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Thailand: It's about democracy

Red Shirt barricade, Bangkok.

By Giles Ji Ungpakorn

April 29, 2010 -- In a democratic society, when there is a deep crisis, it is customary for the government to dissolve parliament and call elections in order for the people to decide. This happened in Britain and France after mass strikes and demonstrations in the 1960s and 1970s.

After mass right-wing Yellow Shirt protests against the government in Bangkok in 2006, Thaksin Shinawatra’s Thai Rak Thai government dissolved parliament and called elections. Yet the Democrat Party and others refused to take part in these elections because they knew they would lose. This led to a military coup. The military wrote their own undemocratic constitution. Fresh elections were held under the control of the military, yet Thaksin’s party won an overall majority again. Abhisit Vejjajiva’s government is only in power by using two judiciary coups, Yellow Shirt violence at Government House and the airports, and the actions of the army. It has never been elected.

So why is the government and its elite friends refusing to dissolve parliament and call immediate elections? They brush aside this simple Red Shirt demand. Instead they bring armed soldiers and tanks on to the streets to break up an unarmed pro-democracy protest. So far at least 27 people have died this year.

This is what the Thai crisis is all about. It is about democracy vs dictatorship. It is also about equality.

Let us look at the justification for refusing an election. It is the same as the justification for the 2006 coup. Basically the elites claim that the majority of ordinary people in Thailand are too poorly educated and too stupid to be allowed a free vote. They claim that they are all “bought” by Thaksin. It is the same old story throughout the history of democratic struggles in the world. The poor are always insulted in this way. Only the privileged classes and middle classes are deemed to be mature enough to vote.

The government and the military have now announced that the entire Red Shirt leadership is “republican” and therefore it is “OK” to shoot everyone. Yes, I am a republican, but the Red Shirts' leaders are unfortunately not. Tell a huge lie about the Red Shirts so you can kill them “with legitimacy”. This is what Abhisit means by “democracy”. In Thailand it is now a capital offence to have political views which differ from the royalist elites. This means that no one can tell if most Thais love the king or not. The chances are that millions of ordinary people now hate the monarchy because of what has been done in its name. The tyrants can only react with violence, lies and censorship. That is a sign of desperation.

Abhisit’s military-backed government has rejected negotiations with the Red Shirts and rejected the olive branch offered to the government by the Red Shirts on April 23. After meeting with various foreign ambassadors at the protest site, Red Shirt leaders offered a compromise demand: dissolve parliament in one month and elections two months after that. But Abhisit’s military government has turned its back on a peaceful solution. Abhisit and the army already have blood on their hands from the shooting of 21 civilians on April 10.

The Red Shirts are strengthening their defences, calling in the Red Shirt motorcycle riders to defend the barricades, urging people to join the protests (but not in red shirts so as not to be stopped by the military).

Mobile motorcycle troops carrying lethal weapons are driving around Bangkok intimidating people wearing red shirts on the streets.

Mobile motorcycle troops carrying lethal weapons are driving around Bangkok intimidating people wearing red shirts on the streets, while 30,000 troops are massing to use lethal force against civilian pro-democracy protesters in Bangkok.

Khon Kaen Red Shirts have stopped vanloads of police and taken their weapons. Police seem to have cooperated. Red motorcycle “cavalry” are setting up roadblocks on outer ring road around Bangkok to stop troops.

In Sakon Nakorn, north-east, Red Shirts have block a paramilitary border patrol police barracks. Red Shirt motorcycle “cavalry” have surrounded troops with weapons at Rungsit mint, just north of Bangkok. Thousands of Red Shirts in Udon, in the north-east, seized a police station and all the arms! Fighting for democracy!

The king is silent and waiting, as ever, to see which side wins. The queen and crown prince have shown support for the army.

Yet NGOs and “peace” groups continue to support the government stand and blame "both sides" for any violence. NGOs therefore believe that the people don't have a right to demand democracy and that the government has a right to mobilise troops against them.

So why are some people claiming that both sides in Thailand must “avoid violence” and “take responsibility”? Which side has the guns and tanks? Which side is refusing democratic elections? Would they have said this about the people's power movement in the Philippines [that overthrew dictator Marcos]? Do they accuse Aung San Suu Kyi and the Buddhist monks of being equally responsible with the militiary regime for the violence in Burma? Were the students in Tiananmen Square “responsible” for their own deaths?

Thailand will never be the same. What will happen, no one knows. But this is a revolutionary situation with a potential for freedom, democracy, social Justice ... or barbarism.

[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.]

Comments

A well written article Thailand and its struggle for democracy

This article (even though written by a Thai Republican) explains the very recent political history and current situation in Thailand accurately and without bias.

While in Thailand I met many red people with and without their families and its absolutely untrue that they (the leading majority of the reds) are uneducated and poor, many of the people I met were loyal to Thailnd, wealthy, educated and certainly loved the monarchy and especially their kind King!

As far as Thaksin buying the votes of the masses is concerned, Thaksin gave medical treatment to the Thai people for 30 Baht, he substantially improved the road infrastructure, their utilty industries and greatly reduced Thailand's world debt and money doesn't mean intelligence... results do.

