Tag Archives: Thai politics

Anek Laotamatat and middle-class support for dictatorship

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Anek Laotamatat made a name for himself in supporting the flawed mainstream idea that the Thai middle-class was key to building democracy. His paper on the 1992 uprising against the military sang the praises of the key role of the middle-classes, despite the fact that there was evidence of a much more complicated class makeup of the demonstrators. [See also https://bit.ly/1HFxyLM and https://bit.ly/2QQBxk2  ]

On Christmas day 2018, Anek made a confession on Thai PBS TV that when he looked back to the 1973 uprising against the Tanom dictatorship, if he had known what he knew now about how “bad” the democratic electoral system really was, he would have supported the continuation of the Tanom regime. He is now firmly in the camp of those who want to see Generalissimo Prayut and his junta cling on to power after the so-called elections next month.

In many ways, Anek’s political trajectory mirrors that of the Thai middle-classes and one could say that his book “The Tale of Two Democratic Cities”, provides the theoretical justification for Prayut’s system of Guided Democracy.

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Anek with political ally Sutep

It is worth reminding ourselves about the political career of Anek Laotamatas through being a former supporter of the Maoist Communist Party, to becoming an academic and finally ending up as an anti-democratic politician.

On 12th April 2016 the blood-stained Generalissimo Prayut admitted that he did not trust the Thai people to elect a “good” government. This was his justification for the military constitution which restricts the power of any democratically elected governments in the future. It was also the justification for the 2006 and 2014 military coups. Military coups in Thailand have the support of liberal, right-wing, academics in Thailand.

Liberal academics in Thailand believe that Taksin cheated in elections by “tricking or buying the ignorant rural poor”. For them the rural poor were trapped in a patron-client system. The person who mapped out this view most clearly was Anek Laotamatat in his 1995 book: “The Tale of Two Democratic Cities”.

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Anek Laotamatat’s book attempted to claim that the major divide in Thai democratic society was between the rural and urban areas. These were the “two democratic cities” of Thai politics. According to Anek, the divide was not just geographical but it was an issue of class too. In his view, the rural electorate were mainly small farmers and the urban electorate were “middle-class”.

The overwhelming dominance of the rural electorate in various constituencies meant that they had the voting power to elect governments. Anek claimed that these governments were mainly corrupt and deeply involved in money politics. In Anek’s view, the rural people voted for these politicians because they were “patrons” of the poor who had to prove themselves by their work record of helping local communities. Vote buying was a ceremonial part of this “patron-client” relationship and not seen as “wrong” by the rural voters. Anek believed that rural people did not vote by using “independent thought” about political policies, but were bound by ties of obligation to their patrons.

For Anek, the urban middle-classes were well educated and chose their governments and politicians using independent thought and a strong sense of “political morality”. They cast their votes after carefully considering the policies of various parties, and when the governments which were chosen by the rural poor turned out to be corrupt and immoral, they took part in street demonstrations to bring those governments down.

This was an inaccurate and extremely patronising view of Thai political society. The Thai middle-classes have a history of political opportunism, sometimes supporting barbaric acts and repressive regimes, like the 1976 massacre, the present military junta, and the cold-blooded murder of red shirt demonstrators by the military. The middle-classes also sometimes oppose military dictatorships, such as in 1992. Marxists have long defined the middle-classes as fickle and cowardly, bending with the wind according to strong political currents either from above or from below. Today the Thai middle-classes are firmly in the camp of the dictatorship.

The present anti-democratic position of the middle-classes is based on strong currents from the conservative elites to ditch democracy because it gave “too much” power to Taksin and “too much” benefit to ordinary working people in urban and rural areas. Their so-called “anti-corruption” crusade has helped place the military in power. The military is one of the most corrupt institutions in Thailand. Not only this, the main political leader of the anti-corruption crusade, which opened the door to military rule, Sutep Tueksuban, is a longstanding and classical old-style politician of the Democrat Party which uses pure “patronage” and corruption to maintain votes in the south of Thailand. This is because the party has never had any real policies.

