Tag Archives: Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Junta implies country never ready for democracy

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Recently, General Chalermchai, head of the Thai army, told the media that the three Thai academics who objected to plain clothes soldiers and police attending the Thai Studies Conference to take notes and photograph people, should stop all political activities and stop all criticism of the junta. He claimed that the country was still in crisis and not ready for political activity.

A media outlet has been punished for calling the government a dictatorship and one of the few decent journalists faces prosecution for writing the truth.

Generalissimo Prayut added his putrid hot air comment to the discussion by saying that Thailand’s democracy had not developed properly “because Thai people had no morals”. Perhaps he was just talking about himself and his gang of anti-democratic criminals?

It has been revealed by the military that the student  Pai Daodin is now in jail because he was “stubborn” and refused to attend an “attitude changing session” in a military camp for the so-called “crime” of opposing the military coup. Of course the real criminals are those who staged the coup and now rule the country by dictatorship, denying all rights to Thai citizens. We need more stubborn citizens like Pai to rid us of this vile junta!

 

At the same time the junta has been trying to force prominent people to sign a “Civil Society Agreement” to abide by the junta’s twenty year plan for Guided Democracy. This is supposed to be part of the junta’s “reconciliation” strategy. It is more like reconciliation under duress.

No doubt part of this reconciliation strategy was to jail Red Shirt leader Jatuporn for a year for saying at a protest that former Prime Minister Abhisit had blood on his hands. Abhisit was Prime Minister in 2010 when his military appointed government ordered “live fire zones” to be set up in Bangkok in order to repress the peaceful Red Shirt protest which was calling for democratic elections. Ninety civilians were shot down during this military action. An official report revealed that the military had used 117,923 bullets against Red Shirts, 2120 of which were sniper bullets. The only military or police casualties were due to “friendly fire” from security forces. Abhisit’s deputy, Sutep, commented that the Red Shirts just “ran into the bullets”.

There is documentary evidence that the names of both Abhisit and Sutep appear on the government orders to use force to disperse the protests. Of course these orders would not have been possible with the agreement or even the prompting of the military.

So, yes, Abhisit and his government, and General Prayut, who was the top military man at the time, all have blood on their hands. They are murderers. Yet it is “illegal” to say this in public and the murderers remain free while democracy activists are in jail.

Pai Daodin, a student democracy activist from the north-east, has now been jailed for two and a half years while the royalists who used violence to disrupt elections enjoy freedom. The standards of justice in Thai courts is non-existent.

campaigning for Pai’s release

In general, the effect of being ruled by the present military junta is to destroy basic rights and stifle dissent at all levels of society. A recent seminar at Thammasart University, on the effect of 3 years of military rule on the people of the north-east, revealed that soldiers and local business mafia routinely collaborate to threaten villagers who are campaigning for land rights. Soldiers set up military camps in villagers and treat locals as enemies of the state.

Prominent pro-democracy journalist Pravit Rojanapruk has been accused of “sedition” for trying to speak the truth and TV journalists who interviewed passers by at Bangkok’s Victory Monument about the new proposed election legislation, were approached by military thugs demanding to photograph their ID cards. “We are in charge of this area”, they said, “and you need our permission.”

Even if elections are held next year, they will not be free and fair and any elected government will still have to conform to the diktats of the military.

Shameful behaviour of Chulalongkorn University Staff reflects state of Thai society

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Last week a disgraceful incident occurred at my old university where I used to teach. Assistant Professor Ruangwit Banjongrut, who was in charge of student affairs, head locked a student representative and dragged him off, pulling his hair. At the same time he was heard to shout obscenities at another student. Ruangwit was part of Sutep’s anti-democracy mob before the latest coup.

All this happened because the elected student representatives decided to walk out early from an open air induction ceremony as it had started to rain. Previous to this incident the student representatives had sought agreement with teaching staff that the event would be cut short if it started to rain.

Those teaching staff who were there, including Ruangwit, committed gross violations of teaching codes of practice. There was physical violence used against a student, obscenities were used, and these teaching staff also forced hundreds of first year students to stay out in the rain, thus failing in their duty of care to the students.

