Tag Archives: inequality

Three years of Prayut’s Dictatorship

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

The past three years of Prayut’s dictatorship have caused immense damage to Thailand’s democracy and to the fabric of society.

I have posted many articles on this site about the way the junta and its allies have been busily crafting “Guided Democracy” in order to entrench the conservative elites’ dictatorial powers.

The past three years have also seen attacks on any fragments of progressive social policy.

The Thai military junta has been looking to slash billions of baht from the universal health care budget. The tired old excuse of the “aging population” has been trotted out. Working people who are now reaching old age are the very people who created the wealth in Thai society. They deserve better than this. Another stupid excuse, on a par with the nonsense coming out of Donald Trump’s mouth, is that “more people are getting sick”! There is absolutely no evidence for this. However, it might well be the case that more people are being treated in the health care system with better technologies. This is only right and proper. Yet, the elites and anti-democrats have always hated the universal health care system, preferring that the old and the sick just crawl into a corner and die. There is one exception, however, when Pumipon was old and sick, no expense was spared to keep this parasite alive. Even after his death, society is being forced to cough up huge amounts of money for his funeral.

At the same time the Education Ministry has announced that it will no longer give free text books to children in school. Instead the books will be “loaned”. This is an attempt to slash 5 billion baht from the education budget.

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The junta and its lackeys are well known for their extreme neo-liberal views and I have written about this before. [See http://bit.ly/2kiUZSl ]

At the same time, the purchase of more and more weaponry and increases in the military budget continue unabated. The latest waste of money is the buying of 50 Chinese tanks and a plans to buy  submarines.

The junta’s mismanagement of the economy is resulting in a drastic fall in treasury reserves from an average of 400 billion baht over the last ten years to only 75 billion baht at the end of 2016. Yet the military government has also announced that all members of the royal family will be exempt from inheritance tax. The Thai royals are among the richest people in the country. No doubt the junta will be seeking to increase the tax burden for ordinary working people, while the elites successfully avoid paying any significant amounts of tax. There is talk of increasing the regressive Value-Added Tax.

Oxfam produced a report showing that the richest 10% in the country own 79% of all the country’s wealth. They even held a seminar about it showing that the wealth owned by a handful of people could raise the entire population out of poverty.

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Yet because of the lèse–majesté law, no one could discuss the obscene wealth in the hands of the monarchy. The strangle-hold of the military and their constant chanting about the dead king’s neo-liberal “Sufficiency Economy” ideology also means that neo-liberal inequality is enshrined into the constitution and economic policy.

In addition to this, the lack of freedom and democracy under the military and the weakness of trade unions means that the ability of social movements to fight for a welfare state and redistribution of wealth is so far very limited.

Oxfam is able to highlight the symptoms of inequality but like most NGOs, it is unable to provide a solution other than inviting well-known people to make well-meaning but worthless comments about the situation.

The state of democracy and equality are closely connected to the strength of mass left-wing social movements, especially the trade unions. Yet another negative result of the three years of dictatorship has been the total destruction of the mass movement against the military. This has been achieved by a combination of repression and, even more importantly, the demobilisation of this movement by Taksin and his supporters.

Thailand is a grossly unequal society

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

A recent report by Credit Suisse showed that the top 1% of Thais owned 60% of the nation’s wealth. This should come as no surprise to anyone. When challenged about this, the Dictator Prayut only managed a pathetically feeble excuse, saying that it would be “very hard” to do anything about this “because people don’t trust the state”. Well, it might be true that people don’t trust the dictatorship, but that is hardly a reason for the gross inequality in Thailand. In fact, if there was a popular uprising against the dictatorship and the state, it would do much to help eradicate inequality.

Thai-Rut newspaper cartoonist, "Sia", drew this to expose inequality. In the past he has been summonsed to an "attitude" changing session by the junta.
Thai-Rut newspaper cartoonist, “Sia”, drew this to expose inequality. In the past he has been summonsed to an “attitude” changing session by the junta.

The causes of Thailand’s inequality lie with the lack of democracy, the domination of the military, the extreme ideology of the monarchy and the fact that there is a serious lack of a strong labour movement with its own political party.

Despite the fact that Thailand’s GDP is 40 times smaller than that of the USA, Thailand has 3 billionaires who are among the world’s richest 85 people in the world. They are the monarchy, which is the 8th richest monarchy in the world with $44.24 billion, Dhanin Chearavanont, 58th richest man in the world with $12.6 billion and Charoen Sirivadhanabhakdi, 82nd richest man in the world with $10.6 billion. Taksin Shinawat is the 882nd richest man in the world and the 7th richest Thai with $ 1.7 billion. At the same time, most ordinary workers in the private sector earn a minimum wage of 300 baht per day ($9.3) and migrant workers and workers in the agricultural sector earn even less.

Generalissimo Prayut’s official salary is ten times that of a qualified nurse and 16 times what ordinary workers earn. But of course that does not include all the shadowy earnings and multiple positions that many top generals enjoy, which far exceed their official salaries.

