Tag Archives: Military junta

Thai Electoral rules aimed to fragment political parties

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

The junta’s anti-reformists have devised a strange and complicated equation for allocating the number of MPs that each party would have in parliament after the next election. As in previous Thai elections, there will be MPs elected directly to various constituencies and also MPs elected from national votes for party lists. In other countries, such formulae are used to introduce proportional representation. But in Thailand the number of Party List MPs will be determined by a bizarre equation designed primarily to stop a popular party, especially “Pua Thai”, from achieving a majority in parliament. The formula means that more Party List MPs will be allocated to parties which fail to gain many Constituency MPs and those that win in many constituencies will have a reduced number of Party List seats. This would give added MPs to smaller parties such as the pro-military “Democrat Party” at the expense of a party like Taksin Shinawat’s “Pua Thai Party”.

27972986228_c7cb0a8f37_b

Unlike Taksin’s parties, the Democrat Party has never won a majority in parliament and it worked hand in glove with the military after Taksin’s parties were overthrown in military and judicial coups. Taksin’s Thai Rak Thai Party won a number of general elections due to its pro-poor and modernising policies, such as universal health care and job creation and poverty reduction schemes in the countryside. The party had to change its name to “Palang Prachachon” and then “Pua Thai” after the parties were dissolved by pro-military courts. “Pua Thai” means “for Thais”.

The junta’s election formula for allocating MPs is also designed to try to make sure that Thailand goes back to having a string of weak coalition governments where different parties fight for a place at the government feeding trough. A weak elected coalition government would be easier for the military to manipulate.

However, as they say, “every force has an equal and opposite reaction”. Politicians allied to Taksin have created 2 sister parties; “Pua Tum Party” (“for justice/virtuousness”) and “Pua Chart Party” (“for the nation”). Taksin’s allies hope that this will give the pro-Taksin coalition of 3 parties an increased number of MPs compared to if they all stood in the elections under a single Pua Thai banner.

พรรคเพื่อธรรม

Pua Tum has also been set up in case the pro-junta courts decide to dissolve Pua Thai on some spurious grounds. Pua Thai MPs could then migrate to the party.

โลโก้พรรคเพื่อชาติ

Pua Chart Thai has been set up by a group of former Red Shirts.

The “The Prachachart Party”, set up by former Thai Rak Thai Muslim politicians in the South, might also support a Pua Thai government.

No doubt there are many other machinations and deals, involving other politicians, going on behind the scenes.

Of course, we must also not forget that whoever wins the election will be severely constrained by the junta’s 20 year National Strategy and its appointees in the Senate and the judiciary.

Advertisements

The state of the parties so far

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

At present the presumed date for the future Thai elections is sometime in February 2019 and various political parties are going through the process of registering with the Electoral Commission and holding meetings to elect people to leadership posts. However, political parties have been warned by the junta not to declare their manifestos or to start the process of electioneering.

There are a number of parties worth a mention on the anti-military side.

30-12-728x455-728x455

The “Future Forward Party” has a clear policy of reducing the power and influence of the military by scrapping the military constitution and other junta inspired laws, and it is busy pushing its “new look” and claiming to be the party of the new generation. However, it is likely to be a party aimed at sections of the pro-democracy middle classes. It will prioritise the free-market and business interests while also claiming to support the poor in an abstract manner. Its leader, tycoon Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, has stated that it will “protect capitalism for the benefit of the majority”. In the past he has emphasised that business must make a profit before benefits for workers can be improved. It is in favour of devolving power to the provinces and has made sounds about self-determination in Patani. [See https://bit.ly/2Nf7fks and https://bit.ly/2IpUUJa ].

Without an extra-parliamentary mass movement for democracy it will be difficult for any elected party to reduce the role of the military. [See https://bit.ly/2O5ZNNx ].

42264920_271886196770720_4399856470452076544_n

The “Commoners Party” claims to be a grass-roots party with no big-business backing and it is made up of NGO activists and villagers. It also has a position against the military’s involvement in politics, but so far its policies remain vague. It has recently been involved in a scandal when it was revealed that the elected deputy leader, Akechai Isarata, took part in the anti-election mob in 2014 which opened the door to Prayut’s coup. This stems from the NGO movement’s hatred of Taksin Shinawat and their reticence about democracy and the need to oppose military coups. He has now resigned after members of the party called on him to quit.

