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(Updated April 11) Thailand: Tyrants shoot the people to cling to power; Time for immediate fresh elections!

Pro-democracy protesters demand the reopening of the Thaicom TV station. Photos by Sarot Meksophawannakul Thiti Wannamontha Chanat Katanyu Thapanan Thongsubhiran/Bangkok Post.

STOP PRESS -- April 10, 2010

By Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Soldiers armed with live and rubber bullets and CS gas have attacked the peaceful pro-democracy Red Shirts at various spots in the centre of Bangkok. At least 12 people, Red Shirts and one Japanese Reuters reporter, have been shot dead by armed troops using automatic weapons, and tanks [were used] against peaceful pro-democracy demonstrators. Hundreds more people have been injured. The military-backed government of Abhisit Vejjajiva has blood on its hands and should resign immediately. Some soldiers have been taken prisoner and weapons seized. Red Shirts outside Bangkok have seized many provincial headquarters.

Tonight at 10pm in Bangkok, a ceasefire has been announced. The questions is... what happens tomorrow?

Earlier Abhisit lied that his government would not use force against the protesters. He continues to lie that his government was “democratically elected”.

The gang of royalist tyrants -- Abhisit Vejjajiva’s Democrat Party, the military, the royal palace and the bureaucratic elites -- can only cling to power through violence and lies. As they use armed troops and tanks against pro-democracy demonstrators in Bangkok for the fifth time in 40 years, the tyrants hope that a blanket of censorship throughout Thailand will allow them to do their dirty work in secret. But their censorship is not working and the assembled masses of pro-democracy Red Shirts are resisting.

The Red Shirts want democracy and want immediate elections, but democracy and elections are the last things that the tyrants want. They have lorded it over the people for years. They have never won an election and they have never been happy with respecting election results. They are supported in their bloody work by the fascist Yellow Shirted PAD, most middle-class academics and the self-appointed NGO leaders. Together they are contemptuous and fearful of ordinary working people, the poor, the farmers, the citizens.

Hovering over the repression and exploitation of the people, like a mean and nasty dark cloud, is the king and his network of toadies. Ever since coming to the throne, king has served the army and the elites well, giving them a legitimacy based on superstition, hierarchy and grovelling.

The people have risen up against the tyrants. The “refined” mask of Eton- and Oxford-educated Abhisit Vejjajiva has slipped off to reveal just another tin-pot dictator.

It is time to clear away all the gangsters and parasites who have held sway over Thai society for too long. Down with the military! Down with the monarchy! Down with the dictatorship! Power to working people!

 

Thailand: Time for immediate fresh elections!

By Giles Ji Ungpakorn

April 9, 2010 -- After the military-backed Democrat Party government of Abhisit Vejjajiva declared a state of emergency, on the evening of April 7, and issued arrest warrants for pro-democracy Red Shirt leaders, the government has attempted to close down all internet and satellite media or websites which don’t tow the government line.

Since late March the Red Shirts have been holding huge peaceful and disciplined protests in Bangkok. They have not destroyed anything or held weapons of any kind. Their demands are for the dissolution of parliament and immediate fresh elections. The military-backed government is totally opposed to elections, since the Democrat Party has never ever won a majority.

The reaction of Abhisit is to say that “elections solve nothing” and that he would not dissolve parliament until a long drawn out process of “constitutional reform was carried out”. His government has been pretending to deal with constitutional reform for over a year with no results. Naturally, the main government party, which has never won anything approaching a majority in elections, has “little faith in elections”. The excuse for the 2006 coup was that the majority of the electorate were “too ill informed to have the right to vote”. Yet repeated elections since 2001 have shown strong support for Red Shirt parties.

The Red Shirt protests are in stark contrast to the conservative royalist Yellow Shirt People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) demonstrations in 2008. The PAD used violence and carried weapons. They occupied and wrecked Government House and seized and shut down the international airports. No one has been punished for these criminal acts. The PAD demand that the democratic space be reduced because they believe that the majority of the people do not deserve the vote. The Democrat Party has worked hand in hand with the PAD and the army. Yet Hans van Baalen, Dutch member of the European Parliament and president of Liberal International, supports the military-backed government in Thailand and claims that a crackdown on Red Shirts would defend the rule of law in Thailand.