The rich, from the monarchy downwards, pay little or no tax. The majority of the tax burden being placed upon ordinary working people and the poor. Eighty percent of government tax from Thai citizens is collected in the form of regressive Value Added Tax and taxes on petrol, alcohol, cigarettes and vehicles. Only 19% is collected from income tax, which the rich avoid anyway. It has long been this way with ordinary people being forced to keep the elites in their luxurious life styles through exploitation of labour and collection of taxes. The rich are parasitic blood-suckers.

Abolition of the monarchy, down-sizing the military and introducing progressive taxation on the rich would go far towards redressing inequality.

Diamond-studded "Santa" outfit for one of the Princess' dogs.
Diamond-studded “Santa” outfit for one of the Princess’ dogs.

Thailand has no welfare state. There is no universal unemployment benefit and most elderly people do not have real pensions. Yet billions are spent on the already over-rich monarchy and the bloated military. A Welfare State was proposed by the leftist revolutionary leader Pridi Panomyong just after the anti-monarchy revolution in 1932, but it was successfully and vigorously opposed by the conservative ruling class, including the monarch, Rama 7th. Pumipon was also very much against a welfare state, instead proposing the reactionary “Sufficiency Economy” ideology. In this ideology, the richest man in Thailand claimed that the poor needed to “learn” to live within their means.

The “Sufficiency Economy” dogma was enthusiastically taken up by the rest of the ruling class, especially the military dictatorships of 2006 and Prayut’s present dictatorship. As an extreme neo-liberal ideology, it fitted well with free-market beliefs and both the worship of the free-market and the “Sufficiency Economy” were written into various military sponsored constitutions, binding future governments to anti-poor policies. The yellow-shirted middle-classes loved this because they had long derided Taksin Shinawat’s Universal Health Care scheme and his weak attempts to improve the standard of living for ordinary people. The present junta are threatening to introduce “co-payments” into the healthcare scheme and have devolved the minimum wage rate in order to keep wages low. They have also tried to prosecute former Prime Minister Yingluk for her government’s rice price support scheme which helped farmers. Of course Taksin was no socialist, he tried to avoid tax, and was also committed to the free-market, although he also favoured grass-roots Keynesianism by which the state intervened to help the poor. These policies were denounced by yellow-shirted academics as “populist vote-buying”. It would be “better” for the country if the poor, who make up the majority of the population, just starved or lived short and bitter lives.

What was shocking was the way in which many NGOs lapped up the “Sufficiency Economy” ideology because of their anarchistic rejection of state welfare. Academics like Chris Baker also praised it.

Welfare states are built through the struggle of social movements, especially the trade unions. Unfortunately, a combination of Maoist rejection of the working class by Thai left-wing radicals in the past, a patronising attitude to unions by the NGOs today, and ruling class repression, has meant that both the left and the unions remain too weak. This a problem which needs to be urgently addressed if we are to build a more equal society.

Abolition of the monarchy would not only save millions of baht, which could be put to better use, it would also end the obscene crawling on the ground in front of “big shots” and would be a political and ideological blow against inequality.

The myth of the “Land of Smiles”

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

The recent video footage of a British family being brutally attacked by drunken thugs in the Thai seaside resort of Hua Hin should be enough to dispel the myth that Thailand is a “Land of Smiles”.

Associated with this myth is the idea that somehow the Buddhist religion ensures tolerance and a peaceful way of life. The truth is the absolute opposite. The violent behaviour of fascist monks in Burma and Thailand are confirmation of this. See http://bit.ly/1WA9UE0 and http://bit.ly/1W1AA3C

Thailand is a violent society in many ways. Politically the ruling class have always resorted to violence to suppress opposition. We have seen this on the streets of Bangkok many times in the last five decades. We have also seen this in Patani. The murder rate in Thailand is higher than the United States and approximately five times higher than Western Europe. People also die violent deaths on the roads due to poor public transport, poor roads and bad driving. This is a form of violence caused by the state of society.

Violence by drunken thugs also happens regularly in Western Europe, but the main targets of young thugs are other young men. This makes the repeated attack on the British woman who is in her sixties particularly horrifying. Thai culture is supposed to teach people to respect elderly people. How did this happen? She was punched and then kicked in the head when on the ground. Of course racists are known to attack black people or Muslims in Europe, including elderly people and racism plays an important role in promoting violence.

However, to be fair, the video does seem to show her slapping the face of a Thai man earlier during the incident. But that does not excuse the brutal attack upon her later.

It is not enough of an explanation to say that the attack at Hua Hin was just local youth copying the behaviour of the Thai ruling class, especially the military junta. However, junta strong man Prayut  did threaten those sharing the above video with jail sentences because it “gives Thailand a bad name”!

Many Thais may appear to smile or laugh easily, but this is often a cultural way in which to cover embarrassment. In reality, in public settings, people in Thailand are less polite than the citizens of Britain. Some may question my assertion that British people are more polite to each other in public settings. But consider the way British people tend to hold open doors for each other, how many drivers thank other drivers for giving way to them, how flashing your car lights in Britain means “you go first”, while it means the opposite in Thailand. Consider how people getting off buses in Oxford thank the driver or how there is a serious attempt to show general respect for the privacy and dignity of others, especially in hospitals and schools. It comes from past collective struggles, especially by the labour movement, to promote equality and dignity. There is nothing specifically “British” about this. It is a result of class struggle.

