Tag Archives: Giles Ji Ungpkorn

Looking Back on the Thai 1997 Economic Crisis

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

The period leading up to the 1997 economic crisis was a period in which the Thai economy grew at a phenomenal rate. Average GDP growth rates reached 8% and on occasions the annual rate was in double figures. The main beneficiaries, naturally, were the rich. Between 1975 and 1988 the richest 20% of the population increased their share of national wealth from 43% to 55.4%, while the share controlled by the poorest 20% dropped from 6% to 4.5%.

The economic crisis was a shock to almost everyone for most had predicted it. Once the crisis broke, political scapegoats were quickly found in order to protect the status-quo. The more neo-liberal sections of the big business community quickly suggested the idea that the crisis was all the fault of Prime Minister Chawalit Yongjaiyut‘s government. This ridiculous message was put across at the “Silom Road Business People’s Protests” in October 1997, where businessmen and professional people came down from their office blocks, to demonstrate. They demanded and soon achieved the resignation of Chawalit’s government. The rich were not, however, very good at demonstrating. Many complained about the heat and others brought their servants to make up the numbers and, no doubt, to serve them with cold drinks and drive them to the protest.

Once Chawalit resigned, his Government was replaced by a Democrat Party-led coalition under Chuan Leekpai. The new finance minister, Tarrin Nimmanhaemind, was regarded as a reliable “bankers’ man”. This suggestion was born out by the fact that the Government quickly moved to nationalise the private debts of 56 failed banks and finance companies, which the Chawalit Government had already closed, and then proceeded to set aside a further 300 billion baht of state funds to boost the capital of existing banks. In total, the Government committed at least 1.2 trillion baht of public money to prop up the banking system and the savings of the rich and middle-classes.

The same enthusiasm for the use of public finances was not shown towards helping the poor and the unemployed who were worst hit by the crisis. The Government passed a bill allowing it to withhold state contribution to the private sector employees’ Social Insurance Fund and repeatedly delayed the implementation of an unemployment benefit scheme. It also told the unemployed to “go back to their villages” and live off their relatives. According to one survey carried out for the National Economic & Social Development Board, there was a 12.6% decline in earnings rates and a 4.4% decline in hours of employment in the first half of 1998. These were the main factors behind a fall in real incomes of 19.2% over this period.

The racist explanations of the Asian crisis which talked about Asian corruption, Asian Crony Capitalism and lack of good governance in Asia, are hardly worthy of serious consideration. More serious mainstream explanations for the crisis pinned the blame on lack of proper controls over investment after economic liberalisation in the late 1980s. Although it is true that the increased free movement of capital in and out of Thailand made the boom and the crisis more spectacular, these highly visible movements of money were more a symptom of what was happening in the real economy rather than the cause of the crisis. The implication of this neo-liberal explanation was that if proper controls were established, then crises would never occur again. Clearly a review of Western economies shows this to be nonsense.

The Marxist theory of capitalist crisis identifies over-production and falling rates of profit as the key underlying factors causing a crisis. Both these factors result from the uncontrolled competition for profit found under Capitalism. The main cause of the tendency for a fall in the rate of profit is the increased investment in fixed capital as compared to the hiring of labour (from which surplus value is extracted). However, the falling rate of profit is only an overall tendency with many countervailing factors. Profit rates can be restored temporarily by increased labour efficiency, increased exploitation or the destruction of competitors.

In Thailand over-capacity and falling rates of return were seen in most of the export industries. This caused a shift in the direction of investment away from the productive sector towards speculation in real estate and the banking system. It is estimated that in 1996 about half of all investment was property related and this accounted for half of annual GDP growth.

The Thai working class reacted to the crisis in different ways. On the one hand, significant groups of workers were very angry when their annual bonus payments were cut. On one occasion, a Japanese-owned electronics factory was burnt to the ground. At many workers’ protest gatherings after that, someone could be relied upon to scare the management with a cry of “set fire to the bloody place!” Most of the time it was just a bluff. On another occasion workers at Summit Auto Parts blocked a main highway in response to a bonus cut, but they were eventually physically beaten by riot police, supported by volunteer “emergency rescue workers” and right-wing journalists from The Nation and their struggle was defeated.

