Tag Archives: NGOs

Thai NGOs short-sighted because of single-issue politics

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Recently a number of NGOs in Thailand, including Amnesty International and many local groups, have been announcing “demands” on the military junta. One would have expected that the number one demand would be for the junta to resign and make way for free and fair elections immediately. The Second demand ought to have been the immediate release of all political prisoners. Not so, these NGOs seem to think they can work with the junta and spend time lobbying them like they were a normal and legitimate government. Of course, in the past some of the NGO activists even went as far as to support the overthrow of democratically elected Thai governments.

The first group of NGOs “demanded” that the junta and private businesses respect human rights according to the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. There was no mention of trade unions or trade union rights among the list of demands.

The second group of NGOs “demanded” that the unelected junta “reform” the police. This is at a time when the police are controlled by military units who act as policemen in local areas and force their way into people’s homes.

It is difficult to know whether to laugh or to cry at such naïve calls from these NGOs!!

The present ruling military junta shot its way to power by murdering pro-democracy demonstrators in 2010, encouraging the judiciary to undermine elected governments and allowing anti-democratic mobs to wreck elections. After taking power, Prayut’s junta has continually detained those who oppose the dictatorship, forcing them to attend “attitude changing sessions” in military camps. More and more people have been jailed under the notorious lèse-majesté law, often after appearing in military courts. Academic seminars and political meetings have been banned or forcibly shut down. Social media and the internet are constantly monitored and the junta has attempted to censor posts and video clips. The junta’s servants have drawn up a new constitution with the specific aim of installing a system of Guided Democracy under the control of the military. And yet there are people who seem to believe that the bunch of thugs now ruling Thailand will somehow respect human rights and reform the police?!

And why should the junta listen to these “demands” by people who cannot or will not build mass social movements? What bargaining power do the NGOs have?

In order to believe the NGO fairy-stories you have to be extremely short-sighted about politics, even to the point of closing your eyes to the real world. This mind-set is helped by a single-issue obsession and a rejection of political and economic theories. [See http://bit.ly/1UpZbhh ]

Another current issue is that the present junta is trying to destroy the universal health care system which was brought in under the first Taksin government. High up on their agenda is an attempt to bring in “co-payments” for health treatment which is currently free. It is good to see that NGO health activists and their supporters have been on the streets opposing this. It is a credit to these groups that they have mobilised around this issue.

Yet, even these NGO activist suffer from single-issue politics and the rejection of theory. One of their demands is to maintain the purchaser-provider split, in other words they support the internal market in health care. The internal market has been helping to wreck the health service in Britain by allowing privatisation and funding cuts and the destruction of family doctor services in local communities. It is also extremely wasteful, leading to the employment of thousands of accountants and administrative staff instead of employing more clinical staff. That is why the British Labour Party is talking about abolishing the internal market which was brought in under Margaret Thatcher.

One particular Thai NGO leader has even called for the private sector to play an important role in health care! This is just aping the right-wing ideology of the neo-liberals throughout the world.

The internal market in health is the opposite to a universal health care system which prioritises the needs of all citizens irrespective of wealth. Profit-seeking by private companies should never have a place in the provision of health care.

The health NGO activists also see themselves as “representatives of the people” without having ever stood for elections. They distrust representative democracy. Yet the real democratisation of health care, with elected representative taking part in the management of local hospitals and health budgets would be a significant step forward in Thailand. Of course, none of this could be achieved under a military junta.

NGOs cuddle up to Thai military junta again

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

A report from 22nd September 2016 described a meeting chaired by General Ake Narong-pipatnasai, one of the junta’s deputy Prime Ministers. The meeting was part of series organised by the “Committee for the Promotion of Civil Society Organisations”. The general proudly announced that the committee was to invite Generalissimo Prayut to open the 3rd October meeting on “Building a Strong Civil Society, Towards Complete Democracy”.

On the 3rd October the Generalissimo turned up to give his opening speech along with a clutch of other generals from the junta. Much hot air about “democracy” and “civil society” was spouted by the dictator.

Now, anyone who is aware about Thai politics will be used to the lies and nonsense spouted by the junta. But what is of concern is that a number of organisations are involved in this so-called project on civil society and democratisation. Prominent among them is the government body called “The Thai Health Promotion Foundation.” This organisation is one of the largest funding bodies of Thai NGOs. What is more, the Thai Volunteer Service (TVS) was also involved. This is an organisation which was set up to train NGO activists and is close to the NGO-Coordinating Committee.

