Tag Archives: Taksin Shinawat

Reviewing the past year: Wachiralongkorn is just an irrelevant side show.

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Looking back over the past year we can make a number of observations about the political situation in Thailand.

The king’s lavish funeral has been done and dusted and the new king is on the throne. Wild conspiracy theories about a royal civil war for the throne between Pumipon’s son and daughter have proved to be totally untrue. So has the idea that the country would experience instability after the former king’s death. The latter theory was based on the incorrect view that Pumipon had political power, some, like Somsak Jeeamteerasakul, even claiming that Pumipon was the most powerful figure in the country. [See http://bit.ly/2AF9ozT ]

The fact of the matter is that there has been no instability at all in the military junta’s grip on power. They have continued to oversee the building of a future “Guided Democracy” system under their control. Important elements of this consist of the “National Strategy” and various junta-appointed bodies designed to control and fix elections, political parties and the actions of any future governments. [See http://bit.ly/2x1Ov43 ]There is absolutely no evidence that Pumipon ever had any input or opinion about this plan. He was totally incapacitated for some years.

The junta’s Road Map towards “Guided Democracy” and its backward conservative “National Strategy” has not featured in the new King’s role either. Wachiralongkorn has never expressed any opinions about this 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 ]

The change in the person who is now on the throne has not had any significant impact on the nature of Thai society, politics, or economics. It is just an expensive side-show. This is despite the sensational press articles which have claimed that Thailand has been plunged into the dark ages under king Wachiralongkorn.

Some even point to the new fashion for “buzz cuts” in the military and police as “evidence” of the dictatorial power of Wachiralongkorn, as though that was a crucial aspect of politics rather than a demented obsession by the deluded king and those who wish to suck up to him. We shall see whether Generalissimo Prayut and General Pig-Face Prawit follow the same fashion! [See http://bit.ly/2AWacAq ]

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. Their so-called “Road Map to Elections” is like an elastic band, with an unlimited stretch, and even with elections we will still have a junta controlled Guided Democracy.

Generalissimo Prayut seems to be positioning himself to become the next Prime Minister after the fixed elections. Recently he claimed that he was not a soldier, but a politician. Electoral rules are designed to discriminate against large political parties, especially any party associated with Taksin. The idea is that a fragmented parliament, along with an appointed senate could more easily be manipulated into choosing someone like Prayut to lead the country.

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. This was 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.

Getting rid of the military and its legacy cannot be left to Taksin and Pua Thai. As I have argued in previous articles on this site, Taksin and his allies have no interest in the kind of upheaval from below that would be necessary. The middle-classes and NGOs cannot be relied upon to carry out this task either. They have shown a preference for authoritarian rule over mass empowerment of ordinary people. What is holding back the real struggle for democracy is the fact that the most progressive people in society, especially students and working class activists, are yet to be convinced of the need to build a grass-roots left-wing political party that can play a significant role in building a much needed independent, pro-democracy, social movement.

Until large numbers of people decided to organise together against the military junta, who represent the real dark forces in society, the Thai Spring will not occur.


Looking Back on the Thai 1997 Economic Crisis

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

The period leading up to the 1997 economic crisis was a period in which the Thai economy grew at a phenomenal rate. Average GDP growth rates reached 8% and on occasions the annual rate was in double figures. The main beneficiaries, naturally, were the rich. Between 1975 and 1988 the richest 20% of the population increased their share of national wealth from 43% to 55.4%, while the share controlled by the poorest 20% dropped from 6% to 4.5%.

The economic crisis was a shock to almost everyone for most had predicted it. Once the crisis broke, political scapegoats were quickly found in order to protect the status-quo. The more neo-liberal sections of the big business community quickly suggested the idea that the crisis was all the fault of Prime Minister Chawalit Yongjaiyut‘s government. This ridiculous message was put across at the “Silom Road Business People’s Protests” in October 1997, where businessmen and professional people came down from their office blocks, to demonstrate. They demanded and soon achieved the resignation of Chawalit’s government. The rich were not, however, very good at demonstrating. Many complained about the heat and others brought their servants to make up the numbers and, no doubt, to serve them with cold drinks and drive them to the protest.