So what was this induction ceremony? It was a ceremony where hundreds of new students are forced to prostrate themselves in front of a statue of two kings: king Chulalongkorn (Rama 5) and king Wachirawut (Rama 6).

Apart from having a role in the founding of the university, these two kings have a disgusting past. Chulalongkorn kept a harem with hundreds of women and had 3 “queens” who were half-sisters. When one of them drowned, no one dared to help because to touch the property of the king was a capital crime. Chulalongkorn modernised Thailand, but this was done to increase his power to become an absolute monarch. The freeing of slaves was also done to lower the price of hiring labour.

Wachirawut loved his dog more than the people and he ordered that a statue be built to honour the mutt. After his death it was observed that he had generally been hated and that he had spent so much money on himself that the finances of the nation were in trouble. On the plus side this awful legacy helped to spark the 1932 revolution against the next king at a time when Thailand was sucked into the world economic crisis.

Anyone looking at the behaviour of these two kings will be reminded of the present new king of Thailand.

Forcing students to grovel in front of these statues distorts history and is aimed at maintaining a respect for authority and dictatorship.

When I became a lecturer at Chula I was forced to go to an induction session. I avoided the grovelling part but I had to sit through a session where the speaker made fun of my Thai and English name and gave us tips on psychology, claiming that thin people were bad-tempered and fat people were jolly!

Many young lecturers at Chula lord it over the students in order to cover up for their own inadequacies. They are just “baby generals” who shout at and abuse students about not wearing their uniforms properly or other meaningless things. At the Faculty of Political Science, where I once taught, these baby generals were dead against teaching students to write argumentative essays and to hold their own opinions.

http://bit.ly/2aE7zc6

Eventually the authorities at Chula started a process which ended with me being charged with lèse-majesté. I had written the book, “A Coup for the Rich”, which criticised the 2006 military coup. They gave the book to the police Special Branch.

Despite all this it is important not to see Chulalongkorn University as merely a conservative institution. The famous left-wing radical Jit Pumisak, who later became a communist fighter, once studied at Chula. After 1973 Chula students set up a socialist group and many of them joined the communist party in the jungle after 1976. Twenty years ago, I and another lecturer were involved in starting a Marxism courses for students. These were the only Marxism courses in the country. Finally, this year the Chula students elected a radical team to become their representatives.

Chulalongkorn University reflects the state of Thai society, with those in power being dictatorial and brutish, the institution being steeped in class inequality, and with revolts from below by those who want freedom and democracy.

News Update:

Chulalongkorn University is trying to press disciplinary charges against Netiwit and other students while the lecturer who abused and assaulted the students enjoys impunity.

Human trafficking case only deals with the tip of the iceberg

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

The huge human trafficking court case in July where 62 people were given sentences was only the tip of the iceberg in the country’s murky record on human rights.

[See http://bit.ly/2uJ8Hqh ]

Although Sunai Phasuk, a senior researcher at Human Rights Watch, said the convictions are a “major step” in combat human trafficking, the trial was criticised by Fortify Rights. Amy Smith, Executive Director of Fortify Rights stated that “Thailand has a long way to go to ensure justice for thousands who were exploited, tortured, and killed by human traffickers during the last several years.” The rights organisation criticised the fact that the government did not prevent witnesses and interpreters from being threatened with violence. Most vulnerable were the Rohingya witnesses who are the victims of these gross crimes of trafficking. Despite the fact that the Thai government issued a Cabinet Resolution providing automatic protection to witnesses involved in human trafficking trials, the implementation of this Cabinet Resolution failed to extend to Rohingya witnesses confined to closed-door government-run shelters. [See http://bit.ly/2uA4QeI ]

What is more, the most senior military figure who was on trial, Lt.-Gen. Manas Kongpan, was allowed to give evidence and be cross-examined in secret “in order to protect state security”. At the time of the crimes he was deputy of the special military unit of the Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC) Region 4. ISOC was in charge of the disgusting government policy of pushing Rohingya refugees back out to sea. In contrast to government policies, local villagers offered the Rohingya humanitarian help.

