Tag Archives: Thai political reforms

“Class” really does matter in Thai society

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

In previous blog post I argued that without solving the real contradictions between lives of most Thai citizens whose way of life has developed rapidly over many decades and an unchanged, outdated and conservative “Superstructure”, Thai society cannot escape from a vicious cycle of crisis and coups. I also argued that what is needed is concrete measures to modernise the country and to drastically decrease inequality between the poor majority and the rich elites.

Merely ignoring the root causes of the political crisis and hoping to “move on” will do nothing to solve these deep underlying problems. We also need to be clear that these are “class” problems. Those who deny the importance of class in Thai society cannot hope to get to grips with the problems.

So what kind of political and social reforms would go some way to solving the crisis?

First of all it is necessary to explain that such reforms would be resisted by the conservatives in the ruling class and among the middle classes, much as Taksin’s modernisation programme was resisted.

An important issue which needs to be tackled is the gross economic inequality between the life styles of the rich and the middle classes and the rest of the population. To deal with this Thailand needs to build a well-funded welfare state, funded by progressive taxation. This would give most citizens a sense of security and make them feel that they were stakeholders in society.

Naturally, higher rates of tax for the rich and large corporations would be vigorously resisted by those who stood to lose. But strong social movements could contain such resistance. According to the book “The Spirit Level”, by Kate Pickett and Richard G. Wilkinson, even the rich would eventually benefit from a more equal society, but in the meantime they would have to bow to public opinion.

Apart from constructing a welfare state, workers’ wages need to be raised to a level where they can enjoy a decent life, rather than living from hand to mouth on the inadequate minimum wage, as many are doing today. Strengthening trade union rights would also help to improve living standards and would be a natural part of democratisation.  Small farmers need help to manage and own their own land.

The infrastructure in Thailand needs large amounts of public investment in order to build safe and efficient public transport, both in the cities, but also between cities and the rural areas. This would lower the appalling rates of road accidents and help reduce global warming. Investment also needs to be made in renewable energy generation, especially solar energy. We should be mindful that the conservative judges opposed the Yingluk governments plan to upgrade the railways. They also helped to pave the way for Prayut’s military coup.

Apart from improving the material aspect of people’s lives, the huge inequalities in status between the rich and powerful and most working people have to be significantly reduced through a process of promoting “equal citizenship”. This would involve ended the enforced grovelling to people of higher status, including the royal family. A change in the use of language, especially pronouns, to encourage equality, is also necessary. Part of this process should also involve the removal of uniforms, especially those worn by teachers and civilian civil servants. Local people should also have the right to elect representatives to run schools, hospitals and manage natural resources.

Yes, this is a big “wish list” and would take hard struggle by social movements and radical political parties of the left for it to be achieved. But for those who really want to “move on” from the crisis, it is necessary to face up to the long hard tasks of reforming Thai society, rather than just ignoring them and hoping for some kind of abstract solution.

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Answering Generalissimo Prayut about democracy

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Recently the dictator Prayut addressed some arrogant and stupid questions to the Thai people about democracy. I shall try to answer them, although I am not convinced he would understand the answers.

  1. Do you think at the next election you will get a government committed to “Good Governance”?

Answer Well, whoever gets elected cannot be worse than the present government made up of uniformed bullies and thugs who have abolished the democratic rights of citizens through violence. This despicable government is headed by yourself, a mass murderer, who is responsible for the deaths of nearly a hundred pro-democracy demonstrators, who were shot in cold blood.

But on the question of “Good Governance”, this is a contested concept, with different people having different ideas about what it means, mainly depending on one’s social class or political perspective. It might come as a surprise to you that some puffed-up murdering general does not have a monopoly on defining “Good Governance”.

  1. If you don’t get a government committed to “Good Governance” what will you do?

Answer It may also be a new concept for you that there are democratic ways to protest against and even remove what the majority of folk regard as a “bad government”. This involves street protests, strikes and the building of mass movements. Those committed to democracy do not wish to call on some tin-pot generals to sort out their political problems for them, despite this being the preferred practice of the whistle-blowing middle classes.

  1. Elections are an important part of the democratic process, but is it enough to just have elections without considering the future of the country, political reform and the need for a national strategic plan?