A more organised response came at the Triumph underwear factory, where women workers had a long tradition of building a strong shop stewards network. Workers were able to achieve a respectable wage increase after a twenty day dispute in July 1999.

The rate of inflation, which quickly fell (after an initial rise) as the economy went into recession, was also a factor in determining the will to fight. For those who retained their jobs, a further sharp fall in living standards was avoided by the decline in inflation.

The dominant ideological response among organised workers and left-wing intellectuals to the crisis, and to the manner in which governments handled economic policy, was in the form of Left Nationalism. This ideology was a mirror image of ruling class nationalism.  A quick glance through the new book titles in any Thai book shop during the early part of the crisis would quickly have revealed the growing number of publications on “saving the country from the crisis”. In the main these publications were written by left-of-centre academics, many of them ex-CPT sympathisers, who regarded the 1997 crisis as a serious threat to “national independence”.

The cause of the crisis, according to the nationalists, was the imperialist designs of the G7 powers, especially the United States, in attempting to put the Asian Tigers under the yoke of Economic Colonialism. This could be seen from the proposal that the crisis was merely a crisis of a certain model of Capitalism: “fast-track” or foreign-investment-led export orientated manufacturing. Much of the Left Nationalist analysis also leant heavily on Dependency Theory, which saw the main divide in the world as between the “northern” industrial countries and the “southern” developing countries.

A number of solutions were proposed by the Left Nationalists; all within the framework of the capitalist system. Firstly there were the naive and utopian ideas of the “Community Economists” who believed that the Thai economy could somehow “turn back” to a self-sufficient low technology agricultural economy. Instead of foreign capital and technology, Thailand should use traditional “Thai intellectual resources”.

Secondly, there was a proposal to use Keynesian style economics. It was argued that the state should increase public expenditure in order to stimulate consumption. This strategy was eventually adapted for use by Taksin’s Thai Rak Thai (TRT) government after their election victory in 2001.

In the general election of January 2001, TRT won a landslide victory. The election victory was in response to previous government policy under the Democrats, which had totally ignored the plight of the rural and urban poor. TRT also made 3 important promises to the electorate. These were (1) a promise to introduce a Universal Health Care Scheme for all citizens, (2) a promise to provide a 1 million baht loan to each village in order to stimulate economic activity and (3) a promise to introduce a debt moratorium for poor peasants.

Ex-student and NGO activists, such as Pumtam Wejjayachai were recruited to TRT and became important links with the Peoples Movement. These activists encouraged the Prime Minister to meet with social movements like the Assembly of the Poor and they coordinated with movement and NGO leaders in order to solve disputes or dampen down protest actions against the Government.

Pumtam explained that Thailand needed a “Dual Track” development policy, where “Capitalism” and the “Peoples Economy” (community based activities) went hand in hand. This eventually evolved into the government policy of mixing neo-liberal policies with “grass roots Keynesianism”. The government also spent state funds on improving the lives of ordinary citizens and on developing infrastructure in order to raise productivity. These measures were helpful in reviving the economy, along with the fact that the Western advanced nations and China were not in crisis at the time, but they had little impact on preventing any future economic crises.

The popularity of Taksin and TRT with the electorate eventually resulted in increasing hostility against the government from conservative members of the ruling class, Taksin’s political rivals and members of the middle classes. They resented the alliance between the government and urban and rural working people and wanted to turn the clock back to the bad old days when the majority of the population were to be ignored by politicians and members of the elites. Today, we are still living under the shadow of military coups and a military regime which intends to craft a “Military Guided Democracy”.

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Junta use Yingluk’s Rice Policy as an excuse to destroy elected Politicians

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

It should come as no surprise to anyone that the junta and the kangaroo courts in Thailand are using the court case against former Prime Minister Yingluk to destroy the Pua Thai Party and elected politicians close to Taksin. Yingluk is facing a court case over the rice price guarantee scheme which was introduced when she was in office.

The junta claim that she must take responsibility for losses incurred under this scheme and the corruption that took place. No one disputes the fact that Yingluk was never involved in any corruption and did not gain anything financially from any corruption that may have taken place.