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At a previous meeting the “Committee for the Promotion of Civil Society Organisations” even defined the meaning of terms such as Civil Society Organisations (CSOs), Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs), Peoples’ Organisations (POs) and the idea of the Active Citizens. Naturally all these groups and sectors come under the paternal umbrella of the military dictatorship!

Not only are these so-called NGOs merely “Government-Funded Non-Government Organisations” (GNGOs), but they have evolved into “Dictatorship-Supporting Non-Government Organisations and Dictatorship-Supporting Civil Society Groups” (DSNGOs and DSCSGs).

The NGO support given to those destroying Thailand’s democracy has long been documented, but it is worth briefly revisiting the definition of Civil Society. [See http://bit.ly/1UpZbhh and http://bit.ly/2bSpoF2 ]

After the end of the Cold War we were told that a well-developed civil society and a large middle class was the key to a free and democratic society. Yet in some cases, such as Haiti or Eastern Europe, organisations with clear business links or funding from the U.S. Government have masqueraded as “Civil Society Organisations”. Some NGOs even supported the Western war effort in Iraq. In authoritarian countries like Singapore so-called “Civil Society” groups are actually established by the government.

The belief that Civil Society is concentrated among the intellectual middle-classes or NGOs, overlooks the possible anti-democratic nature of the middle-classes and intellectuals, who often benefit from unequal societies and authoritarian states. Thai academic Somchai Pataratananun described how influential people like Prawase Wasi and Chai-anan Samudwanij were advocating the idea of “Elite Civil Society” in Thailand decades ago. This involved an unequal partnership with the state, where the state dominated Civil Society. It meant that the threat to “democracy” was seen as coming from the uneducated masses or people who voted for Taksin’s parties. This neatly encapsulates the ideology of the royalists and the military. In such a mainstream or elite vision of Civil Society, there is no place for the Red Shirts who were made up of primary school educated small farmers, urban taxi-drivers, street vendors or factory workers. For the NGOs, these members of the “ignorant poor” need to be looked after in a patronising manner and taught how to understand democracy.

When considering the issue of Civil Society in Thailand it is important to remember that we saw the middle-classes and the NGOs take part in many anti-democratic protests and we have seen them welcome two military coups.

Patani: NGOs, Civil Society Groups, and the National Human Rights Commission back Thai state repression

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Recently there was another bomb attack at a market and a shooting outside an educational establishment in Patani. Who should take responsibility? Who should be condemned? And in this war between the oppressive Thai state and those fighting for self-determination, which side should we support?

The NGOs and those claiming to be so-called “civil society” groups in the South are quite clear. They issued a declaration condemning the Patani fighters and urging the forces of the Thai state to catch and deal with the perpetrators. They also urged the insurgents to stop using violence.

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There were no declarations from these groups urging the military junta and the Thai state to cease violence against the local Malay Muslims, no condemnations of Thailand’s violent occupation of Patani and no urgent requests that all the generals, politicians, soldiers and police who have committed state crimes be brought to justice.

Another group, calling itself the National Human Rights Commission, condemned the insurgents and urged support for state forces of “law and order”. This commission remained silent after the killing of unarmed red shirts in 2010 and has failed to condemn the use of lèse-majesté.

So the NGOs, so-called “civil society” groups, including civil servant associations, and the National Human Rights Commission, all show double standards and take the side of the oppressive Thai state in Patani.

Arundhati Roy once wrote that “any government’s condemnation of terrorism is only credible if it shows itself to be responsive to persistent, reasonable, closely argued, non-violent dissent. And yet, what’s happening is just the opposite. The world over, non-violent resistance movements are being crushed and broken. If we do not respect and honour them, by default we privilege those who turn to violent means.”

The people of Patani are prevented from forming legal political parties which advocate independence. The Thai constitution rules out any division of the country. Various members of the ruling class have repeatedly dismissed any ideas of autonomy or even proposals to use the Yawee language alongside Thai in Patani. State officials commit acts of violence with total impunity.

All Thai citizens are forced to respect the authoritarian ideology of “Nation, Religion and Monarchy” and those who do not are thrown in jail or witch-hunted by mobs of fanatical monarchists. Naturally the “religion” in this context is Buddhism.

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The peaceful protest against the detention of friends and relatives, organised by villagers at Takbai 12 years ago, resulted in the state murder in cold blood of nearly a hundred young men. No single state official has been prosecuted.

Torture and extra judiciary killings carried out by the Thai state are commonplace and any genuine rights organisations seeking to expose this are threatened by the military.

So how are those people who oppose Thai rule and repression, supposed to act in a non-violent manner? What space for them to act in such non-violent ways has been created by the NGOs and so-called civil society groups who backed various military coups?

