayut, head of the junta.

It would be tempting to explain this verbal nonsense by questioning the intellect of the generals that now rule Thailand, but although they are certainly not that bright, the real explanation is more complex.

Arrogance, stemming from their monopoly control of the means of violence is an important factor. Like most powerful gangsters, the top generals of the military junta have little need to justify anything they do or say. Waving a gun in someone’s face or bringing the tanks on to the streets can be very persuasive. In fact, Generalissimo Prayut also has a law (article 44) where he can rule by decree, bypassing even his tame military-appointed parliament. They feel confident that they can spout any old rubbish and know that they will never face scrutiny from an electorate in the future. They are also prepared to lock up people who criticise the junta, whether it be via the use of the internal security article 116 law, which is being used against a prominent journalist, or via detention in army camps for “attitude-changing sessions”. If all else fails they can also accuse opponents of Lèse-majesté, like in the case of student activist Pai Daodin.

The fact that the generals do not care what the general population think, because they never face elections, is an indication that Thai citizens use their intellect when choosing politicians. Most of the general population know very well that the junta leaders talk rubbish all the time. The middle-classes ignore this rubbish because they prefer dictators who rule in favour of the rich and powerful and they are probably under the illusions that the “stupid” poor people will believe anything coming out of the mouths of the big shots.

The generals do not care either what the so-called “international community” might think about their rantings. Foreign governments might make lame statements about the need to return to democracy, but the generals know that in practice relations with foreign governments will be “business as usual”. Junta leaders are never excluded from international meetings and arms sales to the junta continue, despite the fact that these arms may be used to kill pro-democracy demonstrators in the future. General “Pig-face” Prawit was invited to the giant arms fair in London by the British Government and the US has just sold more weapons to the junta and still conducts military events with the Thai army.

However, despite the various reasons given above for the nonsense “Junta-Speak”, there is also a sly reason why the generals constantly talk about freedom and democracy. They are busy designing a system of “Guided Democracy”, under their control, via the National Strategy and National Strategy Committee. All public agencies and elected politicians will have to abide by the National Strategy, which acts like a “super law”. This means that when elections are finally held, any future government will remain under the control of the military. This is similar to the “Burmese Model of Democracy”. As previously flagged-up on this blog site, even British Foreign Office consultants believe that Burma is a “beacon of democracy” in the region. The “Junta-Speak” on democracy will provide an excuse to foreign governments to accept that Thailand’s “Guided Democracy” will be “democratic” after elections are held. It will provide cover for all those Thai anti-democrats among the middle-classes, bureaucrats and the Democrat Party, to claim that the country has returned to democracy under the guidance of the democracy-loving junta.

The majority of the Thai population have never been fooled by “Junta-Speak” and they are well aware of the plans from “Guided Democracy”, but awareness is not enough. In order to bring about freedom and democracy there will have to be a mass pro-democracy movement from below. Unfortunately, this movement is yet to be built.

Apichart – the islamophobic fascist monk

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Recently the Thai military junta arrested and disrobed a racist Buddhist monk called Apichart. This has resulted in a wave of criticism from Thai racists and many pro-democracy activists who should know better. Many Red Shirts have complained about Apichart’s treatment by the military. They are totally missing the point.

Apichart is a thoroughly odious creature who has published videos of his islamophobic rants on social media. A couple of years ago he said that if one more Buddhist monk was killed in the Deep South, then Thai people should burn down mosques all over the country. He claims that southern Muslims have always been out to destroy Buddhism and take over the country. He uses the abusive and racist term “Kaek” to refer to Malays, Muslims and anyone from South Asia.

Apichart’s favourite Buddhist monk is the Burmese fascist “Wiratu” who uses anti-Muslim rhetoric to mobilise armed gangs to attack Muslims, including Rohingya people. Wiratu also has close connections with the Burmese military. Both Wiratu and Apichart distort history by claiming that the Rohingya and the Malay Muslims “should be grateful” for being allowed to remain in the country. But the reality is that their ancestral lands were seized by the central states of Thailand and Burma during the process of nation building.

Some of those defending Apichart have posted statements on social media saying things like “we should force the Muslim Imams to drink pork fat”.

The fact that the Thai military junta has arrested and disrobed Apichart has nothing to do with any progressive ideals on its part. The military is merely afraid that Apichart will inflame the situation in the Deep South so that it will be more difficult to control. But the results is that Apichart can now re-model himself as a martyr and racists all over Thailand can come out and defend him.

