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 His latest book Thailand’s Crisis and the Fight for Democracy” will be published in April 2010.]