On the one hand Yingluk does need to take responsibility for any wrong-doing that took place under her time as Prime Minister. In the same way Prayut and Abhisit must answer for the mass murder of pro-democracy red shirts in 2010. Abhisit was the military installed Prime Minister at the time and Prayut was the most powerful general in the military. There is clear evidence that they were directly involved with orders which led to the cold-blooded shooting of demonstrators.

In the case of Yingluk and the rice price guarantee scheme, she needs to take “political” responsibility for any corruption by others, if it took place. In a democracy that would be resolved in elections or a politician might be forced to resign.

But when we are talking about “financial losses” under the rice price guarantee scheme, they are not mainly about corruption. Such losses to the state budget which took place in order to support the livelihoods of poor farmers are perfectly right and proper.

Of course, the neo-liberal free-marketers decry using state money to relieve poverty. Yet they remain silent about the huge amount of state spending on Thailand’s new idiot king, his father’s wasteful funeral and on the tanks, submarines and aircraft for the military.

I do not really care if the millionaires in the Shinawat family have their riches taken off them. I care more for the plight of ordinary working people, including the farmers. That is why Yingluk’s rice price guarantee scheme was a good scheme. That is why the Universal Health care policy brought in under Taksin needs to be defended from the military vultures who want to bring in “co-payments”.

If anyone should be in the dock for not preventing corruption, it should be Generalissimo Prayut. Not only has he incurred massive state losses on weaponry and the royals, he has failed to prevent endemic military corruption which is taking place right now. His friends and relations have benefitted from this corruption. Soldiers have also enjoyed free junkets abroad at taxpayers’ expense.

Prayut should also be charged with mass murder and over his military coup which destroyed democracy. That can only happen if a mass movement is built to overthrow the military.

It would be foolish to predict if such a mass movement could develop and grow out of public anger over the way Yingluk is being treated. Some Pua Thai politicians are hoping for mass support on the streets for Yingluk. That would be a good thing. If this does actually happen, and there is no guarantee that it will happen because of the way that Pua Thai has demobilised the red shirts, then pro-democracy activist should be part of such a movement. Pro-democracy activists need to be arguing that the movement go well beyond merely defending Yingluk and develop towards confronting the military and demanding the release of all political prisoners. But that requires political organising independent of Pua Thai.

Foreign academics at Thai Studies Conference send weak and meaningless message to Thai junta

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

 

Despite the military junta, the repression and the destruction of academic freedom in Thailand, it was “business as usual” for most of the foreign academics who attended the 13th International Thai Studies Conference in Chiang Mai last week.

Because academics from outside Thailand attended this conference it legitimised the military dictatorship. This is the real message sent out internationally despite the limp and meaningless declaration by 31 foreign academics and 145 Thai academics.

The declaration was limp and meaningless because abstract calls for academic freedom and democracy and the freeing of political prisoners will just be ignored by the junta. It isn’t worth the paper upon which it is written. What is more, they couldn’t even bring themselves to demand the abolition of the draconian lèse majesté law.

I do not in any way criticise the Thai academics who signed this declaration. That was a reasonably brave thing to do. But I criticise the foreign academics who signed the declaration so that they could absolve their consciences. And let us be clear. Not all the foreign academics even bothered to sign. Missing from the list of signatures were some of the so-called “key note speakers”.

What is more, the junta have now summonsed 3 Thai academics, who attended the conference, for posing with a sign stating that “Universities Are Not Military Camps”. As Pinkaew Laungaramsri, one of the three academics, explained, they put up this sign because the conference was full of security personnel in plain clothes who never bothered to register and who sat in meetings, took notes and photographed people. Yet the declaration by the 176 academics never even addressed this problem.

An important question for the western academics now is what are they going to do to protect these three lecturers? (photo above)

A few days ago, at 6:45 am, plain clothed military officers paid a visit to Sanhanut Sartaporn (above) at his secondary school and threatened him with violence if he did not stop posting articles critical of Generalissimo Prayut on social media. “If you don’t stop criticising our boss, we’ll send your name to people and who knows what will happen to  you”, they told to him. Sanhanut is part of an activist student group called “Education for Freedom”. They have criticised the way the junta leader has intervened in education policy.

