Tag Archives: Thai politics

From Peterloo 1819 to Thailand 2019

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

The dead Tory tyrant Margaret Thatcher used to bang on about the importance of the Magna Carta in the development of British democracy. This was just a lie designed to ignore the key role of the workers’ movement in fighting for British democracy. The Magna Carta was just an agreement between King John and the nobles to share power.

Two hundred years ago, in the middle of deep austerity, appalling conditions and a total lack of democracy, 60,000 men, women and children gathered in a massive protest at St Peters’ Field in Manchester. This was roughly equivalent to half the population of Manchester. It was a huge mass movement against poverty and for democracy. Other rallies had already taken place in London and other cities.

The Times newspaper reported that in Manchester thousands of spinners and weavers lived in “squalid wretchedness” and “repulsive depravity”. But this ruling class paper also denounced the role played by women in the mass movement: “We cannot conceive that any but a hardened and shameless prostitute would have the audacity to appear on the hustings on such an occasion and for such a purpose.”

Given that the French revolution had erupted less than 30 years ago and radical uprisings were still happening, the British ruling class was fearful of a full-blown working class revolution here. Local magistrates ordered the peaceful Manchester protest to be brutally suppressed. The armed Yeomanry played a key role. They were a paramilitary force drawn from the ranks of the local mill and shop owners. Many were drunk. On horseback, armed with sabres and clubs, they rode through the crowd in an orgy of violence. Many were familiar with, and had old scores to settle with, the leading protesters. Six hundred Hussars, several hundred infantrymen; an artillery unit with two six-pounder guns, 400 men of the Cheshire cavalry and 400 special constables, also took part. At least 18 people were killed, including a two year old child and a pregnant woman. Six hundred were injured. Women were singled out for violent treatment to teach them a lesson about why they should not engage in politics.

This brutal massacre of workers by the British ruling class resulted in mass protests throughout the land. It also shaped the increased radicalisation of the working class Chartist movement that pushed for universal male suffrage. Emmeline Pankhurst’s paternal grandfather had narrowly escaped death at Peterloo and no doubt the story was told to her daughters, Christabel and Sylvia, who all became active suffragettes. Sylvia also became a socialist.

Peterloo is not just an interesting chapter of history. It has great significance today in Britain and also in Thailand. Those gathered at St Peters’ Field in 1819 had already learnt the lesson that just petitioning to parliament was not enough. Mass movements had to be built. Today, as a British general election looms, with the prospect of a possible Corbyn Labour government, we need to be aware that the British ruling class will do everything in their power to obstruct Labour’s policies. We will need a mass movement outside parliament, among the trade unions, to defend any democratic mandate given to such a government.

Thailand

In Thailand, the military junta has said it will hold a general election in February. Yet this election will not be free and fair. The junta’s 20 year National Strategy will empower junta appointees in the judiciary and the senate to overrule and even remove any elected government that does not conform to the junta’s “Guided Democracy” policies.

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Liberal bourgeois political parties like the Future Forward Party have stated that they intend to rewrite the military’s constitution and reduce the legacy and political power of the military. Yet even if they manage to get elected and hold a parliamentary majority, they will be hampered by the National Strategy. The only solution will be to build a large pro-democracy social movement outside parliament to push for real change. This movement should be rooted in the Thai working class. The middle class has already shown itself to be supportive of military coups and opposed to all pro-poor policies.

As in Britain, the brutal behaviour of the Thai ruling class is plain to see with the shooting of unarmed pro-democracy activists in 1973, 1976, 1992 and 2010.

The radical poet Percy Bysshe Shelley wrote “The Mask of Anarchy” in response to Peterloo …

Listen to the poem here: https://bit.ly/2yIQsBO

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How to deal with Thai State Crimes

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Both the Commoners Party and the Future Forward Party have pledged to remove the influence of the military from Thai politics. This would involve re-writing the military constitution and scrapping the 20 year National Strategy; a laudable but impossible task without building a mass social movement. [See https://bit.ly/2O5ZNNx ]

In addition to destroying the political power and legacy of the military, it is important to punish state criminals who were responsible for violence. Without this, they will continue to enjoy impunity.

The Commoners Party has also stated that it wants to punish state officials who are guilty of state crimes, although there is little detail about how they would achieve this. What is also worrying is that they say that there is a “hidden history” of these events which needs to be exposed. Given that there have been many studies and publications about Thai state crimes, this sound a bit like an excuse to delay any action.

