Tag Archives: Lèse Majesté

Temporary Defeat

The youth movement for democracy against Generalissimo Prayut’s dictatorship in Thailand has been defeated and key leaders and activists are facing draconian charges which have long prison sentences attached to them.

This defeat has been clear for some time, and given the length of time that has passed since the last significant protest, we can say this with certainty. There are still small symbolic signs of resistance and recently there was a Red Shirt gathering to remember the massacre by soldiers under the command of Prayut and Abhisit in 2010, but this Red Shirt gathering was more commemorative than an aggressive protest against the state crimes. This does not, however, mean that the fight against the dictatorship cannot be revived in the future, but meanwhile we need to assess the reasons for this failure.

Firstly, we need to take a historical look at the present crisis of democracy in Thailand.

The political crisis and unrest which we have seen in Thailand since the 19th September 2006 military coup against the elected Taksin Government, represents a class war between, on the one hand, the rich elites and the military, along with the conservative middle classes, and, on the other hand, the urban working class and rural poor, joined more recently by the new generation of young and progressive-minded youth. This class war has turned Thailand upside down and raised important political questions about the roles of many institutions.  

However, it is not a pure class war and those taking part have different aims and different concepts of Democracy. The class lines are not clear cut either. Twenty years ago, due to a vacuum on the Left since the collapse of the Communist Party of Thailand (CPT), millionaire and populist politician, Taksin Shinawat and his Thai Rak Thai Party, managed to inspire millions of ordinary Thais with many pro-poor policies. Later, after the 2006 coup, he provided leadership to the Red Shirt movement, Thailand’s largest pro-democracy social movement. More recently, ever since Generalissimo Prayut’s military coup against Yingluck’s elected government in 2014, other actors have appeared. Pro-business liberal tycoon Tanatorn Juangroongruangkit and his Future Forward Party, inspired many who saw Taksin as being too domineering and also making too many compromises with the elites. Later, the Future Forward Party was forced to metamorphose into the Move Forward Party after conservative judges dissolved the party.

In the last couple of years, a radical youth movement, independent of both Taksin and Tanatorn, emerged onto the streets and at its peak managed to mobilise tens of thousands of people against the dictatorship. This movement also “normalised” criticism of the Wachiralongkorn monarchy. [See my article “Youth-led movement challenges the junta and the monarchy” https://bit.ly/3OwebKy ]. But Prayut’s military government hit back with severe repression and the youth movement became isolated and eventually defeated.

For an overall historical view of the crisis, see my book “Thailand’s Crisis and the Fight for Democracy” (2010).  http://bit.ly/1TdKKYs .

Since 2006 it has taken the military, and the other conservative elites, 13 years of manoeuvring between bloody repression, the use of military controlled courts, and fixed elections, in order to stabilise the present system of “Guided Democracy”, which we now see in Thailand. [For further reading see my article “Guided Democracy after the flawed 2019 Election: Continuing Junta, Elite Politics, Myths about Wachiralongkorn and the Need to Build Social Movements”  https://bit.ly/2Wm6bzI ]. 

One of the most significant weaknesses of the pro-democracy movement was the refusal to spread the struggle into the organised working class, which would have raised the potential for crippling political strikes against the dictatorship. This was the case with both the Red Shirts and the youth-led movement. Instead, the struggle merely alternated between street protests and parliamentary strategies, with any emphasis on parliament acting to demobilise the street protests. The parliamentary strategy was flawed from the start, given that the military was prepared to stage coups, and in later years, drew up an authoritarian constitution and electoral rules which guaranteed its power through fixed elections and the use of military appointed senators and judges. [For further reading see my articles “Rubber Ducks cannot defeat the military” https://bit.ly/3p3LlnI, “Warning signs for the Democracy Movement”  https://bit.ly/3KcwHEq and “Parliamentary manoeuvres cannot bring about democracy” https://bit.ly/3MmdpOw  ].

Another significant weakness for both the Red Shirts and the youth-led movement was the lack of a radical political party, dedicated to the building of a genuine grass-roots pro-democracy social movement. When looking at the entrenched power of the military and the elites, it is clear that some kind of political revolution is required to bring about democracy. Furthermore, a social revolution would be required to end the gross class exploitation and inequalities experienced by most ordinary Thais. Any mainstream liberal political party will not be up to this task.

Instead of building a revolutionary party, the Red Shirts were too dominated by the politics of Taksin’s political parties, the latest version being the Pua Thai Party. This brand of politics looked to make compromises with the elites and to tone down the level of struggle, channelling people towards elections.

When it came to the youth-led movement, they rejected the idea of political leadership, pretending that they were participating in a spontaneous movement. The “we are all leaders” strategy meant that it was difficult to have serious and democratic discussions about the way forward because no democratic structures existed within the movement which could encourage participation in decision making. The top protest leaders become de facto unelected leaders. This was not because they wished to be authoritarian, but it was an unintended result of the “we are all leaders” strategy. Instead, there could have been mass discussion meetings and elections of a united front leadership committee. The Thai movement was not unique here. The same problem occurred with Podemos in the Spanish State.

