Tag Archives: political parties

How can we reduce the power of the military?

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Many people in Thailand are thinking about how to reduce the power of the military and prevent future coups and the never ending destruction of democracy. This is especially important given that the power of the junta will be extended into the future after the next elections. The junta has organised this “Guided Democracy” state of affairs through its constitution, the military appointed senate, the military appointed judges, the election rules and the National Strategy.

In order to make sure the military are unable to intervene in politics we shall have to change the constitution, scrap the National Strategy, replace the generals, judges and appointed senators and drastically cut the military budget. Ending conscription would also help. The abolition of the lèse-majesté law and the de-mystification of the monarchy are also necessary in order to reduce the power of the military because the generals rely on the monarchy as a tool for legitimisation. This necessary and difficult project will have huge implications.

Some are placing their hopes in the election of new political parties which are opposed to the role of the military. But even if these parties manage to win seats, and even form a government, they will not have the power through parliament to reduce the influence of the military.

This is not because of some secret “Deep State” but it is because the military and the conservative anti-democratic sections of the ruling class hold extra-parliamentary power. The military have their power based upon their weaponry and other sections of the conservatives control the large corporations, courts, the senate and the mass media.

This is not just a problem confined to Thailand. In Britain, if Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party wins the next general election, and I hope they will, the government will face an entire conservative establishment hell-bent on frustrating the democratic wishes of the people. Apart from threats of military coups, which may merely be the demented dreams of some backward generals, the business class will try to cause a financial crisis by withdrawing capital from the country. The mainstream mass media will be hysterically anti-Labour and the permanent secretaries in the civil service will try to frustrate the Corbyn government’s policies. The EU and the IMF will also put pressure on the government. This has happened in Britain in the past. The same kind of pressure was applied to the Syriza government in Greece.

The only way in which an elected government can have the power to face up to this kind of extra-parliamentary force from the conservatives is for the government to be supported by mass movements on the streets and in work places. Protests and strikes can balance and push back the power of unelected conservatives.

This is not some wild pipe-dream. In the past it has been the mass movements of 1973 and 1992 which have knocked back the power and influence of the military in Thailand. In South Korea, Argentina, Venezuela and Turkey, mass movements have played crucial roles in preventing coups, cutting the power of the military and even punishing the most brutal dictators.

In Burma, it is Aung San Suu Kyi’s demobilisation of the mass movement in 1988 and her compromise with the military that has allowed the Burmese junta to survive despite the elections. In Indonesia and the Philippines, dictatorships were overthrown by mass movements.

In Thailand if we are ever to get rid of the vast parasitic and authoritarian organisation of the military we need to rebuild a mass pro-democracy movement irrespective of the results of the next elections.

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Comparing Thai Rak Thai and the “Future Forward” party

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

With all the talk about a “new” political party of the “new generation”, it is worth comparing what little we know of this party with Taksin’s Thai Rak Thai Party which was formed after the 1997 economic crisis. The reason for this is that Taksin and his team used the slogan “New Thinking, New Implementation” in their first election campaign. In other words both TRT and the “new generation” party have emphasised their “newness”.

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We have to be fair to the “Future Forward” party because the military junta has prohibited and publications of party manifestos at this point in time. Why this should be the case is unclear, but it may be that the junta want to set the rules for what policies are allowed through the National Strategy, which is designed to create the junta’s system of “guided democracy”.

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Never the less, Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit and Piyabutr Saengkanokkul have given a number of interviews about their political beliefs which give some insight into any future policies. One thing which is clear is that the “Future Forward” party is absolutely opposed to the intervention of the military in politics and any attempts by the junta to extend its power and build “guided democracy”. They also say that they will defend human rights.

In contrast, most of Taksin’s allies in Pua Thai, with some honourable exceptions like Chaturon Chaisang and Watana Muangsuk, have sought to compromise with the military. When Yingluk was Prime Minister, she failed to cut General Prayut down to size and appeared in public with him on many occasions.

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Chaturon Chaisang
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Watana Muangsuk

Thailand desperately needs a political party opposed to the military, but winning seats in parliament will not be enough. What is required is the building of mass social movements. Thanathorn and Piyabutr have so far failed to mention the need for such an extra-parliamentary movement. This is unlike the stated aims of the “Commoners Party” which identifies itself with the poor and the “movements”. Taksin’s political allies also built the Red Shirt movement which was once the largest pro-democracy social movement in Thai history. But they then demobilised and destroyed it after the Prayut coup in 2014.

Piyabutr has indicated that he wishes to build an anti-neoliberal  party similar to Syriza, Podemos, La France Insoumise and the racist 5 Star Party of Italy. At the same time he has indicated that he believes that the division between left and right does not exist in Thailand, implying that there are no class issues in Thai politics. This is a highly contradictory position, but what seems to be emerging is the fact that he is aiming for young middle-class activists, rather than trying to build a party of the left allied to the labour movement or the poor. Piyabutr has said that he wants the party to “develop the welfare system for all”, from cradle to grave. But this has been said by people like Taksin before. Piyabutr remains unclear as to whether he wants to see a Welfare State, paid for by progressive taxation of the rich.