A much more powerful message to the junta would have been the total boycotting of such a conference held in Thailand. They could have organised an alternative conference outside the country and purposely invited those Thai academics in exile to speak, all expenses paid. I say “all expenses paid” because many of the exiled Thai academics in Europe and elsewhere, who are on the junta’s “wanted list”, have had to give up their academic jobs and now survive on low incomes.

There are also exiled students and journalists living frugal lives. Most of these people have been granted political asylum. What a message such an alternative conference would have sent out to the world about the state of Thailand, but also about the need to defend asylum seekers and migrants!!

As already stated, foreign academics attending the conference in Thailand helped to legitimise the military junta and its plans for a military controlled “Guided Democracy” system after any future elections. The participants would have been rubbing shoulders with various toadies of the junta during dinners and ceremonies. Remember that all the academic administrators in Thai universities have collaborated with the junta’s repression.

For Thai citizens the present political situation does not allow people to discuss the vicious and demented new king, who not only abuses women but who also personally consumes millions of much needed public funds. The military has blood on its hands from shooting down unarmed pro-democracy activists and is totally tainted with corruption. Like the king, the military has helped itself to billions in order to buy new weapons. Such funds are urgently needed to provide a decent welfare state, education and health care for the majority of the population. Yet Thai citizens are being told by the junta that there is “no money” to improve these services and people face having to retire at a later stage in life while having to pay for health care. None of this could be discussed at the Thai Studies Conference.

People are being arrested and jailed or carted off for “attitude changing sessions” in secret locations for using social media in a manner which upsets the generals.

Among the political prisoners in Thai jails, who are often tried in military courts, are some prominent students who have been locked up for questioning military rule and corruption or staging political plays in a universities. Political seminars and discussions in universities and public places have been banned or shut down by soldiers.

The bottom line is that there is no such thing as academic freedom in Thailand today. The exception is the select few privileged foreign academics who haunt the Thai Studies conferences, making sure that they don’t upset the people who are in power. For these pathetic people, their careers and visas to visit Thailand are more important than freedom, democracy and human rights among the very people they claim to study.

More details about political prisoners: https://thaipoliticalprisoners.wordpress.com/

Junta’s rubber-stamp parliament is a feeding trough for the generals

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Many may rightly wonder why the Thai military junta ever appointed its so-called “parliament” which merely goes through the motions of deliberating national issues and then rubber-stamps the junta’s laws. This is because Prayut is hell-bent on by-passing even this pretend parliament with his dictatorial decrees carried out under Article 44. Naturally, the parliament was a weak and transparent attempt by Prayut’s junta to create a fairy-tale image of Thai Military-style “democracy”. No one has ever been taken in by this nonsense.

photo of Junta's parliament members from Matichon
photo of Junta’s parliament members from Matichon

However, new evidence highlighted by Matichon newspaper, shows that ever since the rubber-stamp parliament was appointed three years ago it has been a feeding trough for the generals and lackeys of the military.

Matichon reveals that at least 50 members of the “parliament” have all been busy appointing their family members as advisors and researchers at the expense of the tax payers. Remember that in Thailand the elites manage to avoid paying their fair share of taxes, the burden of which falls mainly upon the poor and ordinary working people.

Most of those appointing their wives and offspring to lucrative positions are military officers.

Special “expert advisors” to the “parliament” rake in 24,000 baht per month. Less experienced advisors enjoy 20,000 per month, and assistants are given 15,000 baht per month. To put this in context, most ordinary workers on the top rate of the minimum wage earn around half the amount enjoyed by the parliamentary assistants and most workers work a 6 day week. No doubt these parliamentary advisors and assistants do not have to work full time and many may enjoy salaries from more than one source.

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Pornpet Wichitchonchai, chair of the rubber-stamp parliament, explained that there were no regulations prohibiting the appointment of close relatives as advisors. He went on to justify this nepotism by explaining that members of parliament would naturally appoint people who they could “trust” as their advisors.

Deputy chair of the junta’s parliament, Pirasuk Porjit, further explained that he could not interfere or criticise what other members did. Members of parliament had the right to appoint people to be their advisors even if they had little knowledge of legal or political matters.

