Reconciliation as an act of Betrayal Giles Ji Ungpakorn Two years after the brutal crack-down against unarmed pro-democracy Red Shirts in Bangkok and only a year after the election victory of the Pua Thai Party government, the real meaning of “reconciliation” has become crystal clear. It means betrayal.
The new, post-election , settlement? Following the 2011 election we started to see a “new settlement” between Pua Thai and the conservative elites in order to “resolve” the Thai crisis in the interests of the elites. This may or may not have been a formal agreement, but by September 2011 we were already seeing the effects. Following the last major crisis during the Cold War conflict with the Communist Party of Thailand (CPT), the elites crafted a settlement where parliamentary democracy was tolerated so long as elections could be dominated by money politics and there was no challenge to the ruling class from the Left. Today’s “settlement” is designed to maintain the power of the military and also allow the Pua Thai Party to form a government and to eventually bring the Pua Thai leaders, including Taksin, back into the elite’s exclusive club. We must remember that previous to the 2006 crisis, Taksin and Thai Rak Thai were an accepted part of the ruling elite. This means that the so-called “reconciliation” will have nothing to do with expanding the democratic space or bringing state murderers to justice. The anti-Taksin elites could not crudely and directly prevent the formation of the Pua Thai Government in August 2011 because the election result was so clear. Despite the 2006 military coup and various undemocratic actions that followed, Taksin’s party has continued to win elections. But at the same time Pua 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 anti-Taksin elites. It was like we were 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. If we look at a number of important issues such as lèse majesté, the political prisoners and the influence of the military, we can see the results of this new settlement. The Minister for Information Technology and Communication and the Deputy Prime Minister both announced in 2011 that they would be more vigorous in using the draconian lèse majesté law to crack down on dissenters. Clicking “like” on a Facebook post, deemed to be “anti-monarchy” could result in jail. A special “War Room” was set up in order to increase internet repression. Lèse majesté prisoners such as Somyot Pruksakasemsuk, Surachai Darnwattananusorn, ‘Da Torpedo’ and many others were left in jail. Some, like Somyot, were awaiting trial and others had been found “guilty” by royalist courts which favour the dictatorship and the military. The Pua Thai government’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 will stop accusing Taksin and Pua Thai of being against the monarchy 1. Army Chief General Prayut Junocha previously campaigned openly against Pua Thai in the run up to the election. By most democratic standards he ought to have been dismissed, but a year after the election he was still in post. The Government also gave the go-ahead for middle-ranking officers from the Burapa Payak group, who were directly involved with the sniper shootings of unarmed Red Shirts, to be rewarded with promotions. Prime Minister Yingluk also went out of her way to be seen touring flood-affected areas alongside General Prayut in 2011. Pua Thai Party promised before the elections to resolve the Southern conflict peacefully and by political means instead of using repression. At the time a limited degree of autonomy and selfgovernment was proposed. This could have been an important step forward, given the history of violent repression against Malay Muslims by the Thai Rak Thai Government in 2004 and by the Thai State since the 1870s. But the repression and injustice continued under the new government with victims of police torture being charged and jailed for speaking out. It is clear from pre-election statements made by the Army Chief General Prayut Junocha that the military do not favour any autonomy or political solution to the southern conflict. They want a military solution, which can never be successful2. The civil war in the South continues unchanged and the Pua Thai Government tries to deny that there is a genuine separatist movement, just like Taksin did when he was Prime Minister. 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. This is a very important issue for the Red Shirts. 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, also showed that the Government had no intention of creating a culture where elected civilians control the military. The position of even some of the more radical Red Shirt leaders on the relationship between the Red Shirt social movement and the Pua Thai Government did not make the prospect of opposing this settlement very bright. At a Red Shirt concert on 3rd September 2011 , Sombat Boon-Ngarmanong, Natawut Saikua and Jatuporn Prompan all called for Red Shirts to be patient and to support “the people’s Government”. Jatuporn himself was facing disqualification as an elected MP by the royalistdemominated Electoral Commission. The technicality used as an excuse for this disqualification is clearly motivated by political considerations. To achieve real democratic change Red Shirts must organise a thorough debate within the movement in order to determine their strategy to counter the settlement with the elites which betrays everything for which they have been fighting and all their dreams and aspirations. This government should be pressurised into making real democratic reforms, and if it will not listen, it should be vigorously opposed. The election was important in that it showed that most Thais 1 See Giles Ji Ungpakorn (2011) “Lèse Majesté, the Monarchy, and the Military in Thailand”. Paper given at the Department of Peace and Conflict Studies (Pax et Bellum), University of Uppsala, Sweden, 29th April 2011…..to see why lèse majesté is so important to the military.