The fact that one trade union leader, Surin Kamsuk, was present at the launch of the party, does not indicate that the Future Forward Party will be a party of the working class in any way. Thai Rak Thai also had a trade union leader within its ranks. Satarporn Maneerat, from the electricity union, even became a government minister.

Thanathorn, who is a millionaire businessman, has admitted that he played a role in a factory lock-out to crush a strike and weaken trade unions at a Thai Summit factory. This does not bode well for reforming Thailand’s repressive labour laws, inherited from previous military dictatorships, or strengthening the rights of workers.

Thanathorn, talks a lot about the new generation. But apart from his obvious opposition to the military and the old elites, the only concrete proposals he has made so far are to devolve health and education to the provinces and let each province raise their own taxes. This is a neo-liberal policy which goes against redistribution of wealth from rich regions to poorer regions and would increase the gross inequality which already exists in Thailand. In contrast to this, Taksin’s TRT and also Pua Thai were in favour of using central government funds to pay for health and education and also to raise the living standards of the rural poor. They brought in the first ever universal health care system for the country.  Yet TRT committed gross human rights abuses in its war on drugs and in Patani. So some statements by “Future Forward Party” members about Patani, if they proves to be true, would be one improvement.

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People have stated that it is a good thing that a millionaire businessman with new ideas, like Thanathorn, has entered politics on the side of the people. But we have been here before and it is nothing new. Taksin also built a party with new ideas which won the hearts and minds of the majority of rural and urban working people. Yet Taksin proposed and implemented a whole raft of pro-poor and modernisation policies after extensive meetings with grass-roots people.

Thanathorn and Piyabutr ‘s party will have to do much more if it even hopes to match this record of achievement.  It will need to reach out to workers and small farmers and build a grass roots base. But it is doubtful if they have this in mind. We shall have to see what concrete proposals they come up with in the coming months.

Without such policies their new party will merely be a right-wing liberal party of big business and the middle-classes.

Junta accused of preventing political parties from preparing for election so as to give “Army Party” an advantage

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

The Thai military junta has been accused of preventing political parties from preparing for any future election so as to give the “Army Party” an advantage. Despite promising to announce elections in the middle of 2018, the junta have not allowed political parties to organise any activities. These activities would be vital in pulling together and recruiting party members, raising funds and drawing up party rules and policies; all a requirement under the junta’s new law regulating political parties.

At the same time the military junta is floating the idea of an “Army Party” as a vehicle to allow Generalissimo Prayut to become Prime Minister again after the elections. The military constitution also allows for a non-MP to be nominated as Prime Minister under certain circumstances. The junta is also justifying why it would be “legitimate” for it to support a particular political party in the future.

Civilian political parties which cannot fulfil the requirements laid down by the election law will be barred from standing in an election. This is a basic “snap election” tactic, aimed at giving advantage to those already in government. However, instead of a real snap election, the long-overdue elections, which have been continuously postponed, could eventually be held as a “fixed” race where the junta’s party is starting the race well ahead of civilian parties.

Even if these worst fears do not come to fruition, the elections will still not be free and fair, as there are a number of junta-controlled “super-bodies”, associated with the junta’s “National Strategy” which will neuter the power and freedom of any elected politicians or governments. Observers have also pointed out that the “Army Party” would have a total monopoly  of members in the appointed Senate which can veto anything that an elected government wishes to do.

The junta has planned to make sure that its dark shadow blots out the light of freedom and democracy in Thailand for decades.

However, the idea of an “Army Party” is risky because it could backfire if the population express their opposition to the junta at the ballot box. After the 1992 uprising against a former military junta, the public decisively rejected all political parties which were associated with the 1991 military coup. If this happened next year it would be a slap in the face for the junta.

The present junta has lied about its so-called role in building reconciliation, by claiming that it is a “neutral” party. Most Thais know this to be untrue, but if Prayut uses the future elections to become Prime Minister again, there could be wide-spread public anger.

An election outcome where none of the political parties wins an overall majority is probably one important aim of the junta. The weaker any coalition government might be, the stronger the influence of the military on such a government can be.

In the past, before the rise of Taksin’s Thai Rak Thai Party, elected governments were all weak coalitions of political parties without any real policies. Politicians and unelected members of the elite just used the political process to bargain and horse-traded personal benefits aimed at enriching themselves. Meanwhile the majority of the electorate were ignored and the gross inequality in power and economic status between ordinary citizens and those at the top, was allowed to get worse. This is the state of affairs that the reactionaries among those at the top of society, together with their middle-class allies, will be looking to with a big dose of nostalgia.

It will take a powerful mass movement on the ground and progressive left-wing ideas, coming from those organised in a new political party, before the dual legacies of the junta’s repression and Taksin’s betrayal of the redshirts’ dreams of democracy can be erased.