Once Chawalit resigned, his Government was replaced by a Democrat Party-led coalition under Chuan Leekpai. The new finance minister, Tarrin Nimmanhaemind, was regarded as a reliable “bankers’ man”. This suggestion was born out by the fact that the Government quickly moved to nationalise the private debts of 56 failed banks and finance companies, which the Chawalit Government had already closed, and then proceeded to set aside a further 300 billion baht of state funds to boost the capital of existing banks. In total, the Government committed at least 1.2 trillion baht of public money to prop up the banking system and the savings of the rich and middle-classes.

The same enthusiasm for the use of public finances was not shown towards helping the poor and the unemployed who were worst hit by the crisis. The Government passed a bill allowing it to withhold state contribution to the private sector employees’ Social Insurance Fund and repeatedly delayed the implementation of an unemployment benefit scheme. It also told the unemployed to “go back to their villages” and live off their relatives. According to one survey carried out for the National Economic & Social Development Board, there was a 12.6% decline in earnings rates and a 4.4% decline in hours of employment in the first half of 1998. These were the main factors behind a fall in real incomes of 19.2% over this period.

The racist explanations of the Asian crisis which talked about Asian corruption, Asian Crony Capitalism and lack of good governance in Asia, are hardly worthy of serious consideration. More serious mainstream explanations for the crisis pinned the blame on lack of proper controls over investment after economic liberalisation in the late 1980s. Although it is true that the increased free movement of capital in and out of Thailand made the boom and the crisis more spectacular, these highly visible movements of money were more a symptom of what was happening in the real economy rather than the cause of the crisis. The implication of this neo-liberal explanation was that if proper controls were established, then crises would never occur again. Clearly a review of Western economies shows this to be nonsense.

The Marxist theory of capitalist crisis identifies over-production and falling rates of profit as the key underlying factors causing a crisis. Both these factors result from the uncontrolled competition for profit found under Capitalism. The main cause of the tendency for a fall in the rate of profit is the increased investment in fixed capital as compared to the hiring of labour (from which surplus value is extracted). However, the falling rate of profit is only an overall tendency with many countervailing factors. Profit rates can be restored temporarily by increased labour efficiency, increased exploitation or the destruction of competitors.

In Thailand over-capacity and falling rates of return were seen in most of the export industries. This caused a shift in the direction of investment away from the productive sector towards speculation in real estate and the banking system. It is estimated that in 1996 about half of all investment was property related and this accounted for half of annual GDP growth.

The Thai working class reacted to the crisis in different ways. On the one hand, significant groups of workers were very angry when their annual bonus payments were cut. On one occasion, a Japanese-owned electronics factory was burnt to the ground. At many workers’ protest gatherings after that, someone could be relied upon to scare the management with a cry of “set fire to the bloody place!” Most of the time it was just a bluff. On another occasion workers at Summit Auto Parts blocked a main highway in response to a bonus cut, but they were eventually physically beaten by riot police, supported by volunteer “emergency rescue workers” and right-wing journalists from The Nation and their struggle was defeated.

A more organised response came at the Triumph underwear factory, where women workers had a long tradition of building a strong shop stewards network. Workers were able to achieve a respectable wage increase after a twenty day dispute in July 1999.

The rate of inflation, which quickly fell (after an initial rise) as the economy went into recession, was also a factor in determining the will to fight. For those who retained their jobs, a further sharp fall in living standards was avoided by the decline in inflation.

The dominant ideological response among organised workers and left-wing intellectuals to the crisis, and to the manner in which governments handled economic policy, was in the form of Left Nationalism. This ideology was a mirror image of ruling class nationalism.  A quick glance through the new book titles in any Thai book shop during the early part of the crisis would quickly have revealed the growing number of publications on “saving the country from the crisis”. In the main these publications were written by left-of-centre academics, many of them ex-CPT sympathisers, who regarded the 1997 crisis as a serious threat to “national independence”.

