Tag Archives: Thai politics

Rubber Ducks Can’t Defeat the Military

The youth-led prodemocracy movement that erupted in August has been inspiring. It has made huge strides forward towards getting rid of the conservative and corrupt, military dominated, society. But it is time to take an honest look at what has been achieved while assessing the strengths and weaknesses of the movement.

Strengths

The movement has successfully rebuilt the pro-democracy movement on the streets in Bangkok and other locations up and down the country. This is after the bloody repression of the Red Shirt movement in 2010 and the following years when only small symbolic protests took place. At its height over 100,000 people have now taken to the streets in recent months. This is a remarkable achievement.

The protest movement has been invigorated by young people who are not afraid to defy the Old Order. Apart from the demands for the resignation of General Prayut as Prime Minister, and the demand to write a new “peoples” constitution, the protesters have dared to demand that the monarchy be reformed. This is long over-due and occurs in the face of a long history of stifling royalist propaganda and draconian laws used to protect the monarchy.

Young women have played key roles in the movement and activists from a wide range of campaigns have join the protests. LGBT and abortion rights issues have been raised. The right to self-determination for the people of Patani has also been flagged up. And the pressing need to reform the conservative and backward education system has also been a feature of protests by school students.

Rank and file organisation of the protests under the slogan “we are all leaders” has meant that demonstrations have continued when the original leaders have been arrested. The flash mobs are clearly well organised and continually use innovative styles of protest.

But there are weaknesses

Symbolism during the protests, for example, the use of rubber ducks, might be very photogenic and excite foreign journalists, but it cannot hide the fact that so far the protest movement has not been able to make the country ungovernable. Without doing this, Prayut’s parliamentary dictatorship cannot be overthrown. Rubber ducks are no substitute for real protest power that comes from strikes and workplace walk-outs. Unfortunately, little is being done to go out and visit worker activists in offices, banks, hospitals and factories in order to argue for strikes. This is mainly due to the appalling weakness of the left and the unwillingness of activists to rebuild a left-wing political organisation which can argue within the movement for an orientation on strikes.

The “we are all leaders” strategy means that it is difficult to have serious and democratic discussions about the way forward because no democratic structures exist within the movement which can encourage participation in decision making. The top protest leaders become de facto unelected leaders. This is not because they wish to be authoritarian, but it is an unintended result of the “we are all leaders” strategy. Instead there could have been mass discussion meetings and elections of a united front leadership committee. The Thai movement is not unique here. The same problem occurred with Podemos in the Spanish State.

If the movement fails to get strike action, we shall end up with a miserable compromise, carried out in the junta dominated parliament. Some sections of the constitution might be amended, but Prayut and the junta will not resign and the monarchy will not be reformed. [See https://bit.ly/3qol8Bl ].

A dozen protest leaders have been charged with lèse-majesté with the prospect of long drawn out court cases ending in draconian prison sentences. There does not seem to be any strategy to defend these leaders and to be able to pressure the regime to drop the charges.

Given the great strides made by the protest movement, it would be a terrible tragedy if very little was achieved in the end and the leaders ended up being isolated.

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

School students refuse to wear uniforms in their demand for freedom

Thai school students, who have been helping to lead the pro-democracy protests, have refused to wear school uniforms on the first day of term, in a defiant protest to demand individual freedom over their lives and their bodies.

This is another sign that the young generation have had enough of the old conservative order. It is an indication of how far the movement has traveled.

photo from ข่าวสด khao sod newspaper

Thai society has remained rigidly trapped in a conservative vice where people must grovel to their so-called elders and “betters”. The compulsory wearing of uniforms is widespread among civilian government officials, from teachers through to local authority employees. Even university students, especially in their first and second years, are often required to wear uniforms and have “behaviour marks” deducted for failing to do so. Uniforms are an attempt to control people in a rigid hierarchy. They are also an attempt to stifle free thought. But this is not working in today’s Thailand.

