Tag Archives: NGO

A much needed debate starts among Thai NGOs

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Cracks are now starting to appear in the NGO movement which up until now has tended to support the anti-democratic forces of the yellow shirts and even welcomed the two military coups.

Witoon Lianchamroon has resigned from the national NGO Coordinating Committee (NGO COD), criticising it of lacking any real political position on the state of “Democracy”, “Justice” and “Participation” under the present junta. The North-eastern NGO COD has also criticised the national NGO body for failing to defend North-eastern NGO activists who have been summoned by the military for declaring that they will take no part in the military’s so-called reforms. At the same time local social movements of villagers have been threatened by the army for wanting to stage a march highlighting their problems. Some leaders have been arrested.

One week before this, Kingkorn Narintornkun Na Ayuttaya, a prominent NGO leader, wrote an open letter criticising fellow NGO activists who were taking part in the military junta’s anti-reforms.

All this debate is a welcome development in a movement where NGO elders usually stifled open political discussion and channelled political disagreements into personal conflicts.

Ever since the collapse of the Communist Party, the emerging NGOs tended to turn their backs on political theory and political organisation in an anarchistic fashion. They have also taken a position against “representative democracy” and government spending on welfare. This allowed them to join up with reactionary yellow shirts who were against the Taksin government. What is worse is that while formally “rejecting politics” they embraced neo-liberal economic and political theories without any criticism.

So when Kingkorn Narintornkun Na Ayuttaya criticised some NGO people for taking part in the junta’s anti-reforms, she still claimed that Taksin’s “Populist” policies were problematic, echoing the right wing critics of democracy. She also made the ridiculous claim that Taksin’s government was a “parliamentary dictatorship” because it held a large majority of elected seats in parliament. Both these false claims were used by the anti-democrats to destroy democracy and justify the military coups.

If a real debate and reassessment of the role of NGOs does actually take place it will be a very welcome development. But it will come to nothing if it remains in the confines of criticising “Populist” policies or “Representative Democracy”. It will also come to nothing if the NGOs fail to make a clear stand against the military dictatorship and the repressive lèse majesté law.

Taksin’s pro-poor policies which provided health care, created jobs and supported rice farmers and the urban poor, were long over-due in Thailand. But they were not nearly enough because he turned his back on progressive taxation of the rich and the building of a genuine welfare state. His government was also guilty of gross human rights abuses just like Abhisit’s government and the present military junta.

What is needed is more class politics; more discussion of socialism, and the building of an independent political party and political movement of the working class and small farmers. This means that the Red Shirts also need to open up a debate and reassess their politics.

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Thailand: 25 years after the end of the Berlin Wall

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

The end of the Cold War, as symbolised by the destruction of the Berlin Wall 25 years ago, had a political impact on Thailand and its effects can still be seen today in the present crisis.

The destruction of the Berlin Wall was the last nail in the coffin of the Maoist Communist Party of Thailand (CPT). The party was already in decline because of the disillusionment of the students who had joined the party in the jungles and mountains after the 6th October 1976 blood bath. The students were unhappy with the authoritarian nature of the party. Another factor in the decline of the CPT was the new international alignment where China improved relations with the Thai junta and the United States while becoming hostile to Russia and Vietnam.

Those who left the CPT jungle strong-holds and returned to mainstream society, while still being politically active, became divided into three main groups.

The first group eventually found a home in Taksin’s Thai Rak Thai Party (TRT) and the red shirts. They were attracted to TRT’s pro-poor policies and the Stalinist-Maoist policy of building alliances with “progressive business people” helped legitimise their alliance with Taksin. Pumtam Wechayachai, a prominent TRT politician, boasted that they had now “seized state power” without the privations of living in the jungle camps. Both Weng and Tida, UDD red shirt leaders, were once high ranking officials of the CPT.

The second group of activists set up NGOs and turned their backs on big picture politics. Their aim was to lobby the elites and use foreign funds to help poor villagers. They rejected the idea of the need for a progressive political party, believing that all parties would tend to authoritarianism. They also rejected representative democracy and wished to ignore the state. These anarchistic ideas de-politicised and weakened the NGOs and meant that they failed to build mass movements and any political power. Instead their NGOs functioned like authoritarian small businesses. When Taksin’s TRT came to power and used state funds to improve the lives of villagers in a significant manner, the NGOs turned their anger on the government which was making the previous efforts of the NGOs look irrelevant. But the NGOs lacked a mass movement and any political leverage. They therefore built a reactionary alliance with the yellow shirts and welcomed the intervention of the military.

