Tag Archives: Taksin

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”.


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”.


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.

Chaturon Chaisang
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.


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.


“Populism” a middle-class insult against working people

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

A lot of people use the term “populism” to describe a certain kind of politics in the world today, especially what is called “right-wing populism”, which is used to label fascist parties in Europe, UKIP in Britain and Donald Trump in the United States.

In Thailand the term “Populism” has been much in fashion to describe the politics of Taksin’s Thai Rak Thai Party.

Yet the use of “Populism” has nasty and insulting connotations towards ordinary working people and the poor. It is a middle-class form of abuse towards the poor by so-called “liberals” who deem themselves to be better-educated and more intelligent than the supposedly backward and narrow-minded unwashed “proles”.

In the Thai case, the use of the term “Populism” was used to condemn Thai Rak Thai’s pro-poor policies such as the Universal Health Care system, which gave affordable health care to all citizens for the first time. It was used to condemn the job creating schemes in rural areas and the rice subsidy programme of the Yingluk government. Those who use this term are in the main un-democratic right-wing free-market liberals and reactionary middle class academics and NGOs who believe that state budgets, built through taxation of ordinary people, should not be used to increase the quality of life for the majority.

These people lied and insulted ordinary working people, especially the rural population, by saying that Taksin had “bought votes” by offering pro-poor policies which won him many elections. For these liberals, the poor were just too stupid to see that increases in their standard of living was “bad for the country” because it destroyed fiscal discipline. The poor should have been “bright enough” to vote for the Democrat Party which promised them nothing. These same people keep quiet today about lavish spending on the royals and the bloated military budget. They also welcomed both recent military coups.

The present junta is busy designing a backward and reactionary “National Strategy” which will prevent future political parties from offering pro-poor policies at elections. At a stroke they will disenfranchise the majority of Thai citizens from any democratic choice.

In the West the term “Populism”, when used to describe the odious and reactionary policies of Donald Trump, the racism of UKIP and the naked fascism of Le Pen in France or Geert Wilders in the Netherlands, has the same nasty and insulting connotations towards ordinary working people and the poor. The implication is that the “proles” can be easily manipulated because they lack the intelligence and reason of the middle-classes.

Marine Le Pen with Geert Wilders (Getty Images)

The difference is only that these right-wing politicians in the West are out and out reactionaries or dangerous Nazis and they have to be vigorously opposed.

In Britain the middle-class so-called liberals condemn everyone who voted to leave the European Union as racists. Yet the Brexit vote was a protest vote against the entire British establishment which has been destroying the lives of millions of ordinary people. What is more, both sides in the referendum debates, with the exception of the Left, used racist language. The elites and the middle-classes are often more racist than ordinary workers because they come across less black people and do not need to unite with them in trade unions in the same way as workers.

In the United States these liberals try to paint a picture of red-necked ignorant US workers who are just racist and sexist and therefore support Trump. In reality Trump won the election because ordinary people were sick and tired of the elite pro-business policies of Clinton and Obama. It was a shame that Trump could opportunistically win as a result of this.

The middle-class liberals never care about the lives of ordinary working people. They keep quiet about increasing inequality, the destruction of living standards in Greece at the hands of the EU and the increasing official racism of the EU. Some of Trump’s odious policies were started under Obama. What is more these liberals never tire of attacking left-wing politicians like Bernie Sanders or Jeremy Corbin who would be able to harness the anger against the establishment in a  progressive and anti-racist direction. They also fail to name those like Le Pen or Geert Wilders as “fascists” and believe in allowing them space to spurt their filth.

It is time to stop using the term “Populism”. It is insulting to ordinary people, it white-washes the fascists and hides the real explanations for politics in Thailand and the West.