2 Giles Ji Ungpakorn (2010) Thailand’s Crisis and the Fight for Democracy. WD Press. Chapter 5.
opposed the military dictatorship and the Democrat Party. But the election only marked the next round of the struggle.
Lèse Majesté - the litmus test for Thai Democracy In July 2011 millions of Red Shirts turned out to vote for the Pua Thai Party. But the signs were bad for the Red Shirts from the beginning. The new government did nothing about the Red Shirt political prisoners and the important issue of bringing ex-Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, his deputy Sutep Tuaksuban, and the military generals Prayut Junocha and Anupong Paojinda to justice for their key roles in gunning down nearly 90 pro-democracy civilians in 2010. Yingluk also went to “pay her respects” to Privy Council Chairman General Prem Tinsulanon. In late 2011, many naïve Red Shirts said that we should be patient and wait because the flooding was a serious crisis which the new government had to deal with before addressing democracy, freedom of speech and justice, which had all been trampled underfoot by the military ever since the 2006 coup. After the waters receded, the excuses changed. It was argued that the Yingluk Government was biding its time and waiting for an opportune moment to reduce the power of the military. Later, as it became crystal clear that a deal had been struck with the military, those desperate or naïve Red Shirts who were in denial, claimed that Pua Thai was conducting a clever and secret plan to get the better of the generals by lulling them into reconciliation. Some, however, claimed that “nothing could be done” because real power did not lie in the hands of the government. The Yingluk Government talked constantly about “reconciliation” with the conservatives, but the conservatives did not immediately reciprocate in public. They frustrated the government’s flood rescue work and used the floods to accuse the government of “incompetence”. As far as the conservatives were concerned, it did not mean that there was no back-room agreement with Taksin Shinawat and Pua Thai. It just meant that they continued the bargaining and they continue to do so at the time of writing this chapter. The extreme royalists in the Democrat Party, the military and other sections of elite society, also kept up a constant barrage about Pua Thai and Red Shirt “Republicanism”. The Republican mood which has swept through the Red Shirts, but not through the Pua Thai Party, was created by the royalists themselves, ever since the 2006 coup. Every repressive act was justified on the grounds that it was “for the King”. As a result, millions of Red Shirts even came to believe that the King had engineered the floods to punish Pua Thai and the Red Shirts. The enfeebled King, sitting in his hospital apartment for the last few years, was never strong-willed enough to organise any political action. Now he can hardly talk or stand up. But the military and the conservatives are happy to use him as a puppet and for the Thai people to think that he wields all the power. There can never be democracy and social justice in Thailand so long as repressive laws such as lèse majesté and the Computer Crimes law remain on the statute books. There can never be democracy and social justice until state murders are brought to justice. The two odious politicians who are most responsible for pushing for more lèse majesté repression are ICT Minister Anudit Nakorntup and Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Yubamrung. Chalerm is a 3
known gangster politician who made sure his gangster son avoided prosecution for shooting a policeman in a pub brawl. Meanwhile, the generals and Democrat Party politicians are braying for more blood. All those progressive Thai citizens who propose legal reforms are told to “leave Thailand” because they don’t conform to “Thai” conservative culture. The irony is that all this “verbal fascism” was going on during the ridiculous funeral ceremony for North Korea’s Kim Jong Il. Maybe the conservative Thais should have moved to North Korea! The Chairman of the previous government’s “Truth and Reconciliation Committee”, the conservative lawyer Kanit Na Nakorn, suggested that lèse majesté should be “reformed” so that the maximum punishment would be 7 years in jail and lèse majesté could only be used on the say so of the Palace Secretary 3. But Kanit Na Nakorn deliberately missed the point. lèse majesté is an authoritarian law which tramples on the freedom of