Thailand: A new 'settlement' between Yingluck Shinawatra's government and the elites?
Thai MPs elected Yingluck Shinawatra on August 5 as the country's first female prime minister.
By Giles Ji Ungpakorn
August 14, 2011 -- Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal -- We are starting to see the results of a “new settlement” between the Pheu Thai party [led by Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra] and the elites, in order to “resolve” the Thai crisis in the interests of the latter. This may or may not be a formal agreement, but we are already seeing the effects.
Following the last crisis during the Cold War conflict with the Communist Party of Thailand, the elites crafted a settlement in which parliamentary democracy was tolerated so long as elections could be dominated by money politics and there was no challenge to the ruling class. Today’s “settlement” is designed to allow the Pheu Thai party to form a government and to bring its leaders, including deposed PM Thaksin Shinawatra, back into the elite’s exclusive club. We must remember that previous to the 2006 crisis, Thaksin and his Thai Rak Thai party were a recognised part of the ruling elites.
The anti-Thaksin elites could not crudely and directly prevent the formation of the Pheu Thai government because the election result was so clear. But at the same time Pheu Thai was prepared to enter into a process of compromise, under the banner of "reconciliation", by promising not to touch the military or any interests of the royalist elites. In the past we saw the 19th September military coup, followed by the judicial coup against the Palang Prachachon government. Now we are seeing a silent coup resulting from pressure being applied behind the scenes in order to achieve the new settlement, which betrays the aspirations of most Red Shirts.
Let us look at a number of important issues.
On August 5, Norwet Yotpiyasatien, a recent graduate from Kasetsart University in Bangkok, was arrested and jailed under the draconian lèse majesté law for copying an article on to his PC from the internet. He has now been released on bail. It was the deputy rector of Kasetsart University, Nipon Limlamtong, who filed charges against the student with the police. Nipon has special responsibility for student activities. In other words he is there to enforce censorship and prevent academic freedom in the university.
On August 13, group captain Anudit Nakorntap, the new information and communications technology minister, declared that the Yingluck government would be even more repressive in the use of lèse majesté and the computer crimes law. Clearly, nothing has changed on the issue of lèse majesté.
Lèse majesté prisoners such as Somyot Prueksakasemsuk, Surachai Danwattananusorn, Da Torpedo (Daranee Chanchoengsilpakul) and many others are still in jail. Some are awaiting trial and others have been found guilty by kangaroo courts.
The lèse majesté law is vitally important to the military’s influence on Thai politics because the military uses the monarchy for its legitimacy and then uses lèse majesté against those who oppose it. Pheu Thai’s defence of lèse majesté shows that it is prepared to accept the continuing influence of the military in politics and hopes that the military and royalists will stop accusing Thaksin and Pheu Thai of being against the monarchy.
Civil war in the south
The Phua Thai party promised before the elections to resolve the conflict in Thailand's south peacefully and by political means instead of using repression. A limited degree of autonomy and self-government was proposed. This was an important step forward, given the history of violent repression against Malay Muslims by the Thai Rak Thai government in 2004.
But on August 10, Sudeereuman Mala was sentenced by a court to two years in prison. He was accused by Pol. Maj. Gen. Jaktip Chaijinda of a “giving a false statement” about being tortured by police in the 2004 case of gun theft from an army barracks. Yet, there is ample evidence that defendants were tortured into providing false confessions by the police. Defence lawyer Somchai Neelapaichit, who helped these victims of torture, was murdered by police during the Thaksin government. So the gross injustice in the south continues.
On August 11, in the southern province of Naratiwat, police raided the local prison looking for drugs. This caused a riot and the authorities then brought in military snipers to crush it. Luckily, no one was killed. This is just typical of the Thai state, which continues to use violence against unarmed civilians.
There are a number of important questions. 1. Since everyone knows that the prison guards are the people who bring drugs into prisons, why crack down on the prisoners? 2. When will the authorities use political and social methods to solve problems instead of armed snipers? 3. How can this possibly help bring peace to the south? 4. Even if the Yingluck government did not directly order the prison crackdown, which is debatable, the government could make a statement criticising the methods used. Why has it not done so?
It is clear from pre-election statements made by the army chief Prayut that the military do not favour any autonomy or political solution to the southern conflict. The military wants a military solution, which can never be successful. This means that these recent events raise questions about the new government’s sincerity about building peace in the south if it means going against the military.
Red Shirt political prisoners
There are still many Red Shirt political prisoners held in Thai jails on charges resulting from last year’s pro-democracy protests. People are still being arrested. Most Red Shirts have not received bail. It seems like nothing has changed and there has been no announcement that there will be a thorough investigation into the killing of unarmed civilians by the military last year.