In December 2015 the chief police investigator in the case fled the country to seek political asylum in Australia because he was facing intimidation.

This trial raises a number of serious issues.

Firstly, given that a senior member of ISOC was involved in human trafficking, and that his evidence was heard in secret, who else among the top military generals were involved but have so far not been charged?

Secondly, human trafficking of refugees on this scale is only possible because Thailand does not accept the resettlement of refugees within the country. According to Human Rights Watch, Thailand has not ratified the 1951 Refugee Convention and does not have a refugee law or functioning asylum procedures. Therefore refugees are either forced to live in appalling prison camps indefinitely without the right to work or earn a living, or to become illegal migrants without any protection from exploitation, arrest and deportation. [See http://bit.ly/2uJuZs5 ]

So when will Thailand ratify the 1951 Refugee Convention and bring in a humanitarian refugee and asylum law? Given the poor state of human rights for refugees throughout the world and especially in the West, and given the track record of the junta in abusing the rights of Thai citizens, this is unlikely to happen in the near future.

Within Thailand itself, the rabid nationalism and racism throughout society, which is continuously promoted by the ruling class, means that there is virtually no social movement which calls for the humane settlement of refugees. [See http://bit.ly/1JaeTJY , http://bit.ly/1ZEwTnj ]

Thirdly, we should long ago have stopped idolising the Burmese Nobel Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi. It is her government in alliance with the Burmese military and extremist Buddhists who have been oppressing the Rohingya and forcing them to escape the country into the arms of the human traffickers.

Thailand Towards Absolutism? Or Military Guided Democracy? Watch the video

One discussion you will not find at the Thai Studies Conference in Thailand!!

Watch the talk and the debate from Cologne on the 85th anniversary of the 1932 Revolution organised on 24th June 2017 here.

 

This kind of discussion could never be held in Thailand under the military dictatorship or the Lèse Majesté law. The military dictatorship and the new king will be the elephant in the room that everyone pretends not to see during the Thai Studies Conference. So what of substance are the academics at the Thai Studies Conference talking about??

The 1932 Thai Revolution had mass support

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Conservative western academics and royalist Thai commentators like to paint a picture of the 1932 revolution, which overthrew the absolute monarchy, as a “mere coup” with little support from the general population. In the past I have mentioned the work of historian Nakarin Mektrairat in challenging these distortions of history. In addition to this, a book published last year by Nuttapon Jaijing about the abortive Baworadet royalist rebellion in 1933 has some very interesting details.

Prince Boworadet assembled rebel soldiers at Korat in October 1933, ready to move down by train to attack Bangkok and restore the power of the monarchy. The royalists spread propaganda that the government, and especially Pridi Panomyong, were communists who wanted to establish a republic. The rebels planned to assassinate leaders of the People’s Party when they entered Bangkok.

As soon as news of the royalist rebellion reached Bangkok, many citizens volunteered to form an army to fight off the rebellion and defend the constitution. Military reservists started reporting for duty even though the government had not yet issued any orders to report. Civilians also volunteered to help the police in intelligence gathering about those involved with the royalist rebellion. Boy scouts reported for duty to help keep the peace in the capital city and they also played an important role in supplying government troops with ammunition and other essentials.

Trade unionists were prominent in volunteering to fight against the rebellion. Workers from munitions factories, aircraft maintenance workers, Siam Cement workers, boatmen, taxi drivers and railway maintenance workers at the Makasan repair shop, all expressed enthusiasm to join the fight against the royalists.

The Siam Tram Workers Union, led by the radical trade union leader Tawat Rittidet, offered on two separate occasions to go straight to the front to fight Baworadet’s army. The government politely declined the offer, stating that at that moment they had enough soldiers. As a result, the tram workers organised teams to act as guards in Bangkok and also collect intelligence, instead of going to the front. The Siam Tram Workers Union already had a long history of opposition to the Absolute Monarchy and apart from printing a workers’ newspaper, its offices were open for use by radicals who campaigned for women’s rights. After the Baworadet rebellion was crushed, Pridi Panomyong made special mention of the support from the union.

