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Thailand: `Cockroaches' take over

By Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Bangkok, December 15, 2008 -- The appointment of ``Democrat'' Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva as the new Prime Minister of Thailand is the final stage of the second coup against an elected government. After the deliberate chaos created by the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) seizure of the airports, the courts stepped in to dissolve the hugely popular governing Thai Rak Thai (Peoples Power Party) for the second time. [The constitutional court dissolved the party for fraud in the 2007 election that brought it to power.] The army chief then called a meeting of Democrat Party parliamentarians, along with some of the most corrupt elements of the governing coalition parties. It is widely believed that the army chief and others threatened and bribed MPs to change sides. Chief among them is ``Newin Chitchorp'', who was named by his father after the infamous Burmese dictator.

The Democrat Party is known among the cyber community as the ``Cockroach Party''. This is because cockroaches live in filthy places and can survive even nuclear holocausts. The party has survived for many years, forming governments after various crises. These so-called Democrats have systematically backed anti-democratic measures. They supported the 2006 coup, the military constitution and the PAD. One Democrat Party MP was the leader of the mob that took over the international airport. Over the last 30 years, the Democrat Party has never won an overall majority in parliament. It does not represent the people. During the government of former Peoples Power Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra it spent the whole time criticising the government's universal healthcare scheme and other pro-poor policies. After the 1997 economic crisis it used state money to prop up the banks and guarantee the savings of the rich, while telling the poor to fend for themselves and depend on their families. Even Abhisit's name in Thai means ``privilege''. He is an Oxford graduate from a wealthy family.

The first coup, on September 19, 2006, was a straightforward military coup, using tanks and soldiers wearing royal yellow ribbons. The military junta tore-up the democratic constitution and replaced it with an authoritarian one. Half the Senate was appointed by the military and many so-called independent bodies were staffed by junta supporters. The military appointed themselves to lucrative state enterprise positions. Then they got the courts to dissolve the Thai Rak Thai Party despite the fact that it had won repeated elections.

Thaksin's Thai Rak Thai party was and remains hugely popular among the majority of Thais. This party introduced the first universal healthcare scheme, and projects to stimulate village economies. The aim was to develop Thailand as a whole, increasing the education and health status of the general population, thus turning them into ``stakeholders''. This was a winning formula, an alliance between a pro-poor capitalist party and the poor, both urban and rural.

`Old Order'

But Thaksin's modernisation plans, which also included major infrastructure development such as public transport projects for Bangkok, upset the ``Old Order''. This ``Old Order'' is not headed by Thailand's king, as many commentators think. The Old Order is made up of local political mafias, the army, conservative judges and the Democrat Party. They were joined by businessmen like Sonti Limtongkul, who initially supported Thaksin, but fell out over personal interests. The PAD mobilised a fascist-style middle class mob to cause chaos. They seized the Government House, destroyed offices, stole weapons and then tried to close parliament. Their final act was the takeover of the two international airports with the open support of the military.

The PAD and the Old Order want to reduce democracy further. They want to reduce the number of elected members of parliament, stiffen lèse majesté (the crime of ``injury'' to royalty) laws and destroy the alliance between the poor and Thaksin. They are angry that the poor have become politicised. They hate the fact that state budgets were spent on healthcare, rural development and education. Instead they want to cling to their old privileges, espouse strict monetarism (except for elite and military spending) and advocate that the poor should be ``sufficient'' in their poverty. These people use neoliberal, free-market ideas in association with the king's ``sufficiency economy'' ideology. Their excuse for opposing democracy is their belief that the poor are too stupid to deserve the right to vote.

The Thai king has always been weak[1]. His status has been systematically promoted by military juntas and the elite in general. We are all socialised to think that the king is an ``ancient absolute monarchy'', while at the same time being within the constitution. This picture of power creates a shell to protect the entire ruling class and the status quo under a climate of fear. The army especially needs such a legitimising shell because it is no longer OK for the military hold political power, unless it can claim to protect the monarchy.

In previous political crises, such as in 1973 and 1992, the king only intervened late in the day after it was clear who had won. In the present crisis the king has remained silent and has not made any attempts to resolve the crisis. He missed his annual birthday speech on December 4, claiming a sore throat.