Those who advocate uniforms for students, both in Thailand and in western countries like Britain, falsely argue that uniforms are great levellers where rich and poor students look alike. They also, very stupidly, argue that uniforms improve academic performance!

The fact of the matter is that students know who is rich or poor even with uniforms. The “cut” and price of school uniforms can often differ.

As someone who was involved in campaigning against my son’s state school in Oxford becoming an “academy”, I know that the introduction of more and more uniforms, including ridiculous jackets, is all about neo-liberal models of education. It is about “form over content”, emphasising the image of the school rather than child-centred education and education as a process of originality and enquiry. It goes with attempts to centralise the control of the curriculum in order to restrict choice and to teach to “targets”, exam results and league tables. In terms of the U.K. it is part of the process of turning the clock back from the liberating atmosphere of the late sixties.

Thailand never liberalised the education system and the conservative nature of education establishment is closely linked to nationalist and royalist ideology which reinforces class hierarchy and shrinks the democratic space within society. Having to sing the national anthem at the flag raising ceremony at 8am followed by Buddhist prayers in class is an important part of this. Being forced to bow your head when walking past teachers and being forced to use royal language when referring to the monarchy and the royal family help to drill into citizens that they are “low” and must respect the “Pu-yai” or big people.

Therefore the scenes of school students staging the three fingered salute at the flag raising ceremony, arguing with reactionary teachers and government ministers, demanding a revision of the curriculum, or joining mass protests against the junta, and now the “uniform protest” are all to be welcomed as part of the struggle for liberation. This is both a struggle by youth within Thailand and also on an international level.

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Thai Dinosaur Generals dig up lèse majesté law to use against protest leaders

The Thai dictatorship is once again turning to the use of the draconian and backward lèse majesté law. The dinosaurs in uniform have ordered that a dozen leaders of the youth-led pro-democracy movement be issued with summonses by the police on charges of lèse majesté.

Youth-led protest leaders facing charges

For a couple of years the scandal around this law, and how it brought the Thai monarchy into disrepute in the eyes of many throughout the world, meant that the junta temporarily stopped using the law. Instead they persecuted activists and dissidents with other equally brutal laws, such as the computer crimes law. But now they have returned to using lèse majesté.

Protests outside the Siam Commercial Bank, owned by the monarch, 25th November

The reason for this is that they can see that the tide has turned as a result of the youth-led protests and people are openly criticising Wachiralongkorn. The dim-witted and vicious king hasn’t exactly helped build his popularity by spending his time in Germany with his harem, insisting on changing the constitution in order to make a grab for all of the wealth associated with the monarchy to be placed under his personal control. In the past there was a separation between his personal wealth and the Crown Property Bureau which was owned by the state. At the moment he is on a “charm offensive”, touring various sites in Bangkok and the provinces to meet the people. But in many ways this has just made things worse since he is only welcomed by ageing royalist fanatics and when interviewed by a British Channel 4 journalist, Wachiralongkorn struggled to say a coherent sentence. In addition to this, soldiers have been dressing up as “yellow shirts” to welcome Wachiralongkorn and also use violence against pro-democracy protests.

Lèse majesté in Thailand is used to support military coups and dictatorships. The monarchy is constantly used by authoritarian powers in Thailand to justify their actions and the monarchy has never spoken out against injustice and the cold-blooded killing of civilians. In the past many people, myself included, have been charged under this outdated authoritarian law. One person was charged with lèse majesté for distributing CDs of an Australian Broadcasting Corporation documentary. This documentary showed the severely sexist and abusive behaviour of the Thai Crown Prince. The same person was also charged with distributing a Wikileaks cable which exposed the fact that at least one member of the Privy Council thought that it would be “better” if the Prince Wachiralongkorn died so as to avoid him becoming king. This was while Pumipon was still alive.