One huge problem is that the prevailing ideology in Thai society is racist. Ordinary Thais, many of whom do not agree with Apichart, use racist terms like “Kaek” to refer to Malays, Arabs or Indians. The fact that there is no left-wing political party of any significance means that an anti-racist movement has never been built. Apichart’s racist rants therefore went more or less unchallenged. They were not condemned by most Buddhist monks either.

The kind of islamophobic ideas put forward by Apichart are part of the same rhetoric used by fascists throughout the world. The concrete results is to cause divisions among ordinary people and to bind citizens to the nationalism of the ruling class. Despite the fact that Apichart was arrested by the junta, his ideas, especially about the Deep South, only serve to strengthen the dictatorship and divert attention from the real causes of the violence. It is the Thai state and the military who are the real terrorists in Patani, not those small groups of Malay Muslims who have taken up arms to fight the Thai state.

Seen from this angle, the ideology put forward by Apichart dove-tails with that of another extremist Thai monk called “Isara”. Isara encouraged the use of violence to wreck the general elections in 2014. He is also Generalissimo Prayut’s favourite Buddhist monk.

Not only does Thailand desperately need a mass pro-democracy movement, but it also needs a mass anti-racist social movement to operate in tandem. Such a movement could start to turn the tide of racism within Thai society and help build a free and equal society.

Further reading: http://bit.ly/2bemah3 

Also: http://bit.ly/1JaeTJY 

Khaosod’s Shoddy Tabloid-style Article on Sexual Abuse

Giles Ji Ungpakorn & Numnual Yapparat

Recently an article about sexual abuse and assault by Thai social activists was published in the English version of Khaosod newspaper. The article, written by Teeranai Charuvastra, was an example of shoddy, shallow, tabloid journalism. It made unsubstantiated accusations against Somyot Prueksakasemsuk, a labour activist who is currently in jail for lèse-majesté. It was full of sensationalised innuendos and gossip but no actual facts or analysis. [ See http://bit.ly/2x7FGTm ]

Teeranai Charuvastra

Sexual abuse is a very serious issue and therefore we need to be clear about what it is. When we are talking about sexual abuse of adults, we are talking about a sexual act where one person is non-consensual. Such acts vary from lewd and inappropriate comments directed at someone, touching someone’s body without their approval, even if it isn’t touching someone’s sexual parts. Sexual abuse also includes pressure or violence used to have non-consensual sexual intercourse.

It is important that we understand that pressure for non-consensual sex often arises from an imbalance of power such as in the relationship between teaching staff and students or managers and ordinary employees. In any organisation or setting where there is a significant imbalance of power, sexual abuse can occur.

Now, in the context of Thai society, where Victorian moralism about sex is prevalent, many people, including some women’s rights NGO activists, confuse the issue of having many sexual partners with sexual abuse. The two are totally different. Those with backward Victorian moralist attitudes condemn sexual behaviour outside marriage. For these people having many sexual partners is incorrectly seen as being the same as sexual abuse. But having many sexual partners who are all consenting adults and looking for new consenting partners is not sexual abuse. Neither should women who consent to sex with men who have many partners be regarded as “victims” or “immoral women”. However, this is exactly the view held by conservatives, including some women’s rights activists. Did the NGO activists who were interviewed by Khaosod hold such views? We also have to remember that sections of the Thai NGO movement supported the destruction of democracy leading to military rule. This included people who claimed to support women’s rights.

Of course, there is an issue of lack of respect for women among certain male activists who boast about their sexual exploits and encourage others to see these women as “loose women” to be ridiculed. This is not the same as sexual abuse, but it is a serious lack of respect for women and a lack of consciousness. In other words it is a sexist attitude against women. We should not tolerate such behaviour.

The shoddy Khaosod article was so shallow that it failed to consider any of these complex issues seriously. It slandered Somyot as being a “predator”, looking for “victims” just because he may have had many partners. As far as I know, Somyot does not brag about his past partners and I have not heard or seen any evidence that he has abused anyone sexually. The original article failed to interview him before publication. He was only interviewed in prison afterwards. Somyot then asked how sexual abuse was defined and the evidence for the accusations against him, but the article twisted this to imply that he was guilty and supposedly had not denied the unsubstantiated charges.

Despite the fact that political or labour activists are not angels and some will not be above committing acts of sexual abuse, labour activists do not have any significant power over ordinary workers and cannot pressurise them this way into non-consensual sex. The article failed to discuss the fact that competent activists or militants can often be seen as very attractive personalities by people around them, leading to multiple consensual relationships.