The fact of the matter is that we know who is responsible for various atrocities. [See http://bit.ly/1TKgv02  or   http://bit.ly/2d1iZbj ]

Those guilty of the 6th October 1976 blood bath are known, but they have all died of old age. However, when it comes to those who ordered the shooting of demonstrators on 14th October 1973, although Tanom Kittikachorn and Prapart Jarusatien are both dead, the third tyrant, Tanom’s son, Narong Kittikachorn is still alive. He needs to be brought to trial.

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Narong Kittikachorn

We know the architect of the 1992 atrocities against pro-democracy demonstrators. It was coupster Suchinda Kraprayoon. He also needs to be brought to trial.

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Suchinda Kraprayoon

We also know that Taksin Shinawat was responsible for the extra judiciary killings in the War on Drugs and also the killings of Malay Muslims at Takbai in 2004. He should be in the dock.

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Taksin Shinawat

Finally, Anupong Paochinda, Prayut Chan-ocha, Abhisit Vejjajiva and Sutep Tuaksuban all have blood on their hands from ordering the killings of pro-democracy red shirts in 2010. Prayut and other dictators also need to be prosecuted for staging military coups and destroying democracy. This is especially important given that the newly appointed heads of the army and air force have hinted that if there is “chaos” in the future there might have to be another coup.

Prayuth Chan-ocha
Prayuth Chan-ocha
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Abhisit Vejjajiva and Sutep Tuaksuban
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Anupong Paochinda

Bringing these tyrants to justice is not an easy matter. But it has been done in other countries like Argentina and South Korea. However, anti-military political parties need to be honest and open about what it will take to achieve this.

How to access my publications

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

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The Failure of Stalinist Ideology and the Communist Parties of Southeast Asia (1998). https://bit.ly/1OEfsJo 

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Thailand: Class Struggle in an Era of Economic Crisis (1999).   http://bit.ly/2kPNX9E  Book about the Thai labour movement.

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From the city, via the jungle, to defeat: the 6th Oct 1976 bloodbath and the C.P.T. http://bit.ly/1TKgv02   or   http://bit.ly/2d1iZbj

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A Coup for the Rich (2007).  https://www.scribd.com/doc/41173616/Coup-For-the-Rich-by-Giles-Ji-Ungpakorn or http://bit.ly/2aE7zc6  Book written in response to the 2006 military coup.

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Why have most Thai NGOs chosen to side with the conservative royalists, against democracy and the poor (2009).   http://bit.ly/1UpZbhh

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Thailand’s Crisis and the Fight for Democracy (2010).  http://bit.ly/1TdKKYs  Book written during the continued crisis of democracy.

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Thai Spring? Structural roots of the Thai political crisis (2011). http://bit.ly/245WxhD

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Lèse Majesté, the Monarchy, and the Military in Thailand (2011) http://bit.ly/1cLbFtr or http://bit.ly/2cexlW1

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The Festering Sore: Thai State Crimes Go Unpunished (2012)   http://bit.ly/1qGYT9r

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The Bloody Civil War in Patani (2013) http://bit.ly/2bemah3

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The role of Thai Social Movements in Democratisation (2015). http://bit.ly/2aDzest

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What led to the destruction of Thai democracy? (2016). http://bit.ly/2cmZkAa or http://bit.ly/2bSpoF2

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Thai Military Re-adjusts its Relationship with the Monarchy (2017).  http://bit.ly/2xGDiSu Paper which looks at the role of the military and the monarchy after Pumipon. Also discusses the 20 year National Strategy for “Guided Democracy”.

 

Claiming that the king is all powerful is a convenient excuse to do nothing

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Even after the prolonged illness and eventual death of King Pumipon it is unbelievable that there are some Thais who still claim that the new “idiot” King Wachiralongkorn is all powerful and able to control the military junta.

One reason for prolonging this conspiracy theory is the mutual excitement that any discussion about the monarchy arouses. Given that the junta uses the lèse majesté law to imprison anyone who criticises the monarchy, it is understandable that discussions of “prohibited” subjects should cause such excitement. However, as I have explained in a number of my blog posts, the monarchy has always been weak and used as a tool by the military. In the case of Wachiralongkorn this is even more the case than it was for his father, who at least had some credibility in the eyes of many Thais. The lèse majesté law is also in existence in order to protect the military, who always claim to be protecting and representing the monarchy. [See https://bit.ly/2F73RoD, https://bit.ly/2teiOzQ, https://bit.ly/2AF9ozT ]

But excitement and gossip do nothing to further the struggle to increase the democratic space in Thai society.