The junta are gambling on the possibility that the youth-led movement will lose momentum and that it will be unable to defend its leaders. Both the main opposition Move Forward and Pua Thai Parties have so far refused to criticise the lèse majesté law or to back demands for serious reform of the monarchy. It is vital that the leaders of the pro-democracy movement are not left isolated. Strike action by Thai workers would strengthen their position. International solidarity would also be a boost to morale.

In a genuine democracy, it cannot be a crime to seek to bring the monarchy to account for its behaviour. This is what the protest movement is demanding.

The lèse majesté law cannot be reformed into a democratic law any more than a military dictatorship can be reformed or amended into a “democratic government”. The lèse majesté law is fundamentally against the freedom of expression and democracy. No one should face charges, be punished or be in jail for speaking their mind about Thai political institutions. This is the line that must be drawn in the sand to defend freedom of speech and build democracy in Thailand. It means that lèse majesté must be abolished.

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Warning signs for the democracy movement

The fantastic mass movement against the Thai junta is at a junction. Organising flash mobs over and over again risks tiring out protesters and these actions are not enough to make the country ungovernable; a necessary condition for victory. 

There are ominous signs that the junta is seeking to pressure the movement into a shoddy compromise with the help of the political parties. The aim is to merely amend some parts of the constitution via a parliamentary process. This will fall well short of the three demands of the movement: the resignation of Prayut, a complete re-write of the constitution by ordinary people, and the reform of the scandal-ridden monarchy.

The government has also been trying to divide the protesters by holding talks with some secondary school students about conditions in schools. The aim would be to get the school students to drop out of the movement.

Let us remember how far the movement has come. Since August 2020 large youth-led pro-democracy protests of up to 100,000 people have targeted the Thai military junta and even dared to criticise the monarchy. These protests have been organised up and down the country and have inspired millions of people in Thailand and other countries who are desperate for change. The energy and bravery of young people has been breath-taking.

Prayut and his gang of military thugs are not about to go easily. They have spent the years since their coup in 2014 putting in place measures to maintain their power, including writing a constitution, appointing the senate, designing the National Strategy and fixing last year’s elections.

The reasons why students have managed to enliven and expand the pro-democracy protests, which have occurred sporadically since the last military coup in 2014, is that this new generation have seen that pushing for reforms within the military controlled parliamentary system has not worked. They are fed up with the entrenched conservatism in society, especially in the education system. The economy is a mess due to the Covid crisis and youth see little to be hopeful for the future. In fact they share all these feelings of anger and frustration with over half the adult population who voted against the military party in 2019. A recent poll, conducted by Bangkok University, found that more than 40% of the population are struggling to make ends meet.

As with all mass protests, the demands of the movement have expanded. LGBT and pro-abortion rights activists have joined in, along with activists campaigning for self-determination in the Muslim Malay region of Patani.

Hopes have been raised.

A miserable compromise with the military junta, only agreeing to amend certain sections of the constitution, would do nothing to solve the issues which have led to the protests in the first place. Therefore there is an urgency to add new tactics in order to increase pressure on the junta.

The movement’s emphasis on devolved leadership, without clear organisational structures, contains both a strength and a weakness. The strength can be seen in the way the protests have continued despite the ongoing arrests of key activists, many of whom face multiple charges. But the weakness is that, in practice, strategy is determined by a group of non-elected key activists without the possibility of much face to face debate on the ground within the wider movement. This is something we saw in Spain with Podemos.

What is needed is an urgent and open debate about the way forward.

Either the protest movement pushes forward to organise more militant and powerful action such as strikes, or the momentum will be lost. Given the level of public support for the protests, it is important to seize the moment and try to build for workplace stoppages which would add power to the movement.

Many active Thai trade unionists have turned up to support the youth-led pro-democracy demonstrations as individuals and also in trade union groups. The Thai working class is much more than factory workers in the textiles and auto industries. There are white collar workers in offices, banks, schools, universities and hospitals. To build for strike action against the junta, youth activists need to link up with worker activists and visit workplaces to discuss how to get rid of the dictatorship. The lack of a significant organisation of the Left will make the task of mobilising workers more difficult, but it is hoped that militants will step forward to try and achieve this.