Interestingly, Anek’s solution to the problem of political patronage, which he claimed resulted in corrupt politicians being elected from rural areas, was to get the state to increase rural development projects so that these areas became more urban-like and linked into the capitalist market through technological advances. Equally important, in his view, was the need for political parties to develop clear policies and propose new solutions. The book was written before Taksin’s Thai Rak Thai Party was ever established and it appears that TRT, Knowingly or unknowingly, followed all the major points put forward in the book for developing Thai politics. Not only was TRT the only party for over two decades to take the issue of party policies seriously, the party took a keen interest in winning votes from the rural and urban poor on the basis of such policies. The 30 baht Universal Health Care Scheme was typical. The Taksin Government then proceeded to actually honour its election promises and use state funds to develop rural areas so that they could be linked to the world market. The Village Funds and “One Tambon One Product” (O.T.O.P.) are a good examples. In short, rural voters started to vote for clear pro-poor policies, while reducing their personal attachment to local political patrons or bosses.

This is supported by the work of Australian anthropologist Andrew Walker who found that rural voters were carefully weighing up policies of various parties at election time.

Yet during the Yellow Shirt PAD campaign against Taksin before the 2006 coup, liberal academics and some social activists often quoted Anek’s book to “prove” that the rural poor were too stupid to understand democracy and that they were tied into Taksin’s new “patron-client system” via TRT’s populist policies. This was reinforced by Anek himself, who claimed, in a later book that TRT had built a new patron-client system and that this showed that Thailand could never have fully functioning democracy.

The very concept of a “patron-client system” is not about a political party which offers populist policies to the entire national electorate, carries them out and then gets overwhelmingly re-elected on a national ballot. Political patron-client systems are about individual relationships between a local political boss and the boss’s constituents. The relationship results in preferential treatment for some. It is pure nonsense to state that TRT was building a new strong patron-client system in the countryside on a national level. For those who genuinely believe in democracy, governments and political parties ought to carry out policies which the people want.

Anek Laotamatat went on to promote the idea of “Asia Values” in his attempt to justify the military regime. He argued that Thailand needed a “mixed” system where elected governments share power with the King and Thai Rak Thai Populism is replaced by “Third Way” social welfare. Anek was an ardent admirer of the British academic Anthony Giddens, favourite of Tony Blair.

The reality in Thailand is that the “two democratic cities” are made up, on one side, of the elites and middle-classes who hate democracy when it threatens their privileges, and on the other side, the urban and rural working people who cherish freedom and democracy because it is in their class interests to do so. It is the middle-classes who rely on the patronage of the military strongmen, the monarchy and conservative political Big Shots in order to protect the “old ways” which created the unequal society which we see today in Thailand.

Further reading:

 

“A Tale of Two Democracies: Conflicting Perceptions of Elections and Democracy in Thailand.” By Anek Laothamatas. In: The Politics of Elections in Southeast Asia. Edited by R. H. Taylor. Cambridge University Press, 1996.

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Monument Wars #2

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

In 2017 I wrote an article about “Monument Wars” after the disappearance of the metal plaque celebrating the 1932 revolution against the king. The latest casualty is the Lak-Si Democracy Monument, north of Bangkok, which commemorates the military victory against the Boworadet royalist rebellion one year after the revolution. This monument was removed at night, under the watchful eyes of soldiers, in late December. A democracy activist who took pictures of the removal on his phone had his phone confiscated for 24 hours by police.

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The history of the crushing of the royalist rebellion shows why the royalists wish to destroy the monument. In 1932 Prince Boworadet assembled rebel soldiers at Korat ready to move down by train to attack Bangkok and restore the power of the monarchy. The royalists spread propaganda that the government, and especially Pridi Panomyong, were communists who wanted to establish a republic. The rebels planned to assassinate leaders of the People’s Party when they entered Bangkok.

