Tag Archives: Wachiralongkorn

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”.

 

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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.

Military Thuggery Rewarded

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Not only do the Thai military killers and thugs enjoy impunity after killing pro-democracy demonstrators, Malay Muslims or human rights activists, they also get promoted.

Army thug Apirat Khongsompong has been appointed as the new Commander-in-Chief of the Army. In early April 2010 he led a group of soldiers to attack unarmed pro-democracy Red Shirts at the Thai Khom Satellite Ground Control Station in Patum Tani. Several Red Shirts were injured in that attack. He can be seen in video footage shooting a handgun at the protesters. Obscenities were also mouthed.

The video can be seen on YouTube (assuming it isn’t removed at the request of the junta). The link is below.

https://youtu.be/x26MASB1J9w

The Thai military attack unarmed civilians as though they are enemy combatants, rushing forward as though they were involved in great feats of heroism. In fact they behave like cowardly thugs.

Some people have commented that because the new military reshuffle and appointments were done in the name of the king that Wachiralongkorn is somehow in charge of the military. This is just the usual nonsense from the conspiracy theorists. All such appointments have always been carried out in the name of the Head of State.

There is no evidence at all that Wachiralongkorn has any power over the armed forces and the military reshuffle was directed by the top generals and the ruling junta.

Military reshuffles and promotions are an occasion for top generals to get their turn to stick their snouts in the corrupt feeding trough and therefore much behind the scenes bargaining takes place between different factions.

In most European countries where there is a monarchy, top appointments of soldiers, Prime Ministers or judges are usually carried out in the name of the monarchy without the monarchy having any power whatsoever.

General Apirat clearly hated the Red Shirts and this is just another example of how the Thai military can never act as an honest broker between the different political factions.

Wachiralongkorn is greedy. But changes to the Crown Property Bureau are not that significant.

 

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Since the days of Pumipon, the Thai king has owned a huge capitalist conglomerate, in the shape of the Crown Property Bureau (CPB). This makes the king the richest person in Thailand and one of the richest monarchs in the world. The CPB owns a large number of shares in the Siam Commercial Bank and Siam Cement. It also owns huge amounts of land, often in prime real-estate sites in Bangkok. Historically it never paid tax.

Royalists have long claimed that the king did not actually “own” the CPB but that it belonged to the monarchy as an institution. This was always as illusion. Simon Montlake, in a 2012 Forbes article, called the CPB a “family enterprise, gifted to the next generation”. It is neither a government enterprise, nor a private firm, nor a charity. King Pumipon was formally in charge of its investments and appointed all members of the board except for the Minister of Finance, who acted as a powerless Chair. The investment policy and management of the CPB were secret affairs. None of the profits created by the CPB were returned to the Thai State. The King also had a separate private fortune. That is why Forbes always calculated Pumipon’s wealth based on the CPB holdings and his private fortune. [See https://bit.ly/2yknoCQ ].

The CPB was not “independent” of the king in anyway. The wealth originated from forced labour and a monopoly on trade in the Sakdina feudal era. In the late nineteenth century the Sakdina system was overthrown by King Rama 5 under pressure from Western Imperialism. The monarch’s ill-gotten gains were transformed into a capitalist enterprise. However, immediately after the 1932 revolution, which overthrew the absolute monarchy, the equivalent of the CPB in those days was nationalised under the control of the government.

This situation did not last for long and in 1948, when a pro-monarchy government came to power, they robbed the state of this public asset, giving it to the king. However there were three pots of wealth associated with the king. The Crown Property Bureau was organised independently from the king’s personal wealth, even though he controlled both. There was also a bureau which owned and managed some of the palaces “on behalf of the nation”, although ordinary citizens never benefitted from this royal wealth either.

Now King Wachiralongkorn has formally taken personal control of all the monarchy’s wealth, including the CPB [see https://bit.ly/2t3zA5Y  ]. This is not an attempt to grab public assets for his own personal use, but an attempt to make sure he is in sole control of what Montlake called “the family enterprise”. It makes sure that the previous royal officials and managers who were loyal to Pumipon are not able to interfere with the whims of Wachiralongkorn. It also makes it clear that no one else in the royal family has a say.