The third group of activists who left the jungle became academics. Almost all of them drew the conclusion that “Socialism was finished”, despite the fact that what was really finished was Stalinism and the authoritarian State Capitalist regimes in Russia and Eastern Europe. The real world choice was never just between Stalinist State Capitalism and free market Capitalism. There was always a third choice of “socialism from below” as represented by the ideas of Marx, Lenin, Trotsky and Luxemburg. The 2008 world economic crisis shows this very clearly. So does the growing inequality resulting from free market neo-liberal policies in China, Vietnam and Eastern Europe; not to mention the rest of the world. These academics became right-wing apologists for the military and some can now be seen sitting on the junta’s anti-reform committees.

Looking back over the last 25 years it is clear that the paths of the two sides; that led to being red shirts or yellow shirts, were both problematic. They lacked a socialist strategy for empowering the growing working class and the small farmers through building a party and mass movement independent of the elites.

We are being blackmailed with the spectre of civil war

Giles Ji Ungpkorn

Reactionary academics, NGO leaders and the “Great and Good” are all warning of the perils of civil war in Thailand. All this is designed to put pressure on those who support the democratic process, to accept a grubby compromise.

Some say “the only solution” is to have a “neutral Prime Minister” or an unelected government while others suggest a coalition government including Sutep and Yingluk. None of these “worthies” discuss expanding the democratic space. They are not interested in doing so because all they want is to get rid of Taksin’s influence. They are also sceptical about democracy because the majority keep voting for “the wrong people”.

A neutral Prime Minister would either have to be a liar or an idiot because being neutral in Thailand today would mean having kept your head in a bucket for the last 8 years.

The present German coalition government has been raised as an example for Thailand. However Germany only has a coalition government because no party received an overall majority. The coalition may also be very damaging for the SPD as it goes along with the CDU’s conservative policies. Perhaps a better example from Germany might be how Adolf Hitler was appointed as the chancellor of Germany by President Paul Von Hindenburg in 1933? At that time the Nazis did not have majority support.

Civil war is not an immediate threat right now and in such a bloody war the well-equipped military would win. Dividing up the country between the north/north-east and the central/south is merely a wet dream born of anger. The Malay Muslims in the south know how hard it is to break away from the Thai state and dividing up the country would mean handing over Bangkok to the reactionaries.

But this is not the point.

The real point is that all these reactionary academics, NGO leaders and the Great and Good have played important roles in creating this crisis and increasing the tensions and violence. If in the future a civil war were to break out, it would be their fault.

The reactionary academics, NGO leaders and the Great and Good supported the semi-fascist PAD, called for the monarchy to use article 7 to sack Taksin, supported the 2006 military coup, cooperated with the military junta, helped draw up the undemocratic military constitution, supported the overthrow of the second elected government by the military and the judiciary in 2008, helped to occupy the international airports, gave legitimacy to the Abhisit dictatorship, lined up against the red shirts who wanted elections, and kept quiet about the military massacre of ninety unarmed red shirts in 2010. If you were not following Thai politics, you might think this was exaggerated! Today some claim “not to like” Sutep and his tactics, but they have not condemned the authoritarian judges, joined the white shirt “respect my vote” campaign or urged everyone to respect the democratic process. All they are doing now is to say that we must all accept the shrinkage of the democratic space in order to “keep the peace”.

It is unbelievable hypocrisy and blackmail.

For those who wish to protect and expand the democratic space, it means that pro-democracy activists, whether they are progressive Red Shirts, pro-democracy trade unionists, White Shirts, Nitirat supporters, socialists, or members of the Forum for the Defence of Democracy, all have to work together. There is an urgent need to build a strong network of pro-democracy groups. In the long-term this network also needs to expand into the organised trade union movement. For too long, the right-wing has been allowed to have a monopoly of influence among some state enterprise unions.

On an international level, the organised working class has played a crucial role in developing and strengthening democracy, especially in Europe and also in South Korea. Recently, the labour movement strikes in Egypt in early 2011 were a significant factor in the fall of Mubarak. For years activists of the Egyptian Left had worked underground among workers and they were present in the great strike wave of 2006.

Trade unions and strikes have existed in Thailand for many years, but it is ideological factors which have held back the working class. This is due to a number of factors. Firstly, the CPT, which originally organised urban workers in the 1940s and 1950s, took a Maoist turn away from the working class, towards the peasantry, in the 1960s. For this reason there has been a lack of left-wing activists willing to agitate among workers for the past 30 years. Unlike South Korea, where student activists had a long tradition of going to work in urban settings with the aim of strengthening trade unions, Thai student activists headed for the countryside after graduation. After the collapse of the CPT we can see the influence of NGOs, using funds from U.S. and German foundations, and more recently the arrival of “international” bureaucratic union federations. These groups are opposed to political trade unionism and strikes. This is the second main factor which accounts for the ideological weakness of the Thai labour movement. There is still no political party of the trade union movement and the lack of a clear pro-democracy political current within the Thai unions is a fundamental weakness in the struggle for participatory democracy and social justice.

