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.