This shameful article also published the name of an innocent woman labour activist who had refused to make any comment about Somyot, thus implying all sorts of innuendos and causing unnecessary distress to this person.

The article was also cowardly because it did not investigate those in power, but sought to raise unsubstantiated accusations against a powerless activist. The junta and its friends would love to see Somyot smeared with these accusations. Yet the journalist concerned failed to investigate the many occasions when women factory workers are coerced by their line managers into having sex in return for promotion and of course it failed to investigate questions of serious abuse of women by King Wachiralongkorn.

Thai Junta represses migrant workers

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Migrant workers in Thailand, like migrant workers in many other countries, face repression, poor working conditions, injustice and extortion.

In addition to the day light robbery committed by Thai employers and the corrupt and nasty police, government policies have always made life very difficult.

The Thai junta’s new regulation to crack-down on migrant workers means that they are now forced to jump through extra official hoops and pay even more money to the government for the “privilege” of working in shit jobs. Access to Thai health care is also dependent on this registration process.

The result of the new regulations was that thousands of migrant workers left the country in fear, causing temporary but severe shortages for the cold-hearted bosses of the fishing industry. Other dirty and low paid industries were also temporarily affected.

Some migrant workers posted photos on social media protesting about the excessive documentation and IDs they are required to obtain.

Thai governments have deliberately used the law to either criminalise much needed migrant workers or to “regularise” or “legalise” a minority of them by forcing them to pay high fees and to have the correct documents which are often beyond the reach of most migrants.

This is all designed to keep migrants in a permanent insecure state in order to exploit them. It is also designed to whip up racism and nationalism against migrants. The government knows very well that the economy depends on migrants and that many of them will inevitably be “illegal workers”. Such a policy of criminalising migrants and offering them costly so-called legal alternatives, allows employers to pay low wages and also allows the police, the military and other government officials to extract illegal payments from workers who cannot afford the legal route to employment.

Legal migrant workers are only allowed to work in the areas where they have specifically applied to work. They aren’t even allowed to travel freely throughout the country. Their lives are not dissimilar to the serfs of Europe who were tied to the landlord and not allowed to change their place of work or abode.

Previous Thai governments have put up posters claiming that illegal migrants are the cause of crimes and bring infectious diseases into the country. That such posters caused no controversy in Thai society shows the level of racism encouraged by the ruling class.

Migrant workers are also not allowed to belong to trade unions even when working alongside Thai workers in the same factories. This is an important issue upon which more trade unions should be focussing.

As Karl Marx once wrote: “This antagonism (towards the Irish) is the secret of the impotence of the English working class, despite its organisation. It is the secret by which the capitalist class maintains its power. And that class is fully aware of it.”

It could have been written about the relationship between Burmese workers and Thai workers.

A rotten and unfree society

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

The rotten stench of dictatorship in Thailand grows by the day. Last week the junta announced the key members of the National Strategy Committee, which has been designed to oversee any future elected governments for the foreseeable future. Naturally, top dog is Generalissimo Prayut, followed by his favourite henchmen General “Pig-face” Prawit and General Anupong. Both Prayut and Anupong are guilty of state crimes from the mass murder of pro-democracy civilians in 2010. Alongside other despots in uniform are top bankers and businessmen, representing the Kasikorn and Bangkok Banks and AIS, Thailand’s largest GSM mobile phone conglomerate. Also included are various civilian cronies of the junta and an ex-rector of Chulalongkorn University.

This National Strategy Committee has the power to veto the policies of future governments and remove elected politicians from office. It will ensure an ultra-neoliberal agenda, devoid of any pro-poor policies and block any influence of Taksin and his allies. It is a committee for a permanent “Coup for the Rich”.

In the same week, mass murderers Abhisit and Sutep from the mis-named Democrat Party were cleared of any charges of ordering the killings of civilians in 2010. These two cronies of the military were part of a four-man command centre, along with Generals Prayut and Anupong, who ordered the use of military snipers to shoot red shirts, journalists and medical professionals attending to the wounded. Sutep was also a key leader of the middle-class gangsters who wrecked the February 2014 elections, paving the way for Paryut’s coup.