The cause of the crisis, according to the nationalists, was the imperialist designs of the G7 powers, especially the United States, in attempting to put the Asian Tigers under the yoke of Economic Colonialism. This could be seen from the proposal that the crisis was merely a crisis of a certain model of Capitalism: “fast-track” or foreign-investment-led export orientated manufacturing. Much of the Left Nationalist analysis also leant heavily on Dependency Theory, which saw the main divide in the world as between the “northern” industrial countries and the “southern” developing countries.

A number of solutions were proposed by the Left Nationalists; all within the framework of the capitalist system. Firstly there were the naive and utopian ideas of the “Community Economists” who believed that the Thai economy could somehow “turn back” to a self-sufficient low technology agricultural economy. Instead of foreign capital and technology, Thailand should use traditional “Thai intellectual resources”.

Secondly, there was a proposal to use Keynesian style economics. It was argued that the state should increase public expenditure in order to stimulate consumption. This strategy was eventually adapted for use by Taksin’s Thai Rak Thai (TRT) government after their election victory in 2001.

In the general election of January 2001, TRT won a landslide victory. The election victory was in response to previous government policy under the Democrats, which had totally ignored the plight of the rural and urban poor. TRT also made 3 important promises to the electorate. These were (1) a promise to introduce a Universal Health Care Scheme for all citizens, (2) a promise to provide a 1 million baht loan to each village in order to stimulate economic activity and (3) a promise to introduce a debt moratorium for poor peasants.

Ex-student and NGO activists, such as Pumtam Wejjayachai were recruited to TRT and became important links with the Peoples Movement. These activists encouraged the Prime Minister to meet with social movements like the Assembly of the Poor and they coordinated with movement and NGO leaders in order to solve disputes or dampen down protest actions against the Government.

Pumtam explained that Thailand needed a “Dual Track” development policy, where “Capitalism” and the “Peoples Economy” (community based activities) went hand in hand. This eventually evolved into the government policy of mixing neo-liberal policies with “grass roots Keynesianism”. The government also spent state funds on improving the lives of ordinary citizens and on developing infrastructure in order to raise productivity. These measures were helpful in reviving the economy, along with the fact that the Western advanced nations and China were not in crisis at the time, but they had little impact on preventing any future economic crises.

The popularity of Taksin and TRT with the electorate eventually resulted in increasing hostility against the government from conservative members of the ruling class, Taksin’s political rivals and members of the middle classes. They resented the alliance between the government and urban and rural working people and wanted to turn the clock back to the bad old days when the majority of the population were to be ignored by politicians and members of the elites. Today, we are still living under the shadow of military coups and a military regime which intends to craft a “Military Guided Democracy”.

Economic Deja-vu

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

A recent analysis of the state of the Thai economy from the research department of Phatra Capital indicated two important structural problems. Firstly, continuing economic inequality means that any GDP growth at the present rates does not translate into increased well-being for the majority of the population. Secondly, Thai rates of productivity are too low to compete on the world market which is still growing slowly due to the long recession since 2008. A big factor here is that most industrial companies are still relying on cheap labour rather than trying to invest in modern technology and a higher skilled labour force. The cheap labour today comes from migrant workers from neighbouring countries. In rural areas productivity among small agricultural producers remains too low to raise people out of poverty. Where agriculture has a higher productivity it is among the agribusiness conglomerates.

This is exactly the same problem which faced the Thai economy just before the 1997 economic crisis. For this reason Taksin Shinawat and his newly formed Thai Rak Thai party set out to modernise Thailand, develop a higher skilled work force, increase productivity and raise the general standard of living of most working people, both in rural areas and in the city.

Thai Rak Thai called this a “dual track” policy, mixing grass-roots Keynesian state investment with promotion of the free-market at a national level. Among the policies initiated by Taksin’s government were universal health care for all, job creation at village level through cheap loans, measures to reduce farmers’ debt and increased investment in education and the promotion of digital skills. The Yingluck government’s rice price subsidy scheme was part of this kind of policy.

