Tag Archives: Military junta

Junta’s idiotic solution to Bangkok air pollution

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

For some weeks now the air quality in Bangkok has reached crisis proportions with smog becoming an everyday occurrence.

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The junta’s only solution seems to be to spray water from some tall buildings in a pathetic attempt to clear the air of polluting particles! They also talk about tightening up on regulations. But it always remains as mere talk.

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Part of the reason for the current air pollution is the construction of the extension of the raised electric railway system. This was also a problem when the first sections of the overhead railway were being built 20 years ago. Tightening up on construction standards would be useful and it would probably have been better to build the entire system underground. However, this is a temporary problem and not even the main cause of pollution.

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A recent research article published by the Economic Intelligence Center of the Siam Commercial Bank, written by Dr Sivalai Khantachavana outlines the main causes of the dangerous levels of particles in Bangkok’s air [See https://bit.ly/2B9AUrK ].

Pollution particles with a diameter smaller than 2.5 microns (PM2.5) are the cause of respiratory and other diseases and can have serious consequences for people exposed to these particles, especially young children. The risk factor to humans of breathing PM2.5 is higher than for smoking tobacco.

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Twenty-six percent of Bangkok’s PM2.5 pollution comes from diesel engines. The emissions from these engines are made up of 90% PM2.5 particles.

Although the use of diesel engines causes 26% of PM2.5 pollution in Bangkok, another 25% comes from burning organic matter. This originates from forest and peat fires and the burning of fields after harvesting. This is a serious problem in other towns and cities across South-East Asia. Measures to control these fires are possible if there is better enforcement and new methods of agriculture are used.

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picture montage by Chub Nokkaew

Another source of PM2.5 particles comes from factories, construction and other sources dust. Building regulations and environmental controls of factories need to be properly implemented. A recent article by Anusorn Tamajai, Dean of the Faculty of Economics at Rungsit University, exposes the shameful fact that the military junta’s new factory regulations law does the exact opposite. It reduces pollution controls and inspection standards for factories!

Phasing out coal-fired power stations would be a great help and would reduce CO2 in the environment. Thailand should be producing much more electricity from solar energy and wind.

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But to achieve these changes requires democratically elected governments that are sensitive to environmental issues. That also means strengthening social movements.

The problem of diesel engine pollution is made worse by the use of poor quality diesel fuel and the age of vehicles on the roads. There are a total of 2.7 million diesel engine vehicles on Bangkok’s roads, making up nearly half the total number of vehicles (not including motorcycles). Nationwide almost 60% of vehicles (10.8 million) have diesel engines.

Motorcycles, mainly used by the poor, are also a source of pollution.

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A majority of diesel buses and trucks on Bangkok’s roads are over 7 years old and the standards of emissions are very low. The solution, of course, is not to penalise the poor by forcing people with older vehicles off the roads, or reducing state subsidies on diesel, without providing alternative solutions.

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The solution to this is to promote the use of cheap and good quality public transport. Free public transport and the use of new electric railways and electric buses would not only drastically reduce air pollution, but it would help solve traffic congestion. Pua Thai Party has proposed buying a fleet of new electric buses instead of the junta’s planned purchase of tanks from China. This is a good step forward, but a comprehensive public transport policy is still required. This would require a drastic change in government policy, which in the past has promoted private vehicle transport and ignored the need for state-sponsored mass-transit systems. It would mean raising taxes on big corporations, the rich and the Palace and it would require cutting military spending. It would also mean using economic policies which recognise the problems of a free-market driven economy.

Unfortunately, none of the political parties have made significant concrete proposals to tackle these problems.

 

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Post-Script on Ubonrut’s Nomination

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

[This article should be read together with my previous post “Politics of the Sewer” https://bit.ly/2SHQrZW ]

Now that King Wachiralongkorn has scuppered Ubonrut’s nomination as Thai Raksa Chart’s candidate for Prime Minister, it is worth looking at what the incident exposed.

Firstly, most of the analysis concentrated on the politics of the top elites without raising the question about how a military dictatorship can be brought down in order to achieve real democracy.

People who spend their time looking up at the view above risk stepping in dog shit.