The key role of the working class is due to its economic power. This is an issue for all the present day movements such as Black Lives Matter, the Climate Strikes, and the struggles in Nigeria or Latin America. The important role of the working class has been well described in a recent book about the Hong Kong youth-led uprising (Au Loong-Yu, “Hong Kong in Revolt”).

It is a shame that some commentators who have influence on the movement seem to have been content with merely criticising the monarchy while not discussing the way forward for the movement. Perhaps this is no coincidence. If people believe that the idiot king Wachiralongkorn, who finds it hard to string a complete sentence together, is the real power in Thai society, rather than the military, it may lead to pessimism about the chance of victory because of the king’s “invisible power”. But the real enemy of democracy is the military junta.

The real people with power prostrate themselves on the ground and pay homage to this king. Yet, this is an ideological play, acted out for the benefit of fooling the public and creating fear. The fact that it is in any way believable by many is a great example of what Marx called “alienation”. It is when we are feeling powerless that we are more likely to believe the nonsense fed to us by the ruling class. What all modern monarchies throughout the world have in common is their ideological role in supporting the status quo. Thailand is no exception.

We must criticise the monarchy and call for a democratic republic, but in order to achieve that, the military need to be overthrown and there needs to be a serious discussion about how to achieve this aim.

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

The history of struggle in Thailand

Watch this video of my talk on The History of the Peoples’ Struggle for Democracy in Thailand organised by the Socialist Party of Malaysia (PSM).

Issues covered include the present mass movement for democracy, the role and power of the monarchy and how the military are really in charge, and the power from below that can defeat the junta.

Protesters continue to defy the junta

(updated 19th Oct)

Since Generalissimo Prayut announced emergency powers banning demonstrations and after the paramilitary riot police used chemical water cannon on crowds, protesters have continued to gather in their thousands to call for his resignation. The use of water cannon against young school students angered many ordinary people, thus swelling the protests.

On Saturday, because the junta ordered the closure of all mass transit train lines in a futile attempt to stop the protests, demonstrators assembled at different spots in Bangkok. Large demonstrations also took place in lots of provincial cities, mainly on university campuses. The protests are now involving hundreds of thousands of people up and down the country.

Chiang Rai campus

At Lard Prao, in Bangkok, where on of the largest protest took place, tens of thousands of defiant protesters assembled. The organisers managed to get a truck load of crash helmets, masks and raincoats distributed to the crowd in case the police attacked. In the event they decided to disperse by 8pm without the feared attack happening.

Lard Prao

Reports from many areas tell of the impressive organisation managed by rank and file activists. Some of the key activists had been arrested in previous days, but this seems to have had little effect. This shows the strength of the movement.

On the 18th October protests were again held in many locations in Bangkok and provincial cities.

Protesters demand release of political prisoners

One worker activist reported that at Rungsit, a primary school student asked to make a speech!

There were also reports of thousands of factory workers protesting in Chonbury, along the Eastern Seaboard industrial area (see below). The Rungsit protest was also made up of some factory workers.

Ladprao in Bangkok 19 Oct 2020

The success of the protests are an important and clear symbolic victory. But the struggle will be long and hard. Prayut and his gang of military thugs are not about to go easily. They have spent the years since their coup in 2014 putting in place measures to maintain their power, including writing a constitution, appointing the senate, designing the National Strategy and fixing last year’s elections. They already have blood on their hand from the murder of pro-democracy redshirts ten years ago and the use of death squads against dissidents.

Marching along Sukumwit Road

The movement is at a junction. Organising flash mobs over and over again risks tiring out protesters and these actions are not enough to make the country ungovernable. Either they move forward to organise more militant and powerful action such as strikes, or the momentum will be lost. Given the level of public support for the protests it is important to seize the moment and try to build for workplace stoppages.