State of emergency and threats of violence

Abhisit justifies his state of emergency on the grounds that the Red Shirts are blocking shopping centres! This is a lie, one of many lies told by the Thai prime minister. Another lie is that the Red Shirt media is advocating violence. They have done nothing of the kind. The brief invasion of the parliament grounds by Red Shirts on April 8 was in response to CS gas canisters being thrown at the peaceful crowd outside.

Prachatai, the only independent web-based newspaper in Thailand has been closed down by the military-backed government. The government has also sent soldiers to close down the Red Shirt TV station and various community radio stations. The aim is to shut down all free media and blanket the country in darkness. Meanwhile, the rabid Yellow Shirt ASTV media has been given a free hand to broadcast programs advocating violence against the Red Shirts.

Today the Red Shirts went to the supportive Thaicom satellite TV station to ask for it back, yet foreign media like the BBC claim wrongly claim that the Red Shirts were trying to “occupy” the satellite station. What they wanted was for transmissions to be reinstated.

The Red Shirts are a mass movement of workers and peasants. They are demanding a restoration of democracy. Most support former PM Thaksin Shinawatra because his government introduced Thailand's first ever universal healthcare scheme and pro-poor policies. Foreign media often incorrectly portray the Red Shirts as rural people. They are poor people from urban and rural areas, including Bangkok. They represent the vast majority of Thai citizens. They proudly call themselves “serfs” in a class war with the authoritarian elites.

The Democrat Party and Abhisit Vejjajiva took over the government after:

  • continuously criticising the Thaksin government for using state funds for the poor;
  • refusing to take part in the elections of 2006 because they knew they would lose;
  • a military coup in September 2006;
  • a military constitution was introduced in 2007 which decreased the democratic space;
  • they lost the December 2007 election;
  • they supported the PAD violent demonstrations which seized Government House and closed down the international airports;
  • royalist courts were used twice to dissolve Red Shirt parties which won majorities; and
  • corrupt politicians were bullied and bribed by the army to change sides and support the Democrat Party.

NGOs, `Human Rights Commission' side with military-royalist government

One again the Thai NGOs have sided with the military-installed royalist government against the demands of hundreds of thousands of pro-democracy Red Shirts. The Red Shirts represent millions of ordinary working people in urban and rural areas...

During the latest negotiations between Red Shirts and the government, the NGOs have backed the military/royalist government’s position, as outlined by Abhisit in the televised negotiations. These NGO groups include NGO-COD, the Consumers’ Network, the Health Network, the Sustainable Agriculture Network, the People Living With AIDS network and FTA Watch (see Prachatai 29/3/2010). They want constitutional reform before any elections. They see the main threat to democracy coming from “electioneering politicians” rather than the military and the royalist elites. They ask the government to “consider” holding elections in six months' time. This position is nothing new.

These NGO groups supported the 2006 coup and had close links with the PAD. They are opposed to representative democracy and are suspicious of voting. They regard ordinary villagers and working folk with contemp. NGO Senator Rosana even referred to the recent Red Shirt protestors as “uncivilised”. The latest NGO position is even more reactionary than the position of many academics who signed an open letter calling for elections in six months.

Some NGOs have said that local community rights issues need to be sorted out first before elections, as though community rights and democracy have nothing to do with each other! Amnesty International in Thailand has PAD supporters on its staff and so AI has refused to take up lese majeste prisoners as prisoners of conscience.

Thai NGOs have long ceased to side with the poor and oppressed in society. They have become an elitist group of professional aid workers.

Dr Tajing Siripanit, a commissioner from the Thai National Human Rights Commission, stated on NBT television on April 4 that the military-backed government “would be justified in using force” against the peaceful pro-democracy Red Shirt protestors “because they were disrupting shopping” in the centre of Bangkok. In fact, the Red Shirts are not blocking the pedestrian entrances to any shopping centres.

Previously, the National Human Rights Commission remained quiet about the fascist-PAD blockade of the international airports in 2008 and the 2006 military coup. It has remained silent about the use of lese majeste laws against government critics and they are silent on the censorship of the media. Many members of the National Human Rights Commission are PAD supporters.