speech. It protects public figures like the King from any accountability or transparency and more importantly it protects the military because they always hide behind the King. The military, as an unelected body, are the main beneficiaries from lèse majesté, since the law helps them to justify all that they do, including killings and coup d’états, by claiming to protect the monarchy or even claiming to have received orders from the King. In general lèse majesté is an instrument to strengthen the entire modern Thai capitalist class. This is why Taksin, the military, the civilian bureaucracy and the big corporations all support and promote the monarchy. Taksin’s government did much to create the royalist yellow shirt mania around the King’s 60th anniversary. There are also some small details about lèse majesté sentencing of which people should be made aware. If individual sentences were capped at 7 years, some could still go to jail for 30 years. This is because people have been sentenced to more than one charge and the sentences are added together. There is also the question of the Palace Secretary who is bound to be an army appointee. Kanit justified this maintenance of lèse majesté with the usual rubbish about the need to conform to “Thai Culture”. Yet no society has a single culture. The Thai culture of the conservatives involves grovelling on the floor to royalty and severe repression and exploitation of the population by the elites. It also involves the elites “divine right” to murder pro-democracy citizens. Opposed to this is the democratic culture of most Red Shirt citizens, which has been growing over the last few years and developed out of a long Thai tradition of resistance to the elites since the 1930s. The problem is that many weak-willed, well-meaning Thai reformers also miss the point about the fundamentally authoritarian nature of lèse majesté. They fall for the “Thai Culture” nonsense and are fearful of calling for the total abolition of the law. But without abolishing lèse majesté there can be no democracy. Thai citizens cannot even ask whether the Constitutional Monarchy should protect the Constitution and an elected government from a military coup! 4 Even these weak reforms proposed by Kanit were vigorously opposed by Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm, who was eager to please his military masters.
3 http://www.prachatai.com/journal/2011/12/38535 4 I was charged with lèse majesté for posing such a question in my 2007 book “A Coup for the Rich”. I have been in exile ever since.
Protecting the status quo The reality of Pua Thai’s talk of reconciliation is that it means capitulation to the conditions laid down by the military. These include no change in the status of the monarchy, no reform of lèse majesté, no release of political prisoners, no reform of the judiciary and no prosecution of state murderers. In return, the military will happily live with a Pua Thai Government. In fact, the military now realise that a Pua Thai Government and its supporters in the leadership of the UDD (Red Shirts) are much better placed to police and demobilise the Red Shirts than the previously militaryappointed Democrat Party Government. Part of the deal also includes Taksin’s right to return to Thailand in the near future. The Government has no intention of bringing the state murderers of 2010 to justice. Red Shirt apologists for Pua Thai claim that to do so would be to invite a military coup. But the government could easily start prosecutions inside Thailand or at the very least pass a cabinet resolution asking the International Criminal Court to step in and take action. Such action would be very popular among millions of Red Shirts and the movement could be mobilised to defend the government against any possible coup d’état. But Pua Thai do not intend to change the status quo. They will also not release Red Shirt political prisoners, especially those charged with lèse majesté. The only concession was to move non- lèse majesté prisoners to a “political prison”. On Friday 6th January 2012, representatives of 9 political parties, including Pua Thai, met under the chairmanship of ex-coup leader Gen Sonti Boonyarakalin to agree that the lèse majesté law should remain totally intact without any reforms. The idea that the military officer who staged the 2006 coup against an elected government should now be heading the parliamentary reconciliation committee instead of standing trial is an abomination. By 2012 it was clear that Pua Thai