As soon as news of the royalist rebellion reached Bangkok, many citizens volunteered to form an army to fight off the rebellion and defend the constitution. Military reservists started reporting for duty even though the government had not yet issued any orders to report. Civilians also volunteered to help the police in intelligence gathering about those involved with the royalist rebellion. Boy scouts reported for duty to help keep the peace in the capital city and they also played an important role in supplying government troops with ammunition and other essentials. Trade unionists were prominent in volunteering to fight against the rebellion. Workers from munitions factories, aircraft maintenance workers, Siam Cement workers, boatmen, taxi drivers and railway maintenance workers at the Makasan repair shop, all expressed enthusiasm to join the fight against the royalists. This fight ended in defeat for the royalists and forever ended their dreams of restoring the absolute monarchy. [See https://bit.ly/2uXDfAT ].

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Historians have described the importance of monuments in modern day to day political struggles. This is part of what Gramsci would have called “the War of Position”. It is an ideological war between different sides or classes. The recent disappearance of the metal plaque celebrating the 1932 revolution and the removal of the Lak Si monument are part of this war.

The fact that these monuments were removed while leading members of the junta and various authorities all deny knowledge or responsibility, raises some interesting questions. Those who have questioned these acts have been harassed by the police and military.

A study of the works of Thai historians shows that the Democracy Monument, in the centre of Bangkok, is also part of the continuing Monument War. The Democracy Monument was in fact built by the military dictator Pibun in the 1930s as an anti-royalist monument. Pibun was a nationalist republican who favoured dictatorship over democracy. The monument was built in the middle of the “King’s Avenue”, a bit like giving the “middle finger” to the monarchy. It is worth visiting this monument to look at the modernist imagery which does not contain a single reference to the monarchy.

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The Democracy Monument in Bangkok is interesting because it shows that through popular struggle the meaning of monuments can change. Ever since the days of the royalist dictator Sarit, who overthrew Pibun, Thai citizens have seen this monument as a symbol of democracy. So far no dictatorship has ever dared to demolish it because of the strength of the democratic ideology among Thai people.

When Sarit came to power, he promoted King Pumipon in order to give himself more legitimacy and power. He never had any intention of giving Pumipon any power and Pumipon was never powerful. We need to remember that “political power” is concrete. It determines social and economic policies and international relations. Neither Pumipon nor his idiot son have or have ever had this kind of power.

Conservatives have constantly tried to cover up and dismiss the history of the 1932 revolution. That is why most Thais probably have never heard of the 1932 plaque or the Lak-Si monument. That is also why the conservatives built the moment of the deposed king Rama 7 in front of the present parliament after the 6th October bloodbath in 1976. It is like building a monument to King George in front of the US Congress!

In this Monument War, the progressives have fought back by building monuments to those who were killed by the military in 1973 and 1976. The latter monument is inside Thammasart University, which is also the location for a monument to Pridi Panomyong, founder of the People’s Party and a key leader of the 1932 revolution.

This is truly a “Monument War” in Thailand’s War of Position.

The flawed Thai elections

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Given that elections are due to be held in early 2019, it is worth looking at the extent to which these elections will actually be democratic, the junta’s plans for the future, and the nature of some of the new political actors which are likely to contest the election.

The elections were due for 24th February 2019, but there are strong indications that it may be postponed. The pathetic excuse is that it clashes with Wachiralongkorn’s coronation.

In the years following Prayut’s military coup, the junta have been building a future “Guided Democracy” system under their control. Important elements of this consist of the “National 20 Year Strategy” and various junta-appointed bodies, all designed to fix elections, restrict activities of political parties and control the actions and policies of any future governments.

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Prayut’s election poster

At the same time, as we turn the page towards 2019, Generalissimo Prayut and his junta remain in power with Prayut still ruling by decree using article 44 to dictate the rules of the election. It is increasingly likely that he will be a candidate for Prime Minister if the military party, Palang Pracharat, manage to gain enough parliamentary seats to combine with the votes of the military appointed senate. Prayut and his cronies have been using their positions to electioneer while pro-democracy parties have had their activities restricted. This includes visits to the provinces and promising benefits to the electorate in a “pork barrel” political manner. In one ridiculous incident a poster was erected showing Prayut shaking hands with Britain’s embattled and weak Prime Minister, Theresa May! In addition to this, Palang Pracharat has been accused of illegally raising funds by getting government agencies to buy places at a fund-raising banquet.

