Giles Ji Ungpakorn
Given that elections are due to be held on 24th March 2019, it is worth looking at the extent to which these elections will actually be democratic, the junta’s plans for the future, and the nature of some of the new political actors which are likely to contest the election.
In the years following Prayut’s military coup, the junta have been building a future “Guided Democracy” system under their control. Important elements of this consist of the “National 20 Year Strategy” and various junta-appointed bodies, all designed to fix elections, restrict activities of political parties and control the actions and policies of any future governments.
At the same time, as we turn the page towards 2019, Generalissimo Prayut and his junta remain in power with Prayut still ruling by decree using article 44 to dictate the rules of the election. It is increasingly likely that he will be a candidate for Prime Minister if the military party, Palang Pracharat, manage to gain enough parliamentary seats to combine with the votes of the military appointed senate. Prayut and his cronies have been using their positions to electioneer while pro-democracy parties have had their activities restricted. This includes visits to the provinces and promising benefits to the electorate in a “pork barrel” political manner. In one ridiculous incident a poster was erected showing Prayut shaking hands with Britain’s embattled and weak Prime Minister, Theresa May! In addition to this, Palang Pracharat has been accused of illegally raising funds by getting government agencies to buy places at a fund-raising banquet.
The junta’s Road Map towards “Guided Democracy” and its backward conservative “National Strategy” have been of little concern to the new king. Wachiralongkorn has never expressed any opinions about this road map and he has no interest in such important matters of State. Wachiralongkorn is certainly an odious creature; selfish, nasty and lacking in any respect for others, especially women. But everything that he has done over the last year has been about himself and his quest for pleasure and riches at the expense of the Thai public. [See http://bit.ly/2l63Z1I ]
Obsession with the monarchy merely diverts attention away from the real democratic tasks ahead.
The real show in town is the continued grip on power of the military and how the policies of the junta are affecting democracy, human rights, social policy and the state of the economy. The junta represent the conservative, authoritarian, neo-liberal wing of the Thai ruling class. They are dead against rapid modernisation of society, any steps towards basic empowerment of citizens and the use of state funds to address economic inequality. They rely on the support of the anti-democratic middle-classes. This is at the core of their disagreement with Taksin and his allies. They are also totally opposed to young people becoming more politically engaged and to any notions of justice.
I have brought together some of my blog posts from “Ugly Truth Thailand” which go some way towards explaining the present situation. The posts are divided into 3 sections: Guided Democracy, The Political Parties and Dealing with the Military. The collection can be read on my Academia page [See https://bit.ly/2QMrGf9 ].
The coming elections will not solve the long-running political crisis, but they are a chapter in the struggle for democracy, if only because the results will be a kind of referendum on the popularity of the junta. The holding of the elections also shows that the military junta know that they cannot rule by diktat for ever. They have been forced to make some concessions. But these concessions are not enough. There will not be democracy unless the legacy of the junta, including the constitution and the 20 year national strategy are scrapped. Freedom of expression will not exist unless the lèse-majesté law is abolished, but none of the political parties have called for this reform. Participatory democracy will not exist unless something drastic is done about Thailand’s gross inequality. Some pro-democracy parties are mentioning a welfare state in their policies but details are lacking and there are no serious suggestions for a super-tax on the super-rich, including the monarchy.
To break the legacy of the military intervention in politics we need a strong mass movement outside parliamentary politics and we need political parties of the left and the working class. Unfortunately these vital ingredients are yet to materialise.