Tag Archives: military

What do the royalist really want?

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

In recent times we have seen anti-democracy mobsters roaming the streets of Bangkok demanding “True Democracy under the power of the King”. The military is constantly harping on about need to protect the institution and prerogatives of the monarchy. If we were to take the hysterical shouts from the Thai royalists at face value, we would be led to believe that they want to see a return to an Absolute Monarchy or at least an increase in royal political power.

thaiamnesty

Yet this could not be further from the truth. These demands are a coded way of saying that they want less democracy and more authoritarianism under the power of the military and the conservative elites with the monarchy simply being used as a rubber stamp for everything they do.

Ever since the 1932 revolution led by the People’s Party that overthrew the Absolute Monarchy, amid mass support from the general population, there has been only one single royalist revolt and that was 1 year later in 1933. The Boworadet Rebellion was led by royalist Prince Boworadet in October that year. It lasted 12 days and was decisively defeated by government troops backed up by volunteers including trade unionists.

Decisive action by government troops and citizen volunteers defeated the Boworadet Rebellion .
Decisive action by government troops and citizen volunteers defeated the Boworadet Rebellion .

This was really the end of the dreams of the royalists that they could restore the absolute power of the monarchy. From this period onwards, according to historian Thongchai Winichakul, the royalists merely sought alliances to increase the importance of the monarchy in political society.

Pibun
Pibun

Until the military coup carried out by Sarit Tanarat in 1957, the most powerful factions of the armed forces and police under the triumvirate dictatorship of Pubun, Pin and Pao were strongly anti-monarchy, seeking to severely restrict the public duties and role of the king. The civilian faction of the People’s Party under Pridi, even though it compromised about moving forward to a republic, was never the less totally against restoring the power of the king.

Pumipon visits his patron, Sarit, who was on his death bed
Pumipon visits his patron, Sarit, who was on his death bed

It was the rise of Sarit, a military man with no connection to the 1932 revolution, that the royalists saw their opportunity to increase the status of the monarchy. This was made much easier by the heightened tensions in South-East Asia under the Cold War. The monarchy became a conservative anti-communist symbol and the U.S. very much supported this and the dictator Sarit.

But at no point did the royalists even dream of re-establishing the absolute power of the king. The military dictators who were in power in the 1960s, including Sarit, had no intention of giving up their power to the monarchy either. Their promotion of the king was so that he could be used more effectively as a tool to justify their actions and to justify elite class rule.

When we consider the situation in modern day Thailand, neither the present military junta nor politicians like Sutep Taugsuban had any intention of handing over their power and influence to the ailing king Pumipon and they certainly do not want king Wachiralongkorn to rule over them.

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The military justified their 2006 and 2014 coups by claiming that they were protecting the monarchy when the monarchy was never under threat from Taksin and his allies. It was merely their standard justification for toppling democratically elected governments. The military are very confident about using the monarchy for their own ends. They have had years of practice and high-ranking and retired military generals surround the throne via the Privy Council, allowing them to run the monarchy.

Politicians like Sutep and the middle-class Yellow Shirts also need a justification for calling for the overthrow of elected governments or for wrecking elections. When they call on the monarchy to intervene, as they did in 2006, it was a call for a military coup under the guise of a “neutral and unifying” king. When in 2014 they called for “True Democracy under the power of the King”, they wanted authoritarianism under the power of the military and themselves. At that point king Pumipon was clearly on his deathbed and incapable of intervening in anything. Their excuse for the destruction of democracy was that the poor were too stupid to deserve the right to vote and were therefore manipulated by Taksin.

The middle-classes, the military and the conservative elites have appropriated both “the Nation” and “the Monarchy” to mean themselves.

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Does the Thai King’s immense wealth give him political power?

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

For many people it seems to be intuitive that because King Pumipon owns a huge capitalist conglomerate, in the shape of the Crown Property Bureau (CPB), and the fact that he is also the richest person in Thailand, gives him immense political power. The CPB owns a large number of shares in the Siam Commercial Bank and Siam Cement. It also owns huge amounts of land, often in prime real-estate sites. Royalists claim that the king does not actually “own” the CPB but that it belongs to the monarchy. This is a mere detail. Simon Montlake, in a 2012 Forbes article, calls the CPB a “family enterprise, gifted to the next generation”. It is neither a government agency nor a private firm. The monarch is formally in charge of its investments. The King also has a separate private fortune.