Answer Free and fair elections are a fundamental part of democracy which you have sought to frustrate and abolish. But yes, just electing the government is not enough. We need to elect the Head of State, top judges, generals and CEOs of companies. Without such elections for all public offices, there is a danger of having an unelected king who is a moron and only interested in his own pleasure. Without electing judges and generals there is a risk of having a biased and unaccountable judiciary and military men who are megalomaniacs. Without electing those who make investment decisions we can only have half a democracy.

Your junta’s so-called reforms are merely an excuse to restrict the democratic space and pave the way for your dream of Guided Democracy.

Again, the question of what constitutes “reforms” and what is a good plan for the country depends on your class and political persuasion. The fact that you fail to grasp this basic democratic concept probably means that you are long over-due for an “Attitude Changing Session” in a boot camp run by democratic citizens.

  1. Do you think that “bad” politicians should have the right to stand for elections and if they get elected who will step in to solve the problem?

Answer One thing is clear. Murdering military men who stage coups and have no respect for the democratic rights of citizens and who use their power to line their own pockets should never be allowed to run the country. Unfortunately that is the exact description of your junta. The fact that you claim to be a “good person” merely reinforces the fact that the definition of good and bad politicians depends on where you stand. These things need to be debated openly so that the mature and thoughtful citizens of this country can consider who they want in government and if they are disappointed with those they elect, they can throw them out and elect someone else. The last thing we need is for some egotistical military thugs to shoot their way into office, claiming that they are “saving the country”!!

Powerful idiots like Prayut are not used to the ideas of freedom and democracy, having grown-up in a military bubble. But if he is so cock-sure of himself, why doesn’t he stand in a free and fair election?

NGOs: fawning political cretins

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

While pro-democracy activists are being detained, threatened and jailed by this vicious military junta and while brave activists organise to defeat military rule, Thai NGOs have become fawning political cretins.

The latest declaration by the Northern NGO Coordinating Committee on Development (NGO-COD-North) “demands” that the necessary political reforms, which will take place under the junta “must” emphasise mass participation and seek to reduce inequality and build social justice. This, according to these NGO idiots, “must” take place irrespective of who controls state power!!

Laughed my arse off!!!!!!!!!!!!

Not one word condemning the coup, the junta or the destruction of human rights.

Do these NGO political cretins really think that any military dictatorship is about creating freedom of expression, mass participation and equality? People are being arrested for reading books in public, eating sandwiches, staging peaceful flash-mobs or even posting anti-coup messages on Facebook. Gatherings of more than five people are illegal. Elections have been postponed indefinitely.

This is “lobby politics” at its most naïve and mindless level.

What accounts for this vacuum in political intelligence among the NGOs?

The NGOs have systematically supported the military and the anti-democratic middle class mobs since 2006. They hate Taksin because he won the hearts and minds of the poor by using state funds to make real improvements to peoples’ lives. He was doing the NGOs out of a job. That is partly why they believe that a coup, which ends democracy, can bring about political “reforms”. They share this view with Sutep’s anti-democratic mob. In practice this means supporting anti-reforms.

Since their creation in Thailand after the collapse of the Communist Party, the NGOs have turned their backs on the idea of the majority of the people seizing state power from the elites. They have shunned the building of political parties and are fiercely opposed to “representative democracy”. In Thailand these autonomist or anarchist views have travelled to their hopeless and logical conclusion. They despise the majority of the population who voted for Taksin’s parties. They refused to build a political alternative to Taksin’s pro-business policies such as privatisation and they failed to oppose his abuse of human rights in Patani and the war on drugs. So they turn to even more dictatorial powers like the military.

Finally, their rejection of big picture politics and concentration on single issues means that they have de-brained themselves of political wisdom. They close their eyes to reality. They now embrace “lobby politics” approaching and pleading with “who so-ever controls state power”, whether they are a democratically elected government or a military junta.

The pathetic reality is that the military don’t give a damn about the NGOs or their demands. This was obvious from the failed lobbying of the junta by the NGOs back in 2006. But they return to lobby the military again today, like dogs who returning to their masters who constantly kick them in the face.

Let’s Talk about Political Reform(3): Independent bodies the ugly myths!

