Tag Archives: neo-liberals

Not even an attempt to hide the lack of democracy

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

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Generalissimo Prayut’s dictatorship continues without any attempt to hide the lack of democracy after the sham elections in March.

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Pig-face Prawit

The line-up of government ministers is the same as during the period after Prayut’s coup in 2014. The current parliamentary dictatorship merely brought in a handful of unprincipled anti-democratic politicians to act as decoration for the government. Apart from Prayut, the corrupt General “Pig-Face” Prawit is still in charge.

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Ja New

Following the recent brutal attack on the pro-democracy activist Sirawit Seritiwat or “Ja New”, Pig-Face Prawit and the chief of police made the outrageous statement that Ja New would only receive police protection if he ceased his pro-democracy political activities!

The only thing we can conclude from this is that the military organised the gangsters who attacked Ja New as a warning to opposition activists to cease their activities or face violence.

Academics and activists who have raised the issue of this violence have received visits from soldiers.

Rather than trying to catch those who attacked Ja New, the police have concentrated on tracking down people who implied on social media that the authorities were involved in the outrage.

Meanwhile Generalissimo Prayut continues to rule by decree, using article 44 of the military constitution. He seems to see no real difference between his military government, with its appointed parliament after the coup, and the present parliamentary dictatorship, and he is right.

Prayut’s parliamentary dictatorship has retained the power of the military to detain pro-democracy citizens in military camps, without charge, for infamous “attitude changing sessions” [See  https://bit.ly/30ycYc1 ].

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village land rights activist jailed

More social inequality is being perpetuated with poor villagers being thrown off their land to make way for so-called national forest parks, and then receiving draconian jail sentences, when they try to reclaim their land. Meanwhile the rich and powerful can break the law with impunity.

The General Secretary of the junta’s Palang Pracharut Party, has announced that the rise in the minimum wage that the junta party advertised in their manifesto before the election will not now take place. The supposed reason is that Thai workers are lacking in skills!

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Chatumongol Sonakul with best friend

The new Minister of Labour is reactionary aristocrat Chatumongol Sonakul, who is a member of Sutep’s whistle-blowing anti-democrats. As a former Governor of the Bank of Thailand, appointed by the Democrat Party, when they bailed out the rich at the expense of the poor after the economic crisis, he opposed Taksin’s measures to stimulate the economy and was replaced. He is clearly an extreme neo-liberal.

Both the above examples show that dictatorship is designed to reduce the democratic space and justice on a class base. Dictatorship and military coups are good for the rich and the business class. Dictatorship facilitates the use of neo-liberal, free-market policies against the interests of the poor.

As I have previously stated, it will take more than verbal opposition in parliament to get rid of Prayut’s parliamentary dictatorship.

Further reading:

Flawed Thai elections:  https://bit.ly/2RIIvrD

What now after the election: https://bit.ly/307AgpF

The Thai Junta’s Road Map to “Guided Democracy”: https://bit.ly/2QMrGf9

Guided Democracy after the Flawed 2019 Election: https://bit.ly/2Wm6bzI

Parliamentary Dictatorship:  https://bit.ly/2RTlleU

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.

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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.

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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.

 

Brazil-Thailand “Neo-Liberalism versus Democracy”

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

A recent book by Alfredo Saad-Filho & Lecio Morais titled “Brazil: Neoliberalism versus Democracy”, describes how the Brazilian elite conspired with the middle-classes and right-wing politicians to destroy the Workers’ Party (PT) government and its pro-poor policies.

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The events in Brazil have a similarity with the destruction of democracy in Thailand.

Obviously the events in Brazil and Thailand are not the same. For a start, the PT was a social democratic party with roots in the trade union movement and Lula, their first president was a former metal worker and trade unionist. Taksin Shinawat is a big business tycoon and his party was not in any way social democratic nor allied to the working class.

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Lula’s PT government, which came to power in 2002, continued to pursue neo-liberal policies which the previous right-wing government had used. Lula had toned down his social democratic policies and built an alliance with national capitalists in order to look respectable. However, the PT needed to reach out to its base among workers and the poor, who were suffering from the effects of neo-liberalism. So when Lula was re-elected in 2007 the government started to use what Saad-Filho & Morais refer to as “Developmental Neoliberalism”. This policy did not abandon neo-liberalism but added to it the role of the state in creating an economic atmosphere beneficial to national private capital. Developmental Neoliberalism also accepted that economic growth could not be sustained unless such growth was reconciled with tackling social inequality. This was the policy which was also used by Lula’s successor, Dilma Rousseff.