Taksin’s policies did not wipe out poverty or bring in economic equality. He denied that he wanted to build a welfare state, which would have been a vast improvement, and he was totally opposed to raising taxes on the rich. However, the policies did raise the living standards of most citizens and gave them hope for the future. This is why millions voted for his parties in elections without Taksin having to spend millions in buying votes like political parties in the past.

Yet the conservatives and neo-liberals derided these policies. The Democrat Party, the conservative bureaucrats, the right-wing academics and the middle classes called it “Populism”. Some foreign academics have gone along with this kind of right-wing discourse. For all these people, supporting the poor and the majority of the population was “bad for the country”. They wanted to return to the bad old days when the poor knew their place, state spending was concentrated on the military and the elites and elections were nothing to do with real policies.

In the end the conservatives and neo-liberals got their way with military and judicial coups. They are now ensuring that in any future elections, governments will not be allowed to support the poor, bring about modernisation or lower inequality.

In terms of the structural problems in the Thai economy, we are back to Square One.

But if we look at Taksin’s side, he and his party were reluctant in mobilising the mass of the population against the military and the conservatives. They have deliberately destroyed the pro-democracy red shirt movement. This is because they feared the results of any future mass uprising more than they feared the continued dominance of the military and the conservatives. We could even say that Taksin’s attempts to drag Thai society into the modern world and solve the problems of inequality were just half-hearted.

This reminds me of Leon Trotsky and Karl Marx’s theories of Permanent Revolution. The theory of Permanent Revolution argues that in less developed countries the modern capitalists and the conservative monarchists will seek compromise with each other and real progress towards a modern and equal society will need to be led by the working class and a working class based revolutionary party. This holds true for Thailand today. Taksin’s capitalist party attempted to carry out half-hearted modernisation, while always seeking to find ways to compromise with the conservatives and hold back the mass movement, and this has ended in the destruction of democracy and the fossilisation of society.

They are ALL corrupt

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Now that the scandal of Rolls-Royce bribery of politicians and state official in Thailand has been exposed, we can draw some initial conclusions.


In the case of bribes to “encourage” Thai Airways to buy Rolls-Royce T80 engines for its fleet, bribes were paid a total of three times. Between 1991 and 1992, $18.8 million were paid. Between 1992 and 1997 another $10.38 million was given and between 2004 and 2005 a further $ 7.2 million was handed out.


A further Rolls-Royce bribery scandal involves payments amounting to $11 million to “persuade” PTT Public Company Limited, the Thai state-owned SET-listed “oil and gas company”, to award a total of 6 contracts to Rolls-Royce Energy Systems, Inc. (RRESI). These bribes were paid at various times between 2000 and 2012.

We do not know yet which individuals pocketed the bribes, and given the state of the police and the justice system we may never know. But what we can point to are the top state officials who should be held responsible for allowing this corruption to happen or for not instituting proper checks on large commercial transactions.

The Prime Ministers during the periods when all these bribes were paid were the following:


(1) Anand Panyarachun, technocrat and so-called “Mr Clean”, who was appointed as an unelected Prime Minister by the military junta, after the coup d’état in 1991. The power behind this Prime Minister was Dictator Suchinda Kaprayoon.

(2) Chuan Leekpai from the Democrat Party.

(3) Banharn Silapa-archa from the Chart Thai Party.

(4) Chawalit Yongjaiyut from the New Aspirations Party.

(5) Taksin Shinawat from Thai Rak Thai Party.

(6) Surayut Julanon, military dictator following the 2006 coup d’état.

(7) Unelected Abhisit Vejjajiva, Democrat Party leader, appointed by the military under Prayut Chan-ocha and Anupong Paochinda.

(8) Yingluk Shinawat from the Pua Thai Party.