So once again we had people claiming that if Ubonrut became Prime Minister that this would reinforce the supposed growing power of the “Absolute Monarchy”. They were soon proved totally wrong when it became obvious that Wachiralongkorn and Ubonrut did not see things in the same way.

Those who have always been mesmerised by the monarchy and conspiracy theories about a “New Absolutism” have been twisting their theories into a contradictory muddle. Some claim that Ubonrut “must have” consulted the king beforehand since he holds absolute power. Is this really the case?

The question which has been posed now is why Wachiralongkorn intervened to stop his elder sister from entering politics. The most likely explanation is that he was politely “ordered” to stop Ubonrut by a junta agent who pretended to grovel to him. The reality is that the military are Wachiralongkorn’s golden meal ticket. Without them, his position would be very weak. The military were very annoyed by Thai Raksa Chart’s move, which threatened their monopoly on power. If possible they would prefer not to do a power deal with Taksin, which was the aim of Ubonrut’s nomination in the first place. But Wachiralongkorn would not be threaten by Taksin at all. After all, Taksin had paid off his gambling debts in the past. It is true that the competing egos of Wachiralongkorn and Ubonrut and their wish “to be number one” might have helped to persuade Wachiralongkorn. But that was not the key issue.

Some racist foreign observers, who repeat all the conspiracy theories and are not interested in searching for the truth, just laugh smugly at the stupidity of Thai citizens and the bizarre nature of Thai politics. These people should be treated with contempt.

There were many other people who claimed that Ubonrut’s nomination was a clever chess move to beat Prayut. No sooner had they said this than the junta’s side shouted “checkmate”!! People who seek short cuts in order to win in politics often come unstuck.

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After Pumipon’s death many Red Shirts deluded themselves that Wachiralongkorn would turn out to be a friend to their side and might even abolish lèse majesté! If they hadn’t already realised how wrong this myth was, they do now.

Many former Red Shirts and Taksin supporters defended Taksin and Thai Raksa Chart’s role in this chapter of the “Politics of the Sewer” because they mistakenly believe that the junta is all powerful and there is nothing that ordinary people can do.

This bring us to the main issue which has almost totally been ignored by the dog-shit-stepping, star-gazers: How can a military dictatorship be brought down in order to achieve real democracy? This is a key question because the coming elections are rigged in favour of the military and their 20 year future influence on politics. [See https://bit.ly/2RIIvrD ].  It is also a key question because most people who support Taksin’s parties want genuine democracy, even if that is not the priority for Taksin and his team.

The answer is that there are no short cuts. Ridding Thailand of military influence and building democracy means building a pro-democracy social movement which coordinates its struggle with pro-democracy parties. We know from Thai history that such a movement can be built and can be successful so long as it is not controlled by elites. If this reality is rejected and the role of ordinary citizens is denied, the result is a political farce where a royal is posed as an alternative to Prayut’s junta.

Military rule has increased inequality

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

The shocking levels of increasing inequality in Thailand have been recently revealed by the Credit Suisse Global Wealth Databook 2018 [See https://bit.ly/2RxcMFM , https://bit.ly/2QKpW63 ].

The report shows that inThailand, the richest 1% own and control 66.9% of all wealth. This compares to 51.5, 57.1, 46.6, 32.6, 24.6 and 35.3% for India, Russia, Indonesia, China, the UK and the USA, respectively. The Gini coefficient, which is a measure representing the income or wealth distribution of a country, also shows the stark inequality in Thailand. A value of 100% indicates absolute inequality, whereas 0% would indicate total equality. Thailand’s Gini coefficient stands at 90.2% compared to 63.1, 85.4, 84.0, 76.7 and 65.8 % for Japan, India, Indonesia, Finland and Australia, respectively.

Writing in the Kyoto Review of Southeast Asia in 2015, Kevin Hewison wrote that “Economic and political inequalities in Thailand are mutually reinforcing conditions that have resulted from the ways in which the gains of rapid economic growth have been captured by elites. Preserving these privileges produces a political structure that is exclusionary and dominated by an authoritarian elite.” [See https://bit.ly/2Ac81L6].

Since the 2006 military coup against the elected Taksin government, I have argued in my book “A Coup for the Rich” that the Thai political crisis has its roots in the way that Taksin’s party responded to gross inequality and the 1997 economic crisis. This response gave him a huge electoral advantage and threatened the status quo [see https://bit.ly/2aE7zc6 ].