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Youth-led movement challenges the Junta and the Monarchy

[updated 16th Oct 2020]

The impressive demonstration against the junta and the monarchy on 14th October 2020 shows how far the movement has developed and it has raised the level of struggle for democracy.

Large youth-led pro-democracy protests have hit the Thai military junta from August this year. Crowds of up to 50,000 gathered around the Democracy Monument in the centre of Bangkok on 16th August. On 19th September, an important anniversary of a military coup against an elected government in 2006, crowds swelled to over 100,000. On the 14th October, on the 47th anniversary of a mass uprising against a military dictatorship, crowds gathered in similar numbers and marched to Government House to demand the resignation of the dictator Prayut Chan-ocha. They also demanded the writing of a new constitution and the reform of the Monarchy.

This time the stakes had been raised by the military government, which insisted that the protest should be cancelled because the king had decided to visit a nearby temple. Protesters ignored the government and the numbers swelled to 100,000 by nightfall, when people joined after work. The government conscripted state municipal employees and soldiers to line the roads wearing yellow royalist shirts in order to welcome the royal cavalcade. The Thai ruling class treated the civilian conscripts like dirt as many were transported in open trucks and some even had to sit in dust carts. Many voiced their displeasure and some were seen making the 3 fingered salute used by the pro-democracy protesters.

Police allowed the queen to be driven through the demonstrating crowds and she was met with the 3 fingered salute and even a few middle finger gestures. The crowd shouted “my taxes!” at her.

The protests were organised by a group of mainly young people and university students, initially calling themselves the “Free People” organisation. They have now created a coalition calling itself the “Peoples’ Party” after the movement that led the 1932 revolution that successfully toppled the Absolute Monarchy. The new generation leading the protest movement has become acutely aware of the importance of the historical struggle for democracy. What marks this latest movement out from the previous Red Shirt movement for democracy ten years ago is that they are independent of any political parties. In fact the main stream opposition parties cannot keep up with the movement.

In the days following the August protest, secondary school students up and down the country staged “3 finger salute” protests during the compulsory flag raising ceremony before start of school. Often it was young women who were the most militant. The playing of the 8 am National Anthem at a number of mass transit rail stations was temporarily stopped for fear that people would raise the 3 finger salute. [See more about this in a previous post on this site.]

In the late evening of 14th October, the protest leaders decided it was safer to disband and regroup the next day at Rartprasong intersection, the site of Red Shirt protests in 2010. The junta talked tough, announced emergency powers, banned all protest and arrested some of the protest leaders. However, on 15th October thousands gathered at Rartprasong to defy the government. Prominent among the demonstrators were school students in their uniforms. Again women students were some of the most militant.

The next day (16th October) protesters gathered further down the road from the previous day because the police had blocked off Rartprasong. See below. As night fell the paramilitary riot police moved in, using water cannon, spraying the young people with water mixed with a liquid irritant. Many people were arrested. At time of writing, the movement is at a junction. Either they increase the pressure on the junta or they step back and risk losing momentum. One way to increase pressure is to try to get working people to take strike action.

The 3 fingered salute was borrowed from Hunger Games, and became a symbol of opposition to the military dictatorship during anti-coup protests in 2014. The present junta came to power through a middle-class backed coup in 2014. Elections were eventually held in 2019, but under anti-democratic rules and a reactionary constitution drawn up by the military. Despite losing the popular vote to anti-junta parties, the military appointed senate helped to propel the junta back into government with the dictator Prayut Chan-ocha as Prime Minister.

People are scandalised and fed-up by the behaviour of the new king, Wachiralongkorn, who spends his life with his harem in Germany and has changed the constitution in order to allow this life style and in order to amass even more wealth. It is the first time in decades that people have had the confidence to criticise the king in public, despite the fact that there are draconian laws against this.