Unfortunately, Taksin is a royalist

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Thai police have arrested a man that they claim to be “Banpot”, the famous internet alias, who regularly published audio clips criticising the Thai Royal Family. The suspect has been identified as Hasadin Uraipraiwan. Earlier, an extremist media channel tried to falsely claim that “Banpot” was the Chiang-Mai academic Professor Tanet Charoenmuang.

The military junta is desperate to link Banpot to Taksin and they are making remarks about a “big capitalist” who is funding these activities. This is not the first time that the anti-democrats and the military have tried to accuse Taksin of wanting to overthrow the monarchy. They believe that it would help legitimise their destruction of democracy.

But nothing could be further from the truth. Unfortunately, Taksin is a royalist.

Taksin has often been accused of wanting to usurp the monarchy and become president. There is absolutely no evidence for this. In fact, throughout the period when Taksin was Prime Minister, he promoted and was seen to be servile to the King, just like the conservative generals who are his rivals. His government paved the way for and participated in the lavish royal celebrations on the 60th anniversary of the King’s accession to the throne in 2006.His government also introduced the “Yellow Shirt Mania”, where we were all told to wear yellow royal shirts every Monday. Both Taksin and his conservative opponents are royalists because they seek to use the institution of the monarchy in order to stabilise the status quo and class rule in a capitalist society.

Following the July 2011 election we saw Prime Minister Yingluk’s Pua Thai Government making it clear that they were royalists. If we look at the use of lèse majesté, the Pua Thai Government’s record of abusing freedom of speech was just as bad as Abhisit’s military-backed Democrats. The Minister for Information Technology and Communication Anudit Nakorntup showed himself to be a rabid royalist censor, threatening Facebook users who so much as clicked “like” in response to a post deemed to be insulting to the monarchy. Worse still, Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Yubamrung was appointed as “lèse majesté supremo” to hunt down dissenters.

The reason why Taksin will not lead an all-out struggle for democracy against the dictatorship is linked to Taksin’s royalism, or more importantly, to his commitment to defending the status quo and the Thai ruling class in its present form. He and the generals are merely rivals for power. Taksin wants to re-join the elite club at some point in the future. He is desperate to prevent radicalisation of the democracy movement. But we must do everything to encourage such radicalisation and the struggle for a democratic republic.

The treachery of Pua Thai and Taksin

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Ever since the election of Pua Thai with Yingluk as Prime Minister in 2011, I have argued that Taksin, Yingluk and Pua Thai were trying to reach a compromise with the military. We saw constant criticism of Abhisit, Sutep and the Democrat Party, while criticism of Prayut and the military ceased. This was a betrayal of the red shirts who had protested for democracy and been gunned down in 2010 by the military when Prayut was in charge of the army. The lawyer Robert Amsterdam also concentrated on building a case against Abhisit, but not Prayut or any other military officers.

During the 2011 election, Prayut had repeatedly opposed a vote for Pua Thai, but when Pua Thai became the government there was no move to remove him from post and Yingluk posed with him and even Prem for various photo opportunities.

At this time Taksin gave an interview where he stated that he had no quarrel with the military because it was only a dispute between him and the Democrat Party. What arrogance! However, the truth is that the Democrat Party could never have formed a government back in 2008 without the firm backing of the military. The Democrat Party government was just a “civilian front” for military rule.

At various red shirt rallies Taksin’s video links merely talked about himself and his problems, never offering a strategy to defeat anti-democratic forces.

After the Pua Thai election victory, the UDD redshirt leadership, which was closely allied to Pua Thai and Taksin, began to wind-down the red shirt movement. Then the second betrayal took place. Taksin suggested that there could be an amnesty for all those who killed red shirts. The amnesty would naturally include politicians like himself. It was noticeable that lèse-majesté prisoners, and people accused of lèse-majesté, were the only people who were not going to be covered by the amnesty. Pua Thai then proposed this as a law. The Democrat Party and the middle class reacted with fury because they did not want an amnesty for Taksin. But they never cared about an amnesty for killing unarmed civilians. Yingluk called an election and the military allowed the Democrat Party middle class yobs to wreck the election.