Those who get over-excited by the odious behaviour of Wachiralongkorn are always looking for conspiracy stories to claim that he is seizing political power and becoming the most powerful man in the country. This is not the case. He remains weak, greedy, extremely rich, and uninterested in affairs of the state. [See https://bit.ly/2oD4YGD ].

The monarchy should be abolished and its wealth put to good use in improving the lives of ordinary citizens. But the main obstacle to freedom and democracy in Thailand is the military junta and its plans to extend its influence for the next 20 years through a system of “guided democracy”.

See also: https://bit.ly/2MyX4Yx

 

Reviewing the past year: Wachiralongkorn is just an irrelevant side show.

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Looking back over the past year we can make a number of observations about the political situation in Thailand.

The king’s lavish funeral has been done and dusted and the new king is on the throne. Wild conspiracy theories about a royal civil war for the throne between Pumipon’s son and daughter have proved to be totally untrue. So has the idea that the country would experience instability after the former king’s death. The latter theory was based on the incorrect view that Pumipon had political power, some, like Somsak Jeeamteerasakul, even claiming that Pumipon was the most powerful figure in the country. [See http://bit.ly/2AF9ozT ]

The fact of the matter is that there has been no instability at all in the military junta’s grip on power. They have continued to oversee the building of a future “Guided Democracy” system under their control. Important elements of this consist of the “National Strategy” and various junta-appointed bodies designed to control and fix elections, political parties and the actions of any future governments. [See http://bit.ly/2x1Ov43 ]There is absolutely no evidence that Pumipon ever had any input or opinion about this plan. He was totally incapacitated for some years.

The junta’s Road Map towards “Guided Democracy” and its backward conservative “National Strategy” has not featured in the new King’s role either. Wachiralongkorn has never expressed any opinions about this 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 ]

The change in the person who is now on the throne has not had any significant impact on the nature of Thai society, politics, or economics. It is just an expensive side-show. This is despite the sensational press articles which have claimed that Thailand has been plunged into the dark ages under king Wachiralongkorn.

Some even point to the new fashion for “buzz cuts” in the military and police as “evidence” of the dictatorial power of Wachiralongkorn, as though that was a crucial aspect of politics rather than a demented obsession by the deluded king and those who wish to suck up to him. We shall see whether Generalissimo Prayut and General Pig-Face Prawit follow the same fashion! [See http://bit.ly/2AWacAq ]

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. Their so-called “Road Map to Elections” is like an elastic band, with an unlimited stretch, and even with elections we will still have a junta controlled Guided Democracy.

Generalissimo Prayut seems to be positioning himself to become the next Prime Minister after the fixed elections. Recently he claimed that he was not a soldier, but a politician. Electoral rules are designed to discriminate against large political parties, especially any party associated with Taksin. The idea is that a fragmented parliament, along with an appointed senate could more easily be manipulated into choosing someone like Prayut to lead the country.

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. This was 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.

Getting rid of the military and its legacy cannot be left to Taksin and Pua Thai. As I have argued in previous articles on this site, Taksin and his allies have no interest in the kind of upheaval from below that would be necessary. The middle-classes and NGOs cannot be relied upon to carry out this task either. They have shown a preference for authoritarian rule over mass empowerment of ordinary people. What is holding back the real struggle for democracy is the fact that the most progressive people in society, especially students and working class activists, are yet to be convinced of the need to build a grass-roots left-wing political party that can play a significant role in building a much needed independent, pro-democracy, social movement.

Until large numbers of people decided to organise together against the military junta, who represent the real dark forces in society, the Thai Spring will not occur.

New Monarchy now less important to Thai Junta than before

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Despite the manic funeral ceremony from Pumipon, the new monarchy in the form of Wachiralongkorn will be less important for the junta and its conservative allies in the future.

