Thailand: Smells like a coup, tastes like a coup, looks like a coup

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By Giles Ji Ungpakorn

May 20, 2014 -- Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal -- Today Thai army general Prayut Chanocha declared martial law without consulting the caretaker government or any other elected representatives. Troops took over all radio and TV stations and are positioned along major road intersections in Bangkok.

Despite the fact that he claimed that “this is not a coup”, Prayut’s actions smell, taste and look like a coup. This is from a man who has blood on his hands. Four years ago to the day Prayut oversaw the shooting down in the streets of almost 90 Red Shirt pro-democracy demonstrators. Before the elections in the following year he made public statements against the Pheu Thai Party. He had previously been a key figure in manoeuvring the (anti-)Democrat Party into an unelected government in 2008. He has never been brought to court for his crimes and was on the list of those who would be given total amnesty in Yingluck Shinawatra’s abortive amnesty bill.

The military say that the declaration of martial law is just to maintain peace and security; if so, it is too little, too late. If the military were really concerned with keeping the peace it would have acted against Sutep Tuaksuban’s anti-democrat mobs when they invaded government ministries in order to overthrow the elected government at the end of last year. They would have arrested Sutep and his armed thugs who used violence on the streets to wreck the February election.

But the military are just team players on the side of those who want to destroy Thailand’s democratic space. They have sat on their hands and watched with glee as the Yingluck government was gradually destroyed and the elections wrecked. Now they estimate that their allies among Sutep’s mob and the kangaroo courts have created enough chaos to legitimise military intervention.

Make no mistake, this military “non-coup” will not ensure that free and fair elections take place and it certainly won’t protect freedom of expression. The “non-coup” will instead smooth the way for an unelected “temporary” prime minister. It will smooth the way to fixing the democratic process so that unelected powers can control any future elected government. It is part of the process of decreasing the democratic space.

Democracy can only be built if significant numbers of Red Shirts realise that Pheu Thai and the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship leadership are unwilling and unable to lead a fight. The building of an independent pro-democracy movement based upon the Red Shirts with clear links to the progressive working class and peasantry is long over-due. Such a movement cannot be built over night but it can and must be built.

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May 19, 2014 -- One thing that the Thai political crisis over the past eight years has proved is that being in government does not mean controlling the state.

The state is made up of much more than the government. There are the “bodies of armed men”, courts, prisons, top civil servants and elite CEOs of big business. The state is the unofficial, unacknowledged, committee for managing the affairs of the entire ruling capitalist class.

Its pretence at being neutral and law-abiding is a mechanism to win legitimacy among the population. There will be differences of opinion within the state. But its overall aim is to rule over, control and oppress other classes.

In Thailand, its function is to rule over ordinary working people and farmers who make up most of the population. It has not yet faced the power of the organised working class like in Europe. The Thai state has yet to make serious concessions to democracy.

Over the past eight years of political crisis, the Thai state has set its face against democracy and the idea of a free universal franchise. We have had one coup d'etat by the army and three judicial coups.

This repression of democracy is backed up by armed right-wing Democrat Party thugs on the streets who act with impunity. It is backed up by military appointed so-called “independent bodies”, acting under a military drafted constitution.

It is supported by middle-class academics and NGO leaders. They also all claim to be “protecting the monarchy”, although the draconian lese majeste law prevents people from questioning or testing this.

It is obvious that to achieve freedom and democracy, we shall have to pull down all the old structures of the Thai state.

But Thaksin SHinawatra, Yingluck Shinawatra and her Pheu Thai party have no intention of doing this. Their aim is to re-join the elite club who now run the state.

They are not pro-democracy out of principle, merely out of convenience. The United Front of Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD) “Red Shirt” leaders are wedded to Pheu Thai. It is incapable of leading the needed fight.

Any defence of democracy must come from the Red Shirt movement. There is no other movement remotely interested in doing this, and no other group that has the potential capabilities.

The Red Shirts are the largest pro-democracy social movement that has ever existed in Thailand. Most Red Shirts still support Thaksin, but at the same time wish to fight for democracy as a matter of principle and in their own interests. They have a contradictory relationship with Thaksin and Pheu Thai.

The weakness of the Red Shirt movement comes in two forms: political leadership and power. What is needed is new leaders independent of Pheu Thai and Thaksin, with more self-organisation.

There is an urgent need to assess the required task of overthrowing the old state structures and how this can be done. Power needs to come from being more closely allied to the organised working class, especially the private sector unions.

Power also comes from the mass movement being made up of farmers throughout the country. Until this happens, the Red Shirts will not be able to rebuild democracy and expand Thailand’s democratic space.