This is an example of what the Red Shirts mean when they say that the “independent bodies” are staffed by military junta appointees. This is why we need immediate fresh elections and the abolition of the military constitution.

[Giles Ji Ungpakorn is a Thai socialist currently in exile in Britain. He is a member of Left Turn Thailand and maintains a blog at http://wdpress.blog.co.uk/. His latest book Thailand’s Crisis and the Fight for Democracy” will be published in April 2010.]

 

The struggle shaking Thailand

April 9, 2010 -- Socialist Worker (USA) -- The Thai government declared a state of emergency and was threatening more repression after massive protests erupted in Bangkok over the regime's refusal to hold democratic elections. Police have carried out violent attacks on the pro-democracy protesters -- known as "Red Shirts" because of their clothing.

The government of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, leader of the misnamed Democrat Party, came to power in 2008 with the support of the military and the right-wing pro-royalist People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD). The PAD mobilised demonstrators known as the "Yellow Shirts", whose protests crippled the previous government that was supported by the Red Shirts.

Giles Ji Ungpakorn is a Thai academic and dissident who was targeted by the government for the supposed crime of lese majeste -- essentially, "disloyalty" to Thailand's head of state, King Bhumibol. He fled the country to avoid censorship and a possible prison sentence of 15 years. He spoke with Lee Sustar about the background to this week's clashes.

* * *

Can you explain what's taken place in Thailand over the past several years as the backdrop to the current crisis?

In 2006, the Thai military carried out a coup against the government of Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, a businessman who led the Thai Rak Thai Party.

The military regime stayed in power for just over a year, during which time it drafted its own constitution and reduced democratic space. It appointed half the Senate instead of having it fully elected and so on. Elections were held after a year, but they were won by the same party that had been overthrown by the coup.

The military and the royalists then used the courts to dissolve the party that won the most votes. They actually did this twice. In that period, the middle-class royalist movement was holding street protests, taking over the international airport.

This eventually led to a new government being formed with the backing of the military. This is the present government we see today, headed by Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, from the so-called Democrat Party.

The Red Shirts were originally the people who voted for Thaksin Shinawatra's party, but they have developed into a mass movement that has real roots among the poor, both in rural and urban areas.

Many foreign journalists have wrongly described the Red Shirts as being a predominately rural movement. In fact, it's a class movement of the poor that has become a mass movement for democracy. Consciousness is developing in such a way that the poor see that the enemies of the people and of democracy are the military, the monarchy and the middle class.

So what you have today, at the moment in Bangkok, is a mass movement of pro-democracy Red Shirts representing the poor, who are demanding fresh elections, that the government dissolve parliament and so on.

The regime claims that Thaksin is manipulating all this from exile. What's the truth of the matter?

He represents a figurehead to the mass of the Red Shirts, but he's hardly manipulating the movement.

In fact, he didn't actually build the Red Shirt movement. It was built initially by local politicians from his party, but it really mushroomed into a grassroots movement. People set up their own Red Shirt groups in all sorts of communities in different provinces. For example, they ran community radio stations because the mainstream media is totally censored and biased toward the government.

So the Red Shirts are people who are demanding democracy. They also see the struggle for democracy as a class struggle for the rights of poor people.

Thaksin Shinawatra is a bourgeois politician and a rich businessman, but he introduced the universal health care system in Thailand -- one that's more advanced than Barack Obama's proposals. He introduced a number of reforms to raise the incomes of poor people.

So it's very reasonable that he should receive support from the Red Shirts. But the Red Shirts are leading themselves as well. The movement is hardly the tool of Thaksin Shinawatra.

Several years ago, in the final years of Thaksin's government before the coup, people on the left, from NGOs to pro-democratic groups to labour organisations, were opposing some of his policies and methods of government. Have these coups realigned forces?

The left in Thailand has always been pretty small. In general, it is aligned with the pro-democracy Red Shirts, because we see this as a mass movement of the people. The NGOs, however, have disgraced themselves. They have lined up with the military. They supported the coup in 2006 and the right-wing PAD. They're actually opposed to the Red Shirts.