had stabbed the Red Shirts in the back and was attempting an elite agreement in order to protect the old order. The use of elections in order to create the image of democratic change, while maintaining the old order, is also an Egyptian phenomenon. Both Pua Thai and the Muslim Brotherhood were expecting to police the democracy movement and prevent it from toppling the status quo. One significant difference between Thailand and Egypt, however, is that important sections of the Egyptian revolutionary movement are independent from the Muslim Brotherhood and are also linked to the trade unions. The Red Shirts have yet to develop a leadership independent from Pua Thai. What is more worrying is that the UDD leadership of the Red Shirt movement decided to do nothing and let the movement slowly die. All they talk about is protecting the government from a “coup”. But the military do not need to stage a coup d’état. The new government is a more efficient tool to stop real change in Thai society than the Democrat Party! Many try to excuse the Pua Thai government by saying that it faces intense pressure from the military. A military that shot down nearly 90 people to avoid democracy will not lie down easily. But Pua Thai won a landslide election victory and had the backing of the biggest social movement in Thai history. Instead of using these assets to their advantage in order to sack the military top brass, free all political prisoners, prosecute those who ordered the killings and re-write the Constitution, they 5
have chosen to do a deal with their former enemies. Pua Thai is now the “party of the military”, just like the Democrats used to be. Another distasteful aspect of so-called “reconciliation” has been to throw money at the relatives of those killed or to those who suffered in various ways during the political unrest. One is reminded of the arrogant rich buying off the families of the poor after they have killed people. The difference is that the money comes out of public funds, originating from taxes on the poor. No compensation is being paid out of the pockets of the butchering generals. In the South, money is also being thrown at relatives of civilians who were murdered in cold blood by the army during the period of the Taksin government. Thai Prime Minister Yingluk’s May 2012 trip to meet the Butcher of Bahrain, was also an insult to both the heroes of democracy in Thailand and in Bahrain. This trip came on the second anniversary of the deliberate shooting of pro-democracy Red Shirts by the military in Bangkok. It also came a few days after the death of political prisoner Aakong in a Thai jail. The official leadership of the Red Shirt Movement (UDD) has made meaningless noises about not forgetting the dead and the need to help prisoners. It is pushing for minor constitutional reforms, but is refusing to back the reform or abolition of lèse majesté and it has refused to criticise the Government.
Taksin, Pua Thai and the UDD write military atrocities out of history Because Taksin and Pua Thai have done a deal with the military, they have stopped mentioning the role of the generals in murdering Red Shirts in 2010. They are air-brushing the military atrocities out of history. The Pua Thai government and the leadership of the UDD have been only talking about former Prime Minister Abhisit, and his deputy Sutep Tuaksuban, as being the ones responsible for the Red Shirt deaths. Taksin has also been trying to re-write history to say that the Thai crisis and 2006 coup were just about a “parliamentary dispute” between him along with his followers and the Democrat Party and their followers. The military have “slipped” from history and the Red shirts, according to Taksin, were merely his underlings 5. The latter view about the Red Shirts also corresponds to the views held by conservatives who have only contempt for movements of ordinary people. In fact Taksin played no role in creating the Red Shirt movement and never actively led resistance to the military junta before that. He provided some funds for the movement after it was established, but in the main it was a democracy movement built at grass-roots level. He is now denying the strong pro-democracy current among most Red Shirts and even the republican mood which resulted from prolonged struggle. The Red Shirt movement was the biggest social movement to ever arise in Thailand. Its members have a dialectical relationship with Taksin, Thai Rak Thai and Pua Thai. While they supported Taksin and his parties, rank and file Red Shirts were also fighting for their own dignity, freedom and democracy and they made huge sacrifices for their goals. How these Red Shirt goals can be met depends crucially on independently organised political leadership within the 5 See interview with Jom Petpradab in Cambodia on 17th April 2012. http://www.youtube.com/watch? v=Uwu0tuhRo9o&feature=plcp&context=C4c54377VDvjVQa1PpcFM3hZ3UJU4UBnc_Lmy8tzbVKe9n5DQpUoE%3D