The powerful military has traditionally used the weak monarchy as a tool to justify authoritarian rule. Many ordinary activists in Thailand believe that there is an Absolute Monarchy. But nothing could be further from the truth. The movement should not over-estimate the power of the king.

Since 1932, the Monarchy has had very little power in itself and is a willing tool of the military and the conservatives. Although the much welcomed criticism of the monarchy can weaken the junta and hasten the long over-due day that Thailand becomes a republic, the military and its parliamentary dictatorship remain the main enemy of Thai democracy and a strong mass movement to topple the military is still needed.

The real people with power among the Thai elites are the army, high-ranking state officials and business leaders. They prostrate themselves on the ground and pay homage to the king on TV, while exercising the real power in the land and enriching themselves. This is an ideological play, acted out for the benefit of fooling the public. The fact that it is in any way believable by many is a great example of what Marx called “alienation”. It is when we are feeling powerless that we are more likely to believe the nonsense fed to us by the ruling class.

The Thai Absolute Monarchy was overthrown in the 1932 revolution and for a period the country was rule by anti-Monarchy civilians and generals. In the 1950s, during the Cold War, the Monarchy was revived and promoted by military dictatorships. The “return” of the Monarchy reminds me of what the historian Christopher Hill wrote about the restoration of Charles II after the English Revolution. He wrote that “Charles was called King by the Grace of God, but he was really King by the grace of the merchants and squires”. One could say that the Thai king is king by the grace of the military generals and capitalists.

At time of writing it is difficult to predict what will happen next. However, lessons from the 1970s and from the defeated Red Shirt protests ten years ago show that what is needed urgently is to expand the movement into the organised working class. The working class is the main location of our side’s power. The workplace is where the ruling class’ power is potentially weak. The lack of a significant organisation of the Left makes the task of mobilising workers more difficult, but it is hoped that militants will step forward to try and achieve this. Unfortunately a call for a “General Strike” on 14th October was made without any concrete work being done among the working class and it never happened. Socialists know that it is far easier to make abstract calls for General Strikes rather than to actually do the necessary organisational work to bring one about in practice.

Socialists do exist in Thailand and it is the job of such people, no matter how small in number, to encourage the spread of radical ideas into the working class and to strengthen trade union struggles. This is best carried out if we attempt to build the beginnings of a revolutionary socialist party.

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Huge anti-junta demonstrations in Bangkok in August/september

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

The protest at the Democracy Monument in Bangkok on 16th August 2020 was a great success with crowds of up to 50,000 people coming to show their anger at the continued parliamentary dictatorship of Generalissimo Prayut and the behaviour of king Wachiralongkorn.  A month later, on 19th September, the anniversary of the military coup against the elected Taksin government in 2006, over 100, 000 filled Sanam Luang. 

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The protest was organised by the organisation “Free People”. It has 3 major demands: stop intimidating activists, re-write the constitution and dissolve parliament. People are fed up with the fixed elections, the appointed senators and the military designed “Guided Democracy” system in general. In addition to these demands, student activists and the lawyer Anon Numpa are now openly demanding the reform of the monarchy. People are angry about laws which prevent the monarchy being subjected to criticism and accountability. They are angry that he spends his time with his harem in Germany and changed the constitution to allow him to do this more easily. They are angry that he changed the constitution to bring all wealth associated with the monarchy under his centralised control. They want to curtail his privileges and power.

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Activists demand the reform of the monarchy

For the first time since the military and the Democrat Party murdered pro-democracy Red Shirts in cold blood in 2010, Red Shirt activists and older people joined the students in protesting. The Red Shirts had been specifically invited to come along at a student rally a few days earlier at Chulalongkorn University.

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The movement needs to keep up the momentum and spread to all sections of the population, especially organised workers. Progressive trade unionists were on the protest, but organised workers need to come out it their thousands and be prepared to take strike action if necessary.

