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.
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.
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.