In Samut Sakorn young men assembled to form a volunteer force to fight the rebellion and they also demanded that the government send them arms. There are numerous records of different groups of citizens in the provinces forming volunteer teams. A group of ordinary women in Gang-Koi, near Saraburi, volunteered to help supply the government troops. Even monks volunteered to help the government.

Women volunteers at Gang-Koi

In Kon Kaen troops and members of the public mobilised to stop the rebels from moving north to seize the city and after the rebels retreated from Lak Si, north of Bangkok, they tore up the railway lines and damaged bridges to prevent the rebels from moving north beyond Korat.

The rebels had another centre in the south around Petburi and Hua Hin, near the king’s palace. A low-ranking railway clerk at Petburi railway station organised workmates to secretly empty diesel fuel from locomotives to stop any military advance on Bangkok.

In the end the rebels were unable to advance on the capital city and were defeated at Lak Si where a monument to the victory against the royalists was erected.

Nuttapon Jaijing’s book is an important source of historical research which helps to destroy the right-wing myth that the 1932 revolution was merely a military coup by a small group opposed to the monarchy and that the revolution “lacked legitimacy in the eyes of most Thais”. It is a snap-shot of the radicalisation that was taking place among ordinary citizens at the time.

From Unfinished Revolution to Absolutism?

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

On 24th June this year, at the Asienhaus Foundation in Cologne, Germany, I had the pleasure of attending a panel discussion on the occasion of the 85th anniversary of the 1932 revolution in Thailand. What follows is a summary of my talk.

The present military constitution has a prologue which praises the great achievements of Generalissimo Prayut in achieving “democratic reform”. It carries on by explaining that the aim is to establish “Thai-style” democracy and repeats the great lie that king Rama 7th “gave democracy” to the Thai people. The pathetic king actually had to be overthrown in the revolution to establish constitutional government!

If Thailand is marching towards Absolutism, it is not the absolutism of any monarchy, but the absolutism of the military. I have explained in other posts on this site about the nature of the 1932 revolution and the fact that King Pumipon never had any independent power. He was a tool of the military and his son is even weaker and not at all interested in Thai politics or society. However, it is necessary to deal with the issue of whether 1932 was an unfinished revolution.

If 1932 was an unfinished revolution, it is only true if we consider it from the point of view of a struggle for democracy. It is not an unfinished revolution in terms of “bourgeois revolutions” like the French Revolution or the English Revolution. Bourgeois revolutions open the way to establishing capitalism and capitalist states and political systems. The successful Thai bourgeois revolution was led from above by King Chulalongkorn, in much the same way as the Meiji revolution ocurred in Japan. New state centralisation, albeit in the European colonies, was also achieved in Burma, Indonesia and Vietnam around the same time. But these were unfinished changes because the nations were not yet independent.

In terms of a failure to establish democracy, the 1932 revolution was a failure because its leader Pridi Panomyong did not understand the need to build a mass political party. Instead he relied on the military, which eventually helped the military to increase its power. Pridi once wrote, when looking back on his life, that “when I had power I didn’t fully understand politics, but when I came to fully understand politics, I had already lost power”.

The march towards “military absolutism”, which may be too strong a word to use, can be seen in the military’s new constitution which attempts to lay the ground for “Guided Democracy”. We see…

  • The establishment of the junta’s hidden hand which is determining the National Political Strategy for the next decades. This opens the door for the military and its hirelings to use the powers of veto against any decisions made by an elected government and also for the military to take power at any time via a “legalised coup”, if and when it deems fit.
  • The Prime Minister can be non-MP under certain circumstances, as written in articles 5 & 272.
  • The military will appoint an all-powerful Senate and Constitutional Court which can veto government policy and remove elected governments that do not conform to the National Political Strategy. So-called Populist Policies which favour the poor are outlawed.
  • The military appointed Electoral Commission can vet manifestos of political parties standing in elections to make sure they conform to military policy.
  • The method of calculating MPs from votes after elections favours the military aligned Democrat Party.
  • It is virtually impossible to amend constitution.
  • Article 47 destroys the concept of universal health care as the Government only has a duty to provide for the very poor.
  • Article 54 cuts free education in the final years of secondary school.