This is yet another example of the gross hypocrisy of the military junta and all those middle-class extremists who supported the military coups of 2006 and 2014. These people have always referred to themselves as “good people”, unlike “bad” elected politicians who are constantly accused of corruption and nepotism.

Another military corruption scandal has been exposed by an independent anti-corruption website. It appears that students and staff at a military training college, controlled by the Supreme Command, have been enjoying foreign trips to Europe at the expense of the tax payer. Some of the activities on these paid “holidays” include shopping at Britain’s Bicester Village, watching a football match, a trip to the London Eye and a luxury boat cruise in Scandinavia. Top generals have justified all this by saying that the new generation of soldiers need to have a modern international outlook. Shame that they don’t study how the military in Europe is barred from politics by the strength of social movements!

However, as Generalissimo Paryut has often said, his junta cannot be criticised because it was never elected and is therefore not answerable to the public! He has now appointment himself and his cronies to a Super-Board to oversee the “correctness” of state purchases. One could be forgiven for thinking that this is to ensure that the military receives its cut and that this activity is white-washed for public consumption.

Further reading: http://bit.ly/2kjB84E

Rumble at the Temple

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

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Prayut with his favourite fascist monk

Following the appointment of Umporn Prasattapong, Abbot of Wat Ratchabopit as the new Supreme Patriarch, the cog-wheels of the military junta are turning in unison with those of the fascist monk “Putta-Isara”. The military have now launched a full scale attack on the Dammakeye Buddhist sect.

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Umporn was appointed by Generalissimo Prayut, although according to procedure, he was officially appointed by King Wachiralongkorn. We all know how much Wachiralongkorn knows about or follows Buddhist teachings!

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Previously the guy in line for the top monk job was Chuang Sudprasert, the abbot of Wat Pak Nam and acting Supreme Patriarch, but he was accused by the Department of Special Investigation of forging documents over the importation of old classic cars in order to avoid tax. Previously Chuang had praised Prayut’s military junta in July 2014, hoping to become Supreme Patriarch. Chuang was believed to be close to the monks from the Dammakeye (Dhammakaya) sect.

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Dammakeye is a huge sect with a massive flying saucer shaped temple just north of Bangkok. It is steeped in scandal and accusations of accumulating untold riches. Urban middle class followers believe that the more you donate, the more merit you acquire. They also believe that people are poor because they sinned in their past life. Rich and powerful people have supported this sect for in the past.

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Chaiboon Sittipon or “Tammachayo”, abbot of Dammakeye, is currently trying to avoid arrest on corruption charges. Prayut used his dictatorial “Article 44” to order the police to invade the Dammakeye compound in a failed attempt to arrest him. Hundreds of Dammakeye monks and followers had a number of confrontations with the police. One man has tragically taken his own life in protest against this crack-down. Many are rightly questioning whether “Tammachayo”, or anyone else for that matter, can ever get a fair trial in the junta controlled courts.

The military dictatorship has also used Article 44 to place a police general in the post of director of the national office of Buddhism.

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We must condemn the military junta for using its illegitimate power to try to crush Dammakeye. People should be free to believe or not to believe in any religion of their choosing.

We must also condemn any Buddhist monks, including supporters of Dammakeye, who incite hatred towards Muslims. The extremist anti-Muslim Burmese monk “Wirathu” has come out in support of Dammakeye.

Make no mistake, the side-lining of the abbot of Wat Pak Nam for the top monk job and the invasion of Dammakeye is totally about politics and little to do with corruption or Buddhist morals. After all, the junta has remained very quiet about the corruption of Generalissimo Prayut’s relatives and the fact that top generals and their allies are getting paid for their various jobs, even though they never turn up to do any work or attend meetings.

The abbot of Wat Pak Nam was deemed unacceptable to the junta because Prayut’s favourite fascist monk, Putta-Isara, and the yellow shirts, did not want the Pak Nam and Dammakeye factions to be in a position of power.