It is unlikely that Pumipon has any business ability. Just like any large Pension Fund the CPB has a committee who run its investments for the King. His speeches on the Sufficiency Economy are devoid of any real economic or business analysis and are really about letting the poor remain poor without government support. Of course he is a conservative; all monarchs are.

CPB investments were reinvigorated after the 1996 economic crisis by Taksin’s government policies. This would hardly make Pumipon an enemy of Taksin.

But does immense wealth and being nominally in charge of a huge conglomerate automatically confer political power? If so, then Bill Gates and Warren Buffett would be running the U.S.A. That is not how the capitalist state operates. There is a division of labour in both democracies and authoritarian states. Governments and political parties run the state on behalf of the business class, even when the government in led by a labour or social democratic party, as in Europe.

For big business all they want are government policies which allow them to carry on making profits. They may use their influence, via the funding of political party campaigns or ownership of the media, to influence politics, but they are keen not to take a “hands on” approach. The most important reason for this is that politicians and governments come and go. They become popular and then lose popularity. They get blamed by the electorate for mistakes. Corporations and their bosses can rise above all this and continue to do business. That is why Dhanin Chearavanont, head of the CP Corporation, Thailand’s largest multinational company, always donated money to all Thai political parties.

Pumipon is one among many of Thailand’s top capitalists, even if he is the richest. He cannot be seen to be intervening in politics because of the fact that he is Head of State. But not only is Pumipon not in the business of directing governments any more than Bill Gates or Warren Buffet, but we have to look at who put him in his position of wealth in the first place. It was the conservative military faction of the elites who reinstated the monarch’s formal control over the CPB after the 1947 coup. Pumipon is beholden to the military for his wealth. They could take it away like they did after the 1932 revolution.

The fact that Pumipon has always been beholden to the military for his status means that he also has no control over the armed forces, as some wrongly claim. It is the military and other elites who control Pumipon.

One other supposed factor which people might put forward for Pumipon’s  so-called political power might be the idea that “all Thais revere the King”. This is a myth promoted by the Thai ruling class and repeated by many foreign journalists. If this was true, why does Thailand have to have the lèse majesté law which enforces such reverence? The popularity of the monarchy has risen and fallen throughout Pumipon’s reign. It was at a low level in the mid-1970s when the Communist Party was waging a war against the military dictatorship. It rose after that only to plummet after the King refused to condemn the 2006 military coup and after he remained silent about the killings of un-armed red shirt protesters.

Even if many Thais were to “revere” the King. It would not automatically confer political power. The Thai population are not stupid. They weigh up issues and make up their own minds as to what attitude to take to politicians based on their achievements. If Pumipon were to directly interfere in politics he would soon be put to scrutiny. Pumipon avoids scrutiny at all costs. He is also extremely cowardly and has always gone with the flow.

Pumipon cannot be separated from political power, but not because he or the institution of the monarchy are powerful. It is because those who have real political power use him as a tool. Nor can he be separated from his role in perpetuating Thailand’s gross economic inequality. That is why the monarchy should be abolished and its vast wealth nationalised for the benefit of ordinary people.

The Militarisation of Thai Society

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

As the autocratic rule of Big Brother Generalissimo Prayut Chan-ocha trundles forward, we are seeing the militarisation of politics, economics and society.

All government ministries are controlled by military personnel.  Civil servants who were in post before the coup are being replaced by those who are loyal lapdogs or cronies of the junta.

New executive board members have been appointed to state enterprises, with military men on every board and with HE Generalissimo Prayut as overall chairman. Civilian cronies are carefully chosen from among the ranks of the whistle-blowing middle class mobs who hate democracy. Piyasawat Amaranan, who has been appointed to the state oil company PTT is a good example. He sits side by side with Prayut’s army assistant Gen Paiboon Kumchaya. Historically the military has always used the state enterprises as cash cows to line their own pockets. This is especially the case with the profitable ones like PTT or the Airports Authority. This corrupt tradition started with the dictatorships in the 1950s. Prayt wants to turn the clock back.

Prayut has also put himself in charge of the economy. There is a Yorkshire saying: “where there’s muck, there’s brass”. Perhaps it’s more like “where there’s a buck, there’s top brass”.

Conveniently, the so-called Counter Corruption Commission has stated that junta members do not have to declare their ill-gotten earnings before and after holding office, unlike previously elected politicians. The commission is desperately trying to find a dubious corruption charge to stick on former Prime Minister Yingluk. This would be the “legalistic” way to bar her from politics. Maybe there would be chance of dissolving the Pua Thai Party too.