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The junta’s Road Map towards “Guided Democracy” and its backward conservative “National Strategy” have been of little concern to the new king. Wachiralongkorn has never expressed any opinions about this road map and he has no interest in such important matters of State. Wachiralongkorn is certainly an odious creature; selfish, nasty and lacking in any respect for others, especially women. But everything that he has done over the last year has been about himself and his quest for pleasure and riches at the expense of the Thai public. [See http://bit.ly/2l63Z1I  ]

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Obsession with the monarchy merely diverts attention away from the real democratic tasks ahead.

The real show in town is the continued grip on power of the military and how the policies of the junta are affecting democracy, human rights, social policy and the state of the economy. The junta represent the conservative, authoritarian, neo-liberal wing of the Thai ruling class. They are dead against rapid modernisation of society, any steps towards basic empowerment of citizens and the use of state funds to address economic inequality. They rely on the support of the anti-democratic middle-classes. This is at the core of their disagreement with Taksin and his allies. They are also totally opposed to young people becoming more politically engaged and to any notions of justice.

I have brought together some of my blog posts from “Ugly Truth Thailand” which go some way towards explaining the present situation. The posts are divided into 3 sections: Guided Democracy, The Political Parties and Dealing with the Military. The collection can be read on my Academia page [See https://bit.ly/2QMrGf9 ].

The coming elections will not solve the long-running political crisis, but they are a chapter in the struggle for democracy, if only because the results will be a kind of referendum on the popularity of the junta. The holding of the elections also shows that the military junta know that they cannot rule by diktat for ever. They have been forced to make some concessions. But these concessions are not enough. There will not be democracy unless the legacy of the junta, including the constitution and the 20 year national strategy are scrapped. Freedom of expression will not exist unless the lèse-majesté law is abolished, but none of the political parties have called for this reform. Participatory democracy will not exist unless something drastic is done about Thailand’s gross inequality. Some pro-democracy parties are mentioning a welfare state in their policies but details are lacking and there are no serious suggestions for a super-tax on the super-rich, including the monarchy.

To break the legacy of the military intervention in politics we need a strong mass movement outside parliamentary politics and we need political parties of the left and the working class. Unfortunately these vital ingredients are yet to materialise.

 

Gender Politics and Thailand’s Political Parties

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Gender politics has always taken a back seat among the policies of Thailand’s political parties. This is because of the weakness of gender social movements and the weakness of the left.

Mainstream pro-democracy parties like Pua Thai (and its sister party “Thai Raksa Chart”) pay lip service to gender equality, but there is little concrete detail about any policies. The Future Forward Party and the Thai Pua Chart Party (another sister party of Pua Thai!) say that there needs to be changes to existing laws. But they tend to add that the issue of gender rights is “sensitive” in society, thus providing themselves with a get out clause. Many parties also admit that there is internal disagreement within the party over gender rights. [See Prachatai https://bit.ly/2DYsbuU ]. Importantly, most parties are not prepared to agitate among the population to achieve changes in people’s attitudes. They prefer to emphasise the need to win votes and follow existing attitudes in society.

This is not surprising, since in capitalist society, progress on gender rights is the result of campaigns by social movements, trade unions and the left and not due to any innate pro-gender rights ideology among main stream parties of the right. Worldwide, increases in women’s participation in the workforce has resulted in greater confidence among women to demand more rights and this has spilled over into the LGBT movement. At the same time, capitalism still requires women to carry out unpaid family work and this is the source of conservative family values which go against gender rights. There is always a tension between these two factors. Thailand is no exception.

Increased participation by women in the workplace has resulted in trade unions pushing for maternity leave, child care and abortion rights. But the women’s movement is very weak and dominated by middle-class women who are only interested in equality for women in managerial and elite political roles. Many members of the women’s movement also supported the destruction of democracy.