Some of the top officials at Thai Airways were military men and civilians associated with the 1991 coup and Thanong Bidaya, a Thai Rak Thai politician.

What can we conclude from all this?

Firstly, that rampant corruption has taken place and is still taking place under various military juntas who came to power in coup d’états, claiming to overthrow corrupt civilian governments. Given the long history of military corruption in Thailand under Pibun, Sarit and Tanom, this is hardly surprising. Even under elected civilian governments top generals sit on the executive boards of state companies.

Secondly, corruption also took place under elected and non-elected civilian governments of all the main political parties, including Thai Rak Thai, the Democrats and supposedly technocrat-led governments.

Thirdly, the entire Thai ruling class is steeped in corruption of both an illegal and legal nature. “Legal” corruption is taking place today because military generals have come to power and then appointed themselves and their friends and relatives to high paying positions.

Fourthly, corruption is an integral part of the world capitalist system, with Western multinationals paying bribes on a regular basis to avoid so-called free market competition. Corruption is not just a Thai problem, it is also endemic in the USA, UK and other European countries. We can see this in the “conflicts of interest” in the Trump administration and involving British cabinet ministers and payments to members of their families and dishonest claims for expenses by French and British politicians.

The difference between Thailand and many Western countries is that social movements, trade unions, opposition political parties and the press have more freedom and power to expose such corruption. The crucial role of mass movements can be seen only this past week in Romania, where a mass movement forced the government to withdraw a law which would have white-washed corrupt officials.


In Thailand, the problem of corruption is closely linked with the lack of freedom of expression and the weakness of independent mass movements from below, including the trade unions.

How did we reach this point in Thai politics?

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Ten years ago the military, the middle-classes, and the various sections of the conservative elites, set about to destroy democracy. Since 2006 there have been two military coups, a number of judicial coups and mass anti-democracy protests by royalist middle-class mobs, supported by the Democrat Party. Over a hundred pro-democracy activists have been shot down in cold blood by the military and Thai jails now hold more political prisoners than they have done for decades. The country is now run by an arrogant but not very bright military regime. How and why did this happen?


The Asian Economic crisis in 1997 was the spark that exposed the existing fault-lines in Thai society, and the actions of political actors in response to this, eventually led to a back-lash against democracy by the conservatives.

The main reason for the present Thai political crisis can be traced back to this 1997 economic crisis and the attempt by Taksin Shinawat to modernise Thai society and reduce inequality while relying on mass support for his policies at elections. These policies were also designed to benefit big business, increasing profits and competitiveness. Taksin called this a “dual track” strategy, using a mixture of neo-liberalism and “grass-roots Keynesianism”. Among this raft of policies was the first ever universal health care scheme.


Because the Democrat Party, and other elites, had ignored the plight of the poor during the crisis, while spending state finances in securing the savings for the rich and the middle-classes in failed banks, Taksin was able to say that his government would benefit everyone, not just the rich. Taksin’s TRT won the first post-1997 elections. The government was unique in being both popular and dynamic, with real policies, which were used to win the elections and were then implemented afterwards. Never-the-less, his government was not unique in the fact that it committed gross human rights abuses. Previously, the old parties had just bought votes without any policies. Taksin’s real policies reduced vote-buying and his overwhelming electoral base came to challenge the old way of conducting politics, eventually angering those who could not win the hearts and minds of the people.

The 1997 economic crisis exposed the material reality of Thai society which had developed rapidly over many decades but which was in conflict with an unchanged conservative “Superstructure”. This is the dynamic of conflict which was harnessed by Taksin.

It would be a mistake to see the present crisis as merely a dispute between two factions of the elite. It has another important dimension that cannot be ignored. We need to understand the role of the Red Shirts who had a “dialectical” relationship with their idol Taksin. There existed a kind of “parallel war” where thousands of ordinary Red Shirts struggled for democracy, dignity and social justice, while Taksin and his political allies waged a very different campaign to regain the political influence that they had enjoyed before the 2006 coup d’état.