movement and it is here that Pua Thai, the UDD and Taksin have an advantage. Despite increasing frustration among many Red Shirts with Taksin and Pua Thai, progressive Red Shirts are not coordinated and tightly organised enough to challenge the UDD leadership. Abhisit is a weak but vicious politician who only became Prime Minister because the army put him there. He has now become Taksin and Pua Thai’s play thing to be kicked around and blamed for the 2010 blood bath. He certainly should be brought to trial, as he planned and supported the killings when he was Prime Minister. But the attacks on Abhisit are just for show. The elites all know that no one will be prosecuted. Taksin himself has much to lose if the killers of 2010 are brought to court. He might find himself facing charges for his own role in murdering scores of Muslim Malays in the south at Takbai in 2004. Taksin also said that the relatives and friends of those killed should be prepared to make “sacrifices”. It is a forgone conclusion that the lèse majesté political prisoners, like Somyot Pruksakasemsuk, Surachai Darnwatanatrakoon and Da Torpedo will be left to rot in jail as human sacrifices to the generals. Part of the elaborate play about reconciliation is the hiring of the lawyer Robert Amsterdam to investigate the Red Shirt deaths. Amsterdam has done a good job and uncovered much evidence about how the military and the Democrat Party murdered pro-democracy demonstrators. But his hands are tied like all lawyers. Amsterdam can do nothing about prosecuting the generals or Sutep Tuaksuban because the government has refused to pass a cabinet resolution inviting the International Criminal Court to investigate them inside Thailand. So all he can do is to try to prosecute Abhisit outside Thailand because Abhisit also holds British citizenship. This is very convenient for the ignoring of military.
The Constitutional Court carries on the horse-trading The existence of an agreement between Taksin/Pua Thai and the military does not mean that there is an end to all arguments and disputes among the elites. As Karl Marx once wrote, the ruling class are a bunch of “warring brothers”. If there is an opportunity to gain an advantage or jockey for power, this will be done. Taksin’s old foes do not want him to think that his return will be easy. In June 2012 the Constitutional Court ordered the suspension of a “reconciliation” bill going through parliament which would have granted an amnesty to all state killers and Taksin. Despite the fact that this disgusting bill was designed to only support the elites and sweep state crimes under the carpet, the actions of the Constitutional Court raise fundamental issues about democracy and whether an appointed court should have the power to block laws passed by an elected parliament. In order to over-turn the court’s ruling, the elected parliament had to sit with the Senate in order to vote. Half the Senate was appointed by the military. In July 2012 the Constitutional Court also decided to consider a complaint that Pua Thai’s attempts to amend the Constitution were tantamount to overthrowing the monarchy. That the court should even take such accusations seriously is an indication of its lack of commitment to justice. Despite the court rejecting the accusation, it went on to abuse its power by telling the elected Government that it should only amend the Constitution after a referendum and any amendments 7
should be done section by section. This would take up to 15 or 20 years! The court’s views had no legal basis and were merely the personal opinions of the judges. There was a serious question about the legitimacy of the present 2007 Constitution, which was written by a military junta and passed using a flawed referendum while many parts of the country were still under martial law. There was also a serious conflict of interest in the Constitutional Court because many of the judges, who were appointed by the military through various channels, were responsible for drawing up the military Constitution in the first place.
