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Thailand: Why aren’t the generals in jail?

Thai soldier during the September 19, 2006, coup sports the monarchy's colour, yellow.

By Giles Ji Ungpakorn

[For more on Thailand and the Red Shirt movement, click HERE.]

September 19, 2011 -- Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal -- On the fifth anniversary of the September  19, 2006, military coup in Thailand, General Sonti Boonyaratgalin should be facing charges for staging an illegal coup and tearing up a democratic constitution. General Prayut Junocha should also be facing charges for ordering the killings of nearly 90 unarmed pro-democracy demonstrators last year. But this is not happening because we do not have equality, freedom and justice in Thailand, and we do not have a government that respects the Red Shirts who voted for it in the first place.

The Pheu Thai Party may have won the election in July, but the repressive ruling class is still all powerful. The army continues to intervene in politics and society, the judiciary has not been reformed and the king still acts as the figurehead to give legitimacy to those opposing real democracy, with the draconian lèse majesté law as back-up. Pheu Thai is clearly in the process of reconciling its differences with the military.

The major forces behind the September 19 coup were anti-democratic groups in the military and civilian elite, disgruntled business leaders and neoliberal intellectuals and politicians. The coup was also supported by the monarchy. The king maintained his long stance of failing to defend democracy by not criticising the coup. He allowed the soldiers to sport yellow royalist ribbons on their uniforms and he allowed the coup leaders to be photographed with him in order that the soldiers could claim that the coup had “royal approval”.

What all these pro-coup groups had in common was contempt and hatred for the poor. In their view, “too much democracy” gave “too much power” to the poor electorate and encouraged governments to “over spend” on welfare. This is a statement we hear today from the neoliberals in Europe who defend unpopular austerity policies in order to save the rich and the bankers.

It is the courage, tenacity and sacrifices of the Red Shirt movement in the face of barbaric military violence that has kept the culture of democracy alive in Thailand. It is this that gave Yingluck Shinawatra’s Pheu Thai Party its overall majority in the July elections.

Yet on the fifth anniversary of the 2006 coup we see the Yingluck government treating the heroes of the Red Shirt movement with contempt. For her government, the Red Shirts are just “dust under their feet”. The prime minister has toured the flood-affected areas side by side with General Prayut, the butcher of Rajprasong. This act is part of rebuilding legitimacy for the military and spitting in the face of Red Shirts.

So instead of General Sonti Boonyaratgalin facing charges for staging an illegal coup and tearing up a democratic constitution, instead of General Prayut Junocha facing charges of ordering the killings of unarmed pro-democracy demonstrators, we see the Pheu Thai government bowing down before the military. Added to this, we see government ministers pledging to increase the use of lèse majesté.

Progressive Red Shirts should realise that this is not a “Red Shirt” government. The only reason for voting Pheu Thai at the election was to slap the military and the Democrat Party in the face.

The time has come to organise independently of the royalist elites, the military and Pheu Thai, and wage an all-out battle for freedom, democracy and social equality.

[Giles Ji Ungpakorn is a political commentator and dissident. In February 2009 he had to leave Thailand for exile in Britain because he was charged with lèse majesté for writing a book criticising the 2006 military coup. He is a member of Left Turn Thailand, a socialist organisation. His latest book, Thailand’s Crisis and the Fight for Democracy, will be of interest to activists, academics and journalists who have an interest in Thai politics, democratisation and NGOs. His website is at]

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