Akechai
Akechai Isarata

The Taksin controlled Pua Thai Party has a long pedigree of being supported by the rural poor and urban workers, which will give it an advantage at the polls. Taksin’s first party, Thai Rak Thai, brought in the first ever universal health care scheme and other pro-poor policies. But Taksin has a reputation for brutal repression in Patani and during the War on Drugs. Pua Thai also enjoys an “anti-military” image from the fact that 4 of its elected governments were overthrown, either by the military or the pro-military judiciary. Yet Taksin and most Pua Thai politicians, with handful honourable exceptions, have done nothing to oppose Prayut’s military junta over the last 4 years. It is known that they would rather do a deal with the military and the reactionaries. [See https://bit.ly/2pI87Ev ].

Murderers
Military and state murderers

In the pro-junta reactionary corner, we have the misnamed Democrat Party, which in 2008 became the “party of the military”. Abhisit Vejjajiva was appointed Prime Minister by the military and in 2010 ordered the cold-blooded shooting of unarmed pro-democracy demonstrators. The Democrats have never won a majority in any election and since the Taksin years have taken an extreme free-market position, opposing state spending on the universal health care scheme and job creation programmes. The party now pretends to oppose military coups and Prayut’s continued role in politics. But it has a record of taking part in events which create the conditions for military intervention. There is currently a contest for the leader of the party. [See https://bit.ly/2IrOIAr ].

1363-1504161561

Also in the reactionary corner, we have the “Action Coalition for Thailand Party” set up by Sutep Tuaksuban and his mates. The Thai name is “Ruam Palang Prachachart Thai”, which means unite together the power of the Thai people. Included among founding party members are members of the Tuaksuban clan; a political mafia group who control areas of Surat Tani province in the south. They were formerly members of the Democrat Party. Sutep Tuaksuban, along with Democrat Party leader Abhisit and General Prayut, are responsible for the cold-blooded murders of Red Shirts in 2010. Sutep was also the leader of the anti-election mob which wrecked the February 2014 elections and paved the way to Prayut’s military coup. [See https://bit.ly/2QjpRS5 and https://bit.ly/2zF2bSS ]. Reactionary academic Anek laotamatat [https://bit.ly/2cPKRjP ] and former “professional student leader” turned PAD Yellow Shirt Suriyasai Katasila, along with Sutep’s lawyer, are also among the list of founding members of the Ruam Palang Prachachart Thai Party.

1510993_585258524894696_1881724286_n
Anti-election gun man associated with Sutep’s mob

Sutep’s “Ruam Palang Prachachart Thai Party” supports the military junta and it might well vote for Generalissimo Prayut to become the next Prime Minister. Prayut has refused to rule out extending his role in politics and the military constitution allows for a non-MP to be nominated as Prime Minister in some circumstances. However, anyone wanting to vote for the junta can now directly support the “Palang Pracharat Party” (power of the citizens party). It has been set up by Prayut’s cronies and is stuff full of junta officials. Naturally, when the reactionary parties talk about “the people” they really mean the military and the elites.

43178805_10155971900570819_4051883833652412416_n
Cartoon ridiculing Palang Pracharat’s connections to junta (from Lok Wan Nee)

Of course, we have to be absolute clear that these elections will not restore democracy to Thailand, as the political agenda is going to be tightly controlled by the military’s National Strategy and their powerful appointed supporters in the senate and the judiciary. However, this system of “Guided Democracy” will be enough satisfy Western governments who have never cared about freedom and democracy in most parts of the world.

Military Junta incapable of bringing peace to Patani

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Following an ambush by Patani freedom fighters, which resulted in the deaths of two army rangers and injuries to another 4 at Nong Jik, Patani, on 11th September 2018, Lieutenant General Piyawat Narkwanit, commander of the 4th regional army, declared Nong Jik to be a “Controlled Area”. He also stated that they may bring charges against relatives (mothers, fathers, wives etc.) of anyone arrested for the ambush. So far 8 so-called suspects have been detained. The local villages have also been surrounded and locked down while everyone has to register their weapons, boats and vehicles.