King Pumipon was never a powerful figure who could order the military, the capitalists or the politicians to do his bidding. The reality was that Pumipon was merely a willing tool of those in power, especially the military. His role was always to provide a strong ideological legitimacy for the elites and their actions, especially the actions of the army. Pumipon was never brave or resolute enough to be a political leader. His ideological role was not just about defending the military and the undemocratic elites. His reactionary “Sufficiency Economy” ideology was designed to oppose any redistribution of wealth and to support neo-liberalism by opposing state intervention to alleviate poverty. [See http://bit.ly/2oppTvb]

King Wachiralongkorn is even more weak and pathetic than his father. This is because he lacks all credibility because of his terrible behaviour, which robs him of any respect, even among royalists, and the fact that he has absolutely no interest in affairs of state. In terms of providing any legitimacy for the actions of the military or the elites, Wachiralongkorn is not fit for purpose.

So what is the junta going to use to replace the role of Pumipon? One option which they are engaged in right now, is the crafting of the “National Strategy”. This is a set of political and economic rules which will have a higher status than any laws. It will restrict all future governments and government institutions to the narrow path laid down by the junta. It will be policed by the National Strategy Committee, headed by Generalissimo Prayut, various sub-committees filled with junta appointees, and by the military backed Constitutional Court and the Election Commission.

It is claimed that this National Strategy Committee, which is part of the grand design for a system of “Guided Democracy” will ensure good governance and good stewardship of the nation. The junta and its friends have been banging on about “good” people for years. Not surprisingly, good people are those who think and act like the authoritarian generals. So Thailand has had a number of “good” military coups and other “good” acts have included shooting down “bad” unarmed pro-democracy demonstrators.

It is also falsely claimed that the National Strategy can create unity, reconciliation and political reform.

The ruling class, and especially the military, will still cling to, quote and enforce the reactionary ideology of “Nation, Religion and Monarchy” and the use of the draconian lèse majesté law will continue when the military and the status quo is criticised by dissenters.

But those in power will now depend much more on quoting the “sacred” National Strategy, as though it had genuine legal status, in order to legitimise suppression of the opposition.

We should not be surprised at the changing role of the monarchy. It has never been set in stone. In the period up to the overthrow of the generals in 1973, King Pumipon was just one factor among many providing legitimacy for the military. Anti-communism and the ideology of “Nation Religion and Monarchy” were the mainstays of the dictatorship. Of course Pumipon was promoted as a symbol of anti-communism. But the manic propaganda promoting him to a god-like status only took off after the communist threat had subsided.

The lèse majesté law is also flexible in its purpose. After the recent military coups it was used more to protect the military than Pumipon and the recent  lèse majesté charge against Sulak Sivaraksa because of a public speech about King Naresuan, who ruled the Ayutthaya Kingdom 400 years ago, shows that it can be used against those who question Thailand’s manufactured nationalist history.  Questioning this history is a threat to the status quo.

In addition to this, the junta has drawn up a law to prevent anyone from criticising the Constitutional Court. Anyone who does this will risk a prison sentence. As already mentioned, the Constitutional Court is to be used to police the National Strategy and in the past it has been used to overthrow elected governments.

In some ways the Thai National Strategy can be seen as similar to Indonesia’s “Pancasila”, which was a set of five guiding principles initiated by President Sukarno and later used to suppress left-wing or religious opposition, especially under the dictator Suharto. Pancasila was also used to repress the rights of populations to break away from Indonesia and to justify a lack of democracy. Pancasila’s so-called legitimacy was based on the need for national unity and order and General Suharto often pointed to the chaos of the early years after independence to justify it. The Thai junta will use the same justification.

Whether or not the Thai National Strategy can become the “New Monarchy” remains to be seen and depends on whether the junta can convince the majority of citizens to willingly accept it. In the meantime, Wachralongkorn will enjoy spending his millions in his palace in Germany and the Thai ruling class will try to keep him out of the limelight.

Read full paper here: http://bit.ly/2xGDiSu