This is quite ironic really, because in the 1980s, the NGOs were talking about how the answer was in the villages, and that we have to listen to what the poor say. But now, they've turned their back on them, and believe the villagers are too ill-informed and ill-educated to deserve democracy.

As far as the labour movement is concerned, there are sections of the labour leadership that are in league with the royalists. However, the mass of ordinary workers and the majority of the rank-and-file workers are supporters of the Red Shirts. But one of the problems is that the Red Shirt movement has so far ignored the potential to build support among the organised trade union movement. This is something it needs to do in order to strengthen its bargaining power.

Let's move to the current standoff. Are the reports in the media correct that the decision of the courts to expropriate some of Thaksin's wealth was the trigger for this latest protest, or was it something more than that?

It was more than that. These mass protests have been taking place at regular intervals ever since the military installed the present government in late 2008.

People were very angry with the way that the courts seized Thaksin's wealth. And to be honest, the corruption charges against him haven't really been proved. In that sense, people are justified to be angry.

But really, this is a point where people have decided that they're going to make a stand and get the government to resign.

The government itself, by using the emergency decrees, has threatened to use force to disperse the demonstrators. The main claim is that the demonstrators are affecting the shopping centres of Bangkok.

This is very ironic because if you go back to 2008, the royalists had actually closed down the international airport and Government House, which had a much greater impact on the economy. And nobody from the royalist side has ever been charged for committing those crimes.

What do you see as the likely outcome? There was some speculation in the media that because the regime agreed to some negotiations, it might be bending somewhat. Is it just playing for time and hoping that the movement will disperse, or is it cracking a bit?

The negotiations that you mentioned were unprecedented. They took place on live television, and this was a very important opportunity for the Red Shirts to put forward their point of view and expose the government. Normally, mainstream television only gives the government's side.

So in some sense, it does show that the government was forced into those negotiations. However, the government refused to accept the demand for the dissolution of parliament.

Yes, the regime is trying to buy time. One of the reasons they want to buy time is because the military commanders at the moment want to ensure that their people get the jobs when the annual military reshuffle takes place later this year. They also want to buy time in order to destroy the chances of the Red Shirt parties winning in a future election, which must be held in 21 months' time.

But so far, the Red Shirts have been very resilient and have shown that they actually represent a majority of the electorate.

What is the role of the US here? When the coup took place, there was some finger-wagging and statements of dissatisfaction, but the military relationships continued, basically intact.

Yes, the military relationships have been maintained. I think that the position of the US government is that it's quite happy to work with any government in Thailand. They might do a little bit of finger-wagging, as you say, if there's a coup, but they'll still carry on working with a military-backed government.

Really, in the case of Thailand, the US is more interested in balancing the strategic influence of China. So the US isn't really backing any side, but it's working with whoever is in power at the time. Right now, it's working with a government that was installed by the military.

However, a recent human rights report from the US government was very ill-informed and tended to whitewash the censorship and abuse of human rights that's going on in Thailand at the moment.

There is no free media in Thailand anymore. People are put in jail for posting comments on the Internet. The US government claimed that there's academic freedom, and yet I was charged with lese majeste for writing a book against the coup d'etat. There are other academics who have been dismissed from their jobs as a result of making political stands against the regime.

Because of the way the military used the monarchy over time, it's impossible not to criticise the monarchy when you're criticising the military. This then becomes an excuse to crack down on people.

The US human rights report also wrongly claimed that last April, the pro-democracy Red Shirts killed two people. In fact, it was government troops who shot dead two people and injured over 30 people.

What should people who support democracy and workers' rights internationally do in regard to Thailand?

I think it's important to keep a close eye on Thailand at the moment because the demonstrators are very fearful the military will use force at any time. It would be useful to have international organisations making statements opposing the use of force against peaceful demonstrators. And if force is used, it would be important to protest that.

Also, it's important to counter any information that implies the Red Shirts are merely tools of Thaksin, and that it's impossible to understand what's going on in Thailand. In fact, what's going on in Thailand is very similar to what's going on in Honduras, where a pro-poor president was ousted in a military coup.

Transcription by Matt Beamesderfer

 

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