A quick review of some historical events shows the way in which the Thai state has used violence and repression against the Muslim Malays of Patani.

1890s King Chulalongkorn (Rama 5) seized half of the Patani Sultanate. The Sultanate was divided between London and Bangkok under the Treaty of 1909.

1921 Enforced “Siamification” via primary education took place. Locals forced to pay tax to Bangkok.

1923 The Belukar Semak rebellion forced King Rama 6 to make some concessions to local culture.

1938 More enforced “Siamification” took place under the ultra-nationalist dictator Field Marshall Pibun.

1946 Prime Minister Pridi Panomyong promoted local culture and in 1947 accepted demands by Muslim religious leaders for a form of autonomy, but he was soon driven from power by a coup led by Thai nationalist military leaders. Patani leader Haji Sulong proposed an autonomous state for Patani within Siam.

1948 Haji Sulong was arrested. In April the same year, police massacred innocent villagers at Dusun Nyior, Naratiwat.

1954 Haji Sulong was killed by police under orders from police strongman Pao Siyanond.

1960-1970 Thai state policy of “diluting” the Malay population was initiated by re-settling Thai-Lao Buddhists from the North East of Thailand in the Patani area. This was carried out under various military regimes, starting with Field Marshall Sarit Tanarat. A ban was imposed on the use of the Yawee Malay language in state institutions including schools.

The school and education system has long been used to enforce “Thainess” by the state. Given this fact, it is hardly surprising that government teachers are targets for the insurgents. Even Buddhist monks in Patani are now totally compromised by their close links with the military.

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For this reason we must be clear that the violence in Patani is the responsibility of the Thai state and it is this state which should be condemned for its actions. The violence of those fighting oppression cannot be compared to the violence carried out by an oppressive state. We should therefore side with the people who are struggling for self-determination.

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Despite the fact that I support those fighting for self-determination, the insurgent armed struggle strategy prevents the building of mass political movements for freedom. It shuts out the role of ordinary people because of the civil war conditions and often results in the death and injury of innocent civilians.

Using “ghosts” to attack the Thai security forces and then not claiming responsibility might have some military advantages, but such advantages are massively out-weighed by the political disadvantages. By not claiming responsibility for attacks on “legitimate military targets” and by not confining attacks to such targets, the insurgents allow the Thai military to use death-squads, usually out of uniform, to attack and kill local activists and ordinary civilians who are on government black-lists. The government and mainstream media can then paint a picture of the insurgents as “armed gangsters” who kill people indiscriminately. This spreads fear among the local civilian population and is counter-productive to building real mass support among local villagers and also among the general Thai population in other regions. The ghost war strategy plays into the hands of the Thai state’s dirty war.

The Patani insurgents cannot hope to beat the Thai military in an armed struggle. They are significantly less well armed and funded and the local population which might support the insurgency is a small minority of the population within the current Thai state.

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To make any political progress towards liberation and self-determination, the Patani movement needs to abandon the armed struggle and build a mass political party which can operate openly without registering as an official party under Thai state legal constraints. This party should put forward political demands which go beyond just “Patani nationalism”. The party would have to address economic and social issues and be capable of winning support from local Thai Buddhists and also capable of winning solidarity from social movements in the central, north and north-eastern regions of Thailand. The experience of the IRA struggle against the British state or the struggle of other minority separatist movements shows that the demands for freedom cannot be won through armed struggle but must be achieved through political means.

The Chronic Problem of Single-Issue Politics

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Single-issue politics has been a chronic problem which has dogged the Thai movements for many years. The root cause of this debilitating disease started with the collapse of the Stalinist communist parties and the rejection of what the Post Modernists and Anarchists called “Grand Political Theories or Narratives”.

When the Communist Party of Thailand collapsed in the mid-1980s, activists turned towards single-issue campaigns along with a rejection of politics and the need to overthrow the repressive state. They may have kidded themselves that they could somehow turn their backs on the state or steer a path round the state, as advocated by people such as John Holloway or Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt, but reality they just transformed themselves into NGO lobbyists. These NGO activists were happy to lobby anyone in power, irrespective of whether they were democratically elected or military juntas. They also ignored the politics of the powerful elites and rejected the idea of class.

Therefore Thai NGO activists, who called themselves “the peoples’ movement”, enthusiastically lobbied Taksin’s government. When the Taksin government out-manoeuvred them with its pro-poor policies and also threatened them with mild repression, they became disenchanted with Taksin. As a result they chose to make an alliance with the most backward and conservative elements among the powerful elite, forming the royalist yellow-shirt “Peoples’ Alliance for Democracy”. They celebrated when the military eventually overthrew Taksin in the 2006 military coup. Some members of international NGOs based in Thailand, such as “Focus on Global South”, supported this reactionary position. The Thai NGOs continued along this path, trying to work with or lobby various dictatorships and some even joined with Sutep Tuaksuban’s anti-democratic mob.