134690
Lieutenant General Piyawat Narkwanit

This heavy-handed response by the military is typical of the junta’s mentality and a gross abuse of human rights. Collective punishment of families and communities by the military for the actions of individuals is similar to what the Nazis carried out in occupied Europe or what the Israeli government is doing to the Palestinians. It is a form of terrorism.

The good news is that human rights lawyers and young student activists from Patani have come out to oppose such measures taken by the military. However, a number of Thai nationalist groups, including one Buddhist organisation, have tried to pressure the police to take action against the students. Patani University has also tried to put pressure on them to stop their so-called anti-state activities. Given the repressive nature of the Thai state, it is impossible to defend human rights without carrying out anti-state activities.

44068056654_1934ce6134_b

The fact of the matter is that the war against the Thai State is a direct result of years of oppression and human rights abuses by various Thai governments. [See https://bit.ly/2xFce7Y ]. The military junta continue to insist that the military should play a leading role in “solving” this war. They pretend that they want to bring about peace, yet their only solution is to hold talks with representatives of the insurgents with an aim to getting them to surrender. No political solutions are on the table.

02411998

There can be no peace unless the Thai military are withdrawn from the occupation of Patani, human rights abuses are put right and the local people of all ethnicities are allowed to freely discuss how to move forward to self-determination. Peace can only be achieved by all-inclusive political discussions led by civilians. This is not something that the military are prepared to contemplate. [See https://bit.ly/1QCoOWs ]

Meanwhile a new political party of Patani Muslims has been set up. The Prachachart Party is made up of established mainstream politicians from the area. Former policeman Tawee Sordsong, one of the founding members of this party, recent gave an interview where he stressed the need to accept multiculturalism in society, devolve political power to local communities and promote human rights. The party proposes reforming the police to ensure that it has a different structure from the military. Yet, the party does not advocate withdrawal of the military from the region or criticise the use of security laws or martial law. It merely wants troops confined to barracks and local civilians to have more say and increased political participation in security matters. Apart from advocating multicultural policies in the whole of Thailand, the party has little to say about other social and political issues such as the need for a welfare state, workers’ rights or the removal of the military from politics.

The Future Forward Party is committed to cutting down the influence of the military in politics and on the issue of Patani it proposes that the military should withdraw from the area and that the future of Patani be determined by civilians. [See also https://bit.ly/2tZG5JK ]

However, both the Future Forward Party and the Prachachart Party do not envisage the possibility of independence for Patani, if a majority of locals want this. They are not prepared to challenge the conservative nationalist view about Thailand as an “indivisible nation state”. However both parties have tentatively talked about some form of regional autonomy.

As for Pua Thai, the party is still stuck in the past with little to say about Patani.

Local mass social movements in Patani will have to mobilise to push for a more progressive political agenda for ending the war. To be successful they need to also concern themselves with issues other than Patani in order to build alliances with progressive groups outside the region.

Further reading: https://bit.ly/2eBAzDjand https://bit.ly/2bemah3 .

WHO praises Thai Universal Health Care while junta wants it destroyed

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Recently the deputy head of the World Health Organisation, Dr.Soumya Swaminathan, visited Thailand to prepare a Memorandum of Understanding which would allow the WHO to share the experiences of the Thai Universal Health Care scheme with other poor and middle-income countries, especially those in Africa.

42535196940_6fe12798bb_b

The success of the Thai Universal Health Care scheme means that ordinary Thai citizens receive better health care than millions of people living in the United States.

It is worth reminding ourselves of the history of the Thai Universal Health Care scheme. It started out as a proposal by progressive doctors like Sanguan Nitayarumpong. Taksin Shinawat’s political team who were building the Thai Rak Thai Party in order to fight their first election in 2001, listened to people like Sanguan and took his idea on board to make it an important part of their election manifesto. After winning the election, Taksin implemented this health care policy which charged everyone a flat rate 30 baht for visits to hospitals. The scheme was designed to cover anyone who was not already part of the National Insurance or Civil Service scheme for employees and resulted in everyone being covered by a health care scheme. It was especially valuable to villagers in rural areas, people in informal employment and their children.