Why the judicial system needs root and branch reform Thailand has the 17th highest proportion of citizens in prison in the world, with 340 prisoners per 100,000 people. This compares to 64 for Norway and 94 for France 6. Thailand’s judiciary only serve the authoritarian ruling elite. They are protected by a draconian “contempt of court” law, much like lèse majesté, which prevents citizens or the media from criticising any judges or court judgements. For this reason there is no transparency or accountability in the judicial system. There is also no jury system. Recently, in July 2012, Constitutional Court judges charged Pua Thai politicians with daring to criticise the court. Judges, police and court officials treat the general population with contempt. The poor are usually “guilty” before trial. Often judges do not bother to come into the court and defendants have to speak to the judge through a close-circuit TV 7. On many occasions judges speak so quietly that defendants and members of the public cannot hear what they are saying or what they have decided about the case. Prisoners awaiting trial are often locked in police vans in the hot sun for hours. Court official create obstacles to granting bail in order to force poor people into buying expensive commercial bail bonds from entrepreneurs. In the case of lèse majesté, the general population and the media cannot discuss any details of the case and debate its merits as everything is secret. The basic premise that defendants are innocent until proven guilty is never applied in practice, despite being written in the Constitution. Many defendants, especially in lèse majesté cases, are refused bail before trial. The mere accusation that people have “sold drugs”, “are seeking to overthrow the monarchy” or “are terrorists” is enough for mass extra-judicial killings. Defendants in trials are shackled and forced to wear inhuman prison uniforms. It is like the Middle-Ages. This means that they are abused before the outcome of the trial and have to attend court looking like “criminals”. This results in miscarriages of justice. Also in lèse majesté trials you can be found guilty even if what you said and wrote was factually true. For too long there has been no genuine debate in Thai society about the role of prisons. Prisoners who are found guilty and locked-up have no human rights what so ever and few people seem to care. The main reason for this is that the Thai ruling class does not even regard ordinary people as 6 http://www.apcca.org/stats/5th%20Edition%20(2004).pdf 7 I observed this at a trial of trade unionists in a court just north of Bangkok.
“citizens with rights”. They are made to grovel to the rich and powerful and prisoners are treated even worse. So are migrant workers for neighbouring countries. Thai prison conditions are appalling. Often at night prisoners are chained together, 30 to a room, with no proper beds. The toilets are a disgrace, the food is very bad, there are no proper libraries or exercise facilities and the prison guards are totally corrupt. In short, prisoners are treated like animals. Prisoners are also made to work in the streets of Bangkok, digging out filthy slime, by hand, from drain pipes. It is hardly surprising that Thai prisons are full of poor people, mainly on charges related to theft and drugs. There is no discussion about the causes of crime or the need for drug policies which reduce harm. For the rich and powerful, the sons of corrupt politicians and the generals, all their crimes go unpunished. Politicians and the military can just shoot down unarmed civilians with absolute impunity. They have done this in 2010, 2004, 1992, 1976 and 1973. Punishment in the Thai judicial system is totally out of proportion. People get just a few years in prison for murder or violence, while lèse majesté political prisoners are sentenced to anything between 20 and 40 years. That is why the political reforms proposed by the Nitirat Group and those reforms proposed by all those who want to abolish or reform lèse majesté are so important today. That is why the old order, including the Pua Thai Government, the military, and even the UDD leadership, are so opposed to any change. They cloak themselves in lies about “reconciliation”. But “reconciliation” can only start when the state mass murderers are sent to trial, the political prisoners released and the judicial system is thoroughly reformed. Reconciliation and reform can only take place when the power of the military to intervene in politics is reduced. But we cannot expect support for this from middle class academics and NGO activists who cooperated with the 2006 military junta.
The bankruptcy of Thai activists who rejected building alternative political parties If the terrible betrayal of the Red Shirts by Taksin and the Yingluk Government proves anything, it proves the importance of organising a political party of the working class and peasantry independent of ruling class parties and not relying merely on loose collections of progressive activists within a social movement such as the Red Shirts. It also proves that the refusal by some activists to fight alongside mainstream Red Shirts, merely because the Red Shirts had illusions in Taksin, resulted in missed opportunities to influence the movement. Before 2006, “anti-party” and “anti-politics” ideology of autonomists within the NGO movement led NGO activists into siding with extreme right-wing royalists who supported the military coup. Instead of protecting the independence of activists in the struggle for democracy and social justice, such anti-party autonomist views have ensured that NGO activists have been pulled along behind the royalist generals and Red Shirts have been pulled along behind Pua Thai and Taksin.
