Thailand: Red Shirts and the new cabinet

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

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]