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In practice, those who have been involved with protesting against the junta’s dictatorship on the streets of Bangkok have targeted the military and their policies. If such protests began to rebuild a pro-democracy social movement from the ruins of the Red Shirts, it would be a powerful force for progressive change. In the past Thai pro-democracy movements have overthrown military juntas. They have also had an effect in pressurising governments to change policies. Even today, when the movement is not as strong as in the past, small and continuous protests by young activists have kept up the pressure on Prayut’s junta to make sure that there is no back-tracking on elections. Also campaigns to defend the universal health care service have so far stopped them introducing payment fees.

Yet there are those who belittle these struggles against the junta by saying that “democracy cannot be established without getting rid of the monarchy”. They claim that Wachiralongkorn is controlling the junta. Some of the more extreme commentators, who titillate their internet audiences with anti-monarchy stories, even go as far as to say that they are not against the military.

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Given that in the present political climate it is not possible to demonstrate against the monarchy, the claims that the king controls the junta are just a recipe for doing nothing. By demanding something that is unrealistic, without also actively fighting for realistic changes, the demands become abstract. Yes, it is right that we aim for a republic, but we need to fight in the here and now for the ending of the junta and its 20 year plans to influence politics. Yes, it is right to aim for socialism, but as Rosa Luxemburg explained, socialists must also be the best fighters for reforms under capitalism.

Some Thais, who erroneously state that King Wachiralongkorn is ruling Thailand as an Absolute Monarch, also campaign against the military junta. But there is an inconsistency in their thinking because if it is the case that Wachiralongkorn is the most powerful person in Thailand, then the only meaningful campaign would be against the monarchy.

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The real anti-democratic thugs in Thailand are Prayut and his cronies and the sooner we build a mass movement against the military, the sooner we can have democracy.

Two main reasons why Thailand should be a republic

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

There are two main reasons why Thailand should be a republic and they do not include the myth that King Wachiralongkorn is supposedly an Absolute Monarch.

If we consider the reason why many countries such as Britain, Sweden, Spain, The Netherlands and Thailand have retained the institution of the monarchy from a previous era, we can understand the role of monarchies under modern capitalism.

Monarchies fulfill a reactionary ideological role which tries to promote the idea that class divisions and inequality are somehow “natural”. Monarchies are a statement that most people are born “low” while some are born “high”. It is only the high-born folk who deserve to be surrounded by immense wealth and it is only they who have the God-given right to determine political, social and economic policies.

The reactionary ideology of the monarchy serves to legitimise privilege, elitism and a lack of democratic space in society. It is an ideology which protects the ruling capitalist class. So it becomes “natural” for bosses to dictate policies in the workplace and for big business to exclude ordinary citizens from making economic policy. It becomes “unnatural” for anyone to suggest that we take away the immense wealth and power of the few in order to distribute it among the many.

The ideology of the monarchy also serves the purpose of trying to claim that we are all part of one nation with similar interests; the “National Interest”. This is an attempt to reduce class conflict.

Of course, this reactionary ideology is constantly being challenged from below, in Europe and in Thailand, which is why the elites seek constantly to reproduce it.

In this way, the monarchies and capitalist ruling classes of Britain, Sweden, Spain and The Netherlands are little different from the Thai monarchy and the Thai capitalist ruling class. This is despite some differences in detail, such as the functioning lèse-majesté law and the practice of crawling on the ground before the king in Thailand.

Many Thai political commentators are unable to break free from the socialisation by the Thai state and wrongly believe the ruling class myth that the king is all powerful. They are encouraged to believe this by ruling class nationalism which promotes the idea that Thailand is somehow unique. Therefore comparative studies of other countries are irrelevant. Therefore foreigners “cannot possibly understand Thai politics and society”. Some foreign academics, like the ones from the “Cornell Mafia”, but others too, just love to perpetuate myths about the unique Thai or Asian psyche which makes Thai or Indonesian politics so “mysterious”. Sharp analysis disappears among statements about “barami” (charisma) or about the “fact” that Asians love powerful leaders.