Despite the fact that many believe that the centre of power among the conservative elites is the monarchy, the real centre of power, lurking behind the throne, is the military. King Pumipon is a weak and characterless monarch who spent his useless and privileged life in a bubble, surrounded by fawning, and grovelling toadies. He is, and always has been, a puppet of the military and the conservative elites. The hypothesis that the present long-running unrest in Thailand is primarily caused by a “crisis of succession”, is a top-down view which assumes that the Thai monarch has real power and that he has been constantly intervening in politics. That is just not the case. There is no absolute monarch in his final years causing a potential power vacuum. All sides have also agreed that the scandal-prone and despicable prince will be the next king. To place the Princess, who has no male partner, on the throne instead, would immediately destroy all the “reinvented tradition” about the monarchy and undermine its mythical legitimacy. What is more the Prince will be even more of a weak and potential tool of the military because he cares nothing about affairs of state. The issue of royal succession is therefore of little relevance here, despite it being fashionable for journalists and academics to use this as a standard explanation for the crisis. [see http://bit.ly/2cju72D ]

The crisis has not been caused by a conflict between the monarchy and Taksin or the supposed presence of an anti-Taksin “Deep State”, either. There is no Deep State in Thailand. In order to argue for the existence of a so-called “Deep State”, the power of the King has to be exaggerated, the involvement of mass movements ignored, and long-running fractures within the military and conservative elites have to be overlooked. Taksin Shinawat, as a member of the ruling class, commanded a great deal of influence over sections of the military and judiciary in his early days as Prime Minister because of his promise to modernise Thailand after the 1997 economic crisis. The conservatives only turned against him when they could not compete with his electoral advantage as they were either not prepared to join him, or were not prepared to offer the population the kind of policies that would improve their lives. Thailand does not have some stable, unchanging core, of conservative reactionaries embedded deep within the state. There are fluid and dynamic bonds between members of the ruling class as the various factions make or break alliances in an opportunistic manner. Some of Taksin’s faction were drawn from the left, while others came from the conservative and royalist right-wing, who took part in attacks against democracy during the Cold War. Samak Sundaravej is a good example of the latter. [see http://bit.ly/29H0FC9]

The results of the referendum on the junta’s draft constitution on the 7th August 2016 were disappointing and are a set-back for democracy. But we should not forget that this was never a democratic referendum and 10 million people voted against accepting the constitution.


This is not a time to retreat and try to build some kind of political consensus in civil society, as suggested by exiled academic Somsak Jeamteerasakul. Such a suggestion is not only a pipe-dream, but in practice would result in “half democracy”. This idea stems from Somsak’s lack of confidence in the potential power and relevance of pro-democracy social movements.

The way forward is to build a mass social movement against the junta. The rich experience of Thai mass movements defeating the military in 1973 and 1992 and the huge potential of the Red Shirt movement should be revisited. It is time to stop playing symbolic games organised by a handful of self-appointed heroes. Such misguided views arise from a mistaken analysis that in the days of social media we do not need to build mass movements. Ridding Thailand of the influence of the military will take time and determined political organisation.


My full paper written for “10 years of Politico-Social Crisis in Thailand”, a seminar organised by “Free Thais for Human Rights and Democracy” at CCFD-Terre Solidaire building, Paris, France, 19/9/2016, can be viewed here: http://bit.ly/2bSpoF2  or http://bit.ly/2cmZkAa

Gangster Rodrigo Duterte, president of the Philippines

Giles Ji Ungpakorn (22 May 2016)

The election of local Davao City “war-lord” and gangster Rodrigo Duterte raises many questions. The man has a history of human rights abuses in ordering the extra-judicial killings of thousands of petty criminals. Some of those were children. His death squads were made up of police, hired gunmen and ex-Communist Party fighters. After his recent success in the presidential election he vowed to bring back the death penalty, abolished in 2006, and boasted that some “criminals” would be hung until they were decapitated.


Duterte is also famous for his appalling attitude to women, joking about the rape and murder of an Australian nun in a prison riot. He said that he regretted that he hadn’t been the first to rape her.