The military then saw its chance and stepped in with a coup d’état in May 2014.

The UDD leadership deliberately did nothing to mobilise against the military. Yingluk obediently went to report to the military when summoned to do so. Taksin said “wait”.

Now there is the third betrayal. Taksin and Pua Thai are saying that people should “cooperate” with the junta and its anti-reforms. No doubt Taksin and the Pua Thai politicians are hoping that some day they will be allowed back at the top table or feeding trough of the Thai elites. To hell with freedom and democracy!

The redshirts loved Taksin, but they also organised themselves to fight for democracy independently of him. Yet the issue of leadership was crucial. The grass-roots red shirt groups looked to the UDD for leadership. Not enough people organised themselves politically to win an alternative independent leadership. Now we are paying the price. The dictatorship will stay in power for a while and will leave behind an anti-democratic legacy, including a new antidemocratic constitution.

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A much needed debate starts among Thai NGOs

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Cracks are now starting to appear in the NGO movement which up until now has tended to support the anti-democratic forces of the yellow shirts and even welcomed the two military coups.

Witoon Lianchamroon has resigned from the national NGO Coordinating Committee (NGO COD), criticising it of lacking any real political position on the state of “Democracy”, “Justice” and “Participation” under the present junta. The North-eastern NGO COD has also criticised the national NGO body for failing to defend North-eastern NGO activists who have been summoned by the military for declaring that they will take no part in the military’s so-called reforms. At the same time local social movements of villagers have been threatened by the army for wanting to stage a march highlighting their problems. Some leaders have been arrested.

One week before this, Kingkorn Narintornkun Na Ayuttaya, a prominent NGO leader, wrote an open letter criticising fellow NGO activists who were taking part in the military junta’s anti-reforms.

All this debate is a welcome development in a movement where NGO elders usually stifled open political discussion and channelled political disagreements into personal conflicts.

Ever since the collapse of the Communist Party, the emerging NGOs tended to turn their backs on political theory and political organisation in an anarchistic fashion. They have also taken a position against “representative democracy” and government spending on welfare. This allowed them to join up with reactionary yellow shirts who were against the Taksin government. What is worse is that while formally “rejecting politics” they embraced neo-liberal economic and political theories without any criticism.

So when Kingkorn Narintornkun Na Ayuttaya criticised some NGO people for taking part in the junta’s anti-reforms, she still claimed that Taksin’s “Populist” policies were problematic, echoing the right wing critics of democracy. She also made the ridiculous claim that Taksin’s government was a “parliamentary dictatorship” because it held a large majority of elected seats in parliament. Both these false claims were used by the anti-democrats to destroy democracy and justify the military coups.

If a real debate and reassessment of the role of NGOs does actually take place it will be a very welcome development. But it will come to nothing if it remains in the confines of criticising “Populist” policies or “Representative Democracy”. It will also come to nothing if the NGOs fail to make a clear stand against the military dictatorship and the repressive lèse majesté law.

Taksin’s pro-poor policies which provided health care, created jobs and supported rice farmers and the urban poor, were long over-due in Thailand. But they were not nearly enough because he turned his back on progressive taxation of the rich and the building of a genuine welfare state. His government was also guilty of gross human rights abuses just like Abhisit’s government and the present military junta.

What is needed is more class politics; more discussion of socialism, and the building of an independent political party and political movement of the working class and small farmers. This means that the Red Shirts also need to open up a debate and reassess their politics.

What do we see when we compare the 6th October massacre with today’s crisis?

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

The 6th October 1976 massacre at Thammasart University in 1976 was an attempt by the Thai ruling class to crush the growing left-wing movement which had developed out of the successful uprising against the military dictatorship three years earlier.