In Thailand the role of the monarchy is to legitimise the actions of the military, big business and the conservative bureaucracy. Thus, the military use the excuse about protecting the monarchy in order to install themselves in power and to try to crush opposition. Elected business politicians like Taksin also used the monarchy to help with his legitimacy. The difference between Taksin and the military is that the military have only royal legitimacy to justify their political interventions.

I have argued in many posts on this site, and also in longer articles, that King Pumipon and King Wachiralongkorn did not and do not have political power. The main obstacle to freedom and democracy today is the military junta. But it is the ideological role of the monarchy which we also need to abolish.

King Wachiralongkorn has not created a new “absolutist” regime, but what he has been busy doing is feathering his own nest. He insisted on a change in the military’s constitution so that he could continue to enjoy the good life in Germany without having someone else appointed over his head to act on his behalf. He has reorganised royal wealth by concentrating it in his own hands. He has asked the Bangkok zoo and other organisations to move out of prime real-estate land so that he can earn higher profits. It is all about personal greed and that is all he is interested in and all he can actually control.

This brings us to the second reason why we need a republic in Thailand. The Thai king is one of the wealthiest people in the world and given the average levels of wealth of the majority of ordinary Thai citizens, this is an obscenity. If all this ill-gotten wealth was taken off the monarchy we could improve education, health care and build a properly funded welfare state.

So the two main reasons for creating a republic in Thailand are the reactionary ideology symbolised by the monarchy and the fact that it is a parasitic institution wasting millions of much-needed resources.

Thai Electoral rules aimed to fragment political parties

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

The junta’s anti-reformists have devised a strange and complicated equation for allocating the number of MPs that each party would have in parliament after the next election. As in previous Thai elections, there will be MPs elected directly to various constituencies and also MPs elected from national votes for party lists. In other countries, such formulae are used to introduce proportional representation. But in Thailand the number of Party List MPs will be determined by a bizarre equation designed primarily to stop a popular party, especially “Pua Thai”, from achieving a majority in parliament. The formula means that more Party List MPs will be allocated to parties which fail to gain many Constituency MPs and those that win in many constituencies will have a reduced number of Party List seats. This would give added MPs to smaller parties such as the pro-military “Democrat Party” at the expense of a party like Taksin Shinawat’s “Pua Thai Party”.

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Unlike Taksin’s parties, the Democrat Party has never won a majority in parliament and it worked hand in glove with the military after Taksin’s parties were overthrown in military and judicial coups. Taksin’s Thai Rak Thai Party won a number of general elections due to its pro-poor and modernising policies, such as universal health care and job creation and poverty reduction schemes in the countryside. The party had to change its name to “Palang Prachachon” and then “Pua Thai” after the parties were dissolved by pro-military courts. “Pua Thai” means “for Thais”.

The junta’s election formula for allocating MPs is also designed to try to make sure that Thailand goes back to having a string of weak coalition governments where different parties fight for a place at the government feeding trough. A weak elected coalition government would be easier for the military to manipulate.

However, as they say, “every force has an equal and opposite reaction”. Politicians allied to Taksin have created 2 sister parties; “Pua Tum Party” (“for justice/virtuousness”) and “Pua Chart Party” (“for the nation”). Taksin’s allies hope that this will give the pro-Taksin coalition of 3 parties an increased number of MPs compared to if they all stood in the elections under a single Pua Thai banner.

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Pua Tum has also been set up in case the pro-junta courts decide to dissolve Pua Thai on some spurious grounds. Pua Thai MPs could then migrate to the party.

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Pua Chart Thai has been set up by a group of former Red Shirts.

The “The Prachachart Party”, set up by former Thai Rak Thai Muslim politicians in the South, might also support a Pua Thai government.

No doubt there are many other machinations and deals, involving other politicians, going on behind the scenes.

Of course, we must also not forget that whoever wins the election will be severely constrained by the junta’s 20 year National Strategy and its appointees in the Senate and the judiciary.

The state of the parties so far

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

At present the presumed date for the future Thai elections is sometime in February 2019 and various political parties are going through the process of registering with the Electoral Commission and holding meetings to elect people to leadership posts. However, political parties have been warned by the junta not to declare their manifestos or to start the process of electioneering.

There are a number of parties worth a mention on the anti-military side.