Why does Yingluk’s government do nothing? Permanent Revolution in the Thai context

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Many people might be wondering why Yingluk’s government seems to be paralysed in the face of violent and criminal actions by Sutep’s Democrat Party mob. The answer is not that there are “invisible hands” from the throne or that there is covert military support for Sutep. In fact, the top elites regard Sutep and his acolytes as lowly street gangsters. They also regard former Democrat Party PM Abhisit as a weak creature to be used and then ignored. But these disturbances are useful to the military and the conservatives because they can push Pua Thai and Taksin into further compromises. That is why the military is sitting on its hands with a smug smile. Naturally, Sutep is getting support from the backwoodsmen in the Constitutional Court and the Election Commission, but the street mobs are doing all the work. They are also supported by the reactionary doctors, vice chancellors and NGOs who represent the middle class.

The real reason why Pua Thai appears to be paralysed is that they face a choice. Either they order the sacking of the top generals and reactionary judges and the arrest of the violent protest leaders, using the police and the support of millions of Red Shirts, mobilised on the streets, or they go for a grubby compromise with the conservatives.

To put it more bluntly, either Pua Thai mobilise their supporters and the Red Shirts to tear down the old order, or they make peace with their conservative elite rivals. Given that Taksin, Yingluk and Pua Thai are basically “big business politicians”, they naturally choose the latter option. This is not to avoid civil war, but to avoid revolution from below.

When I refer to Thailand’s “old order” I am not talking about some semi-feudal state structure. I am talking about a modern capitalist semi-dictatorship controlled by the military, the business class and the top civil servants. They are all united in their royalism, but Thailand is not an absolute monarchy either.

Until the election victory of Taksin’s Thai Rak Thai Party in 2001, the old way of conducting politics was for the different elite parties to compete on the basis of personalities and patronage. Taksin introduced the central importance of policies to the electoral process. Before this, and before the 1997 economic crisis, the laissez-faire policies of successive Thai governments resulted in unplanned and chaotic public infrastructure and total lack of welfare. The elites and the middle class enriched themselves on the backs of the poor.

On an economic and social level, the rapid growth that the Thai economy experienced through the 1980s and early 1990s meant that more and more ordinary people were becoming urbanised, educated and more self-confident. People wanted to see change and they wanted a share in the fruits of development.

Growing conflict was emerging between the realities on the ground and the old political structures that had a stranglehold on society. Taksin and Thai Rak Thai played a part in increasing this conflict by proposing modernisation. Yet Taksin’s aim was not to pull down the old order, but merely to gently modernise it. Today, Yingluk, Pua Thai and Taksin are still determined to protect the main pillars of the old order. They fear revolt from below more than competition from the conservatives.

Thailand today is not the Europe of 1848, but there are some aspects of Europe in 1848, as explained by Karl Marx, which can help us understand the Thai situation. Marx wrote that the rising capitalist class in Europe were too cowardly to finish off the old order by leading a revolutionary movement of workers. The capitalist class preferred a compromise with the old feudalists rather than mobilising movements from below which might come to challenge the capitalists themselves. Marx announced that from then on, workers needed to lead an independent “Permanent Revolution” which would sweep away the old rulers and go on to challenge the capitalist class. Leon Trotsky developed this idea further by arguing that in under-developed countries workers should lead movements of workers and peasants to sweep away colonialism or feudalism and not merely stop at modern capitalism, but move on towards socialism. This happened in Russia in 1917 until the revolution was drowned in blood by Stalin.

What this means for Thailand is that we should not raise false hopes that Yingluk, Pua Thai or Taksin will carry out the necessary mobilisations to get rid of the old order. That task must be led by a movement from below whose aims should be to go further than just establishing capitalist parliamentary democracy as seen in the West.

In practice, given the weak state of independent red shirt and left-wing organisation on the ground, the best we can hope for right now is to build a movement from below which continues to push against the boundaries of authoritarianism and to continually criticise any nasty compromises which Pua Thai will want to make. But ultimately, in the long term, this movement will have to rise up and pull down the structures dominated by the military, big business and conservative officials.