Schools are having to change their curriculums to follow the dictates of the junta. Discipline, nationalism and love of Big Brother are emphasised in the new moral code. But education must be done on the cheap because the education budget has been cut in order to fund the bloated military and junta budget. Many infrastructural modernisation plans have been cut. Some may be resurrected, but that could be a new opportunity for companies to put in new bids and pay bribes to the junta members.

The junta has reassured the mass media that sending in troops to sit in their offices is “nothing to worry about”. The media are free to report the news. They just have to avoid reporting anything critical of the junta. What could be more democratic and free than that?

After the 2006 coup, the previous junta wrote a military constitution and packed the so-called independent bodies with loyal supporters. They did the same with half the senate and the courts. These anti-democratic bodies worked hand in hand with Sutep’s Democrat Party mobs to bring down the Yingluk government just before the May 2014 coup. But it was a long drawn-out process and the conservatives had no choice but to allow Yingluk and Taksin’s parties to win genuine elections. This time the junta want to make sure this never happens again. This is behind the changing of top civil servants and the coming appointment of a Burmese-style Constitutional Drafting Assembly, made up of soldiers and anti-democratic civilians. One “excellent” candidate for the military appointed assembly would be Surapon Nitigraipoj, ex-Vice Chancellor of Thammasart University, who thinks that the elected Yingluk government was just a dictatorship. According to him, all that the coup did was to bring in uniforms.

Forward to Thailand’s New Order,  Suharto-style “Dwifungsi” and the Guided Democracy!

Military Big Brother Stinks of Fascism

Military Big Brother Stinks of Fascism

 Giles Ji Ungpakorn

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 The military junta is waging a psychological war against pro-democracy activists. Soldiers have raided the homes of prominent red shirts, community radio broadcasters and other pro-democracy activists. Many have been arrested.

At least one woman was forced into a taxi by 4 plain-clothed police or soldiers who refused to identify themselves. Luckily she has now been freed from military detention.

Since the coup progressive academics, redshirt activists and investigative journalists have been summoned to report to army offices. Most have been temporarily detained without charge in military camps outside Bangkok before eventually being released.

None of those who have been summoned or arrested or those who have had their houses searched by armed soldiers has committed any crime. Meanwhile Sutep’s Democrat Party gang, who used violence on the streets and openly carried weapons to intimidate voters, have been allowed to go free. There are no summonses for all those academics and activists who stood against democracy. Military repression is directly only against red shirts and other pro-democracy activists.

People who have been through the process of being summoned and temporarily interned by the military have talked about their experiences. They are interrogated by many army officers who report back about peoples’ attitudes to Army HQ every day. The military has compiled files of all their activities, writings, speeches and internet posts.

Before people are released they are asked to sign a document stating that they were “well treated” and that they will refrain from any further political activities, speeches or writings. People are not given the choice of whether or not to sign because any refusal will mean facing a military court and then prison. Soldiers tell them that this is a “yellow card” warning. Any further activity will result in immediate imprisonment.

When released, many people are told that they have been assigned an army officer to monitor their behaviour. Some receive telephone calls reminding them of this.

Some detainees are “set-up” with Lèse-majesté charges and now face years in prison.

The junta is clearly trying to spread fear in society in order to destroy the democracy movement. Fear often leads to paralysis. People who have not been summoned or detained wonder when they will be next.

This is the first time since 1976 when Thais will have to wage an underground struggle against the junta. This struggle will have to be based on the mass movement, not on armed struggle. The junta isn’t a fully developed fascist regime, as in Germany or Italy, but it stinks a little of fascism.

While in a military detention camp, one experienced activist told his comrade that “we aren’t dogs that howl and whine when we get locked in a cage, we must not show the soldiers any weakness”. Many intellectuals have been brave enough to argue with their captors about the illegitimate coup.

We must overcome the fear and strike back in this war for democracy. The way to overcome fear, or at least to manage it and avoid paralysis, is for people to meet quietly together every day in small groups so that they can analyse the situation and discuss strategy and tactics. These groups need to carefully link up with other groups. Actions against the junta will necessarily be “symbolic” in the early stages, but more powerful activities like strikes, protests and civil disobedience need to be planned. This will be a long drawn out struggle, but the enemies of the people are a minority and they do not have a future; they can only hark back to the past.