It is hardly surprising that military intervention in Thai politics has increased inequality since the ruling class faction represented by the military and the royalist conservatives are extreme neo-liberals.

With the upcoming elections, it is good that some political parties, like the Future Forward Party, are talking about the need for a welfare state. But their proposals do not go far enough, as they do not advocate a supertax on the 1% of the richest Thais. Prominent among this 1% is the Thai monarchy, which is obscenely wealthy. The wealth of the Thai monarchy is part of a deal struck by the military since dictator Sarit’s time. In return for allowing the King to control such wealth he was expected to toe the line and support and legitimise military dictatorships and all manner of authoritarian behaviour by the elites. The military and the elites then use the lèse-majesté law to protect themselves and their puppet king. This arrangement has continued under Wachiralongkorn. But it is not just the monarchy that makes up the 1%. It is comprised of the owners of top Thai multinationals such as the CP Corporation.

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To tax this 1%, the power of the elites, which is ultimately guaranteed by the military, has to be broken. This means taking on the military. It means being able to talk about the monarchy by scrapping the lèse-majesté law.

In addition to this, the minimum wage needs to be raised to civilised levels, perhaps raising it by more than 100%. Other wages need to be raised too. This requires the building of a strong trade union movement, something which has been ignored for too long. Even the Future Forward Party has not made any commitment to this; not surprising since the party leader is a business tycoon.

What should never be forgotten is that social equality is fundamental to building participatory democracy. Those who worry every day about how to make ends meet often struggle to become politically active in order to bring about change.

Apart from strong trade unions, we need a socialist party of the working class in order to advocate progressive policies which go well beyond the achievements of Taksin’s Thai Rak Thai or the promises of the Future Forward Party.

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.

Anek Laotamatat and middle-class support for dictatorship

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Anek Laotamatat made a name for himself in supporting the flawed mainstream idea that the Thai middle-class was key to building democracy. His paper on the 1992 uprising against the military sang the praises of the key role of the middle-classes, despite the fact that there was evidence of a much more complicated class makeup of the demonstrators. [See also https://bit.ly/1HFxyLM and https://bit.ly/2QQBxk2  ]

On Christmas day 2018, Anek made a confession on Thai PBS TV that when he looked back to the 1973 uprising against the Tanom dictatorship, if he had known what he knew now about how “bad” the democratic electoral system really was, he would have supported the continuation of the Tanom regime. He is now firmly in the camp of those who want to see Generalissimo Prayut and his junta cling on to power after the so-called elections next month.

In many ways, Anek’s political trajectory mirrors that of the Thai middle-classes and one could say that his book “The Tale of Two Democratic Cities”, provides the theoretical justification for Prayut’s system of Guided Democracy.

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Anek with political ally Sutep

It is worth reminding ourselves about the political career of Anek Laotamatas through being a former supporter of the Maoist Communist Party, to becoming an academic and finally ending up as an anti-democratic politician.

On 12th April 2016 the blood-stained Generalissimo Prayut admitted that he did not trust the Thai people to elect a “good” government. This was his justification for the military constitution which restricts the power of any democratically elected governments in the future. It was also the justification for the 2006 and 2014 military coups. Military coups in Thailand have the support of liberal, right-wing, academics in Thailand.

Liberal academics in Thailand believe that Taksin cheated in elections by “tricking or buying the ignorant rural poor”. For them the rural poor were trapped in a patron-client system. The person who mapped out this view most clearly was Anek Laotamatat in his 1995 book: “The Tale of Two Democratic Cities”.

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Anek Laotamatat’s book attempted to claim that the major divide in Thai democratic society was between the rural and urban areas. These were the “two democratic cities” of Thai politics. According to Anek, the divide was not just geographical but it was an issue of class too. In his view, the rural electorate were mainly small farmers and the urban electorate were “middle-class”.

The overwhelming dominance of the rural electorate in various constituencies meant that they had the voting power to elect governments. Anek claimed that these governments were mainly corrupt and deeply involved in money politics. In Anek’s view, the rural people voted for these politicians because they were “patrons” of the poor who had to prove themselves by their work record of helping local communities. Vote buying was a ceremonial part of this “patron-client” relationship and not seen as “wrong” by the rural voters. Anek believed that rural people did not vote by using “independent thought” about political policies, but were bound by ties of obligation to their patrons.