Duterte is a reactionary right-wing politician who uses populist rhetoric in order to appeal to working people and the poor. He has said that he would appoint people from the Maoist Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) to cabinet positions responsible for the environment, rural reform and labour. His deliberate self-constructed image as a “strongman” is meant to appeal to the most backward elements in society, including sections of the middle-classes who are worried about crime. His anti-women comments go strangely together with his support for GLBT people. The aim of all this mixture of ideologies is purely to win himself mass support. There are no principles involved.

His flirtation with the Maoist CPP has been reciprocated by Jose Maria Sison, the founder of the CPP, who says that it is time for reconciliation. Today, the Maoist CPP is no force for progress. At best their Maoist ideology in the past was a form of authoritarian Stalinist conservatism and nationalism. Like all Stalinist parties they are obsessed with cross-class alliances with bourgeois politicians. The “Maoist” communist parties in China and Nepal now support neo-liberal economic policies.

If Duterte is not just talking hot air about appointing communists to cabinet positions, these appointments will not result in any serious progressive policies. There is an historical precedent for appointing leftists as Ministers of Labour in the Philippines. After the overthrow of the dictator Marcos, Augusto Sánchez, from the militant and CPP influenced KMU union federation, was appointed to head the Ministry of Labour under Corazon Aquino. When bourgeois politicians appoint people perceived as leftists to ministerial posts it is so that they can better control the social movements, including the unions. When their job is done they are then removed. This is what happened to Sánchez.

Before Duterte’s victory, Sonny Melencio from the non-Stalinist leftist party “Partido Lakas ng Masa” (literally translated as “Force of the Masses Party”), wrote that socialists should not support either front-runner in the elections. [see http://bit.ly/1WEyXKb ]


The Liberal Party candidate, selected to succeed Aquino’s son, Benigno Noy Noy, was Duterte’s main rival. As Melencio points out, the victory of Duterte shows that the population were fed up with the old “trapo” (“filthy rag”) elite politicians who have done nothing to improve the lives of ordinary working people and the poor. Duterte’s victory is also due to the weakness of the left alternative.

He goes on to explain that Duterte reminds him a bit of Juan Peron, Argentina’s ex-populist dictator who built alliances between the left and the right. Yet Duterte shows no sign of being able to use the state to pursue corporatist policies like Peron.

Melencio has rightly dismissed the idea that Duterte is an “outsider” because he actually comes from a local political elite who dominate the island of Mindanao.

It is interesting to compare Duterte with Thailand’s Taksin Shinawat. Both are responsible for human rights abuses. Taksin tried to create an image of being a strongman and is responsible for thousands of extra-judicial killings in his war on drugs. Both drew support from ex-Maoists. However, Taksin was not a local gangster politician. He was a rich business tycoon who brought in some serious pro-poor policies, including the universal health care scheme.

When comparing Duterte with Taksin, an important question arises as to Partido Lakas ng Masa’s policy towards Duterte after the election. Melencio’s tone is too conciliatory towards this gangster and his supporters. He maintains that the old “trapo” parties of the elite are the main enemy. But Duterte is equally the enemy of working people. He says that the left should march alongside Duterte’s supporters and he welcomes Jose Maria Sison’s proposed alliance with Duterte. Yet the left must remain totally independent from bourgeois politicians, especially those who abuse human rights. The left needs to put forward a real alternative platform to campaign for a welfare state, trade union rights and an end to the oppression by the state. This is what we did in Thailand during Taksin’s government.

Of course, the left must also oppose any attempts by the mainstream parties and the military to stage a coup and if such a coup were to take place and a huge pro-democracy social movement were to arise, it would be right to stand with supporters of Duterte in opposing a threat to democracy. That is why we stood with the Red Shirts in Thailand while maintaining our independence from Taksin and the Taksin-supported UDD leadership.