It is absolutely amazing that given this clear enshrinement of military political power, that there are some people who still claim that King Wachiralongkorn is amassing absolute power in his hands and creating a climate of fear. In fact Wachiralongkorn has never expressed any real opinions about the above sections of the constitution or any aspect of Thai society. If he were to drop dead tomorrow, nothing would change, just like nothing changed when his father died some months ago.

Thai NGOs short-sighted because of single-issue politics

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Recently a number of NGOs in Thailand, including Amnesty International and many local groups, have been announcing “demands” on the military junta. One would have expected that the number one demand would be for the junta to resign and make way for free and fair elections immediately. The Second demand ought to have been the immediate release of all political prisoners. Not so, these NGOs seem to think they can work with the junta and spend time lobbying them like they were a normal and legitimate government. Of course, in the past some of the NGO activists even went as far as to support the overthrow of democratically elected Thai governments.

The first group of NGOs “demanded” that the junta and private businesses respect human rights according to the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. There was no mention of trade unions or trade union rights among the list of demands.

The second group of NGOs “demanded” that the unelected junta “reform” the police. This is at a time when the police are controlled by military units who act as policemen in local areas and force their way into people’s homes.

It is difficult to know whether to laugh or to cry at such naïve calls from these NGOs!!

The present ruling military junta shot its way to power by murdering pro-democracy demonstrators in 2010, encouraging the judiciary to undermine elected governments and allowing anti-democratic mobs to wreck elections. After taking power, Prayut’s junta has continually detained those who oppose the dictatorship, forcing them to attend “attitude changing sessions” in military camps. More and more people have been jailed under the notorious lèse-majesté law, often after appearing in military courts. Academic seminars and political meetings have been banned or forcibly shut down. Social media and the internet are constantly monitored and the junta has attempted to censor posts and video clips. The junta’s servants have drawn up a new constitution with the specific aim of installing a system of Guided Democracy under the control of the military. And yet there are people who seem to believe that the bunch of thugs now ruling Thailand will somehow respect human rights and reform the police?!

And why should the junta listen to these “demands” by people who cannot or will not build mass social movements? What bargaining power do the NGOs have?

In order to believe the NGO fairy-stories you have to be extremely short-sighted about politics, even to the point of closing your eyes to the real world. This mind-set is helped by a single-issue obsession and a rejection of political and economic theories. [See http://bit.ly/1UpZbhh ]

Another current issue is that the present junta is trying to destroy the universal health care system which was brought in under the first Taksin government. High up on their agenda is an attempt to bring in “co-payments” for health treatment which is currently free. It is good to see that NGO health activists and their supporters have been on the streets opposing this. It is a credit to these groups that they have mobilised around this issue.

Yet, even these NGO activist suffer from single-issue politics and the rejection of theory. One of their demands is to maintain the purchaser-provider split, in other words they support the internal market in health care. The internal market has been helping to wreck the health service in Britain by allowing privatisation and funding cuts and the destruction of family doctor services in local communities. It is also extremely wasteful, leading to the employment of thousands of accountants and administrative staff instead of employing more clinical staff. That is why the British Labour Party is talking about abolishing the internal market which was brought in under Margaret Thatcher.

One particular Thai NGO leader has even called for the private sector to play an important role in health care! This is just aping the right-wing ideology of the neo-liberals throughout the world.

The internal market in health is the opposite to a universal health care system which prioritises the needs of all citizens irrespective of wealth. Profit-seeking by private companies should never have a place in the provision of health care.

The health NGO activists also see themselves as “representatives of the people” without having ever stood for elections. They distrust representative democracy. Yet the real democratisation of health care, with elected representative taking part in the management of local hospitals and health budgets would be a significant step forward in Thailand. Of course, none of this could be achieved under a military junta.