Initially the youth protests grew out of isolated symbolic protest groups. Experience forced these groups to start working together. But they were not interested in building a revolutionary party. While turning their backs on the likes of Taksin, in practice, they unconsciously appointed themselves as leaders with no sustainable structures for the movement. This autonomist model of organising meant that when the military-controlled state hit back with repression against the top leaders, the movement collapsed. There was no strategy for responding to state repression.

Naturally, and quite rightly, there were political debates within the youth movement. But there was no mechanism for forging these debates into a clear policy backed by the majority of activists. Tokenistic internet polls, which they sometimes carried out, were no substitute for mass meetings and open debates. There was great confusion about the nature of the tasks facing the democracy movement, with many leaning towards the conspiracy theory that Wachiralongkorn ruled Thailand as an “absolute monarchy”.  This meant not paying enough attention on the practicalities of how to crush the power of the military and the conservatives, when the military are clearly the major obstacle to democracy. Protests took on a symbolic nature against the “absolute monarchy” while having no clear strategy for moving towards a republic either. Activists vacillated between hoping that the military-dominated parliament might “reform” the monarchy and calling on organisations like the United Nations to step in. Not enough political theory was created, through debates, about the relationship between the military, the conservative elites and the monarchy. [See my article “Flawed theory about the King’s power: an excuse not to fight the military” https://bit.ly/3kaerRq ]

On a more positive note, the youth movement’s brave criticism of the monarchy broke a long-standing taboo, built on fear, concerning the criticism of the King. Of course, this came at a high price for the leaders, who now face lèse-majesté charges and long jail sentences. Another positive development, brought about by the youth movement, is the idea of self-activity from below and the idea that activists do not have to depend on rich tycoons as leaders. This also led to the growing interest in left-wing ideas among the new generation. Sometimes this has been channelled into dead-end ideas of anarchism, the most prominent being the creation of the anarcho-syndicalist organisation called the “Workers’ Movement”. This was thought to be a “short cut” to building political workers’ strikes. But in fact, the “Workers’ Movement” does not even function as a trade union, not bargaining with employers. It has become a diversion from working inside the existing trade union movement to build political activists and strike action. The one bright spark is the revival and moderate growth of the Socialist Workers group, with a small influx of youth members.

The pro-democracy movement is now experiencing a quiet period. But none of the problems that stimulated the past struggles have gone away. The hope is that future activists will learn from past failures and rebuild, as accumulated anger recharges the movement.

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

No light at the end of the tunnel

2021 draws to a close with no light at the end of the tunnel for freedom and democracy in Thailand. Political activists, who have campaigned peacefully against the military junta, calling for democracy and reforms to the scandal-ridden monarchy, are still in jail, having been refused bail. Many more activists have serious court cases hanging over their heads. The pro-democracy movement is still fragmented and too weak to force out the junta, release all political prisoners and abolish or reform the monarchy. The draconian lèse-majesté law, which has been used against activists, is still enforced.

The state of Thai jails is dreadful. Severe over-crowding and degrading treatment are the order of the day and a recent news report highlighted the use of forced labour. [See https://tmsnrt.rs/3FswQSB ].

The struggle for democracy next door in Myanmar/Burma has taken a turn for the worse since activists decided to take up arms against the Burmese generals. Civil war in Myanmar/Burma has been going on for decades. Yet what can really shake the Burmese junta is mass protests and especially strikes. These have been tried to some extent, but not in any systematic manner. The non-cooperation campaign is not the same as a well organised general strike. The turn away from mass action towards armed struggle has deflated the mass movement, allowing for only a small number of armed combatants to participate in the fight against the generals. The Burmese army has hit back with brutal military actions, including torture, cold-blooded killing of civilians and bombing raids on villages.

Incredibly, Thai NGOs, stuck in their useless “lobby politics” have been calling on the Thai junta to protect civilian refugees from across the border. There are even some who call on the Thai junta to put pressure on the Burmese generals to return the country to democracy!! Anyone with any basic understanding of regional politics can see that the Thai and Burmese military are as thick as thieves, both with an interest in clinging on to authoritarian power by any means necessary.

The Thai junta, and previous civilian governments before them, have always had an appalling policy towards refugees. Those allowed into the country are often detained in prison camps and not allowed to earn a living or travel within the country. Generalissimo Prayut recently said that no permanent camps would be allowed for the recent refugees fleeing the violence of the Burmese military. That means forcing them back across the border at the earliest opportunity. Thailand often deports asylum seekers back to the country where they face danger.

Treatment of migrant workers in Thailand is hardly any better, with most denied any vaccines against Covid or any financial help when sacked by employers. Local people who cannot “prove” that they are “Thai” face huge bureaucratic hurdles and delays to becoming citizens. The government even uses DNA testing to somehow complete the process! Mass DNA testing of citizens in Patani is also routine oppressive government policy. For those who are stateless, not having citizenship means people have no access to any benefits, rights, or government help. The general level of nationalism and racism in Thai society helps to ensure that those showing solidarity with migrants and refugees remain a small minority. Thai nationalism has never had any progressive element; no historical roots in a national liberation struggle against colonial powers. It is 100% reactionary.