Struggle between elites

The royal dimension to this crisis is that it is a struggle between two elite groups. One side have been much more successful in claiming royal legitimacy. But ironically this claim by the anti-Thaksin lot is causing a crisis for the monarchy because it associates the PAD violence and law-breaking with the monarchy, and the actions by the military have created an image that the monarchy is against the majority of the population. The support shown by Thailand's queen for the PAD has also angered or disappointed many Thais.

The new government will be made up of a coalition of some of the most corrupt and unprincipled politicians. This shows that the elites' opposition to Thaksin was never really about preventing corruption or vote buying, despite the fact that many ordinary middle-class people might have felt that it was. Even the Democrat Party has a history of vote buying and corruption. The Democrat governor of Bangkok had to resign recently under a corruption cloud. Yet the party was not dissolved by the courts. So far, Thaksin and his fellow politicians have only been found guilty of technicalities. No serious corruption charges have been proven. No evidence of real election fraud has ever been unearthed. In fact, Thaksin's party was reducing the importance of vote buying through pro-poor policies. This is what angered the Old Order. It meant that they could only overthrow his government by promising more to the poor or by using various means to organise coups.

There are a number of questions which need to be put to the new government:

1. Will the government punish PAD leaders for breaking the law, including the Democrat MP who took over the airport? Will the PAD be made to answer for the damage at Government House? Will the Democrats expel its MP who lead the airport occupation?

2. Will the military chiefs be sacked for breaking the law and intervening in politics. Will they be sacked for giving the green light to the takeover of the airports and thus compromising airport security?

3. Will the government defend the undemocratic constitution or will it amend the constitution to increase democracy?

4. Will elections be held as soon as possible to allow the Thai population to have a say?

5. What serious measures will the government take in order to protect the poor from the economic crisis. What job-creating policies does it have? How can it stop workers being sacked from factories. Will it increase wages and cut the value-added tax in order to stimulate the economy? Will the government increase taxation on the rich in order to help the poor?

6. Will the government punish state officials who murdered unarmed demonstrators in southern Thailand, at Takbai, during the Thaksin government? Will it withdraw troops and police so that a peaceful political solution can be achieved?

7. Will the government ensure a balanced media by allowing significant space for [pro-democracy supporters of the sacked government] Red Shirt critics? Or will the government increase censorship and media bias? Will it repeal the lèse majesté law and allow public scrutiny and criticism of the courts?

Many of us can guess what the answers will be ...

[1] See my paper at http://wdpress.blog.co.uk/

[Giles Ji Ungpakorn worked in the faculty of political science, Chulalongkorn University Bangkok 10330, Thailand. He is an activist with the socialist Turn Left Thailand group. Visit http://www.pcpthai.org/ and http://wdpress.blog.co.uk/.]

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Giles Ji Ungpakorn: British Ambassador praises new government

Does the British Ambassador to Thailand represent the British government?

By Giles Ji Ungpakorn

December 24, 2008 -- According to the Bangkok Post newspaper on 19th September, the British Ambassador to Thailand, Quinton Quayle, praised the new Thai government of PM Abhisit Vejjajiva. This government was engineered in a totally undemocratic fashion by a mixture of pressure from the military, actions by the courts and the illegal and violent protests of the PAD, including the closure of Thailand's international airports.

On 24th December the Bangkok Post also reported that "Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva Wednesday strongly defended his foreign minister over reported comments that the occupation of Bangkok's airports by protesters was "a lot of fun." Mr Kasit played a key role in the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD), which ended the airport blockade after a court disbanded the ruling party loyal to ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra, paving the way for Democrat Party leader Abhisit's rise."


Also, the Thai police are now considering les majeste charges against the BBC's Jonathan Head over his honest and factual article "How did Thai protestor's manage it? (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/asia-pacific/7762806.stm).

So the question is… does the British Ambassador represent Gordon Brown's government in cheering on a military backed government in Thailand whose Foreign Minister thinks that the airport occupation was "fun"? Does the British Government support the attacks on the freedom of speech represented by les majesty laws? Is it the job of the Ambassador to defend the BBC?

 

Associate Professor Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok Thailand

24 December 2008


--

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Faculty of Political Science

Chulalongkorn University

Bangkok 10330, Thailand

+66-(0)813469481

UK mobile:+44-(0)7817034432

http://www.pcpthai.org/

http://wdpress.blog.co.uk/

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