Lately the NGOs have become “disappointed” in the junta’s reforms. What a farce!

The NGOs may or may not have learnt a lesson about supporting the destruction of democracy, but most have not given up their single-issue politics. Some of the recent NGO critics of the junta’s draft constitution, especially those concerned with health issues, have merely concentrated on their own single issues in their opposition. Instead they should be combining a general analysis about the destruction of democracy with a multitude of concrete issues to build a big picture criticism of the junta’s plans. This big picture analysis should go beyond the crude listing of all the various single issues in one place, as NGO coordinating networks tend to do. It should explain why all the issues are linked to the political and economic system. In terms of the present draft military constitution links must be made to military rule and the destruction of democracy since 2006.

When I was involved with the Thai Social Forum in Bangkok in 2006 I and my comrades tried to promote the inter-linking of various issues but experienced stiff resistance from most Thai NGOs.

The problem of “single-issue cretinism” is not confined to just some NGOs. On International Workers’ Day this year the “New Democracy Movement” issued an 8 point statement about why workers should reject the constitution. It was a dumbed-down document which merely talked about workers’ bread and butter issues. It failed to mention the attack on the universal health care system, presumably because they thought it was “nothing to do with workers” who have their own national insurance scheme. Yet workers’ families rely on the universal health care system. The worst offence by the “New Democracy Movement” was a failure to mention the problem of prolonging the dictatorship and the destruction of democracy. It was like they assumed that workers were too stupid to understand general big-picture politics.

The labour movement in Thailand contains progressive groups who have a big picture analysis of politics and have already rejected the military junta. Yet the “New Democracy Movement” ignored them and chose instead to take up a position alongside the most backward elements of the labour movement who reject or ignore politics.

This is such a shame because the “New Democracy Movement” has a good record of organising anti-dictatorship events, the latest of which, was the recent march to the democracy monument on the anniversary of Prayut’s coup.

One aspect of the NGO-style single-issue disease is that the former leadership of the railway workers union also supported the yellow-shirts and celebrated the 2006 military coup because they hated Taksin. But now the military have turned on them, threatening sections of the railways with privatisation. Of course, Taksin would have done the same as the military, but there was no excuse for the support given to the reactionaries.

Political theories and strategies have real concrete effects. It is not just an academic debate.

We need a revolutionary Marxist party in Thailand that can act as a bridge to link all the various single bread and butter issues with a class analysis of Thai capitalism in order to agitate for fundamental change. Such a party would also be at the forefront of building a mass social movement to get rid of the military. This is something we are trying to do, but so far the progress is painfully slow.

Further Reading

http://bit.ly/1UpZbhh On Thai NGOs and their politics

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

 

NGOs: fawning political cretins

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

While pro-democracy activists are being detained, threatened and jailed by this vicious military junta and while brave activists organise to defeat military rule, Thai NGOs have become fawning political cretins.

The latest declaration by the Northern NGO Coordinating Committee on Development (NGO-COD-North) “demands” that the necessary political reforms, which will take place under the junta “must” emphasise mass participation and seek to reduce inequality and build social justice. This, according to these NGO idiots, “must” take place irrespective of who controls state power!!

Laughed my arse off!!!!!!!!!!!!

Not one word condemning the coup, the junta or the destruction of human rights.

Do these NGO political cretins really think that any military dictatorship is about creating freedom of expression, mass participation and equality? People are being arrested for reading books in public, eating sandwiches, staging peaceful flash-mobs or even posting anti-coup messages on Facebook. Gatherings of more than five people are illegal. Elections have been postponed indefinitely.

This is “lobby politics” at its most naïve and mindless level.

What accounts for this vacuum in political intelligence among the NGOs?

The NGOs have systematically supported the military and the anti-democratic middle class mobs since 2006. They hate Taksin because he won the hearts and minds of the poor by using state funds to make real improvements to peoples’ lives. He was doing the NGOs out of a job. That is partly why they believe that a coup, which ends democracy, can bring about political “reforms”. They share this view with Sutep’s anti-democratic mob. In practice this means supporting anti-reforms.