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The “Future Forward Party” has a clear policy of reducing the power and influence of the military by scrapping the military constitution and other junta inspired laws, and it is busy pushing its “new look” and claiming to be the party of the new generation. However, it is likely to be a party aimed at sections of the pro-democracy middle classes. It will prioritise the free-market and business interests while also claiming to support the poor in an abstract manner. Its leader, tycoon Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, has stated that it will “protect capitalism for the benefit of the majority”. In the past he has emphasised that business must make a profit before benefits for workers can be improved. It is in favour of devolving power to the provinces and has made sounds about self-determination in Patani. [See https://bit.ly/2Nf7fks and https://bit.ly/2IpUUJa ].

Without an extra-parliamentary mass movement for democracy it will be difficult for any elected party to reduce the role of the military. [See https://bit.ly/2O5ZNNx ].

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The “Commoners Party” claims to be a grass-roots party with no big-business backing and it is made up of NGO activists and villagers. It also has a position against the military’s involvement in politics, but so far its policies remain vague. It has recently been involved in a scandal when it was revealed that the elected deputy leader, Akechai Isarata, took part in the anti-election mob in 2014 which opened the door to Prayut’s coup. This stems from the NGO movement’s hatred of Taksin Shinawat and their reticence about democracy and the need to oppose military coups. He has now resigned after members of the party called on him to quit.

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Akechai Isarata

The Taksin controlled Pua Thai Party has a long pedigree of being supported by the rural poor and urban workers, which will give it an advantage at the polls. Taksin’s first party, Thai Rak Thai, brought in the first ever universal health care scheme and other pro-poor policies. But Taksin has a reputation for brutal repression in Patani and during the War on Drugs. Pua Thai also enjoys an “anti-military” image from the fact that 4 of its elected governments were overthrown, either by the military or the pro-military judiciary. Yet Taksin and most Pua Thai politicians, with handful honourable exceptions, have done nothing to oppose Prayut’s military junta over the last 4 years. It is known that they would rather do a deal with the military and the reactionaries. [See https://bit.ly/2pI87Ev ].

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Military and state murderers

In the pro-junta reactionary corner, we have the misnamed Democrat Party, which in 2008 became the “party of the military”. Abhisit Vejjajiva was appointed Prime Minister by the military and in 2010 ordered the cold-blooded shooting of unarmed pro-democracy demonstrators. The Democrats have never won a majority in any election and since the Taksin years have taken an extreme free-market position, opposing state spending on the universal health care scheme and job creation programmes. The party now pretends to oppose military coups and Prayut’s continued role in politics. But it has a record of taking part in events which create the conditions for military intervention. There is currently a contest for the leader of the party. [See https://bit.ly/2IrOIAr ].

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Also in the reactionary corner, we have the “Action Coalition for Thailand Party” set up by Sutep Tuaksuban and his mates. The Thai name is “Ruam Palang Prachachart Thai”, which means unite together the power of the Thai people. Included among founding party members are members of the Tuaksuban clan; a political mafia group who control areas of Surat Tani province in the south. They were formerly members of the Democrat Party. Sutep Tuaksuban, along with Democrat Party leader Abhisit and General Prayut, are responsible for the cold-blooded murders of Red Shirts in 2010. Sutep was also the leader of the anti-election mob which wrecked the February 2014 elections and paved the way to Prayut’s military coup. [See https://bit.ly/2QjpRS5 and https://bit.ly/2zF2bSS ]. Reactionary academic Anek laotamatat [https://bit.ly/2cPKRjP ] and former “professional student leader” turned PAD Yellow Shirt Suriyasai Katasila, along with Sutep’s lawyer, are also among the list of founding members of the Ruam Palang Prachachart Thai Party.

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Anti-election gun man associated with Sutep’s mob

Sutep’s “Ruam Palang Prachachart Thai Party” supports the military junta and it might well vote for Generalissimo Prayut to become the next Prime Minister. Prayut has refused to rule out extending his role in politics and the military constitution allows for a non-MP to be nominated as Prime Minister in some circumstances. However, anyone wanting to vote for the junta can now directly support the “Palang Pracharat Party” (power of the citizens party). It has been set up by Prayut’s cronies and is stuff full of junta officials. Naturally, when the reactionary parties talk about “the people” they really mean the military and the elites.

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Cartoon ridiculing Palang Pracharat’s connections to junta (from Lok Wan Nee)

Of course, we have to be absolute clear that these elections will not restore democracy to Thailand, as the political agenda is going to be tightly controlled by the military’s National Strategy and their powerful appointed supporters in the senate and the judiciary. However, this system of “Guided Democracy” will be enough satisfy Western governments who have never cared about freedom and democracy in most parts of the world.