Sanguan

This health care scheme has always been opposed by the extreme neo-liberals in the Democrat Party and within the two military juntas which staged coups against Taksin-led governments.

The Democrat Party spent most of the time during Taksin’s first government attacking his pro-poor policies, including the Universal Health Care scheme, as being a waste of government money and against “fiscal discipline”. No wonder most working class or poor Thais never voted for the Democrats. When the Democrats eventually formed an unelected government with military backing in December 2008, they cut the universal health budget by almost a third. The military budget was increased and has continued to increase under the two military juntas that followed the 2006 coup.

Academics like Tirayut Boonmi and Ammar Siamwalla talked about Taksin building “a climate of dependency” with “too much” welfare. Other rich snobs in the academic world claimed that the ignorant poor would just visit hospitals “every day”. In fact the health care policy fulfilled an urgent basic need for millions.

After the 2006 coup the military junta announced that they were scrapping the 30 baht treatment fee. What looked like a progressive measure was really an attempt at a neo-liberal trick. The plan was to gradually introduce means-tested fees in the future. For those deemed to be too well-off, a system of “co-payments” or health charges, way above 30 baht, would be introduced at a future date. Meanwhile the very poor would receive bad quality free health care. Even some members of the Yingluk government toyed with the same idea under pressure from the neo-liberals.

By a slight of hand, the military constitution of 2017 has changed the clause concerning health care. The key word removed from the previous constitution is “equality”. The junta’s 20 year health development plan also talks about co-payments.

So far the various military regimes have not dared to introduce health charges. But General Prayut and his team keep talking about the health care scheme, which covers 48 million Thais, being a “burden” when the country “cannot afford it”. The real burden is actually the role of the military and its huge budget. The Royal Family, especially Wachiralongkorn, are also a useless burden.

T18CT60ObSbLrsQ6mSfT1HzEVz5LkXPY3YG0NTRjD71noeJ1gvnmkBK

Now, once again, voices in the junta’s Ministry of Finance are suggesting that anyone earning over 100, 000 baht per year should be charged up to 20% of their health care costs. Workers on the minimum wage earn about 90,000 baht and struggle to make end meet. This is a serious neo-liberal attack on the Universal Health Care scheme and if it is introduced it would be the thin end of a wedge to create a two-tear system within the scheme, but to also allow for bigger increases in health charges in the future.

We desperately need a mass movement which both campaigns for democracy and against the neo-liberal policies which exclude the majority from fully enjoying the benefits of society.

 

Weakness of electoral politics in dealing with the Thai military

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

When an election is eventually held in Thailand, and there is no guarantee that the election will be held next year, electoral politics on its own will be inadequate in removing the military from power.

On this site, I have warned that the military junta is busy designing a “Guided Democracy” system, which will entrench the power of the military for the next 20 years. This is also the view of other commentators. The Guided Democracy system is going to use the National Strategy and the military’s constitution to shackle the policies of any future elected civilian government. The various military appointed bodies, such as the Senate and the courts, will police this system.

It is to their credit that the Future Forward Party have announced for some time now that it is committed to undoing the legacy of the military junta to ensure that military intervention in politics is ended.

However, electoral politics on its own is not enough to abolish the military’s legacy. This is because of the fundamental contradiction between electoral politics and campaigning mass movements.

57-5

Political parties like the Future Forward Party, aim to win as many votes from the electorate as possible. The emphasis on electoral politics means that they will follow existing social trends rather than campaign to get people to change their views and become more radical. The emphasis is not on agitation and leadership but on appealing to a mass audience.

It is very likely that large numbers of Thai citizens are sick and tired of Prayut’s dictatorship and the constant destruction of democracy by the military. Parties such as Pua Thai and Future Forward, who stand on the opposite side to the military, are therefore likely to win significant numbers of votes. But winning votes does not guarantee the power to overthrow the National Strategy or the military constitution. Merely winning votes from the electorate implies a passive response from citizens, who are only required to put a cross in the correct box at election time. It does not mean mobilising huge numbers of people to come out and support a newly elected civilian government on the streets and in the workplaces. But such a mobilisation is exactly what is required in order to destroy the legacy of the military and to abolish the power of the army, the appointed Senate and the pro-dictatorship judiciary.