For Anek, the urban middle-classes were well educated and chose their governments and politicians using independent thought and a strong sense of “political morality”. They cast their votes after carefully considering the policies of various parties, and when the governments which were chosen by the rural poor turned out to be corrupt and immoral, they took part in street demonstrations to bring those governments down.

This was an inaccurate and extremely patronising view of Thai political society. The Thai middle-classes have a history of political opportunism, sometimes supporting barbaric acts and repressive regimes, like the 1976 massacre, the present military junta, and the cold-blooded murder of red shirt demonstrators by the military. The middle-classes also sometimes oppose military dictatorships, such as in 1992. Marxists have long defined the middle-classes as fickle and cowardly, bending with the wind according to strong political currents either from above or from below. Today the Thai middle-classes are firmly in the camp of the dictatorship.

The present anti-democratic position of the middle-classes is based on strong currents from the conservative elites to ditch democracy because it gave “too much” power to Taksin and “too much” benefit to ordinary working people in urban and rural areas. Their so-called “anti-corruption” crusade has helped place the military in power. The military is one of the most corrupt institutions in Thailand. Not only this, the main political leader of the anti-corruption crusade, which opened the door to military rule, Sutep Tueksuban, is a longstanding and classical old-style politician of the Democrat Party which uses pure “patronage” and corruption to maintain votes in the south of Thailand. This is because the party has never had any real policies.

Interestingly, Anek’s solution to the problem of political patronage, which he claimed resulted in corrupt politicians being elected from rural areas, was to get the state to increase rural development projects so that these areas became more urban-like and linked into the capitalist market through technological advances. Equally important, in his view, was the need for political parties to develop clear policies and propose new solutions. The book was written before Taksin’s Thai Rak Thai Party was ever established and it appears that TRT, Knowingly or unknowingly, followed all the major points put forward in the book for developing Thai politics. Not only was TRT the only party for over two decades to take the issue of party policies seriously, the party took a keen interest in winning votes from the rural and urban poor on the basis of such policies. The 30 baht Universal Health Care Scheme was typical. The Taksin Government then proceeded to actually honour its election promises and use state funds to develop rural areas so that they could be linked to the world market. The Village Funds and “One Tambon One Product” (O.T.O.P.) are a good examples. In short, rural voters started to vote for clear pro-poor policies, while reducing their personal attachment to local political patrons or bosses.

This is supported by the work of Australian anthropologist Andrew Walker who found that rural voters were carefully weighing up policies of various parties at election time.

Yet during the Yellow Shirt PAD campaign against Taksin before the 2006 coup, liberal academics and some social activists often quoted Anek’s book to “prove” that the rural poor were too stupid to understand democracy and that they were tied into Taksin’s new “patron-client system” via TRT’s populist policies. This was reinforced by Anek himself, who claimed, in a later book that TRT had built a new patron-client system and that this showed that Thailand could never have fully functioning democracy.

The very concept of a “patron-client system” is not about a political party which offers populist policies to the entire national electorate, carries them out and then gets overwhelmingly re-elected on a national ballot. Political patron-client systems are about individual relationships between a local political boss and the boss’s constituents. The relationship results in preferential treatment for some. It is pure nonsense to state that TRT was building a new strong patron-client system in the countryside on a national level. For those who genuinely believe in democracy, governments and political parties ought to carry out policies which the people want.

Anek Laotamatat went on to promote the idea of “Asia Values” in his attempt to justify the military regime. He argued that Thailand needed a “mixed” system where elected governments share power with the King and Thai Rak Thai Populism is replaced by “Third Way” social welfare. Anek was an ardent admirer of the British academic Anthony Giddens, favourite of Tony Blair.

The reality in Thailand is that the “two democratic cities” are made up, on one side, of the elites and middle-classes who hate democracy when it threatens their privileges, and on the other side, the urban and rural working people who cherish freedom and democracy because it is in their class interests to do so. It is the middle-classes who rely on the patronage of the military strongmen, the monarchy and conservative political Big Shots in order to protect the “old ways” which created the unequal society which we see today in Thailand.