Numnual  Yapparat

(Please see the new updated at the end of this article)

Lots of problems are getting out of hand at the moment because we let those so-called “independent bodies” exercise too much power. The worst examples of Thai independent bodies are the constitutional court, the election commission and the half of the senate which is appointed by the elites. Every time when I hear people calling for an “independent body” to sort out the current crisis I feel sick to the bottom of my stomach.

People who are operating such organisations have never been elected to their posts. They are all appointed by the military or the elites. Therefore, the entire concept of having so-called “independent bodies” is to restrict the democratic process. Put simply, those who support the idea of these bodies do not respect the electorate and do not respect democracy. These so-called “independent bodies” are never accountable to the public.

Independent bodies should be abolished. If we need “checks and balances” this should be done by elected representatives who are chosen in a different way to parliament. Elected judges and regional representatives are one choice. The use of referendums should be expanded.

In reality, the independent bodies are not independent at all. They sit at the heart of elite and corporate interests.

“The constitutional court” over-stepped its power by vetoing the economic policy of an elected government and an elected parliament. They claimed that a proposed high speed rail link was unconstitutional. Thailand desperately needs infrastructure investment. They also ruled that it was “unconstitutional” for parliament to propose an amendment to the constitution to make sure that all senators would be elected. Now they are trying to help their friends in the election commission to cheat the electoral process by postponing the election day. Of course they support Sutep’s mob.

“The election commission” is trying to postpone the election by mounting pressure on government.  In the past, it declared the 2006 election to be null and void because the ballot boxes were “the wrong way round”. This was a convenient excuse to legitimise the military coup. The duty of the election commission is to organise a clean and fair election. Yet they are now doing the opposite, bowing to the wishes of Sutep’s gangsters.

The extreme neo-liberal Thailand Development Research Institute (TDRI) constantly calls for unelected economists to curb government spending that is beneficial to the poor. There is never a peep out of them about the astronomical levels of military spending or spending on state ceremonies.

“The human rights commission” has proved itself again and again to be useless. It has never protected the Red Shirts even when they were gunned down in the streets of Bangkok by the military and the Democrats. It has never protected the human rights of political prisoners who are charged with Lèse Majesté. When Sutep’s mob come out and use violence on the streets, it urgently issued statements to demand that the government must not use violence against protesters. It seems that human rights are reserved only for those who are members of the elites; the democrats and their supporters. The human rights commission remained silent abot the coup in 2006. Now they are supporting Sutep’s mob.

For genuine political reform, we need to cut through the ugly myths about “independent bodies”.

Latest crimes of the Constitutional Court:

The court ruling of 24th January stated that it was OK to postpone the 2nd February election. The court is working in tandem with the Election Commission to wreck the election and make sure that when an election is eventually held, it will be fixed to reduce the voting value of the majority. These  are the same aims as the Sutep mob.

Let’s talk about political reform (2): Scrap Lèse Majesté

Numnual  Yapparat

We are writing a series about political reform where we will focus on the main areas that need to be reformed to serve the interests of the majority.

I have written articles about the justice system and why it desperately needs to be changed. You can find those articles in this blog. The law that has been used to bully people who think differently from people in the power is “Lèse Majesté”. This is the ugliest law in Thailand because anyone can be a victim. The most progressive part of the pro-democracy movement has been advocating abolishing or reforming the law. But, Pua Thai and the parties that are participating in the coming election, do not want to touch “Lèse Majesté”. If we are to achieve full democracy we seriously need to scrap this law.

Lèse Majesté is a political law designed to restrict freedom of expression and the ability of citizens to criticise or check the power of those in public positions. The law protects the elites, especially the military.

There are several political prisoners sentenced to jail for decades, especially those who are charged with “Lèse Majesté”.  The only way to get released is to admit guilt. Somyot Prueksakasemsuk has refused to admit guilt. He has done nothing wrong. He has told stories about the conditions in jail. The prisoners have to wear chains on both legs which weigh 5 kg. The prisoners have to clean the chains regularly otherwise they go rusty and people’s legs become infected. It will leave a nasty scar on prisoners’ bodies for life.  Somyot found the clinking of the chains, every time he tried to walk, very depressing. Standard practices in jail are mainly designed to reduce the humanity of prisoners. If you are in jail you are treated like an animal.