The situation in Myanmar/Burma is a lesson for Thai activists not to go down the road of armed struggle. The situation in the Thai parliament is another lesson for people not to place their hopes in the parliamentary process which is controlled by the military. The opposition Pua Thai and Move Forward MPs in parliament have been engaged in virtually useless manoeuvres which have not in any way reduced the power of the junta. The opposition parties are not even able to put forward significantly radical policies, which would benefit most ordinary people to win over those who still vote for the military party. Such policies would include a welfare state, significant benefits for those made unemployed by Covid, huge investment in good quality, free or cheap, public transport and progressive housing, education and health policies. The opposition have forgotten why Thai Rak Thai won land slide victories at the polls. They are afraid of being “too radical” and angering the generals and the reactionaries.

anti-lèse-majesté protests

The Thai junta is doing next to nothing to reduce CO2 emissions, which could easily be achieved by ramping up the use of solar power and other renewables, while closing down coal and gas power stations. There have been some protests by local communities against new power stations, but pro-democracy activists are yet to raise the question of the Climate Crisis.

Covid continues to be a serious threat in Thailand, especially after the emergence of Omicron. Yet, many people are having to choose between paying out large sums of money for injections or waiting months for free doses.

One small fragment of light at the end of the tunnel is that young people are now much more political, with a significant minority interested in socialist ideas and militancy.

There are also signs that “gig” or “platform” workers, such as motorbike delivery drivers, are now getting organised in unions.

In addition, the protests against the monarchy are having an effect on the legitimacy of both the monarchy and the military. But for serious steps towards freedom and democracy, a stronger mass movement needs to be built, with important input from the working class.

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Lèse-majesté rears its ugly head

The military junta is throwing all its legal weapons at the pro-democracy youth leaders. It is now just over a year since Generalissimo Prayut announce that the government would start to use the lèse-majesté law law against protesters. This was after a brief two year period when the no one was charged under this law.

The human rights organisation “iLaw” reports that 156 people have since been accused of lèse-majesté, with prominent leaders facing multiple lèse-majesté charges. Student activist Parit Chiwarak (“Penguin”) faces 22 cases under this law, while the lawyer Arnon Nampa faces 14 cases.

Parit “Penguin” Chiwarak
Arnon Nampa

Other leaders being charged include student activist Panusaya “Rung” Sithijirawattanakul and Ramkhamhaeng University student Panupong Jadnok. Many activists have spent time in jail or are still being detained. The junta’s Kangaroo courts have often refused bail. [See https://bit.ly/3r6hBun .]

Panusaya “Rung” Sithijirawattanakul
Panupong Jadnok

The use of the lèse-majesté law this time round has been aimed at those demanding the reform of the scandal-ridden Monarchy, with many pro-democracy activists believing that loathsome King Wachiralongkorn has too much power. Recently, the junta’s Kangaroo Constitutional Court ruled that merely calling for the reform of the Monarchy is equivalent to “treason” or attempting to overthrow the state. The maximum sentence for this is the death penalty. Some protesters have also been charged with lèse-majesté for wearing crop-tops on protests, ridiculing the preferred dress style of Wachiralongkorn.

This repression against the protest leaders has resulted in a revival of calls for the abolition or reform of lèse-majesté. Such calls were raised by myself and others after the 2006 military coup, but the movement against the lèse-majesté law today is more wide-spread and has support of large numbers of young people. A recent on-line petition gathered over 200,000 signatures. People are also refusing to stand up for the King’s anthem in cinemas.

In many ways, the demand to reform the Monarchy is a real threat to the military junta and the Thai ruling class. It undermines the way that the military and the capitalist politicians have always used the weak Monarchy to justify their rule, claiming that they always act to defend the “sacred” Monarchy, when in fact they merely act to defend their own interests.

The so-called “power” of the king is manufactured by the military, and other members of the Thai ruling class, in order to create fear and also enforce the idea that people are not equal. It is equivalent to the way some regimes in the world claim that they rule according to God’s wishes. Neither Pumipon, nor his idiot son Wachiralongkorn have any real political power.

Those who claim that Wachiralongkorn is all powerful need to explain how this can be the case, given that he chooses to spend most of his time living with his harem in Germany. Is there an example anywhere in the world, now or in the past, where a powerful ruler can exercise his power while spending most of his life abroad? Tyrants are very wary of leaving the country where they rule for fear of being deposed while abroad. The idea that Wachiralongkorn has been increasing his power is parroted by some articles published by mainstream news outlets abroad.

The lèse-majesté law is an anti-democratic law. The way it is used in the courts, with cases held in secret, is also un-democratic. It cannot be reformed; it must be abolished. In fact, the parasitic and wasteful Monarchy, which is used to justify the destruction of democracy, cannot be reformed either. It is time to fight for a Republic. Many young people today would agree with this sentiment.

