Giles Ji Ungpakorn
A few weeks ago, the Thai Conspiracy Theory networks were humming about goings on among the royals. We were told that top serving military generals were summoned to Wachiralongkorn’s villa in Germany and that the junta heads were not invited. We were told that the movement of tanks towards Lopbury was the beginnings of a military coup. There were dire warnings about a possible “civil war” between troops supposedly commanded by Wachiralongkorn and his opponents.
Yet, a less sensationalist explanation would be that the top generals were going to see the King about the final arrangements for his coronation in May, while Prayut, now a retired officer, concentrated on fixing the election. The armoured vehicle movements were part of the Cobra Gold military exercises with the US.
In terms of the civil war, we’ve been here before with similar dire warnings about a war for royal succession between the troops of Wachiralongkorn and those loyal to the Princess Siritorn (Sirindhorn). Of course this never happened.
Before this, the Thai Conspiracy Theory networks drove themselves into a climax by discussing the relationship between Ubonrut, Taksin and Wachiralongkorn. What was totally ignored was the discussion of the need for a mass social movement for democracy in order to end the legacy of Prayut’s military junta. Without such a movement, the flawed elections in March will not bring an end to the dictatorship. But this is not the kind of reality that excites and titillates the Thai Conspiracy Theory networks.
Some weeks have passed since the supposed “earth quake” in Thai politics, which resulted from the nomination of Ubonrut. But there has been no coup or civil war or attempt at a Palace Coup against Prayut. In any case, an “earth quake” in Thai politics cannot result from the petty manoeuvrings among the elites. An earth quake would look like the Arab Spring or the 14th October 1973 uprising in Bangkok or the fall of the Berlin Wall.
During the election campaign, when Sudarat Keyurapan from Pua Thai Party proposed a cut in the military budget, General Apirat Kongsompong, army chief, suggested that she listen to an ultra-right song from the 1970’s which was used to mobilise thugs to kill leftists. Apirat is the son of General Sunthorn Kongsompong, who led the 1991 coup against an elected government. The resulting junta was overthrown by mass popular protests in 1992. The reactionary tirade by General Apirat, and his father’s coup in 1991, was a symbol of the military’s wish to monopolise politics and the power struggle between the military and civilian politicians. It was certainly not a result of following orders from Wachiralongkorn!
These are uncertain times in Thai politics and it is not possible to predict what will happen after the March election. However, the military have 3 levels of action to maintain their power. The first plan is to get Prayut elected as Prime Minister with the support of the 250 military-appointed senators This means that his party only needs 126 elected MPs out of a total of 500 seats in the lower house. The second plan is to restrict the actions of any elected government not headed by Prayut, using the powers of the 20 year National Strategy and various junta appointed bodies like the judiciary and the senate. The third and most desperate action would be another military coup if the election does not give them what they want. But the choice and outcome of any of these 3 actions will not merely be decided in Prayut’s military headquarters or even in Wachiralongkorn’s German palace. It will have a real dialectic relationship with the reaction of millions of ordinary Thais.
Recently, a British socialist posted a comment on the so-called “Jewish Conspiracy”, so beloved by the Nazis. He wrote that “conspiracy theories can take hold when people find themselves incapable of explaining the malign features of our social existence and feel they lack any genuine democratic control over their daily lives. These theories act as an indispensable substitute for a genuine opposition to the real power in society.” This could equally apply to what has been happening in Thailand.
Those who are addicted to Thai conspiracy theories are not interested in helping to build a mass social movement for democracy. Those who claim that Thailand is run by Wachiralongkorn’s absolutism, which controls the military and a supposed “Deep State” are in the same boat. They dismiss the possibility that ordinary people can make “earth quake like” changes to society and instead shrink into gossip about the royals and various conspiracies. And foreign news outlets, looking for juicy exotic news about Thailand, are also happy to lap up all this nonsense. The Thai political crisis is seen as just an elite dispute and mass activity to expand the democratic space is dismissed as impossible. The result is apathy and helplessness.
But as I have previously written; “People who spend their time looking up at the view above risk stepping in dog shit”. The crisis that has divided Thai society for the last decade is about the significant changes to the social and economic conditions of millions of citizens and their unmet political aspirations.
In a previous article I wrote that… “The 1997 economic crisis exposed the material reality of the lives of most Thai citizens whose way of life had developed rapidly over many decades but which was in conflict with an unchanged and outdated “Superstructure”. This is the dynamic of conflict which was harnessed by Taksin. [See https://bit.ly/2I9WcLO ].
This crisis is part of an on-going struggle between ordinary Thai people and the elites who lord it over them. [See https://bit.ly/2SyK7ok ]. If we draw the correct lessons from the struggles of the past, we can begin to organise the overthrow these elites.
Conspiracy theories concerning the elites totally ignore these important issues and cannot begin to explain the complexities of the changes in Thai society. Instead they prefer to discuss Thai politics as though it was some kind of fairy-tale or sensational soap opera.