According to Somyot, the court hearing processes have been designed to intimidate defendants. The judges have unlimited power. The justice system is long overdue for reform. Thailand needs a jury system and we need the right to criticise judges. At present they are protected against any criticism by their own version of lèse majesté.

Today Somyot wrote about political reform. He said only idiots would believe that real political reform would come from Sutep’s mob. He reminded us that the Democrat Party is a party that has a long record of opposing reforms such as decentralisation, labour rights and the establishment of a social security fund.

Somyot ended his article with the statement: “Since ivory cannot emerge from a dog’s mouth, so political reform can never grow out of the protests of the political scum who are trying to shutdown Bangkok and lead Thailand to the edge of  catastrophe”.

Reform will be meaningless if it does not result in Somyot’s freedom.

Sutep’s mob starts to lose momentum. But what about political reform?

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

For months now Sutep’s violent and anti-democratic mobs have tried their best to frustrate the functioning of the democratically elected government and prevent a general election from taking place. They surrounded offices where election candidates were trying to register, occupied government ministries, attacked police with guns and tried to “shut down Bangkok”. Recently they tried to occupy the government printing press which was printing ballot papers. But so far they have failed in their aims. The military has not obliged the protesters by staging a coup, Yingluk is still the care-taker Prime Minister and the election seems set to take place on 2nd February, at least in most provinces, including Bangkok. The hands-off approach of the government seems to be paying off in this war of attrition.

Sutep and his gang are not without powerful supporters. Many big business owners, including those from S&P and Sing Beer, have been seen supporting the protesters and one of the princesses has even worn the red white and blue colours associated with them. Rectors of all the universities, top civil servants and some sections of the electoral commission have given them support too. But the military is still sitting on its hands, refusing to stage a coup or to help the government by making sure that the election takes place.

What makes it different from the situation in 2006, when Yellow Shirts helped pave the way for a military coup, is that some military leaders know that a coup will achieve nothing to their benefit. It would only work if a long-lasting and brutal dictatorship was installed. More importantly, unlike 2006, there is a Red Shirt mass movement which is determined to defend democracy and even the academics and NGO activists who welcomed the 2006 coup are now wary of appearing to support the destruction of democracy. This is because the 2006 coup and the shooting of nearly 90 pro-democracy demonstrators in 2010 did nothing to dampen the enthusiasm of the electorate for Taksin’s Pua Thai Party and it was obvious to anyone who cared to look at the facts that people were voting for pro-poor policies.

Pro-democracy candle-light protests have now been taking place throughout the country. On these protests people are demanding that their vote be respected. They are also calling for an end to the violence. The significance is that large gatherings of these people, equalling those of Sutep’s mob, have taken place in Bangkok in recent days. Most residents of the capital city are sick and tired of what is going on.

Sutep’s mob have been suffering sporadic and isolated gun and grenade attacks by unknown assailants. The only thing we can say for certain is that this will act as a disincentive to middle class people to attend his protests. Many of the hard-core protesters are southerners, part of the Democrat Party’s patron-client network. Sutep seems to be redirecting his efforts to his southern home base, calling for people to occupy government offices in his fiefdom provinces while his “Shut Down Bangkok” strategy falls apart.

It should be noted that in the deep-south Muslim Malay provinces, the locals are not supporting Sutep.

It would be mere rumour-mongering to try to indicate who is behind the attacks on Sutep’s mob. There are many possibilities. It might be frustrated Red Shirts. It might be elements in the military who want to trigger a coup. Or it might be rogue Sutep supporters who want to rejuvenate the anger of their movement and also trigger a coup. But as yet there is not a shred of evidence to back any one of these possibilities.

It would be wrong to believe that we are seeing the beginning of the end to the crisis. If the election takes place in all provinces, except in the Democrat’s southern back yard, there will not be enough MPs, according to election law, to be able to open parliament and elect a government. The stale-mate will continue and any political accident can occur.

 

Political Reform

Much is being said about the need for political reform. Those who want reform to take place before an election are merely calling for the rules to be changed so that a conservative minority can dominate politics instead of Pua Thai. Their so-called reforms would shrink the democratic space.