Now is not the time for the left to build any kind of alliance with Duterte. For too long, the left in South-east Asia has spent time building cross-class alliances in the hope of a shortcut to power. The non-Stalinist socialists in the Philippines are much stronger and influential than us in Thailand and it would be a shame to waste the opportunity to grow even stronger.

Read more about the Communist Parties of Southeast Asia here: http://bit.ly/1OEfsJo

UPDATE: 1/10/2016

After President Duterte compared himself to Hitler, saying he would be “happy to slaughter” millions of drug addicts in his bloody war on crime, he has been condemned by the Left in the Philippines.

Sonny Melencio, Chair of Partido Ng LABAN ng Masa (PLM):

“It is now, more than ever, up to the mass movement to take the cudgel in the fight against extra judiciary killings. This might well be for the good of the campaign. We need an independent mass movement, i.e., independent from the trapos and the factions, to carry on the fight against mass killings and for human rights”.

Walden Bello, Former Akbayan Congressman condemned the president’s human rights abuses…. “The killings will not solve the country’s drug problem. It is a war against the poor”.

Bayan (the Maoists):

“We do not subscribe to the President’s referencing of Hitler in relation to the war on drugs and the killings of so-called drug addicts. Killings by state forces of unarmed civilians, even if they are suspected criminals, goes against the principle of due process. It is also important that the President realize that the drug menace will not be solved simply by killing the 3 million addicts whom the President believes threatens the survival of the next generation. The drug problem is not a mere police problem”.

Read the analysis of PLM here:http://masa.ph/  in my view they are still too supportive of Duterte.

The UDD Red Shirts leadership isn’t up to the job of defending democracy

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

One thing that the Thai political crisis over the last 8 years has proved is that being in government does not mean controlling the state. Ever since the time of Marx and Engels, Marxists have argued that the state is made up of much more than the government. There are the “bodies of armed men”, courts, prisons, top civil servants and elite CEOs of big business. The state is the unofficial, unacknowledged, committee for managing the affairs of the entire capitalist ruling class. Its pretence at being neutral and law-abiding is a mechanism to win legitimacy among the population. There will be differences of opinion within the state. But its overall aim is to rule over, control and oppress other classes. In Thailand its function is to rule over ordinary working people and farmers who make up the majority of the population. It has not yet faced the power of the organised working class like in Europe or Egypt. The Thai state has yet to make serious concessions to democracy.

Over the last 8 years of the Thai crisis the Thai state has set its face against democracy and the idea of a free universal franchise. We have had one coup d’état by the army and 3 judicial coups. This repression of democracy is backed up by armed Democrat Party thugs on the streets who act with impunity. It is backed up by military appointed so-called “independent bodies”, acting under a military drafted constitution. It is supported by middle-class academics and NGO leaders. They also all claim to be “protecting the monarchy”, although the draconian lèse-majesté law prevents people from questioning or testing this.

It is obvious that to achieve freedom and democracy we shall have to pull down all the old structures of the Thai state.

But Taksin, Yingluk and Pua Thai have no intention of doing this. Their aim is to re-join the elite club who now run the state. They are not pro-democracy out of principle, merely out of convenience. The UDD Red Shirt leadership is wedded to Pua Thai. It is incapable of leading the necessary fight.

Any defence of democracy must come from the Red Shirt movement. There is no other movement which is remotely interested in doing this and no other group which has the potential capabilities. The Red Shirts are the largest pro-democracy social movement which has ever existed in Thailand. The majority still support Taksin, but at the same time wish to fight for democracy as a matter of principle and personal interest. They have a contradictory relationship with Taksin and Pua Thai.

The weakness of the Red Shirt movement comes in two forms: political leadership and power. What is needed is new leadership which is independent of Pua Thai and Taksin, with more self -organisation. There is an urgent need to assess the required task of overthrowing the old state structures and how this can be done. Power needs to come from being more closely allied to the organised working class, especially the private sector unions. Power also comes from the mass movement being made up of farmers throughout the country. Until this happens the Red Shirts will not be able to rebuild democracy and expand the democratic space.