33087571_2094863550734674_2207594464086589440_o
photo from BBC

In order to build a mass pro-democracy social movement, the views of millions of citizens need to be challenged by a growing movement outside parliament. Such a challenge requires campaigning to encourage people to change their views. There are millions who want democracy, but how many of those have the confidence to believe that the legacy of the military can be destroyed? How many will be prepared to actively engage in struggle? How many are prepared to go beyond just the formal state of democracy towards a more equal society?

Electoral politics on its own does not mean putting such a challenge to the population. Electoral politics puts pressure on political parties to find common ground even with those who do not wish to totally get rid of the legacy of the military or to facedown the interests of the powerful elites. Electoral politics also means making compromises with prevailing ideas in society.

The prevailing ideas in society are influenced by the media, the conservative institutions and also by fear of those with power. Suggestions about drastically cutting the military budget, sacking and punishing all the high ranking officers responsible for destroying democracy, dismantling the main power structures in society or creating economic equality are usually branded as “extremist views” by mainstream commentators. So are suggestions about abolishing the lèse majesté law, significantly increasing the wages of workers, raising tax levels on the millionaires and corporations by large amounts in order to fund a welfare state, or transforming the country into a republic. Yet none of these examples are in the least extreme and have been carried out in some other countries.

Electoral politics means down-playing any policies which might be classified as “extreme” and trying to find common ground with as large a number of the electorate as possible. It also usually means discouraging struggles by social movements, especially during election time.

What is needed in order to overcome the contradiction between electoral politics and campaigning mass movements, is for people to support progressive parties at elections, but to also build campaigning mass movements simultaneously.

[Read more about the good and bad policies of the Future Forward Party in previous articles on this site]

 

 

Mafia style military rule ensures impunity

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Last year I reported that soldiers in Chiang Mai shot down Chaiyapoom Pasae, a 17 year old Lahu activist. This killing was committed in cold blood. A villager who witnessed the event, which took place at a military check point, told Thai PBS news channel that soldiers dragged Chaiyapoom out of his car and beat him up, stamping on his face. They fired two warning shots and then deliberately let him go. While he was running away they shot him dead. [See https://bit.ly/2o4Wq99 ].

After many attempts by lawyers to get the military to release the CCTV footage of the event, which they repeatedly claimed they had, it now appears that the footage has been “lost”. This is despite the fact that a senior military officer, General Wijuk Siribanpot, commander of the 3rd Region Army gave a televised interview saying that if he had been at the scene he would have switched his gun to automatic mode and riddled Chaiyapoom with bullets because “he had drawn a knife and attempted to throw a bomb” at soldiers. How would he know what happened, given that there is now no physical evidence available?

impunity

The “loss” of CCTV footage is no surprise and it paves the way for the continued impunity enjoyed by the thugs in uniform.

Another recent news item reported that Sawai Tong-om, a pro-democracy red shirt protestor, who was shot and seriously injured by troops in 2009, has had his legal case against the military appointed Abhisit government and the military overturned. Initially the courts awarded him damages of more than a million baht. But the court of appeal overturned this ruling, and worse still, ruled that he must pay the military’s legal expenses. His property has now been seized and sold for this purpose.

29011485777_cba7f65dc9_o

29011486307_615ed4f37a_o

So not only do security forces and their political lackeys enjoy impunity for state crimes, the victims have to pay for legal fees.

Witnesses to military killings are intimidated in order to silence them. “Wan” or Nattathida Meewangpla, was a volunteer paramedic who witnessed the military killings of red shirts at Wat Patum in 2010. Because she was a key witness to this event, she was fitted up with terrorism and lèse-majesté charges by the military and she has been languishing in jail for the past 3 years.