We should never forget that fascist monk Putta-Isara helped to wreck the February 2014 elections alongside Sutep’s mob. Putta-Isara’s followers used fire arms to intimidate those wishing to vote. Because he is Generalissimo Prayut’s favourite monk, he was recently allowed a free hand to demonstrate in the streets while others were prohibited. He has also accused Dammakeye of wanting to “overthrow the monarchy”, a standard charge against one’s opponents in Thailand. After Prayut’s strong-arm tactics against Dammakeye, Putta-Isara publically thanked him.

An anti-government protester shoots his rifle, hidden it inside a sack, toward pro-government protesters during clashes in Bangkok February 1, 2014. Dozens of gunshots and at least two explosions raised tension amid anti-government protests in Thailand's capital on Saturday, a day ahead of a general election seen as incapable of restoring stability in the deeply polarised country. REUTERS/Nir Elias (THAILAND - Tags: POLITICS CIVIL UNREST)

All this fighting between Buddhist sects and the involvement of the military junta, merely strengthen the argument that religion should be totally separated from the state and that religious hierarchies and top positions like the Supreme Patriarch, should be abolished.

Twenty years of military dominated politics in store

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

As the year 2016 draws to a close we can look forward to years of military dominated politics. The “20 year National Strategy”, set down by the junta and its hireling law-makers, is designed to position the military jack-boot firmly on the back of any “elected” government in the future. Government policies will have to conform to this backward National Strategy, no matter what the electorate desire and naturally the National Strategy is royalist and neo-liberal. Of course the term “elected” is a very impressionistic description, since any future elections will be designed to obtain the “best” result, allowing for a weak puppet government palatable to the military.

But the so-called elections are in the far-distant future because king Pumipon conveniently died a few months ago, allowing the military to spend millions on the ceremonies associated with his death, which are being used to whip-up royalist mania. Pumipon’s death will allow the whole political process to be put on ice. There will not be any elections in 2017. They probably will be postponed to late 2018 at the earliest, and if the military appointed rubber stamp assembly doesn’t finish its drafting of terrible laws, the election could be rescheduled into 2019.

The junta’s draft political party law shows that they want to put political parties in a straight-jacket. Naturally anyone wishing to set up a party will be vetted, in best authoritarian traditions and any party which doesn’t fit the junta’s requirements will be disqualified.

The law raises the level of punishment for “selling” political positions to ridiculous extremes. People could be executed for doing this!! But naturally, no punishment for wrong-doing applies to non-MPs who become Prime Minister. This is just in case the Generalissimo were to be invited to this top position once again in the future.

What is more, this draft law stipulates that political parties must have a minimum of 500 founding members who each pay at least 2000 baht to the party. This amount of money represents about 25% of what most workers earn in a month. So the poor farmers and ordinary workers cannot possibly found a political party. Once again we see the results of “A Coup for the Rich”!

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In 2017 we shall continue to see the grotesque play act of men in military uniform pretending to grovel to the demented king Wachiralongkorn in a pathetic attempt to make us believe that they are “taking orders” from this imbecile. Word has it that Wachiralongkorn has appointed a number of his women to high-ranking but powerless military positions, which no doubt will have to be funded by the public. However, in an honest moment Wachiralongkorn said that his heart was warmed that General Prem Tinsulanon was re-appointed as head of the Privy Council. Without experienced generals on the Privy Council, the clueless king would not know how to best serve the ruling class. But the Privy Councillors need to be patient as Wachiralongkorn is a slow-learner.

Meanwhile the repression and censorship continue. The new “Computer Censorship and Democratic Crimes Law” has passed the junta appointed parliament and government control of the internet is set to further increase with the future introduction of a “single internet gateway”. There has been sporadic opposition to these measures, but the dictatorship needs to be overthrown in its entirety  in order to fully achieve freedom of speech.

It has been made “serious crime” to “like” or “share” the BBC Thai service’s web post of Wachiralongkorn’s biography, despite the fact that most Thais already know the truth. The whole of the ruling class and society are to be set in an official state of denial. “Lèse-majesté” is designed to silence the truth about royalty and the military. Loyalty is to tell lies. Freedom is Slavery! Ignorance is Strength! Dictatorship is Democracy!