But it is worrying that the government and many people who support democratic elections are just happy to have elite-driven “reforms” which merely scratch the surface.

For political reform to mean anything other than the partial destruction of democracy, it must be a process involving the majority of the population, not just elite experts and those in high places. It must aim to increase elections, not just for all senators, but also for those in charge of public enterprises, security forces, the judiciary, local schools and local hospitals. It must include the abolition of the lèse majesté law, the contempt of court law and the computer crimes law. These are all laws which censor dissenting voices. Reform should also tackle the problems of so-called “independent bodies”, such as the electoral commission, the human rights commission and the anti-corruption commission, which are stacked with right-wing conservatives. The whole concept of needing “independent bodies” to restrict the democratic wishes of the majority needs to be challenged.

Political reform should also aim to reduce inequality by building a welfare state and it should encourage the development of efficient infrastructure which does not harm the environment. High-speed trains and electricity generation from sunlight and wind would be important components of this. Such projects would also create jobs. We need education reform to move away from authoritarian teaching and learning by rote. We need to humanise the prison system and reduce the prison population.

Political reform will be meaningless without reducing the power and influence of the military, both in politics, the media and in state enterprises. Soldiers who stage coups and kill protesters should be brought to justice. A jury system should be introduced to democratise the courts. The military constitution of 2007 needs to be abolished and we need to make sure that a future constitution does not enforce free-market neo-liberal economic policies or the Sufficiency Economy, as the 2007 constitution does.

But you would be hard-pressed to hear any of these proposals among the present chatter about political reform in Thailand.

This article should be read along-side 2 other articles:

There is no “crisis of succession” in Thailand

The Democrat Party is a party of Old Political Patronage

 

What would a genuine Peoples’ Revolution look like?

Numnual Yapparat

 Most Thai people are obsessed with politics at the moment. The Democrats are intensifying their political fight and calling it a so-called “Peoples’ Revolution”. Interestingly, if you travel by taxi you might hear the driver’s opinion that they want a “Nepal Revolution Model”. In other words they want to get rid of the monarchy.

Sutep and his gang have named yet another “day of big action” on 13th of January. They want to shut down Bangkok and other major provinces. Sutep commanded his followers to be very well prepared because “it might take a few days before gaining a glorious victory”.  The megalomaniac added: “My dearest people, we are going to shut down Bangkok at 9.00 am and then we will fight until we reach our gaol….when we control absolute power, we are going to set up a Peoples’ Government and a Peoples’  Parliament so that we can start the process of reform. We shall amend the election laws. After finishing our mission, we shall just go back home and wait and see the finished look of the reforms.”

Since Sutep speaks in a southern dialect, it is necessary to translate a little bit. What he meant was that his goal of “reforms” is to ensure that the Democrats always win future elections against the wishes of the “uneducated” majority of citizens.

The Red Shirt UDD leadership also called for the Red Shirts to be in “alert mode” and to listen for any announcements from the UDD. Jatuporn Prompan said that “If someone wants to shut down our country, then we want to open it.” He said that the Red Shirts might demonstrate on the same day in order to protect democracy.

What would a Peoples’ Revolution look like? The nearest thing to a Peoples’ Revolution in Thailand happened in 1932 when the absolute monarchy was overthrown by the “Kana-Rasadorn”.

In their famous first statement, they declared that “we, the people are equal and everybody is under the constitution”. In the statement they also exposed and criticised the king’s lavish lifestyle while ordinary citizens lived in poverty. They said that the royals extracted wealth on the backs of the majority. Nowadays, mainstream media, both television and print, do not dare to discuss this statement because of the lèse majesté law.

However, the “Kana-Rasadorn” did not really stage a Peoples’ Revolution since it was an elite civilian and military action. It was, however, supported by ordinary people. What Sutep is suggesting is a fascist-style coup where the only “people” that count are the elites and the middle-classes. A real Peoples’ Revolution would place workers and peasants in power, something which even Pua Thai would never be prepared to consider. Yingluk has recently suggested that a reform committee be set up, headed by military generals, conservative bureaucrats and business leaders.