After the 1996-7 Thai economic crisis, which was a symptom of extreme neo-liberal policies in the past, Taksin Shinawat’s party proposed a “dual track” economic policy, combining neo-liberalism with “grass-roots Keynesianism”. This used state funds to raise living standards of the poor and bring in a universal health care system.

Workers’ Party governments in Brazil were lucky because when “Developmental Neoliberalism” was introduced, the Brazilian economy entered a period of rapid growth due to rising prices of raw materials which Brazil exported to China. Increased state revenues were successfully used to fund pro-poor schemes involving health, education, housing, and attempts to eradicate poverty. This caused discontent among the elites and the middle-classes who resented such state policies which they saw as giving “hand-outs” to the undeserving poor. Accusations of corruption were levelled at PT political leaders.

The Thai elites and middle-classes also resented Taksin’s pro-poor policies for similar reasons. The elites also felt that they were unable to compete electorally with Taksin’s mass base.

“Anti-Corruption” is a useful political weapon for the middle-classes because it is difficult to oppose and can be a vague cover for attacking political opponents while ignoring the real underlying class issues. “Corruption” can also be conflated with pro-poor policies and this is what happened in both Brazil and Thailand.

Corruption, both of the legal and illegal variety, is part and parcel of capitalism and mainstream politics throughout the world. Attempts by the PT to become more “respectable” by dropping radical ideas, meant that they decided to do corrupt deals with right-wing politicians and local businesses. The rise of less political PT politicians who emphasised their administrative capabilities, also encouraged corruption. But Saad-Filho & Morais claim with good reason that there is so far little evidence to prove that either Lula or Dilma Rousseff were directly guilty of corruption.

Despite some of Taksin’s odious policies, especially in the field of human rights, and his tax avoidance manoeuvres, there has been little evidence that he was directly guilty of corruption.

In Brazil and Thailand, charges of corruption have been selectively used, ignoring the behaviour of opposition party politicians and the military.

The neo-liberals in Brazil and Thailand also complained about pro-poor policies being against “fiscal discipline”, although in the Thai case, huge military and royal budgets are never subjected to the same complaints.

The PT’s “Developmental Neoliberalism” in Brazil went off the rails after the 2008 world economic crisis and the drastic fall in raw material prices. Cuts were made to pro-poor policies under Dilma Rousseff. This alienated the PT’s base among the poor and was a golden opportunity for the right-wing and middle-classes to overthrow her government and impeach her. A Judicial-Senate coup took place. What was interesting was that Dilma Rousseff was actually removed, not for corruption, but for not adhering to “fiscal discipline”. This is exactly the same excuse used to punish Taksin’s sister, ex-Prime Minister Yingluk Shinawat, in the Rice Price scheme.

After the over-throw of PT and Taksin allied governments, the regimes which replaced them in Brazil and Thailand turned back towards extreme neo-liberal policies.

The comparison between Brazil and Thailand reinforces the class and political economic reasons for the destruction of democracy in Thailand. Conspiratorial theories about the role of the Thai monarchy in destroying democracy explain nothing.

 

Further reading on Thailand: “What Led to the Destruction of Thai Democracy?” https://bit.ly/2cGAi1E

“Thailand’s Crisis and the Struggle for Democracy” https://bit.ly/1TdKKYs

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Inequality is still a huge problem in Thailand

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

According to Dr Anusorn Tamajai, Dean of the Faculty of Economics at Rungsit University, the Gini Coefficient for Thailand in 2015, when the last measurements were taken, stood at 0.45, a slight improvement from the figure in 2006 of 0.51 [ see https://bit.ly/2kc3KPy ]. The Gini coefficient is a measure of inequality, with the highest inequality defined as a Gini Coefficient of 1.

Dr Anusorn believes that the improvement in inequality can be explained by pro-poor policies of previous governments, especially the Yingluk government’s fairly large increase in the minimum wage level, the rice price guarantee scheme and pro-poor policies introduced by the Taksin government such as the village job creation fund and the universal health care policy. Improvements in the social insurance scheme also helped.

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However, inequality in wealth is still a huge problem given the low level of wages for workers and lack of land among poor farmers. The top 100 billionaires increased their wealth rapidly over the last 3-4 years while there was no increase in wealth among most ordinary citizens.