Since their creation in Thailand after the collapse of the Communist Party, the NGOs have turned their backs on the idea of the majority of the people seizing state power from the elites. They have shunned the building of political parties and are fiercely opposed to “representative democracy”. In Thailand these autonomist or anarchist views have travelled to their hopeless and logical conclusion. They despise the majority of the population who voted for Taksin’s parties. They refused to build a political alternative to Taksin’s pro-business policies such as privatisation and they failed to oppose his abuse of human rights in Patani and the war on drugs. So they turn to even more dictatorial powers like the military.

Finally, their rejection of big picture politics and concentration on single issues means that they have de-brained themselves of political wisdom. They close their eyes to reality. They now embrace “lobby politics” approaching and pleading with “who so-ever controls state power”, whether they are a democratically elected government or a military junta.

The pathetic reality is that the military don’t give a damn about the NGOs or their demands. This was obvious from the failed lobbying of the junta by the NGOs back in 2006. But they return to lobby the military again today, like dogs who returning to their masters who constantly kick them in the face.

Total silence from the Human Rights Commission and NGOs as hundreds of pro-democracy academics and activists arrested

Total silence from the Human Rights Commission and NGOs

as hundreds of pro-democracy academics and activists arrested

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

As hundreds of pro-democracy academics and activists are arrested by the Thai military junta, it is obvious to anyone with half a brain that this is a coup to destroy the redshirts and the democracy movement as a whole. Yellow shirts and anti-democratic mobsters who used violence to wreck the elections have been allowed to go free and have been photographing themselves in army uniforms as part of their celebrations.

There has been total silence from National Human Rights Commission and the mainstream academics, both about the coup and about these gross abuses of human rights.

I have surveyed the various declarations published on the “Prachatai” web newspaper since the coup and we can see a clear pattern.

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     While brave activists defy the junta by taking part in flash mobs and some mass protests in Bangkok and other cities, a number of organisations have made declarations which unconditionally condemn the coup. These organisations include The Assembly for the Defence of Democracy, The Assembly of the Poor, The 24th June Democracy Group (set up by Somyot), The 4 Regions Slum Dwellers, The Common People’s Party, The Group of 91 academics and students from the deep south, The Students Federation of Isarn, P-Move & YPD, The Community Network for Reform in Society and Politics, The Non-Violent activists around Kotom Araya and the Volunteer Graduates for the Defence of Democracy. Other groups, including left wing groups and street activists have not issued declarations but have opposed the coup by their actions.

A second group of people have criticised the coup, but have justified it at the same time. They argue that “both sides of the political divide” were responsible for the crisis and must make amends. In practical terms this implies that those who won elections and those who wanted to protect the democratic process were “as guilty” as those who used violence on the streets to wreck elections or used their illegitimate roles in the courts to frustrate democracy. This is a mealy-mouthed way of trying to look democratic while supporting the coup. This is the position of the National NGO Coordinating Committee and also 11 NGO figures from organisations such as FTA watch, Bio Thai, Women & Men Progressive Movement Foundation, Friends of the People, The Consumers Association and The Foundation for Labour and Employment Promotion. They call for a return to democracy at the “earliest opportunity”, something which General Prayut would easily agree, because no time frame is demanded. Also the National NGO Coordinating Committee seems to be more concerned to stop the junta from proposing any large scale infrastructure projects than to care about abuses of democratic rights.

A third group of people accept the coup and try to give the junta advice. This includes the Thailand Development Research Institute, Political Science academics from Thammasart and the Society to Prevent Global Warming.

After the 2006 coup a number most NGOs accepted the coup and took part in the junta’s sham “reform” committees. Some “NGO academics” even sat in the junta’s appointed parliament.

For the last decade Thai NGOs have ceased to be advocates or activists for freedom and democracy and have treated the majority of citizens with contempt. To read more detail about this, go to: “Why have most Thai NGOs sided with the conservative royalists against democracy and the poor” at http://www.scribd.com/doc/221530131/Why-have-most-Thai-NGOs-chosen-to-side-with-the-conservative-royalists-against-democracy-and-the-poor

The true activists for freedom and democracy can be found in the flash mobs and street demonstrations, in the junta’s jails, or among the red shirts. However, the UDD red shirt leadership and the top politicians from Pua Thai Party, including Yingluk, have thrown in the towel. The UDD leaders are calling for calm and they have been trying to demobilise the movement since Yingluk’s election in 2011. Pictures of Yingluk obediently going to report to the junta are in stark contrast with the actions of those who have refused to report to this illegitimate body. Chaturon Chaisang, a former Minister of Education, was arrested at the Foreign Correspondent’s Club and is now facing a military court and two years in jail. Others are trying to cross the border to seek asylum. The UDD leaders could easily have done something like this in an attempt to lead the fight for democracy from abroad or while in hiding. But they have failed. New leadership must now come from grass roots activists.