Unfortunately, the building of a powerful pro-democracy social movement to achieve these aims has still not been achieved. The protest movements are fragmented, with many just watching from the sides or merely hoping in vain that the opposition mainstream political parties can achieve reform in a parliament controlled by the military. A mass movement based among the working class is required so that strikes can bring down the military. Some young people understand this, but they are being led astray by Anarcho-Syndicalist ideas about building a “red” trade union: “The Workers’ Union”. Unfortunately, this Red Union is merely an Anarcho-Syndicalist movement made up of youth, it isn’t an affective trade union and, unlike a revolutionary party, it cannot place activists among existing unions in order to agitate among workers. This is a task that is being attempted by a small group of Marxists in Thailand at the moment.

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Anti-Government Skirmishes

The large united protests against the Thai military junta last year have become fragmented after the latest wave of Covid. The main reason is that last year’s impressive protests got stuck in a rut without the movement expanding into new areas, especially the workers’ movement. Many handed over the role of opposing the junta to the opposition parliamentary parties. Not surprisingly, the opposition to the junta in parliament was hardly inspiring. Attempts at political reform are being blocked by the military’s built-in majority from appointed senators and the actions of the Pua Thai Party have been cowardly to say the least, especially on the issue of bringing the monarchy to account.

The new round of protests were revived by last year’s youth leaders and leaders of the Red Shirt movement which opposed the military ten years ago. The return of the Red Shirts is to be welcomed. But the weakness which dogged the movement last year remains. No serious work is being done to spread the movement into the organised working class. What is more, the protests, although being organised almost every day, are smaller and fragmented, with different groups organising separately.

More and more youth leaders are facing legal action after repeated arrests. Thai Lawyers for Human Rights report that in the past year there have been over 2 thousand prosecutions against 1161 protesters. [See https://tlhr2014.com/en/archives/34277 ].  Some Protesters face multiple charges. A total of 143 youngsters under the age of 18 have been charged. Most people face various “offences” concerned with protesting. But there are 124 people who have been charged under the draconian Lèse-majesté law. [See https://bit.ly/3zW9mCG and https://bit.ly/3larcLZ ].

One new development is the almost daily skirmishes between disaffected youth and the riot police at Din Daeng intersection in Bangkok. These young people, many of whom call themselves the “Breaking Through the Tear-Gas” movement or “Talu-Gaz”, deliberately respond to the violence of the riot police. The police regularly use tear gas, rubber bullets and batons to break up peaceful and legitimate protests. Rubber bullets are fired directly at people’s heads and on a few occasions, there have been reports of live rounds fired as well. The young people respond by using fireworks and catapults.

The Talu-Gaz youth, who are mainly unorganised and individualistic, come from poor families living in the area. They are different from the students who led last year’s protests. However, they have joined other and bigger anti-junta protests in the past. They are angry about their lack of future prospects and the way the government has mishandled Covid. They also wish to “get even” with the violent police.

Another development is the increasing numbers of young people who identify in some way with left-wing ideas. They are associated with the REDEM group. However, they are more like “autonomists” than Revolutionary Socialists because they reject leadership and the need to build a party. Despite this, they are also interested in Marxism.

Recently two pro-democracy Buddhist monks held a live social media discussion which attracted many viewers. The two monks cracked jokes and tried to keep things light and obviously enjoyed themselves. But their aim of making Buddhist teachings more accessible had mixed results, as people tended to leave the chat room when they started talking about more serious religious matters. Not surprisingly, the two monks have been criticised by conservatives and they had to explain themselves to the religious authorities. Never the less they remain unrepentant. After a criticism that monks should not be involved with politics, one replied that “soldiers shouldn’t intervene in politics”!

Finally, the thieves and gangsters in the junta seem to be falling out with one another. Drug dealer and “Mr Political Fix-it” Thammanat Prompao (pronounce as “Tammanat”) was recently sacked from the cabinet after trying to manoeuvre to get his boss “General Pig-face Prawit” to take over as Prime Minister instead of Prayut. This shows that splits in the ruling military party are developing as a result of mismanagement of Covid and the general mood in the country which is turning against the junta.

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Conspiracy Theories thrive under Prayut’s dictatorship

The Prayut dictatorship in Thailand is a fertile breeding ground for conspiracy theories. This is because Prayut and his military gang tell lies, instinctively, in order to justify their rule and to protect their interests. This means that the population quite rightly do not believe most of what they say. The problem is to find alternative truths. But real scientific truths are not the only alternatives on offer, especially in a society with little freedom of expression and accountability. What is seen by many people as an alternative “truth” can often be the nonsense of a conspiracy theory.

I shall give two examples of conspiracy theories circulating in Thai society right now: theories about the Covid vaccines and about the King. Both examples are a danger to those wishing to struggle for an alternative and democratic society.