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Many activist leaders face prosecution and the movement must insist that all charges are dropped immediately.

For background to this protest see https://bit.ly/2Ed22ug

After-shock

On the Monday after the huge protest on 16th August, secondary school students at hundreds of schools up and down the country defied teachers to staged “3 finger” protests against the dictatorship during the compulsory singing of the national anthem and flag raising before classes.

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See video: https://youtu.be/gUiZOPZlWdM

On Wednesday 19th, hundreds of school students demonstrated outside the education ministry after the minister had threatened them. He made an attempt to address the crowd of students but was prevented from doing so by shouts of “lackey of the dictatorship!” and loud whistle blowing. This particular minister was part of a reactionary whistle-blowing mob who helped the present junta come to power.

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Face says it all!! Minister of Education being shouted down by students with cries of “lackey of the dictatorship”.

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School students outside the Ministry of Education

Listen to this podcast: https://bit.ly/31kJqBI 

Read this article in Socialist Worker (UK) https://bit.ly/3l4oSpb

Protest movement grows

Over 100,000 on 19th September

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Some of these photos are from Prachatai….

LISTEN TO THIS: https://soundcloud.com/perth-indymedia/gilesjiungpakorn

Mass movement against junta makes huge strides forward

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

How did it start? The reasons why students started to revive the pro-democracy protests are that this new generation have seen that pushing for reforms within the parliamentary system has not worked. Opposition parties and politicians have been cut down by the military controlled courts. The junta were and still are blatantly using Covid as an excuse to try to ban protests. Anyone who speaks out is being intimidated by security officers and political exiles in neighbouring countries have been murdered by military death squads. The economy is a mess and youth see little to be hopeful for the future. In fact they share these feelings of anger and frustration with over half the adult population who voted against the military party in the last flawed elections. The difference is that the youth do not share the fear which is common among older activists who have been through military crack-downs.

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It is not just university students. Secondary school students, often from more elite schools are joining in. LGBT activists have also taken part as open LGBT activists against the junta.

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Secondary school students against the dictatorship

It is best to see the continuum of the pro-democracy social movement from after the 2006 coup with different groups popping up to take the lead. The youth are now taking the lead. [See “Role of Thai Social Movements in Democratisation” https://bit.ly/2aDzest ].

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Protesters at the Democracy Monument use the pro-democracy 3 finger salute, borrowed from Hunger Games

So far the most significant development is the establishment of the organisation “Free People”. The aim is to expand the movement to ordinary working people beyond students and youth. It has 3 major demands: stop intimidating activists, re-write the constitution and dissolve parliament. People are fed up with the fixed elections, the appointed senators and the military designed “Guided Democracy” system in general. [See Guided Democracy after the Flawed 2019 Election https://bit.ly/2Wm6bzI  ].

Since the activist lawyer Anon Numpa stood up and raised a number of criticisms of king Wachiralongkorn, the underlying anger about the behaviour and arrogance of the new idiot king has come out into the open. People are angry about laws which prevent the monarchy being subjected to criticism and accountability. They are angry that he spends his time with his harem in Germany and changed the constitution to allow him to do this more easily. They are angry that he changed the constitution to bring all wealth associated with the monarchy under his centralised control. The extra demands from the Thammasart University mass protest on 10th August reflect a feeling that the monarchy should be reformed and its privileges cut back. These developments are to be welcomed.

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Thammasart University protest 10th August 2020

Some political exiles abroad encourage the view that Thailand is an “Absolute Monarchy”. Nothing could be further from the truth. The movement should not over-estimate the power of the king. He has very little power and is a willing tool of the military and the conservatives, more so even than his weak father. Therefore suggestions that boycotting royal degree ceremonies would be enough to topple the regime are diversions. [See: “Absolutism” https://bit.ly/2teiOzQ and Can an absolute ruler hold power from abroad? https://bit.ly/3hxGFCv ].