An important point about the 1973-1976 movement was that democracy and economic equality could not be separated. The 1973 uprising was a protest movement against dictatorship, but also against the repressive neo-liberal policies of the military governments, when the rulers and elites enriched themselves while wages remained stagnant and rural development was almost non-existent. The events were closely tied up with workers’ strikes and protests by farmers. Students and workers supported the Communist Party (CPT) because it stood against both dictatorship and economic injustice.

The present political crisis and successions of military and judicial coups since 2006, is also a result of the revolt against economic inequality by the mass of the population. But it is a revolt in a different form. Since the collapse of the Communist Party, the Left has been too weak to articulate the frustrations of ordinary working people in the cities and villages. It was the big business tycoon Taksin who opened up a can of worms by proposing concrete policies to modernise the country after the 1996 economic crisis. These policies included a universal health care service and job creation schemes. Taksin declared that the majority of people who were poor were potential stake-holders, not a burden on society. The majority of the population responded with enthusiasm because the ruling class had previously made the poor pay for the crisis. Even when the economy was booming, wages never rose as fast as the vast profits made by businesses and the population were never given any respect by the elites. This alliance between Taksin and the electorate was intolerable to the conservatives, the military and the middle classes. The present dictatorship wants to roll back the free universal health care policy and make people pay for hospital treatment. It opposes wage rises to give people a living wage and it promotes the King’s ultra-right-wing Sufficiency Economy ideology.

Another important point when looking back to the 1970’s is the issue of organisation. The Communist Party set out to build a mass party based on its Stalinist/Maoist version of left-wing politics. When the party was defeated in the 1980s ex-members turned their backs on political organisation and conscious political theory. They rejected the need to seize state power. Some joined Taksin’s Thai Rak Thai party, some became NGOs and others became reactionary royalist business people or academics. The lessons of how to build a mass political party were lost. The red shirts built a mass movement for democracy, often from grass-roots level, but leadership was in the hands of the UDD who followed Taksin. Now that Taksin and Yingluk have capitulated to the military for their own ends, grass-roots red shirts are at a loss about how to fight the dictatorship.

A third important issue to consider when looking at the 6th October 1976 and today is the sheer brutality of the Thai ruling class. Since the 1970s, again and again, up to the massacre of red shirts by the army in 2010, the Thai ruling class has been prepared to drown any movement for freedom, democracy and economic equality in blood. That is their true nature. They commit violence against Thai people in order to protect their class interests. Yet some Western idiots still talk about how “Thais seek to avoid confrontation”.

The middle-classes backed the brutal dictatorship back in 1976, some standing around gloating as students were hung from trees and burnt alive. Today they back the dictatorship and have taken part in violent acts to prevent elections. They are happy to see pro-democracy activists incarcerated in prison.

The 6th October 1976 massacre, and the eventual defeat of the Communists ten years later, opened the door to a form of money politics based on the patron-client system. This only began to change after the 1992 uprising against another dictatorship, the 1996 economic crisis, the drafting of a new constitution and finally the creation of Thai Rak Thai.

Now the military, together with their reactionary friends wish to turn the clock back again with their anti-reforms.

No wonder that the junta and the reactionary university authorities have banned the annual commemorative events for the 6th October and banned all public seminars about democracy. They want to bury our history of struggle.

The roots of the Thai crisis

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

 It is insulting and patronising to see the present crisis as merely a dispute between two factions of the elite, just like a fight between supporters of two football teams, lacking any reasoned political arguments[1]. This is the point of view of some NGO activists who half supported the 2006 military coup and have said in the past that villagers who voted for Taksin’s party “lacked information”; a euphemism for “stupidity”.

It is also a lazy generalisation to argue that the Red Shirts are rural villagers from the north and north-east and that Sutep’s Yellow Shirt supporters are Bangkok residents.[2] The results from the 2011 general election showed that in the 33 Bangkok constituencies, the Democrat Party won 44.34% of the vote, while the Pua Thai Party won 40.72%. This shows that the Bangkok population is evenly split between Pua Thai and the Democrats and this is based on those who have house registrations in Bangkok. Thousands of rural migrant workers who work and reside permanently in Bangkok are registered to vote in their family villages. If they were registered where they actually live and work, Pua Thai might have achieved an overall majority in Bangkok. Many Red Shirt protests in the past have been made up of Bangkok residents.