16208903544_3fa4df4653_o
Nattathida Meewangpla

Of course, this kind of thing happens all the time over the situation in Patani, where innocent people end up being abused and jailed while security forces go unpunished. Fa-ist Mayu, a community volunteer from the NUSANTARA foundation, is the latest person to be arrested on questionable grounds by the security forces for a shooting incident in Naratiwat.

38938475_1487129651388768_4425564486828556288_n
Fa-ist Mayu

Many Malay Muslim students, studying a Ramkamhaeng Open University fall foul of indiscriminate arrests by the police and military. They are then often subjected to torture in order to confess crimes they did not commit.

No politician, military officer or policeman has ever been punished for the disappearance of the lawyer Somchai or the massacre of unarmed civilians at Takbai.

The entire situation makes it feel like the country is being run by the Mafia, with a total lack of justice and no one at the top ever being accountable to the public.

Meanwhile it has been revealed that over the last 5 years the Mafia Bosses in Uniform have spent 1,061,171 million baht on the ever-increasing military budget…..

 

The ASEAN Dictators and their Sham Elections

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

The recent sham election in Cambodia was yet another example of the lack of democracy in many countries of South-East Asia. Dictator Hun Sen banned opposition parties, outlawed dissent, controlled the media and then held an “election”. Not surprisingly, Hun Sen’s governing party “won” a land slide victory.

800

Generalissimo Prayut, the Thai dictator, must have been following events in Cambodia with interest.

hun-sen-ap_650x400_61451295630

Another example for him to follow has been the “Burmese Model”. This involved fixing the constitution to ensure that the Burmese military remained in charge, with powers to veto government decisions and step in at any time, regardless of who may win elections. This is the situation under which Aung San Suu Kyi is operating, although after years of opposition to the generals, she seems to have decided to willingly go over to their side and adopt the military’s policies. She has even become a mini-dictator in her own party.

Min-Aung-Hlaing-and-Aung-San-Suu-Kyi-940x580

Of course, the dictatorships of the “Stalinist” communist parties in Lao and Vietnam have been holding sham elections since the end of the Indo-Chinese war in the late 1970’s. Only candidates approved by the ruling party are allowed to stand in elections and there is heavy control and censorship of the media.

Prayut’s much delayed elections in Thailand may or may not take place next year. But what is clear is that the military will still be in charge, whatever the outcome of the election. This will be achieved through the National Strategy, outlining junta approved policies which all governments must adhere to for the next 20 years. The military domination of the Senate and the judiciary will also ensure this.

At the same time, the Thai junta is harassing opposition parties for organising meetings or making statements in the media. Both the Future Forward Party and Pua Thai are facing such repression through bogus legal sanctions. If necessary the junta can even convict party leaders on trumped-up charges and get them banned from politics. Incidentally, this latter tactic is a favourite of the ruling party in Singapore, yet another ASEAN dictatorship.

Prayut himself has not ruled out running in the elections, although this could be risky. Quite a few “politicians for hire” are jumping over themselves to join the military party.

Prayuth Chan-ocha
Democracy difficult for Prayut to swallow

At a recent junta event, the police issued “guide lines” to the press on how to approach the “Dear Leader”. No one was to approach him at a distance of less than 5 metres, journalists were told to bow and scrape before taking pictures or asking questions and no unflattering photos were to be taken. After an avalanche of amusement on social media, with people referring to Prayut as a dangerous wild animal who should not be approached, he relented and ordered the police to scrap the guide lines. But he hates being brought to account by some sections of the media.

Prayut and frog
Prayut talking to a frog

There are some in ASEAN who oppose Prayut’s dictatorship. A recent article in the Jakarta Post argued that Thailand should not be allowed to be the next chair of ASEAN, given that Prayut has not stepped down to hold free elections [see https://bit.ly/2vHiHOM ]. It is good that this article was published, but it is doubtful that it will prevent Prayut from being the next chair of ASEAN. It is interesting to note that Indonesia is the most democratic of all ASEAN countries at the moment.

Of course there are many voices of opposition to the destruction of democracy from within Thailand and these voices, should they succeed in mobilising large numbers of people, will be key to achieving democratisation. At the same time we need to condemn the various European governments, and that of the United States, for deciding that it is “business as usual” in their relations with Thailand.