Covid Vaccines

The military government’s handling of the second and more serious wave of Corona virus infections in Thailand has been a total shambles, especially when vaccination of the population is concerned. In mid-June 2021, the total number of people who had contracted the virus reached nearly 200,000, with the total number of deaths standing at 1,449 in a population the size of Britain. Only 4.5 million people have received 2 doses of a vaccine, just over 6% of the population. Despite the number of deaths being significantly lower than in Western Europe or the United States, the Thai government has failed in its vaccination programme. This is due to the fact that protecting the health of the general population has never been a priority and also due to the mindset of the generals who are running the country. They arrogantly believe that soldiers can solve any crisis, usually by military means. The government failed to order enough vaccines early in the day and initially restricted it to just one single company; the local production unit of AstraZeneca, owned by the King. The junta were clearly aiming to revive the flagging popularity of the monarchy. Later, they have had access to the Chinese Sinovac vaccine in larger amounts.

The lack of a welfare state or single national health service is also a huge problem, allowing for fragmentation of vaccine delivery and allowing private institutions to import some vaccines. One such private organisation is linked to a princess. Corruption and nepotism have also been playing their part, with big-shots jumping the queues.

In such circumstances conspiracy theories about the lack of efficiency and dangers of Sinovac have been circulating, despite the stamp of approval from the WHO. Other un-scientific rumours about AstraZeneca have also been doing the rounds, with people favouring the Pfizer vaccine, which is not being offered to the general public. The efficiency of all three vaccines are comparable and all three have side-effects. But the benefits of the vaccines for the vast majority of people outweigh the potentially dangerous side-effects. In a properly organised vaccination programme, different vaccines would be available to different people to try to minimise these side-effects. Such a programme does not exist under the Thai junta.

By swallowing conspiracy theories, activist become unable to make powerful criticism of the government and unable to offer real alternative visions of how to run the health service or other aspects of society.

“The King is dead”

Another conspiracy theory doing the rounds of social media a few weeks ago, was the “news” that king Wachiralongkorn had “died”. There was no reliable evidence to back this up and unfortunately it was not true. But this conspiracy theory was lapped up by those who are obsessed with the royal family. When it was found to be untrue, no apology or explanation was forth-coming.

These people also believe a much more harmful conspiracy theory that the idiot king Wachiralongkorn holds real political power in Thailand and can give orders to the military junta, which these people believe to be “merely” a tool of the king.

As I have explained in previous posts, that the myth about the power of the king lets the junta off the hook because many activists see the junta as irrelevant. This results in ignoring important discussions about vital strategies to overthrow military rule. The conspiracy theorists merely say that if you overthrow the junta, the monarchy will still remain in power. This is not actually true, as the survival of the monarchy is totally dependent on the military and important sections of the capitalist class who use it for their own purposes. [See: Wachiralongkorn’s power https://bit.ly/2EOjsNL and Can an absolute ruler hold power from abroad? https://bit.ly/3hxGFCv .]

What is more, none of these royal conspiracy theorists have, or are interested in having, a credible strategy for overthrowing the junta. Recently when someone on the popular (anti-royal) “Royalist Marketplace” site suggested the need for strike action, like we are seeing in Burma/Myanmar, in order to overthrow the dictatorship, this was dismissed out of hand by one leading light on the site. No alternative strategy was on offer. [See:  Rubber ducks cannot defeat the military http://bit.ly/3tmU5YB .]

This is a very serious issue as the youth-led revolt, which erupted last year, is going down to defeat, with the leaders facing serious lèse-majesté charges and the prospect of spending years behind bars as a result. Unless a realistic strategy for overthrowing the military is taken up in order to revive the movement, this could be the depressing outcome.

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Thai Dinosaur Generals dig up lèse majesté law to use against protest leaders

The Thai dictatorship is once again turning to the use of the draconian and backward lèse majesté law. The dinosaurs in uniform have ordered that a dozen leaders of the youth-led pro-democracy movement be issued with summonses by the police on charges of lèse majesté.

Youth-led protest leaders facing charges

For a couple of years the scandal around this law, and how it brought the Thai monarchy into disrepute in the eyes of many throughout the world, meant that the junta temporarily stopped using the law. Instead they persecuted activists and dissidents with other equally brutal laws, such as the computer crimes law. But now they have returned to using lèse majesté.

Protests outside the Siam Commercial Bank, owned by the monarch, 25th November

The reason for this is that they can see that the tide has turned as a result of the youth-led protests and people are openly criticising Wachiralongkorn. The dim-witted and vicious king hasn’t exactly helped build his popularity by spending his time in Germany with his harem, insisting on changing the constitution in order to make a grab for all of the wealth associated with the monarchy to be placed under his personal control. In the past there was a separation between his personal wealth and the Crown Property Bureau which was owned by the state. At the moment he is on a “charm offensive”, touring various sites in Bangkok and the provinces to meet the people. But in many ways this has just made things worse since he is only welcomed by ageing royalist fanatics and when interviewed by a British Channel 4 journalist, Wachiralongkorn struggled to say a coherent sentence. In addition to this, soldiers have been dressing up as “yellow shirts” to welcome Wachiralongkorn and also use violence against pro-democracy protests.

