Tag Archives: Military coup

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.

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Tanks don’t solve the problem of flooding!

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Generalissimo Prayut has been scaring little children and telling them not to listen to “bad people” who spread anti-junta views.

The General scaring kids
The General scaring kids

No doubt he doesn’t want us to believe that elections will be postponed beyond 2018. Yet all his appointed representatives who pass laws and write constitutions according to the junta’s diktat are tying themselves in knots about the junta’s so-called “road map” for political anti-reforms and the future anti-democratic elections.

Their road map is beginning to look like a road map to nowhere, a bit like the severed roads in the flooded south.

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There is no let up in the rain at the moment and the people in the south are suffering as a result.

Anusorn Tamjai, an economist from Rungsit University, has estimated that the serious flooding in the south will cause up to 120 billion baht’s worth of damage to the economy of the region. Three hundred thousand families have been affected and there have been over 20 deaths. Amazingly, this economist had the courage to suggest that the junta might postpone the purchase of weapons for the bloated military. People have been asking questions on social media about the 50 Chinese tanks which have been bought at the expense of investing in flood affected areas and at the expense of building better railways and other useful public projects.

The Thai military has only used its tanks and weaponry to stage military coups and to suppress pro-democracy protesters in the streets. The military’s weaponry is the material basis of its illegitimate political power.

Yet the over-confident and authoritarian buffoon who is Prime Minister has blamed ordinary people for the flood crisis. Prayut said that the people didn’t listen and move to higher ground. He boasted that since he became head of the army almost ten years ago he has been “solving” problems caused by flooding.

It is also good to know that King Wachiralongkorn is concerned about the people. It was announced, in true royal mumbo-jumbo, that the Privy Council had “invited” the King’s wishes to be made public.

Wachiralongkorn is so concerned about others that he kept hundreds of graduates at a university in Chiang-Rai waiting for hours because he turned up late to the degree ceremony. He eventually arrived with his disgusting little white mutt trotting behind him. The ceremony ended around mid-night. Exiled academic Pavin Chachavalpongpun commented that His Majesty was running on “Munich time”, a reference to HM’s preferred residence. Wachiralongkorn probably only came back to Thailand to collect his crown and is now itching to get back to his “palace” and “women” in Germany. So much for his devotion to the Thai people!

The devastation caused by flooding in Thailand is a result of a lack of infrastructural investment, poor living standards and a lack of a welfare state for citizens. It is the military junta and the conservative anti-democrats who are the neo-liberal extremists in Thailand. They have long opposed any state funding to modernise Thai society and reduce inequality. They have supported the overthrow of democratically elected governments that sought to make minimal changes to the situation. They have also made sure that neoliberal fiscal discipline is written into the constitution. It is they who are guilty of causing the present flooding crisis.

The “road map” to a military “guided democracy” is designed to keep society in this backward deep-frozen state.

Let’s talk about political reform (4) Reduce the role of the military

Numnual Yapparat & Giles Ji Ungpakorn

The two main activities of the Thai army are to kill pro-democracy citizens and to tear up democratic constitutions by staging military coups.

The army has committed crimes against civilians again and again, but none of the generals have ever been punished. Most disgusting is the way that those generals who staged coups, are constantly invited by the media to give opinions about democracy. In fact they are interviewed by the media on all aspects of Thai politics. If the murderous generals are not charged with crimes against the people, how can we establish justice? The military is the main barrier to democracy.

Today, they are not yet staging a coup, but they refuse orders from an elected government to ensure that elections take place. They are a law unto themselves.

In the process of “political reform” we need to challenge and weaken the power of the military in all aspects of society. We need to raise questions in public about whether we should have a military at all.

If we have a military, it should be drastically reduced in size. We should abolish military service. We should retire most of the generals without the usual retirement perks and abolish the post of “commander in chief of the army”. The military should be firmly under the command of the elected government of the day.

Given that the majority live in poverty and need improvements to their living conditions, we should cut the bloated military budget and use that money to invest in the basic needs of the people, such as schools, hospitals and modern transportation.

We must ask more important questions. Why does the military own so much of the broadcasting media? They use their power over the media to spread their anti-democratic propaganda and also to line the pockets of the generals with the huge profits. The military should be excluded from controlling the media. The generals should also be removed from the boards of state enterprises.

Pua Thai, the Democrats, the middle classes, the NGOs and the top academics, who are now all shouting about “reform”, will never raise demands to reform the military. The task must lie with pro-democracy activists and progressive red shirts.