After Yingluck recently left the country to avoid being jailed by Thailand’s kangaroo court over heading a rice price guarantee scheme, Abhisit sniggered about her “fleeing justice”. The kind of so-called justice that Eton and Oxford educated Abhisit was talking about, lets mass murderers go free while jailing opponents of the junta who dare to speak out and politicians who try to help the poor. At a recent trial of student democracy activist Pai Dao-din, a military witness claimed that peaceful protests against Prayut’s military coup were a “threat to democracy”. One is immediately reminded of George Orwell’s book “1984”, which is banned in Thailand. So, “Dictatorship is Democracy”, Freedom of Expression is a Crime” and “Mass Killings are Keeping the Peace”.

The backwardness of the pro-military royalists can be seen by the way that ex-Prime Minister Yingluck has constantly been subjected to sexually degrading insults, ever since the middle-class anti-election protests in 2014. The latest sexually degrading insult was from a so-called national poet.

The inclusion of the ex-rector of Chulalongkorn University in the National Strategy Committee fits with the general policies of this university. Student activist Netiwit Chotipatpaisarn, and his fellow elected student assembly representatives, have had their “behaviour marks” cut for objecting to first year students being forced by academic staff to grovel to royal statues in the rain. One lecturer assaulted a student representative by holding him in a head-lock, pulling his hair and shouting obscenities. There is no word of any action taken against this lecturer.

The cutting of the “behaviour marks” for students like Netiwit, means that according to the university regulations, they automatically are excluded from holding office as student assembly representatives. The vile authorities in charge of this university have staged a “coup” to topple elected representatives; a trait favoured by the puffed-up generals who now run the country.

The whole idea that mature university students should have such a thing as “behaviour marks”, which can be cut by academic staff, and that they should be forced to wear uniforms and grovel to dead kings is a pathetic example of the state of education and academic freedom in Thailand.

Thailand is a rotten and unfree society.

Thai Kangaroo Courts Set New Low in Standards of Justice

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

The jailing of former government ministers for 30-40 years because of the Rice Price Guarantee Scheme has set a new low in the Thai standards of justice. The sentences given out by the lap-dogs of the dictatorship who hold positions as judges are ten times the average sentences for murder committed by ordinary citizens. The aim is purely political with the purpose of destroying politicians associated with the Thai Rak Thai or Pua Thai parties. It has nothing to do with justice or the eradication of corruption.

While the likes of Generalissimo Prayut and former military appointed Prime Minister Abhisit smirk about Yingluck leaving the country to avoid jail, the real criminals who have avoided justice are the coupsters and mass murderers like Prayut and Abhisit. These two disgusting specimens, along with their mates in the military junta and the Democrat Party, ordered the deliberate killing of nearly a hundred unarmed protesters back in 2010. Together these anti-democrats have pushed Thailand back to the dark ages and destroyed any prospects of freedom and democracy for years to come.

So in Thailand, the hired judges of the military lock people away for 30-40 years for being involved in the rice scheme while mass murderers and coupsters enjoy impunity with some running the country. Those who are brave enough to criticise the political situation are either locked up for decades or have been forced to seek exile and asylum outside the country.

Critics of the rice scheme claim that the government “wasted” millions of public money but they remain quiet as the junta massively increases military spending on weapons, tanks, aeroplanes and submarines. Some of this wasted military spending is also going to be used to kill Thai citizens when they dare to fight for their rights.

But the rice scheme was not a waste of money or a “loss” to state coffers. It was state spending intended to help poor rice farmers. Rather than being a “loss” it was an investment in people. Yes, there may well have been corruption involved at local level, but the recent court case was nothing to do with this and the military and their cronies enjoy impunity for their own rampant corruption today.

The ridiculous sentences handed out have a second purpose other than to destroy politicians belonging to Taksin’s party. The second aim is to make it clear that government spending in the future must not be used to eradicate poverty or help ordinary working people. This is the nasty neo-liberal agenda of the junta and its supporters in the Democrat Party and the middle classes.

Some Thais have expressed disappointment that Yingluck left the country rather than stay and fight by going to jail. Others have expressed hopes that she will lead a struggle from abroad. The fact of the matter is that Taksin and his allies have deliberately dismantled the red shirt movement and turned their back on any struggle against the military. Yingluck may well have been allowed to leave the country by the junta in order to lessen the potential anger among millions of her supporters.

All this means that any future struggle to topple the junta and rip up its authoritarian constitution which will restrict any future civilian governments, will have to be led by an independent mass social movement built from below. Those who understand this will have to work very hard to persuade the majority of activists of the need to build such a movement.