Giles Ji Ungpakorn
Towards the end of this month, an NGO network called “People Go Network” organised a seminar followed by a long distance march to the north-eastern town of Kon Kaen. The aim of the long march was to publicise the issues of human rights, welfare and political participation to local “villagers”.
Predictably the reaction of the military junta was to use security forces to block the march because it was a gathering of more than 5 people, contrary to the orders of the junta. The marchers then got round this by walking in groups of 5 people along the road. The supply vans servicing the march were temporarily impounded by the police as a form of harassment. The police then issued warrants for the arrest of the leading organisers.
Naturally, all those committed to freedom and democracy should unconditionally condemn the actions of the junta and its security forces, even though many of the groups and individuals who are involved have a history of welcoming military coups and supporting the overthrow of democratically elected governments. It would be sectarian to not show them unconditional solidarity.
AIDS activist Nimit Tienudom, one of the present leaders of People Go Network, once claimed at a royalist Yellow Shirt rally on 23rd March 2006, that most Taksin supporters “did not know the truth” about his Government, implying that the millions of ordinary people who voted for Taksin were stupid. He later made an unsuccessful bid to become a military appointed senator after the September 2006 coup. In 2009 he denounced the Red Shirt pro-democracy protests on 13th April when soldiers used live ammunition against the protestors. The actions of Nimit are not an isolated example, they represent the views of many NGO leaders at the time.
It is to be hoped that these NGO activists have learnt their lesson about welcoming the military intervention in politics and regret their previous political positions, but none have said so in public.
I must stress that it is a positive thing that the People Go Network is challenging Prayut’s dictatorship. However, there are serious questions about the politics and tactics of these NGO activists even today, and it is the politics of NGOs which mislead them into joining the monarchist, yellow-shirt, anti-democratic camp in the first place.
Firstly, they talk about publicising issues to “villagers”. Yet, who are these “villagers”? Are they the people who voted on mass for Taksin’s parties at election time? The NGOs painted a false picture of these citizens as being ignorant and selling their votes. They also condemned the Taksin government for so-called “populism” when it brought out policies to raise the standard of living in rural areas and provide universal health care. Are these villagers capable of self-organisation without a helping hand from NGOs?
It is also worth questioning why the NGOs talk about “villagers” when they are marching through highly industrialised areas full of unionised workers. No attempt has been made to reach out to these workers. No attempts have been made to include pro-democracy activists such as redshirts or student activists either. This smacks of blinkered NGO ideology and sectarianism. This behaviour, and the organising of a long march over a number of days, excludes the participation by ordinary working people. It is not a strategy for building a much-needed mass, pro-democracy, social movement.
Any serious discussion of welfare or of a welfare state cannot take place without a clear position against the free-market and neo-liberalism. Yet the NGOs are not interested in political theory or general “big picture” politics. Some even support the free-market. See http://bit.ly/2sLhk21 and http://bit.ly/1UpZbhh
Secondly, the NGOs are being coy about directly opposing the military dictatorship and its plans for Guided Democracy. When they mention human rights they do not mention the lèse-majesté law. The NGOs have not displayed any solidarity with lèse-majesté prisoners or pro-democracy activists who are constantly hounded by the military, unless they are part of the NGO network. They also have a history of lobbying the military and wanting to collaborate with the junta on so-called “reforms”, as though the junta were a legitimate government.
On the issue of lèse-majesté, it appears that there are two classes of those accused of breaking this law. Sulak Sivaraksa was recently acquitted of his lèse-majesté charge for questioning the role of an ancient king of Ayuttaya. The charges were ridiculous in the first place. However, Sulak, a self-confessed royalist, has since boasted that he wrote a begging letter to the odious king Wachiralongkorn. According to Sulak, Wachiralongkorn “graciously” asked the courts to acquit him. No such “graciousness” has be granted to other lèse-majesté prisoners like the student activist Pai Doa-Din, who is in jail for sharing a BBC article on the life of this wretched king.
Lèse-majesté is an attack on the fundamental right to freedom of expression and democracy. It should not be up to the likes of Wachiralongkorn to “graciously” grant mercy. The monarchy and the lèse-majesté law should be swept away. But this can only be achieved through the overthrow of both the military dictatorship and any plans for a future Guided Democracy. Accommodating to dictatorship, sucking up to the monarchy or inviting the military to stage coups cannot achieve liberation.
Yesterday another group of mainly young activists calling themselves the “Democracy Restoration Group” staged a protest in Bangkok about the way the junta has continued to reschedule elections. Around a hundred supporters turned up to this positive event. However, in the future, these young activists will need to be serious about reaching out to other activists to build a concrete united front which can grow into a mass social movement. Merely announcing an event in the press or social media is totally inadequate. In the past they have relied too much on symbolic protests involving a handful of people. See http://bit.ly/2FlU3Xa and http://bit.ly/2FnVvbt
Liberation is dependent on building a broad-based mass movement which understands the importance of big picture politics. Hopefully the NGOs and other activists will come to understanding this in the near future.