Thailand is among the top five unequal countries of the world with the top 1% of rich people owning 58% of the country’s wealth. Under the present military dictatorship the top 50 billionaires increased their ownership from 26% of GDP in 2014 to 30% in 2017.

None of this is unexpected since the two military juntas that have ruled Thailand since 2006 and the military appointed Democrat Party government all pursued extreme neo-liberal policies [see https://bit.ly/2kiUZSl ]. They and the middle-classes who supported the coups, hated Taksin and Yingluk’s pro-poor policies, complaining that such “Populism” was destroying fiscal discipline and ruining the country. The Democrat Party was a harsh critic of the universal health care scheme. Right-wing academics and media analysts liked to claim that pro-poor policies were just a form of corrupt vote-buying where the “uneducated poor” just used their improved economic position to buy frivolous luxuries.

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The pro-military courts have also been used to try to punish members of the Yingluk government for the rice price guarantee scheme and also to prevent elected governments spending money on infrastructure development.

Today these neo-liberals are continually trying to erode the universal health care scheme by suggesting that citizens be made to pay for health care. The present junta also wants to enshrine neo-liberalism in the National Strategy in order to prevent pro-poor policies by future elected governments.

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Of course none of the neo-liberals ever complain about the huge amount of wasted money spent on the monarchy and the military.

The building of a welfare state, funded through progressive taxation of the rich would go a long way towards reducing inequality. It would also improve political participation by citizens as their lives became more secure. Unfortunately, none of the political parties which are hoping to contest the next election, including the Future Forward Party, are prepared to tax the rich and the corporations in order to build a welfare state. This only goes to show that Thai society needs a stronger trade union movement and a workers’ party in order to campaign for such reforms.

Thai Kangaroo Courts Set New Low in Standards of Justice

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

The jailing of former government ministers for 30-40 years because of the Rice Price Guarantee Scheme has set a new low in the Thai standards of justice. The sentences given out by the lap-dogs of the dictatorship who hold positions as judges are ten times the average sentences for murder committed by ordinary citizens. The aim is purely political with the purpose of destroying politicians associated with the Thai Rak Thai or Pua Thai parties. It has nothing to do with justice or the eradication of corruption.

While the likes of Generalissimo Prayut and former military appointed Prime Minister Abhisit smirk about Yingluck leaving the country to avoid jail, the real criminals who have avoided justice are the coupsters and mass murderers like Prayut and Abhisit. These two disgusting specimens, along with their mates in the military junta and the Democrat Party, ordered the deliberate killing of nearly a hundred unarmed protesters back in 2010. Together these anti-democrats have pushed Thailand back to the dark ages and destroyed any prospects of freedom and democracy for years to come.

So in Thailand, the hired judges of the military lock people away for 30-40 years for being involved in the rice scheme while mass murderers and coupsters enjoy impunity with some running the country. Those who are brave enough to criticise the political situation are either locked up for decades or have been forced to seek exile and asylum outside the country.

Critics of the rice scheme claim that the government “wasted” millions of public money but they remain quiet as the junta massively increases military spending on weapons, tanks, aeroplanes and submarines. Some of this wasted military spending is also going to be used to kill Thai citizens when they dare to fight for their rights.

But the rice scheme was not a waste of money or a “loss” to state coffers. It was state spending intended to help poor rice farmers. Rather than being a “loss” it was an investment in people. Yes, there may well have been corruption involved at local level, but the recent court case was nothing to do with this and the military and their cronies enjoy impunity for their own rampant corruption today.

The ridiculous sentences handed out have a second purpose other than to destroy politicians belonging to Taksin’s party. The second aim is to make it clear that government spending in the future must not be used to eradicate poverty or help ordinary working people. This is the nasty neo-liberal agenda of the junta and its supporters in the Democrat Party and the middle classes.

Some Thais have expressed disappointment that Yingluck left the country rather than stay and fight by going to jail. Others have expressed hopes that she will lead a struggle from abroad. The fact of the matter is that Taksin and his allies have deliberately dismantled the red shirt movement and turned their back on any struggle against the military. Yingluck may well have been allowed to leave the country by the junta in order to lessen the potential anger among millions of her supporters.

All this means that any future struggle to topple the junta and rip up its authoritarian constitution which will restrict any future civilian governments, will have to be led by an independent mass social movement built from below. Those who understand this will have to work very hard to persuade the majority of activists of the need to build such a movement.

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.

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.