Thailand, along with other South-East Asian societies, has a long history of transgender people being tolerated, though not respected. There have never been any law which criminalise gay men, lesbians or transgender people. The LGBT movement tended to grow out of NGO activity.

LGBT activists have been commenting on the draft bill on Civil Partnerships which was initiated under the Yingluk government before Prayut’s military coup. Recently the BBC Thai website published a discussion about this [see https://bbc.in/2P5xn1T ].

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Photo by WASAWAT LUKHARANG/BBC THAI

Although LGBT activist say that this draft bill is a step forward, many say it does not go far enough. This is because Civil Partnership gives less rights to the partners than marriage between men and women. For example, there is no provision for adoption of children, tax reduction,  or the use of a partner’s surname. One activist suggested that the way to solve this problem is to change the marriage law and make it concerned with marriage between “people” rather than just men and women.

Transgender and non-binary activists also criticise the draft law for doing nothing to improve the rights of transgender and non-binary people. They have no choice regarding their gender preferences and no rights as transgender and non-binary people.

The weakness of the LGBT movement is reflected in their use of many English terms. Given that ordinary people hardly speak any English, their activism is rooted among the middle-classes, leaving working class people unorganised. This needs to be addressed.

What is needed is a socialist party of the working class which would campaign on concrete gender issues such as LGBT rights to marry or have children and to choose their own gender classifications, including the right not to be classified. Such a party would also have to campaign for abortion rights and state subsidised child care. These gender issues need to be linked to other demands in society such as the demand for real democratic rights, freedom of expression, the right to self-determination for the people of Patani and labour rights. This could be done by building mass social movements and linking them up in solidarity networks. Yet the political parties which will be taking part in the next election have no such agenda.

Thailand’s appalling record on migrants, refugees and asylum seekers

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

While all those who believe in basic human rights are appalled by the racist anti-refugee policies of Donald Trump in the USA and similar policies in the European Union, where over 9 thousand people have drowned in the Mediterranean since 2016, it is worth also looking at Thailand’s appalling record on this subject.

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Amnesty International issued a report in September 2018 which outlined abuses committed by the Thailand’s military government [see https://bit.ly/2BBLc4O ]. These included the arrest in August 2018 of nearly 200 asylum seekers and refugees, which included persecuted minorities from Cambodia and Vietnam. There were 63 children and two pregnant women included in this number and many had UNHCR recognised refugee status. Children were separated from their parents. Some were transferred to the notoriously over-crowded Suan Plu Immigration Detention Centre in Bangkok, where there is a lack of medical assistance and poor sanitary conditions. Many others were taken to court and ended up in jail.

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Thailand’s governments have refused to sign the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 protocol. This means that asylum seekers and refugees are treated as illegal migrants and face deportation back to countries where there is a grave danger of them being subjected to violence and persecution. Dissidents from Turkey, Cambodia and China have been sent back to face imprisonment and worse.

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Rath Rott Mony

In February 2018, Sam Sokha, a Cambodian political dissident was forcibly sent back to Cambodia and then imprisoned despite being recognised as a refugee by UNHCR. This week the Thai junta arrested construction union activist Rath Rott Mony while he was trying to claim asylum at a Dutch visa office. His so-called “crime” was to be involved in making a documentary exposing sex trafficking in Cambodia.

Chinese activists Jiang Yefei and Dong Guangping were deported to China in November 2015 as they awaited resettlement as refugees. In China they were sentenced to six and a half years and three and a half years in jail, respectively.

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In 2015 more than 100 Muslim Uighurs, who are persecuted in China, were sent back, sparking an outcry from human rights groups. Understandably, Uighurs living in Turkey responded angrily by smashing windows at the Thai consulate in Istanbul.

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Hakeem al-Araibi

One of the latest outrages concerns Hakeem al-Araibi, a political refugee from Bahrain who has refugee status in Australia. He was arrested by Thai police as he traveled to spend a holiday in Thailand. The junta are threatening to send him back to Bahrain, where he faces torture. The Australian government are complicit in his arrest in Thailand. The New York Times wrote that his case is a window into how vulnerable foreigners are treated in Thailand, a country with a history of deporting asylum seekers. [See https://nyti.ms/2RN0JnK ].