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But there is some good news. His Excellency, Generalissimo Prayut has been awarded the position of “Great Political leader of exercise” by the World Health Organisation, for his participation in outdoor aerobics! Well this is according to junta sources anyway. It is difficult to independently verify the truth about this, but since the junta is made up of self-declared “good people”, we ought to trust them, I’m sure.

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At the risk of repeating myself, the fact of the matter is that without building a mass social movement to overthrow the military, the terrible state of Thai politics will continue. Remember that the middle-classes and the conservatives are totally responsible for this state of affairs and the NGOs also played their part in the destruction of democracy.

As 2016 changes to 2017, spare a thought for Thailand’s lèse-majesté political prisoners, especially Somyot Pruksakasemsuk.

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Should you go on holiday to Thailand?

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

The image of foreign tourists lounging on the beautiful beaches of Thailand, oblivious to the present reality of the state of Thai politics and society, with its military dictatorship, suppression of free speech and its political prisoners and exiles, is extremely distasteful. It is perhaps only less distasteful when compared to the appalling image well-off Western tourists enjoying their holiday in Haiti while the local population were ravaged by an earthquake and a cholera epidemic with no clean water or medical facilities.

To be honest, I fail to understand people who travel to another country for a holiday, or for any other reason, without attempting a basic understanding of the state of society in those countries in order to act in a sensitive manner.

But this short article is not really aimed at those idiots who go through life prioritising their own happiness, oblivious to what is going on around them.

Nor is this short article about “safety” issues in travelling to Thailand, where the notoriously inefficient and corrupt police not only fail to deal with crimes against tourists, but are may be even involved in the crimes themselves by colluding with the various mafias that control holiday resorts. And of course, the military who now control the police are no better. [See http://bit.ly/1WjMcfF ]

The issue about whether politically progressive and conscious people should visit Thailand is complicated. I am not really an advocate of individual boycotts which do not work. Collective action is so much more effective. Academics taking a collective decision to boycotting meetings in Thailand would be very useful, but most academics are not politically progressive and conscious people. They are more concerned with their ability to carry out research in Thailand, which means bowing to the diktats of the regime.

I myself have in the past holidayed in Vietnam, Lao and Cambodia, all of which were and still are dictatorships with political prisoners and a lack of freedom. I never travelled to Burma because at the time the leader of the pro-democracy opposition asked tourists not to come, especially because the generals were creaming off the profits from the tourist industry. Yet this same former opposition figure is now a supporter of oppression against the Rohingya.

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If you must take a trip for a holiday in Thailand, you should make a serious attempt to educate yourself about what is going on in the country right now. You should understand the present royalist hype without falling into the trap of seeing all Thais as king-lovers. You should understand the repression and be aware of the lèse-majesté prisoners locked up in appalling Thai jails. You should be aware of the lack of justice, the state of prisons and the lèse-majesté law itself. [See http://bit.ly/298T4ZU ]

You should not on any account take part in any nonsense king-related activities or spare an ounce of respect for the royalism of some Thais. You might prudently keep your head down over such matters so as not to be prosecuted or hounded by violent royalist mobs.

You should be aware that the mainstream media in English is totally under the thumb of the military junta.

You should be aware that Thailand and many Thais are very racist due to ruling class socialisation. People from neighbouring countries suffer most from this racism and oppression and you will probably be served food or drinks by oppressed migrant workers earning less than the minimum wage. The daily minimum wage in Thailand is 300 baht. Please compare that with your daily expenditure while you are on holiday. [See http://bit.ly/1JaeTJY ]

You should be aware that Thailand is a very unequal society, with a huge gap between rich and poor. This is not just economic, but also social. People of lower status are referred to in derogatory terms, use different words to describe their “superiors” and often have to grovel on the ground in front of those with more power.

Finally you should know that Thai women do not have the right to choose legal and safe abortion and therefore control their bodies. This is enforced in the name of Buddhism, while this same official interpretation of Buddhism condones military violence. Thai women also have to refer to themselves as “little mouse” to show that they are inferior to men. [See http://bit.ly/2hivBxz ]

Whether you chose to holiday in Thailand is your decision. But please don’t tell us exiles about your holiday because it causes us pain as we can never go back to Thailand.