Although the much welcomed criticism of the monarchy can weaken the junta and hasten the long over-due day that Thailand becomes a republic, the military and its parliamentary dictatorship remain the main enemy of Thai democracy and a strong mass movement to topple the military still needs to be built. Workers need to be involved. Events after the Second World War show that Thai military dictatorships can hold power without using the monarchy. We need a socialist republic in Thailand.

 

Open criticism of King Wachiralongkorn increases, activists arrested but protests grow (see updates)

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Recently, the human rights lawyer and pro-democracy activist Anon Numpa, addressed an anti-junta rally of young people and made open criticism of the idiot king Wachiralongkorn. He was dressed as Harry Potter, just to make the event more humorous. However, the content of his speech was deadly serious.

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Anon Numpa

Anon criticised Wachiralongkorn’s habit of living abroad in Germany and using huge amounts of public funds for his personal use. According to Anon, Wachiralongkorn has also massively increased his power. However, as followers of this blog know, this latter view is not one which I share. [See Wachiralongkorn’s power https://bit.ly/2EOjsNL   Absolutism https://bit.ly/2teiOzQ  Can an absolute ruler hold power from abroad https://bit.ly/3hxGFCv ]

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Such open criticism of Wachiralongkorn is to be welcomed and Anon Numpa has shown great courage in doing this. There will be top state officials, especially military officers, and rabid royalists among the public, who will want to persecute or prosecute Anon for his statements. It is important that as many people as possible in Thailand show him solidarity by also discussing the issue of the monarchy openly and in public. This will make it more difficult for the state to attack Anon.

In reality one of the important issues that has helped spark the latest round of youth protests against the military junta in Thailand has been the behaviour of Wachiralongkorn and this can be seen in many of the placards on the demonstrations.

Anon Numpa’s statement was couched in royalist and nationalist language. This was an attempt to protect himself. He said that he was criticising the monarchy in order to defend it. But it is doubtful that this will be enough to stop attacks on him by the state and the royalists.

One unfortunate aspect of Anon’s speech was the use of the word “Farang-Mungka”, a derogatory and racist word used to describe Westerners. In an era of Black Lives Matter protests, pro-democracy activists in Thailand need to be more aware about their racism.

If the increasing anti-monarchy feeling can be encouraged, it will weaken the military, who use the weak-willed monarch as a political tool. It will also help to make a republic more likely. However, we must never forget that republics can also be oppressive and just after the Second World War Thailand was rule by an anti-monarchist military dictatorship in the shape of Field Marshall Pibun.

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The military and its parliamentary dictatorship remain the main enemy of Thai democracy.

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It is encouraging that the youth groups who have been protesting against the parliamentary dictatorship run by the military have now officially stated that they want to expand their network beyond students and young people to include adults. Hopefully this will facilitate expansion of the movement into the working class.

[THAILAND IS RULED BY A PARLIAMENTARY DICTATORSHIP RUN BY THE MILITARY https://bit.ly/3731MIZ ]

LATEST (7th Aug 2020) Anon Numpa served with arrest warrant.

Anon Numpa and student activist Panupong Jadnok were arrested on 7th August 2020 and charged with a number of so-called “offenses” relating to peaceful anti-junta demonstrations. Other protest organisers were also served with warrants.

The authorities are trying not to draw attention to Anon’s comments about the monarchy, but the charges against him are serious.

At some point later in the day, Anon and Panupong were dragged off to police detention.

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Anon being dragged by police (picture from BBC)

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Anon and Panupong

Crowds gathered outside the court and the police station and a “flash-mob” protest at the Sky-walk was organised the next day.

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Later on the 8th August, Anon and Panupong were released on bail.

It is vital that more and bigger anti-junta protests are held in order to keep up the pro-democracy momentum.

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picture from “Reporters”

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10th August: Over 5000 protesters at Thammasart University demand key reforms to the monarchy including the right to criticise and the down-sizing of the king’s privileges.

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