The roots of the Thai crisis

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

 It is insulting and patronising to see the present crisis as merely a dispute between two factions of the elite, just like a fight between supporters of two football teams, lacking any reasoned political arguments[1]. This is the point of view of some NGO activists who half supported the 2006 military coup and have said in the past that villagers who voted for Taksin’s party “lacked information”; a euphemism for “stupidity”.

It is also a lazy generalisation to argue that the Red Shirts are rural villagers from the north and north-east and that Sutep’s Yellow Shirt supporters are Bangkok residents.[2] The results from the 2011 general election showed that in the 33 Bangkok constituencies, the Democrat Party won 44.34% of the vote, while the Pua Thai Party won 40.72%. This shows that the Bangkok population is evenly split between Pua Thai and the Democrats and this is based on those who have house registrations in Bangkok. Thousands of rural migrant workers who work and reside permanently in Bangkok are registered to vote in their family villages. If they were registered where they actually live and work, Pua Thai might have achieved an overall majority in Bangkok. Many Red Shirt protests in the past have been made up of Bangkok residents.

The real division between the “Reds” and the “Yellows” in the current crisis is CLASS. There is a clear tendency for workers and poor to middle income farmers to support Pua Thai and the Red Shirts, irrespective of geographical location. This is because of Thai Rak Thai’s pro-poor policies of universal health care, job creation and support for rice farmers. In the provinces and in Bangkok, the middle classes and the elites tend to vote for the Democrats and want to reduce the democratic space and turn the clock back to pre-Thai Rak Thai times. Back in 1976 in Thailand, the middle class supported repression and dictatorship to destroy the Left. In the 1930s, the middle class were the back-bone of fascism in Europe.

But this is not just a simple class struggle. In fact, class struggle in the real world is seldom simple or pure. One way of understanding the “dialectical” relationship between Taksin and the Red Shirts is to see a kind of “parallel war” in the Red Shirt/UDD struggles against the conservative elites, where thousands of ordinary Red Shirts struggle for democracy, dignity and social justice, while Taksin and his political allies wage a very different campaign to regain the political influence that they had enjoyed before the 2006 coup d’état. However, at the same time, Taksin remains very popular with most Red Shirts.

Class is also very much connected to the roots of the long running Thai crisis. This political crisis is a result of an unintentional clash between the conservative way of operating in a parliamentary democracy and a more modern one. It came to a head with attempts by Taksin and his party to modernise Thai society so that the economy could become more competitive on a global level, especially after the 1996 Asian economic crisis.

Thai political leaders since the early 1970s had always adopted a laissez faire attitude to development, with minimal government planning, low wages, few trade union rights and an abdication of responsibility by governments to improve infrastructure. This strategy worked in the early years, but by the time of the 1996 Asian economic crisis it was becoming obvious that it was seriously failing.

In the first general election since the 1996 crisis, Taksin’s party put forward a raft of modernising and pro-poor policies, including the first ever universal health care scheme. Because the Democrat Party had told the unemployed to “go back to their villages and depend on their families, while spending state finances in securing the savings for the rich in failed banks, Taksin was able to say that his government would benefit everyone, not just the rich. Taksin’s Thai Rak Thai Party won the elections. The government was unique in being both popular and dynamic, with real policies, which were used to win the election and were then implemented afterwards. Previously, the old parties had just bought votes without any policies.

Taksin’s policies and his overwhelming electoral base came to challenge many elements of the old elite order, although this was not Taksin’s conscious aim at all. The Democrats lost the election. The military could not compete in terms of democratic legitimacy and support. The middle class started to resent the fact that the government was helping to raise the standard of living of workers and poor farmers.

Another military coup, or a rolling back of democracy by other means, will not make it easier to rule over the majority of the electorate who have been politicised and mobilised by the Red Shirt movement. A “compromise” between Sutep and the Pua Thai care-taker government would not be a step forward either. It would result in reducing the democratic space and reducing the power of the electorate.

[This article should be read in conjunction with my articles: There is no “crisis of succession” in Thailand http://links.org.au/node/3633 and “Thai Spring?” Paper given at the 5th Annual Nordic NIAS Council Conference, November 2011, Stockholm University, Sweden. http://www.scribd.com/doc/73908759/Thai-Spring ]

[1] Jon Ungpakorn “What is the real nature of hatred in Thai society” Prachatai 5th January 2014. http://www.prachatai.com/journal/2014/01/50958

[2] Duncan McCargo “The Last Gasp of Thai Paternalism”. New York Times, 19th December 2013. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/20/opinion/the-last-gasp-of-thai-paternalism.html?_r=0