Lèse majesté in Thailand is used to support military coups and dictatorships. The monarchy is constantly used by authoritarian powers in Thailand to justify their actions and the monarchy has never spoken out against injustice and the cold-blooded killing of civilians. In the past many people, myself included, have been charged under this outdated authoritarian law. One person was charged with lèse majesté for distributing CDs of an Australian Broadcasting Corporation documentary. This documentary showed the severely sexist and abusive behaviour of the Thai Crown Prince. The same person was also charged with distributing a Wikileaks cable which exposed the fact that at least one member of the Privy Council thought that it would be “better” if the Prince Wachiralongkorn died so as to avoid him becoming king. This was while Pumipon was still alive.

The junta are gambling on the possibility that the youth-led movement will lose momentum and that it will be unable to defend its leaders. Both the main opposition Move Forward and Pua Thai Parties have so far refused to criticise the lèse majesté law or to back demands for serious reform of the monarchy. It is vital that the leaders of the pro-democracy movement are not left isolated. Strike action by Thai workers would strengthen their position. International solidarity would also be a boost to morale.

In a genuine democracy, it cannot be a crime to seek to bring the monarchy to account for its behaviour. This is what the protest movement is demanding.

The lèse majesté law cannot be reformed into a democratic law any more than a military dictatorship can be reformed or amended into a “democratic government”. The lèse majesté law is fundamentally against the freedom of expression and democracy. No one should face charges, be punished or be in jail for speaking their mind about Thai political institutions. This is the line that must be drawn in the sand to defend freedom of speech and build democracy in Thailand. It means that lèse majesté must be abolished.

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

The desperation of Thailand’s Rabid Royalist Generals

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

In 2017 I wrote that the Thai military junta was in the process of changing their relationship with the monarchy after the death of Pumipon [see https://bit.ly/2U73qEP and https://bit.ly/2Rwh8iO ].

I argued that the new king Wachiralongkorn was not fit for purpose and the military would be relying much more on its “National Strategy” for Guided Democracy, which was being elevated into a “sacred” ideology to enforce a conservative agenda upon all areas of society. I also argued that the new monarchy in the form of Wachiralongkorn would be less important for the junta and its conservative allies in the future.

Three years later, events have shown that things are more complicated.

Firstly, the “National Strategy”, which was basically a weapon to control any future elected civilian governments, turned out to be not so important because Prayut and his junta friends managed to fix the electoral rules and ensure that they stayed in power after the sham elections. The National Strategy has probably been put on the back-burner but could be used in the future.

maha-vajiralongkorn

Secondly, Wachiralongkorn is still clearly not fit for purpose and is very unpopular due to his appalling behaviour [see https://bit.ly/37Ci62S ]. There have been some feeble attempts to “soften” the image of the present king by much less use of the lèse-majesté law and announced measures to reduce traffic jams due to traffic being stopped when various royals travel by car. But instead of the lèse-majesté law, the government have been using the computer crimes law.

It is impossible for the military to come out with believable “wise” quotes or policies to solve national problems in the way they did with his father. Yet, the military have not abandoned or reduced the importance of the institution of the monarchy as a tool to prop-up the military intervention in politics and the rule of the elites. Despite the fact that Wachiralongkorn, as a person, is not exactly the same as the institution of the monarchy, they are closely linked and any attempt to uncouple the two will result in huge contradictions. Never the less, the more rabid royalist military generals are hoping that they can promote the importance of the monarchy while trying to ignore Wachiralongkorn.

img_20200127_184610_1-696x511
picture from khaosodenglish

One symptom of this policy by the rabid royalist generals is the continuing attempt to erase all monuments which remind us of the 1932 revolution against the absolute monarchy. See https://bit.ly/2Rzm7Q0  and https://bit.ly/2GB4B7n . Various democracy monuments have been removed and the latest acts involve removing statues from military camps of some generals who helped lead the revolution. Field Marshall Pibun is one of the victims. But we do not have to be too concerned about him as he had fascist leanings! [See https://bit.ly/36Ax8Vt ].

Another symptom is the fact that people are being accused of not being loyal to the “Democratic System with the King as Head of State”. This kind of charge was unsuccessfully made against the Future Forward Party.

Fear of the consequences of a charge of not being loyal to the “Democratic System with the King as Head of State” is being used to beat people into being subservient to the present military government.

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It would be a mistake to think that Wachiralongkorn is pulling the strings behind these policies, as some misguided commentators believe. It is the military who are in the driving seat and Wachiralongkorn is manipulated by them [see https://bit.ly/2EOjsNL ].

Make no mistake, this military government, which is based on its parliamentary dictatorship, is a vicious, backward and incompetent regime without any democratic legitimacy. It cannot solve the problem of terrible air pollution and spends its time harassing people organising peaceful demonstrations. In addition to this it allows state officials who have committed murder to enjoy impunity. The latest case involves those who are responsible for the murder of the Karen environmental activist “Billy” [see https://bit.ly/2uBbsLF ].