The new cabinet is in mourning for a minor royal and has agreed with the spending of millions in public money on an elaborate funeral. But these politicians have never worn black for those who were killed by the military while trying to defend democracy. The head of the Department of Special Investigation, which has covered up the killings and which has initiated trumped up charges against Red Shirts is still in post.
The “settlement” with the elites means that it will be harder to bring to justice those who were responsible for ordering the killings of civilians last year.
The “settlement” with the elites is more than anything a settlement with the military. The appointment of a military officer, with a dubious background in human rights, to the post of defence minister, shows that this government has no intention of creating a culture where elected civilians control the military. The head of the army General Prayut, who showed such contempt for the Red Shirts, and who opposed Pheu Thai during the election campaign, has yet to be sacked.
Red Shirts must organise a thorough debate within the movement in order to determine their strategy to counter the settlement with the elites that betrays everything for which they have been fighting and all their dreams and aspirations. This government should be pressured into making real democratic reforms, and if it will not listen, it must be vigorously opposed. The election was important in that it showed that most Thais opposed the military dictatorship and the Democrat Party. But the election only marks the next round of the struggle.
Thailand: Red Shirts and the new cabinet
By Giles Ji Ungpakorn
August 11, 2011 -- Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal -- Most politicians in the Pheu Thai party no doubt believe that having Red Shirts in Yingluck Shinawatra's cabinet would create a “bad image”. This is true if you believe that a “good image” is one of doing absolutely nothing to solve the crisis of democracy and social justice in Thailand.
The new cabinet contains people like Chalerm Yubamrung, a thuggish politician who sums up the term “legal double standards” from when his son was charged with murdering a police officer in a pub brawl. He is also
suspected by some of having profited from drug dealing. This is a “good image” for the new government.
I don’t know General Yuttasak Sasiprapa, the new defence minister. Some say he had a hand in gunning down student protesters in 1973. I don’t know the truth about this. He might be a democratic soldier. But the big question is why any democratically elected Thai government needs to put a military man in charge of defence. Surely the time has come to kick the military out of politics and ban all military and police ranks from parliament. The military just expects to have the “right” to intervene in politics for its own benefit. Then it claims to defend the King, to justify its actions, and uses lèse majesté to shut up its opponents.
Another “image” associated with this cabinet is the image of the elected speaker of the house grovelling on the floor before the unelected king. In Britain, the queen must read out the policies of a newly elected government in parliament
Another, supposedly, “good image” of the new cabinet, as they all posed for their collective photo outside Government House, was their black arm bands, a sign of mourning for some minor royal who just died. When will
the cabinet wear mourning for the nearly 90 unarmed red shirts gunned down by the military last year?
If these are all part of the “good image”of the new cabinet then thank heavens there are no Red Shirts in the government! It would immediately sully their reputations.
But there are more important reasons why Red Shirt leaders should not hold cabinet posts. In the past, Filipino and British governments have brought in leftists to head labour ministries, in order to create an image, shut them up and then make them fall guys. It would have been a disaster if a Red Shirt had been appointed as minister of justice, only to be made impotent and then blamed for not achieving justice for those killed by the army last year.
The fact that there are no Red Shirts in the cabinet is a golden opportunity for the Red Shirt movement to prove that it is independent from the Pheu Thai government. They can then organise mass protests to demand justice, the freeing of political prisoners, the punishing of those responsible for the 2010 massacre, the end to censorship and lèse majesté and the reform of the army and the judiciary.
The question is: are the Red Shirt leaders up to this? If they are not, will new groups of leaders emerge who can take the movement forward?
Some say we must be patient. But on this I agree with Arisman Pongreuangrong, another Red Shirt activist, who says that we cannot wait. Now, just after the election victory, is exactly the time to strike out for democracy and justice. A timetable should be set for the freeing of prisoners and the bringing to justice of those who committed
state crimes against the people. “If not now, then when?” (paraphrasing Tracey Chapman). Wait until the elites regroup and crush us again?
The recent election had only one important meaning and that was to prove that the military and the Democrat Party were illegitimate. Having a newly elected Pheu Thai Party government is totally meaningless if nothing changes. It is time to take the gloves off and stop worrying about the feelings of the government. If they wish to betray the people
who sacrificed their lives for democracy, or those who are currently in jail, then they are not on our side. Red Shirts will have to fight this government in order to gain democracy and social justice.
[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 http://redthaisocialist.com/.]