Further reading:

 

“A Tale of Two Democracies: Conflicting Perceptions of Elections and Democracy in Thailand.” By Anek Laothamatas. In: The Politics of Elections in Southeast Asia. Edited by R. H. Taylor. Cambridge University Press, 1996.

Monument Wars #2

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

In 2017 I wrote an article about “Monument Wars” after the disappearance of the metal plaque celebrating the 1932 revolution against the king. The latest casualty is the Lak-Si Democracy Monument, north of Bangkok, which commemorates the military victory against the Boworadet royalist rebellion one year after the revolution. This monument was removed at night, under the watchful eyes of soldiers, in late December. A democracy activist who took pictures of the removal on his phone had his phone confiscated for 24 hours by police.

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The history of the crushing of the royalist rebellion shows why the royalists wish to destroy the monument. In 1932 Prince Boworadet assembled rebel soldiers at Korat ready to move down by train to attack Bangkok and restore the power of the monarchy. The royalists spread propaganda that the government, and especially Pridi Panomyong, were communists who wanted to establish a republic. The rebels planned to assassinate leaders of the People’s Party when they entered Bangkok.

As soon as news of the royalist rebellion reached Bangkok, many citizens volunteered to form an army to fight off the rebellion and defend the constitution. Military reservists started reporting for duty even though the government had not yet issued any orders to report. Civilians also volunteered to help the police in intelligence gathering about those involved with the royalist rebellion. Boy scouts reported for duty to help keep the peace in the capital city and they also played an important role in supplying government troops with ammunition and other essentials. Trade unionists were prominent in volunteering to fight against the rebellion. Workers from munitions factories, aircraft maintenance workers, Siam Cement workers, boatmen, taxi drivers and railway maintenance workers at the Makasan repair shop, all expressed enthusiasm to join the fight against the royalists. This fight ended in defeat for the royalists and forever ended their dreams of restoring the absolute monarchy. [See https://bit.ly/2uXDfAT ].

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Historians have described the importance of monuments in modern day to day political struggles. This is part of what Gramsci would have called “the War of Position”. It is an ideological war between different sides or classes. The recent disappearance of the metal plaque celebrating the 1932 revolution and the removal of the Lak Si monument are part of this war.

The fact that these monuments were removed while leading members of the junta and various authorities all deny knowledge or responsibility, raises some interesting questions. Those who have questioned these acts have been harassed by the police and military.

A study of the works of Thai historians shows that the Democracy Monument, in the centre of Bangkok, is also part of the continuing Monument War. The Democracy Monument was in fact built by the military dictator Pibun in the 1930s as an anti-royalist monument. Pibun was a nationalist republican who favoured dictatorship over democracy. The monument was built in the middle of the “King’s Avenue”, a bit like giving the “middle finger” to the monarchy. It is worth visiting this monument to look at the modernist imagery which does not contain a single reference to the monarchy.

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The Democracy Monument in Bangkok is interesting because it shows that through popular struggle the meaning of monuments can change. Ever since the days of the royalist dictator Sarit, who overthrew Pibun, Thai citizens have seen this monument as a symbol of democracy. So far no dictatorship has ever dared to demolish it because of the strength of the democratic ideology among Thai people.

When Sarit came to power, he promoted King Pumipon in order to give himself more legitimacy and power. He never had any intention of giving Pumipon any power and Pumipon was never powerful. We need to remember that “political power” is concrete. It determines social and economic policies and international relations. Neither Pumipon nor his idiot son have or have ever had this kind of power.

Conservatives have constantly tried to cover up and dismiss the history of the 1932 revolution. That is why most Thais probably have never heard of the 1932 plaque or the Lak-Si monument. That is also why the conservatives built the moment of the deposed king Rama 7 in front of the present parliament after the 6th October bloodbath in 1976. It is like building a monument to King George in front of the US Congress!

In this Monument War, the progressives have fought back by building monuments to those who were killed by the military in 1973 and 1976. The latter monument is inside Thammasart University, which is also the location for a monument to Pridi Panomyong, founder of the People’s Party and a key leader of the 1932 revolution.

This is truly a “Monument War” in Thailand’s War of Position.

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.