Pro-democracy activists in Thailand will need to build a mass movement that challenges military rule and attempts to use the monarchy as a tool of terror. Hopefully, Wachiralongkorn’s behaviour and unpopularity will cause the project of the Rabid Royalist Generals to unravel. But there also needs to be a strong push from below.

 

Parliamentary Dictatorship? Now we have the real thing!

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

During the period of the democratically elected governments led by Taksin Shinawat, many Thai reactionary academics, NGO activists and Yellow Shirts whined about a “Parliamentary Dictatorship”. This was merely because Taksin’s party had an overwhelming majority in the elected parliament and many of his supporters were also in the fully elected Senate. Of course, it was pure nonsense and it was obviously a ploy to justify opening the door to military intervention.

But now in Thailand we have the real thing. We have a military-appointed Senate and an engineered parliamentary majority for Generalissimo Prayut and his junta, despite the fact that Prayut’s party and various allies, won less votes than anti-military parties. [See https://bit.ly/2Wm6bzI ].

So what are the consequences of the present Parliamentary Dictatorship?

The junta will continue in power and there will be no change to the militarisation of society. Soldiers will act like policemen, hounding and interrogating anyone suspected of having pro-democracy sympathies. Soldiers will muscle their way into public meetings, filming participants at will. They will sit in at negotiations between trade unions and employers and any improvement in wages and conditions will be suppressed by soldiers. Troops will intervene in all forms of protests, from strikes to local village protests over environmental issues.

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The militarisation of schools and colleges will continue and pro-military brain-washing of the younger generation will continue through the media and through Children’s Day events.

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“Academic conferences are not military camps”

Military corruption and nepotism will continue and the generals will carry on with their arms shopping sprees, paid for by an ever-bloated military budget.

The use of the draconian lèse-majesté law and the so-called computer crimes law will continue as a tool to stifle freedom of expression. Prisoners of conscience will still spend years in jail. Alternative media will be persecuted.[See https://bit.ly/2wFBxXt Also https://bit.ly/2WCrr44].

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Migrants and refugees in Thailand will receive poor treatment and some will be deported back to be jailed or killed by despotic regimes. [See https://bit.ly/2KBFchd ].

The courts will continue to act as agents of the military junta and the National Human Rights Commission will carry on turning a blind eye to government abuses of human rights. Rich people and generals will get away with all kinds of crimes, including encroachment of National Parks, while poor villagers are subjected to stiff punishment.

Violent attacks upon and disappearances of dissidents will continue, both by the junta’s thugs in Bangkok and the junta’s death squads acting across the border in Lao or Cambodia. [See https://bit.ly/2WYJ2aGhttps://bit.ly/2WW4dqB ].

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The military will still be in charge of policy in Patani, with military suppression of the right to self-determination by the Muslim Malays being prioritised over a political and peaceful solution. [See https://bit.ly/2QTqJ1n , https://bit.ly/2bemah3 ].

The junta will continue its neo-liberal economic policies which favour the rich and increase inequality and any dreams of building a genuine Welfare State will have to be put on hold. The untold wealth controlled by the nasty idiot King Wachiralongkorn will not be curbed. Nor will his disgusting behaviour.

All this will continue unless ordinary Thais get organised in a pro-democracy social movement which eventually overthrows the military junta and the system of Guided Democracy.

 

Thai junta death squads eliminate exiled opponents

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Prayut’s military junta in Thailand have blood on their hands once again. Death squads have crossed the border into neighbouring Lao to abduct and murder exiled opponents and critics of the junta and the monarchy.

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“Pu-Chana”, Surachai Darnwatananusorn and “Kasalong”. Photo from Prachatai.

DNA analysis has confirmed that two of the bodies found in the Mekong River at Nakorn Panom were that of “Pu-Chana” and “Kasalong”, close comrades of Surachai Darnwatananusorn. It is believed by a number of credible journalists that there was also a third body in the river which belonged to Surachai. That body cannot now be located. All three men had been living together in exile in Lao after Prayut’s military coup. They had been missing from their homes for over a month and there were clear signs of abduction.

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The bodies were washed ashore on the Thai side of the Mekong River. The victims had been brutally mutilated, killed, tied up in sacking with concrete weights, and thrown in the river.

There is a history of abductions and killings of dissidents living in Lao. “Ko Tee”, a radio broadcaster and Redshirt activist, was abducted by 10 Thai-speaking men in black in July 2017. A year earlier, Ittipon Sukpaen, aka “DJ Sunho”, disappeared and was never seen again.

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Prayut and the Thai military junta must be held to account for these brutal murders. Naturally, like all governments which use death squads, they will deny any responsibility and any knowledge of how the killings took place and it will be difficult to find e-mail trails or written confirmation of any direct orders.

But the junta has form.

The top generals were involved with killing unarmed red shirt protesters in 2010. The Thai military operates death squads against Muslim Malays in Patani, and since Prayut’s 2014 coup, the junta have increased repression, especially with the use of the lèse-majesté law.