Democrat’s mad dogs unleash violence around Bangkok’s voting stations

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

On Sunday 26th January, The Democrat Party’s mad dogs unleashed violence around Bangkok’s voting stations. Voting stations throughout the country were supposed to be open for people to cast their votes in advance. Advanced voting is a required service since it is compulsory for people to cast their ballot.

In many areas of Bangkok, many angry residents argued with the anti-democratic protesters. They also protested against local election commissioners who closed voting stations whether or not they were surrounded by Sutep’s Democrat Party thugs. At some stations the thugs physically attacked citizens who wanted to vote. What happened on the day shows that significant sections of the Bangkok population are opposed to the Democrat Party’s attempts to wreck the election. This will only come as a surprise to those commentators who claim that the Thai crisis is a “rural vs Bangkok” dispute. At the last election almost half of the Bangkok electorate voted for Pua Thai.

Despite the roving gangs of thugs in Bangkok, 597 constituencies nationwide, or 91% of constituencies, managed to hold advanced voting. In the Muslim Malay south, village officials stood in line around voting stations to stop the Democrats intimidating voters. The head of the Department of Special Investigation is also looking to prosecute election commissioners who failed to do their duty to ensure that the elections took place where there were no anti-government protests.

The antics of the Election Commission, the Democrat Party thugs and the Constitutional Court are like a game of football. Sutep’s thugs want the government to resign and the elections to be scrapped. They want the constitution to be changed so that democracy is abolished. The thugs cause disturbances to try to wreck candidate registration, the Election Commission takes the “ball” and uses this as an excuse to call for the election to be postponed. They then pass the “ball” to the Constitutional Court to rule that the election can in fact be postponed. The “ball” now passes back to the thugs who cause more violence outside voting stations. The Election Commission jumps at the chance to point to this violence as an excuse to close polling stations and call on the government to call off the election. All the while these agents of dictatorship are cheered on by the university vice chancellors, sexist doctors, NGOs, the mainstream press and the mis-named National Human Rights Commission.

The academics, NGOs, backward middle-classes and other despicable creatures of the elites, bear a great responsibility for the growing destruction of democracy in Thailand. During the last months of Taksin’s TRT government, they insulted the majority of the electorate by claiming that they were “too ignorant” to have the right to vote. Before that they belittled pro-poor policies, such as universal health care, as being “mere vote-buying”. They are the ones who called for the army to stage a coup d’état against the elected TRT government in 2006. They then cooperated with the military junta. They are the ones who supported the blocking of the international airports in 2008 in order to urge the judiciary to stage another coup against the elected PPP government. It is they who gave tacit support to the killing of 90 Red Shirt protesters by the military in 2010. Today, they make hypocritical calls for “both sides to refrain from violence” and to “meet each other half way”. This is the same as saying that Sutep’s mob who want to destroy democracy, have the same legitimacy as the elected government which is supported by 70% of the population.

If this ragbag of middle class detritus cared one iota about creating peace and democracy in Thailand, they would join with those who have been lighting candles and urging Sutep to take his mob home. Instead, every time they open their mouths, they give confidence to the thugs.

I and my comrades have been discussing 5 urgent reforms that need to take place in order to increase the democratic space in Thailand.

You can read the details here: https://uglytruththailand.wordpress.com/ or here: http://bit.ly/1cLbFtr

In summary they are:

1. The need to address gross economic inequality by introducing a wealth tax and a welfare state.

2. The need to abolish Lèse Majesté, the Computer Crimes law and the Contempt of Court law which protects judges from criticism. Prisoners of conscience like Somyot Prueksakasemsuk should be released from prison. The entire judicial system should be overhauled.

3. The elite-appointed “independent bodies”, which are only independent from any democratic process, and which mis-use their power by over-ruling parliament, must be abolished. The worst offenders are the Election Commission, the Constitutional Court and the appointed half of the Senate. The whole despicable idea behind such bodies is that the general population cannot be trusted to elect the “right” people to parliament. If parliament and the government need accountability and transparency, it should be done through democratic processes.

4. The need to reduce the power and influence of the military in politics and society.

5. The need to punish those who commit gross violations of human rights, including military generals, Abhisit, Sutep and Taksin. This is in order that real standards of human rights can be established. The pro-elite National Human Rights Commission needs to be abolished.

We in no way claim a monopoly on ideas for political reform. Other groups, such as the Nitirat group of progressive law academics, have many interesting proposals. There are also many other long term reforms that are needed.

But it is safe to say that if anyone talks about political reform without mentioning our five main points above, they are merely rebranding “reaction” and “dictatorship”.

Photo credit: ( Pornchai Kittiwongsakul / AFP from http://alj.am/1eWY8iH)