Of course he gained personally but show me a politician in any country who didn't or hadn't gained something both in the West and East? The sale of Thaksin's company shares were (I understand) within the current Thai regulations in force at the time, but envious individuals cried foul!

Like Thaksin or loath him here's no escaping the fact that Thaksin started life without money and worked hard to become a success which is more than can be said of many leaders who are born from wealthy beginnings!

Finally, take a close look at the promises made by the current administration and see how many of those have been put into practice, I respectfully suggest you will not be able to list many if any?

Thailand, it's about democracy

Giles Ji Ungpakorn article is accurate or without bias? It simply is not. It is written very much from the Red perspective. He obviously has his own agenda and would do Thailand far more good if he was to offer a more balanced view and more than that, offer a solution to a problem that is taking Thailand down a very rocky road. To compare the Red leaders to Aung San Suu Kyi shows his lack of understanding and poltical bias. Democracy is not created by a mob placing a country and its people at the sort of risk that now exist, negotiation by responsible people is needed. Whatever is said, this whole unfortunate and dangerous situation has its genesis in Mr Thaksin, who has lost his cash cow.

a model in direct action

Giles knows the workers in Thailand have no party of their own. That renders democratic elections and 'democracy' a sham. 40 years ago the CPT พคท was the second-largest communist movement in mainland SE Asia. Boonsanong's บุญสนอง Socialist Party of Thailand was also a rising force, until he was gunned down in Feb. 1976. Most non-Thais have no idea there was a powerful democratic socialist movement in Boonsanong's ranks in the early and mid-70s, Thailand's Red Decade.

None of these options are part of the 'democratic' options available to Thai voters now. The red shirts have shown the world a brilliant paradigm of direct action and people's resistance against state power, as Giles details. This is what socialists around the world should be studying. The UDD leaders like Kwanchai, Veera and others inside the Pheu Thai party are all part of Thaksin's corrupt entourage. Fresh elections will sweep these right-wing populists back into power. But will solve almost nothing. Giles knows this is a struggle between powerful opposed wings of the corporate elite that controls state and capital in Thailand. He has said that before. It is not about 'democracy' vs. 'dictatorship.'

Inventive direct-action protest on this scale, of such duration and boldness, largely unarmed, would doubtless have been quashed by brutal state force in any other capital in the world. Its success will remain a paradigm for peoples' resistance, whatever the outcome, and whatever the machinations of its 'leaders.'

The real hope is that the politicization the UDD rank and file have experienced -- and are learning from -- is transforming them. It must be. These days have been a school for people's power. That it will lead to the formation of worker-farmer radical antiauthoritarian politics -- not 'tycoon-and-generals' Thaksinomics and its familiar old faces, now so eager to regain state power.

Look to the streets of Nepal for the real contrast of the hour. There is some evidence that organizers of the indefinite general strike there may have even learned tactical lessons from the ingenuity of the UDD rank and file in their direct action against state armed power.

King Bhumibol's Remarks on Aung San Suu Kyi

I just want to share the following is the remarks on Aung San Suu Kyi made by King of Thailand taken from The King Never Smiles: A Biography of Thailand's Bhumibol Adulyadej by Paul M. Handley.

"Even after the dust of May 1992 settled, the king still rejected the conclusions of numerous Thai and foreign scholars, politicians, and businessmen, that the upheaval was the result of an undeveloped political system, one excessively reliant on the monarchy and military to govern and manage development. Bhumibol’s stubborn hold on his own views was clear in an astonishing episode in early 1993. While Thailand was struggling with democratic processes and ambitious generals, neighboring Burma su√ered the misrule of a paranoid and brutal military junta, known as the State Law and Order Restoration Council, or Slorc. They had crushed a popular revolt in 1988 and jailed members of the political opposition, including their leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Still under house arrest, in October 1991 Suu Kyi was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of their struggle.

In February 1993 eight previous Nobel Peace laureates visited Thailand, as Burma’s closest neighbor, to demonstrate their solidarity. Oscar Arias, the former president of Costa Rica, South Africa’s Desmond Tutu, the Dalai Lama of Tibet, and five others were invited by Thai social activists, to the great consternation of the Thai military. After visiting the destitute Burmese refugee camps on the northern Thai border, the group was received by King Bhumibol. They were astounded to hear him lecture them on how Aung San Suu Kyi should give up her fight and return to England to raise her children, and let SLORC run the country. Military governments were good for developing countries, the king insisted, and there was no need to support the Burmese opposition. Suu Kyi was only a troublemaker.

It wasn’t the only time the king said such things. He lobbied American diplomats and foreign academics to accept SLORC as bringing stability to Burma. Like the SLORC generals, he argued from his palace chambers that because Suu Kyi was married to a foreigner and had been educated abroad, she didn’t represent traditional Burmese values, so she ought to return to England and her family there. Outside Chitrlada Palace, however, a new generation of Thais was cheering for Suu Kyi, and the officiall policy of the newly elected government of Chuan Leekpai was to support her pro-democracy movement."

Pages 361-362 The King Never Smiles: A Biography of Thailand's Bhumibol Adulyadej by Paul M. Handley

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