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The junta’s extreme royalism has encouraged rabid and aggressive royalists such as Maj. Gen. Riantong Nanna, leader of the ultra-royalist vigilante group known as the “Rubbish Collection Organisation”. According to an article in the Japan Times by exiled academic Pavin Chachavalpongpun, Riantong once wrote on his Facebook page that he would send a gunman to kill a critic of the monarchy who was living in Paris if he could do so. [See https://bit.ly/2UaJYnq]. Riantong has never been admonished by the military junta for his behaviour and he remains director of Mongkutwattana Hospital in Bangkok.

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Riantong Nanna

It is highly likely that Surachai and his comrades were abducted and murdered by a death squad linked to the Thai military.

Opponents of the junta living in exile in Lao do not have protection from the Lao government as formal refugees. The Lao authorities merely tolerate their presence on an unofficial basis. This means that armed men can cross over the border and hunt them down at will. For this reason many exiles have to constantly move house. Added to this is the fact that up to now Western countries have refused to take these exiles as asylum seekers.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has also been unhelpful, mainly because Lao does not allow the organisation into the country.

Despite the murders being highlighted by Human Rights Watch [https://bit.ly/2FRHjuS], the Thai National Human Rights Commission has so far been silent, preferring instead to publish proclamations condemning violence used by oppressed opponents of the Thai State in Patani. The NGOs and various political parties have not issued any statements either.

It is unlikely that the Lao government will do anything meaningful to investigate this atrocity. Their priority is to maintain good relations with the Thai ruling class. Besides, at least one Lao activist has also disappeared in recent years.

We must hold the Thai junta to account for the deaths of Surachai and his comrades.

The flawed Thai elections

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Given that elections are due to be held on 24th March 2019, it is worth looking at the extent to which these elections will actually be democratic, the junta’s plans for the future, and the nature of some of the new political actors which are likely to contest the election.

In the years following Prayut’s military coup, the junta have been building a future “Guided Democracy” system under their control. Important elements of this consist of the “National 20 Year Strategy” and various junta-appointed bodies, all designed to fix elections, restrict activities of political parties and control the actions and policies of any future governments.

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Prayut’s election poster

At the same time, as we turn the page towards 2019, Generalissimo Prayut and his junta remain in power with Prayut still ruling by decree using article 44 to dictate the rules of the election. It is increasingly likely that he will be a candidate for Prime Minister if the military party, Palang Pracharat, manage to gain enough parliamentary seats to combine with the votes of the military appointed senate. Prayut and his cronies have been using their positions to electioneer while pro-democracy parties have had their activities restricted. This includes visits to the provinces and promising benefits to the electorate in a “pork barrel” political manner. In one ridiculous incident a poster was erected showing Prayut shaking hands with Britain’s embattled and weak Prime Minister, Theresa May! In addition to this, Palang Pracharat has been accused of illegally raising funds by getting government agencies to buy places at a fund-raising banquet.

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The junta’s Road Map towards “Guided Democracy” and its backward conservative “National Strategy” have been of little concern to the new king. Wachiralongkorn has never expressed any opinions about this road map and he has no interest in such important matters of State. Wachiralongkorn is certainly an odious creature; selfish, nasty and lacking in any respect for others, especially women. But everything that he has done over the last year has been about himself and his quest for pleasure and riches at the expense of the Thai public. [See http://bit.ly/2l63Z1I  ]

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Obsession with the monarchy merely diverts attention away from the real democratic tasks ahead.

The real show in town is the continued grip on power of the military and how the policies of the junta are affecting democracy, human rights, social policy and the state of the economy. The junta represent the conservative, authoritarian, neo-liberal wing of the Thai ruling class. They are dead against rapid modernisation of society, any steps towards basic empowerment of citizens and the use of state funds to address economic inequality. They rely on the support of the anti-democratic middle-classes. This is at the core of their disagreement with Taksin and his allies. They are also totally opposed to young people becoming more politically engaged and to any notions of justice.

I have brought together some of my blog posts from “Ugly Truth Thailand” which go some way towards explaining the present situation. The posts are divided into 3 sections: Guided Democracy, The Political Parties and Dealing with the Military. The collection can be read on my Academia page [See https://bit.ly/2QMrGf9 ].

The coming elections will not solve the long-running political crisis, but they are a chapter in the struggle for democracy, if only because the results will be a kind of referendum on the popularity of the junta. The holding of the elections also shows that the military junta know that they cannot rule by diktat for ever. They have been forced to make some concessions. But these concessions are not enough. There will not be democracy unless the legacy of the junta, including the constitution and the 20 year national strategy are scrapped. Freedom of expression will not exist unless the lèse-majesté law is abolished, but none of the political parties have called for this reform. Participatory democracy will not exist unless something drastic is done about Thailand’s gross inequality. Some pro-democracy parties are mentioning a welfare state in their policies but details are lacking and there are no serious suggestions for a super-tax on the super-rich, including the monarchy.

To break the legacy of the military intervention in politics we need a strong mass movement outside parliamentary politics and we need political parties of the left and the working class. Unfortunately these vital ingredients are yet to materialise.