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Nearly 130,000 refugees have crossed the border from Burma, seeking to flee violence and persecution. Those refugees who are allowed to stay in Thailand do not have access to healthcare, employment, education or any government support. They are confined to refugee camps without the right to leave the camps. Those desperate enough to seek employment are easy prey to abuse by employers because they are deemed to be “illegal”. The military and the Internal Security Operations Command have a record of pushing back desperate Rohingya refugees who arrive by boat.

Migrant workers from Burma, Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam are vulnerable to physical abuses, indefinite detention, and extortion by Thai authorities. Recently 14 Burmese migrant workers were brought to court on criminal defamation charges after they filed a complaint with the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand alleging that their employer had violated their rights. [Further reading https://bit.ly/2vNcwry ].

Unfortunately, due to rampant racism and ultra-nationalism in Thai society, such abuses are not confined to Thai military governments, but have taken place under elected civilian governments. [See http://bit.ly/1JaeTJY , http://bit.ly/1ZEwTnj ].

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With various political parties jockeying for votes in the so-called general election, expected early in 2018, it is shameful that none of the progressive pro-democracy parties have any serious alternative policies towards asylum seekers and refugees. The Future Forward Party has raised the issue of helping Rohingya refugees by not pushing them back and holding talks with the Burmese government, but there is no policy to ratifying the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 protocol and no promise to change the way that refugees inside the country are treated by the government. The party’s policy towards migrant labour is to promise them the minimal rights under the law which Thai workers have, which is a step forward, but does not deal with thousands of migrant workers who are deemed to be illegal.

Muddling along towards the flawed Thai elections

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

The Thai Junta’s party: Palang Pracharat Party, is going to nominate dictator Prayut for Prime Minister if it wins enough votes at the general election, which is scheduled for early 2019. Given that the junta has appointed the entire senate and given that the senate and lower house can vote on the Prime Minister together, Palang Pracharat does not even need a majority of elected MPs for Paryut to continue his authoritarian rule.

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But just in case this scenario does not happen, the junta’s servants have been gerrymandering the constituencies to help ensure an advantage for the junta’s Palang Pracharat. [See https://bit.ly/2EbX685 ].

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Then there is the 20 year National Strategy, which I have previously written about, which will tie the hands of any elected government which is opposed to the military junta.

Taksin’s Pua Thai Party has budded off into at least 3 sister parties to try to get round the ridiculous voting regulations which will give smaller parties an advantage in terms of the number of seats they gain from the party list system.

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So all in all the elections are likely to be a farce. That is, if they aren’t postponed under some pretext!

The only positive thing to be said about this period before elections is that it has raised interest among the population about alternative policies to the junta and it has exposed a number of politicians for being opportunist mercenaries who have switched allegiance to join up with the junta. No doubt there have been financial incentives promised to them.

In addition to this, when the elections are finally held, the total number of votes for pro-democracy, anti-junta parties, will be of interest in terms of measuring the political pulse of the nation.

Meanwhile the Future Forward Party has been shaken by an internal dispute between the leadership and the youth wing (NGN). Committee members of the youth wing were suspended. The official reason is that they are supposed to have spent money inappropriately. But no details have been given and no real explanation has been offered either. This does not bode well for transparency and internal democracy.

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Some commentators have explained that it is a dispute over policy, with the youth wing wishing to engage in more militant activities than the leadership. According to this explanation, the youth wing were trying to emphasise progressive policies while the mainstream of the party was relying more on the personal charisma of business tycoon and party leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit. The Future Forward Party has tended to stress that it is “New” without bothering too much about detail. It also seems to have attracted a diverse group of people with different political stand-points who want to oppose the dictatorship and are disillusioned with Taksin’s parties.