The real division between the “Reds” and the “Yellows” in the current crisis is CLASS. There is a clear tendency for workers and poor to middle income farmers to support Pua Thai and the Red Shirts, irrespective of geographical location. This is because of Thai Rak Thai’s pro-poor policies of universal health care, job creation and support for rice farmers. In the provinces and in Bangkok, the middle classes and the elites tend to vote for the Democrats and want to reduce the democratic space and turn the clock back to pre-Thai Rak Thai times. Back in 1976 in Thailand, the middle class supported repression and dictatorship to destroy the Left. In the 1930s, the middle class were the back-bone of fascism in Europe.

But this is not just a simple class struggle. In fact, class struggle in the real world is seldom simple or pure. One way of understanding the “dialectical” relationship between Taksin and the Red Shirts is to see a kind of “parallel war” in the Red Shirt/UDD struggles against the conservative elites, where thousands of ordinary Red Shirts struggle for democracy, dignity and social justice, while Taksin and his political allies wage a very different campaign to regain the political influence that they had enjoyed before the 2006 coup d’état. However, at the same time, Taksin remains very popular with most Red Shirts.

Class is also very much connected to the roots of the long running Thai crisis. This political crisis is a result of an unintentional clash between the conservative way of operating in a parliamentary democracy and a more modern one. It came to a head with attempts by Taksin and his party to modernise Thai society so that the economy could become more competitive on a global level, especially after the 1996 Asian economic crisis.

Thai political leaders since the early 1970s had always adopted a laissez faire attitude to development, with minimal government planning, low wages, few trade union rights and an abdication of responsibility by governments to improve infrastructure. This strategy worked in the early years, but by the time of the 1996 Asian economic crisis it was becoming obvious that it was seriously failing.

In the first general election since the 1996 crisis, Taksin’s party put forward a raft of modernising and pro-poor policies, including the first ever universal health care scheme. Because the Democrat Party had told the unemployed to “go back to their villages and depend on their families, while spending state finances in securing the savings for the rich in failed banks, Taksin was able to say that his government would benefit everyone, not just the rich. Taksin’s Thai Rak Thai Party won the elections. The government was unique in being both popular and dynamic, with real policies, which were used to win the election and were then implemented afterwards. Previously, the old parties had just bought votes without any policies.

Taksin’s policies and his overwhelming electoral base came to challenge many elements of the old elite order, although this was not Taksin’s conscious aim at all. The Democrats lost the election. The military could not compete in terms of democratic legitimacy and support. The middle class started to resent the fact that the government was helping to raise the standard of living of workers and poor farmers.

Another military coup, or a rolling back of democracy by other means, will not make it easier to rule over the majority of the electorate who have been politicised and mobilised by the Red Shirt movement. A “compromise” between Sutep and the Pua Thai care-taker government would not be a step forward either. It would result in reducing the democratic space and reducing the power of the electorate.

[This article should be read in conjunction with my articles: There is no “crisis of succession” in Thailand http://links.org.au/node/3633 and “Thai Spring?” Paper given at the 5th Annual Nordic NIAS Council Conference, November 2011, Stockholm University, Sweden. http://www.scribd.com/doc/73908759/Thai-Spring ]

[1] Jon Ungpakorn “What is the real nature of hatred in Thai society” Prachatai 5th January 2014. http://www.prachatai.com/journal/2014/01/50958

[2] Duncan McCargo “The Last Gasp of Thai Paternalism”. New York Times, 19th December 2013. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/20/opinion/the-last-gasp-of-thai-paternalism.html?_r=0