Thais are warm and generous people and are open minded about children in a way that is not present in British society and they are more spontaneous in sharing meals with people. So it isn’t really a case of who is a “nicer” nation. After all, the British Empire has a long and bloody history of oppression, slavery and violence.

Biologically Thais are no more prone to any particular behaviour than any Europeans. But there are important social factors which lead to violence in society and a lack of politeness in public settings.  The most important factor is that Thai society is extremely hierarchical. The ruling class continues to do whatever it can to ensure that a “culture of citizenship and equality” is not allowed to grow. The idea that people should respect the elderly is often closely associated with more powerful elders like teachers, parents or people of higher rank, than poor elderly folk. There is as yet no welfare state in Thailand and the trade union movement is weaker than in Western Europe. Collective class struggle has not been strong enough so far. These are all factors which lead to a lack of mutual respect and a lack of collective consciousness among many ordinary people. Everyone is often too busy trying to make sure they can defend their individual way of life or the interests of their close family because there is no collective guarantee of security that one gets from a welfare state. That also explains why most Thais are so bad at queuing.

Those at the lower end of the pile, like the thugs at Hua Hin, can only seem to gain some false dignity by getting drunk and acting tough. Violence against women and children, worldwide, is often because oppressed men pathetically try to make up for their lack of power in the outside world by using violence against weaker people in their own family.

The racism, which is prevalent in Thai society, especially to people from other Asian countries, but also against Westerners, is encouraged by the extreme nationalism of the ruling class. This is part of the explanation of why Western tourists are sometimes attacked. They are seen as a privileged group of people and Western women are seen as lacking in morals. See http://bit.ly/1JaeTJY

All in all Thai society is sick because it is ruled by a brutal sick ruling class. Yet, millions of Thais try to lead decent and caring lives where they attempt to respect others. That is the glimmer of hope for the future. But to encourage the good and collective side of Thais, we need to end the dictatorship, destroy hierarchy, promote the idea of equality and citizenship, and build a welfare state to reduce inequality.

 

Inequality in “Biscuit-tin Land”

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

The National Economics and Social Development Board published a recent study which showed that almost a quarter of the Thai population (15.6 million people) live in poverty. At the same time, 0.1% of the richest elites own nearly half the nation’s assets. The rich own nearly 80 % of land while the poorest 20% have only 0.3 %. Thais in the top 10 % earned 40 %of overall income, while the bottom 10 % earned just 1.6 %.

We know that the King is the richest man in Thailand and one of the richest men in the world. Yet he has the audacity to lecture citizens on his neo-liberal “Sufficiency Economics” ideology, where the poor must learn to live within their means. Other Thai millionaires grunt their approval of this creed while sticking their snouts in the trough.

Prayut’s military junta has, as usual, adopted this reactionary ideology as an important corner-stone of its policies.

This week it was announced that government funds for the universal health care scheme, brought in by the Taksin government, would be frozen. They are hoping to pave the way for a co-payment system to replace free health care.

Previously the junta had helped itself to a large increase in the military budget.

Thais used to refer to the country as “under a coconut shell”, where people were forced to undergo political lobotomies. Now Thailand is “Biscuit-tin Land”, after a pro-democracy academic attended a university management meeting wearing a biscuit tin on his head. He was protesting about a fellow academic who took up an extra position with the junta while not giving up his academic post. Wearing a biscuit tin is now a new symbol of resistance and the junta has just banned an academic seminar on the matter at Chiang Mai University Faculty of Law.

After banning other academic seminars in Bangkok and arresting students, Biscuit Brain Prayut announced that there was “no restriction on academic freedom”. All the junta was ordering was that politics should not be discussed. He went on to explain that people were free to discuss his own 12 point teachings on Nation, Religion and Monarchy.

During the reactionary middle-class protests which wrecked the election earlier this year, there was much talk about “Taksin and Yingluk’s corruption”. This was taken up by foreign media without any critical analysis. But now the holding of multiple positions and the drawing of multiple salaries has become a national epidemic under the junta. An electoral Commissioner, famous for his refusal to hold the February elections, thus siding with the middle-class mobs, has just helped himself to a nice expensive shopping trip to the UK to “observe” the Scottish referendum. All this was at tax-payers’ expense. But there do not seem to be the same shouts about corruption.

Nepotism is not discussed either, even though Prayut has promoted his brother to a high post in the military.

The standard vicious and incompetent practices of the corrupt Thai police have been exposed by the awful murders of two British holiday makers. But this goes on every day and it is the experience of most Thais that the police never catch any real criminals and rely merely on arresting the usual scape-goats: migrant workers, poor people or red shirts. On occasions the police engage in murder themselves. They murdered the southern human rights lawyer Somchai Neelapaijit who was defending a group of Muslim Malays who were tortured by the police.

In Biscuit-tin Land, impunity goes hand in hand with corruption, repression and neo-liberal inequality.