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Another explanation put forward by observers is that the youth wing are “left-leaning”, whereas the top leadership are pro-business liberals. The fact that the party has tried to create an image of “moving beyond left and right” may account for left-leaning youth joining a pro-business liberal party. Sooner or later tensions arising from this contradiction and the emphasis on Thanathorn, with its associated imbalance of power between the leadership and the rank and file, were bound to cause problems. Similar tensions may arise between the handful of trade union members and the pro-business leadership. [See https://bit.ly/2IpUUJa ].

It is difficult to see how the democratic space can be significantly expanded if people remain mesmerised by these flawed elections.

 

“Critical thinkers have to either pretend to be asleep or go to jail or leave the country”

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

This is one of many sharp critiques contained in the “My Country has this” (#ประเทศกูมี) rap sung by the group “Rap Against Dictatorship”, in late October.

Much has been written about this rap, but it is worth roughly summarising the content. The music video is set against a re-created background of the state-sponsored barbaric events at Thammasat University on 6th October 1976. [See http://bit.ly/1TKgv02    or   http://bit.ly/2d1iZbj ]. It shows that discussion about 6th October is not just about “history” but it is highly relevant to the political situation in Thailand today.

The “My Country has this” rap outlines almost everything that is wrong with Thailand today. This includes the impunity enjoyed by the rich when they break the law or the impunity enjoyed by junta leaders when they are accused of corruption. It mentions the hypocrisy promoted by the junta and suit-wearing elites who talk endlessly about “good people” and the need to “respect the law” while they engage in corruption and the creation of immoral laws. It describes how Bangkok has often been turned into a killing field, for example in 1973, 1976, 1992 and 2010. It talks about the present “parliament” which is just a lounge for soldiers and various constitutions which are written and then rubbed out by the military jack-boots, where a gun is held to our throats while claiming that we all have “freedom”. It criticised suppression of dissent and state surveillance, but also the fact that many so-called dissenters line up to follow the dictatorship like ants.

When the music video was first released it had a few hundred thousand views. But when the junta’s police threatened to prosecute the artists and production team the number of views shot up to over 55 million by the first week of November. Hundreds of people on social media “thanked the police” for promoting the video. After the junta realised that their response to the video had made them a laughing stock in society, the prosecution threats were withdrawn.

The Military dictatorship have affirmed that a general election will be held around February 2019, but it will hardly be democratic. Continuing threats against dissenters continue unabated. Last week a former whistle-blowing campaigner, who was part of the mob which opposed the 2014 elections and welcomed General Prayut’s military coup, stated that he felt that he had been “used” by both the military and mob leader Sutep Taugsuban. He was paid a visit by a group of soldiers. Around the same time people with calendars bearing the photos of former Prime Ministers Taksin Shinawat and Yingluck Shinawat were taken into military camps for “attitude changing” sessions. Trials of pro-democracy activists, accused of breaking the law by peaceful protests, are still being held in military courts. Political prisoners remain in prison, including those accused of lèse majesté. Some prisoners have not yet been tried in court because the prosecution witnesses “fail to turn up”. Yet they are refused bail. This is the kind of atmosphere in which the so-called elections will be held.

The military’s constitution and their 20 year National Strategy mean that any elected government will be severely constrained within the military’s policy agenda and the powerful military-appointed senate and judiciary are there to police this agenda. New election laws have been designed to discriminate against parties which are supported by the majority of the electorate ie. Taksin’s parties.

Some new parties such as the Future Forward Party and the Commoners Party have announced that they will oppose the legacy of the dictatorship. But even if they manage to win enough seats in parliament, which is unlikely, they will not have the power to over-rule the National Strategy, the senate and the judiciary. Only a powerful pro-democracy social movement outside parliament could do that. Such movements have been built in Thailand in the past, and it would be possible to do so again. The fact that millions of Thais were able to identify with the “My Country has this” rap is a ray of hope for the future. But there is a danger of people being mesmerised by the prospects of the election without properly thinking about the issue of entrenched military power.

Thais are not the only ones mesmerised by the election. Western governments cannot wait to re-establish “business as usual” with Thailand, irrespective of whether the elections are democratic or not.

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Prayut’s election poster