[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 book, Thailand’s Crisis and the Fight for Democracy, will be of interest to activists, academics and journalists who watch Thai politics, democratisation and NGOs. His website is at]

Submitted by Terry Townsend on Fri, 05/23/2014 - 12:09


By Giles Ji Ungpakorn

May 23, 2014

Did the army “have no choice” but to intervene to stop the warring factions?

This is one hell of a stupid question, since the military staged the 2006 coup and appointed the unelected officials who helped with the various judicial coups in the first place. When Sutep’s mob started to cause havoc using armed gangs to take over government buildings and wreck the elections, the army stood by and did nothing, knowing that their time would come to intervene again. So the army are firmly part of the anti-democratic faction and Prayut has killed pro-democracy demonstrators back in 2010 to prove it.

Will the army now organise democratic political reforms before the next elections?

LOL!!!! The military is the main obstacle to democracy, freedom and transparency in Thailand. Will they reform themselves away, cut their own budget, retire all the bloated generals, stop meddling in politics and relinquish control of their media holdings? The hell they will!! They’ll be looking to the Burmese model where they stack parliament with their men and neuter any future elected government.

Was this coup and the previous one in 2006 organised by the king?

Pumipom has always been weak and cowardly, a creature to be willingly used by the military who elevated his status to God-King in the first place. Today he can hardly walk or talk, but maybe some idiots think the army asked his permission to stage the coup. If he dribbled out of the left side of his mouth it would be “no” and the right side it would be “yes”. Now back to the real world….

Is the crisis about royal succession?

This is the one that all the conspiracy and elitist theory junkies LOVE. Basically it relegates millions of ordinary Thais to the role of passive serfdom in a feudal Game of Thrones. The fact of the matter is that the monarchy is weak and a tool of the military and other elites. No one who is serious doubts that the odious prince of darkness is set to be the next king. He is even weaker than his dad and totally uninterested in politics unless it has a skirt on it. He will be ready to serve anyone so long as he can have lots of money, lots of palaces and lots of women. And the idea that the rather portly unmarried princess might be the choice of some elites is laughable. Firstly it would burst the balloon about the sacred kingship traditions and secondly what about the heir?


What is the crisis about?

The long running Thai crisis is a result of a clash between the conservative way of operating in a parliamentary democracy and a more modern one. It is equally related to attempts by Taksin and his party to modernise Thai society so that the economy could become more competitive on a global level, especially after the 1996 Asian economic crisis. In the first general election since the 1996 crisis, Taksin’s party put forward a raft of modernising and pro-poor policies, including the first ever universal health care scheme. Because the Democrat Party had previously told the unemployed to “go back to their villages and depend on their families, while spending state finances in securing the savings for the rich in failed banks, Taksin was able to say that his government would benefit everyone, not just the rich. Taksin’s TRT won the elections and his parties have won every election since. The government was unique in being both popular and dynamic, with real policies, which were used to win the election and were then implemented afterwards. This is something that the conservative elite could never accept. Taksin’s government committed human rights abuses, but none of the elites and middle classes care about this.

Was Taksin corrupt?

Probably. Are the rest of the elites, Democrat Party politicians and military men corrupt? Do bears shit in the woods?

Who are the guilty people?

Those who have joined the anti-government protests and supported military and judicial coups are the guilty people. They include the top conservative elites and officials, the military, the Democrat Party, the middle class academics and the NGO leaders. The National Human Rights Commission, the Election Commission and the Counter Corruption Commission and the courts are also guilty.


Will the Redshirts fight back?

Either Pua Thai mobilise their millions of supporters and the Redshirts to tear down the old order, or they make peace with their conservative elite rivals. Given that Taksin, Yingluk and Pua Thai are basically “big business politicians”, they naturally choose the latter option every time. This is not to avoid civil war, but to avoid revolution from below. They want to use the Redshirts as voting fodder, but not risk mobilising a mass movement. The UDD leadership of the Redshirts is tied to Pua Thai. After the 2011 election Pua Thai and Taksin made an uneasy peace with the military and this was reinforced in late 2013 when the Pua Thai government tried unsuccessfully to push through a disgraceful amnesty bill covering the military and Democrat Party leaders who murdered red shirts in 2010. Naturally, it also covered Taksin, but not lèse majesté political prisoners. This blew up in Yingluk’s face and gave an excuse to Sutep and his mobs.

     To organise a real fight-back, grass roots Redshirts and other democracy activists need self-leadership independent of the UDD, real organisation, and most importantly, the confidence to organise like this. They need to link with the progressive sections of the working class. This is a long term project which needs to be started now and all those who believe in freedom, equality and democracy should actively encourage such a development.

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