It is in times of crisis that activists face difficult tests and choices. Political positions that previously seemed to be roughly in line with democracy and social justice can, in times like this, be put to the test and be found wanting. No social activist operates in a vacuum of theory, even if they declare that they are only “practical people”, uninterested in theory, as many NGO activists are prone to do. The importance of political theory in determining practice has been proved by events in Thailand since the 2006 military coup. This is clearly highlighted by the dreadful behaviour of most Thai NGOs in the political struggles between the royalist conservatives (the Yellow Shirts) and the Red Shirts. The yellow-shirted PAD began as an alliance between disgruntled royalist media tycoon Sonti Limtongkul and a handful of NGO and social movement leaders. They attacked Taksin’s government for corruption. But they were never interested in criticising his human rights abuses or attacking the rampant corruption of other elites. Rather than accepting that the electorate support for Taksin was because of the government’s first ever Universal Health Care scheme and many other pro-poor measures, Taksin’s opponents, including the NGOs, claimed that “the poor did not understand Democracy” and should not have the full right to vote. The NGO and social movement leaders of the PAD moved sharply to the right during the enfolding crisis, calling on the King to sack Taksin’s elected government in 2006 and eventually supporting the coup d’état. PAD leaders and military junta leaders were later seen celebrating their victory at a New Year party in 2007. After the 2006 coup, the P.A.D. descended into a fascist type of organisation. It took on ultra-Royalist and ultra-Nationalist politics. Like most countries throughout the World, Thailand went through a process of mass radicalisation in the late 1960s, early 1970s. The high point was when a mass movement of students and urban workers overthrew the military dictatorship in October 1973. The Maoist Communist Party of Thailand (CPT) was the organisation which gained most from this radicalisation, especially after the ruling elites fought back with a blood bath in October 1976. However, the Maoist strategy eventually failed. Into this vacuum on the Left, stepped the NGOs. After the “collapse of Communism” the NGO movement turned its back on “politics” and the primacy of mass movements and political parties in the 1980s. Instead they embraced “lobby politics” and/or Community Anarchism. Despite the apparent contradiction between lobby politics, which leads NGOs to cooperate with the state, and state-rejecting Community Anarchism, the two go together. This is because they reject any confrontation or competition with the state. Lobbyists cooperate with the state, while Community Anarchists hope to ignore it. They both reject building a big picture political analysis. Instead of building mass movements or political parties, the NGOs concentrated on single-issue campaigns as part of their attempt to avoid confrontation with the state. This method of working also dove-tailed with grant applications to international funding bodies. It led to a de-politicisation of the movement. Thus, NGOs cooperated with both military and elected Governments in Thailand since the early 1980s. Initially, in 2001, the NGOs loved-up to Taksin’s TRT Government too. They believed that it was open to NGO lobbying, which it was. TRT took on board the idea of a Universal Health Care System from progressive doctors and healthrelated NGOs. But then, the NGOs were wrong-footed by the Government’s raft of other pro-poor policies that seemed to prove to villagers that the NGOs had only been “playing” at development.
After the 2006 coup d’état, some Thai NGO leaders, such as Rawadee Parsertjaroensuk (NGOCoordinating Committee), Nimit Tienudom (AIDS network), Banjong Nasa (Southern Fisher Folk network), Witoon Permpongsajaroen (Ecology movement) and Sayamon Kaiyurawong (Thai Volunteer Service) etc. put themselves forward in the hope that the military would select them as appointed Senators. Earlier, these NGO activists attended PAD rallies. Some NGO activists became government appointees under the military junta. Most had illusions that the military would clean up Thai politics with their new constitution. Many NGOs oppose Representative Democracy, along Anarchist lines, because they believe it only leads to dirty Money Politics. But the Direct Democracy in village communities, which they advocate, is powerless in the face of the all-powerful state. It also glorifies traditional and conservative village leaders which are not subject to any democratic mandate. Eventually, the idea goes together with a failure to defend Parliamentary Democracy. Their anarchistic rejection of representative politics, allowed them to see “no difference” between an elected parliament controlled by Thai Rak Thai (TRT) and a military coup. Instead of bothering to carefully analyse the political situation, the distrust of elections, votes and Representative Democracy allowed NGOs to align themselves with reactionaries like the PAD and the military, who advocate more appointed public positions and a decrease in the democratic space. The excuse was always that ordinary people were “too poorly educated to understand democracy”. The NGOs became viciously patronising towards villagers, claiming that they “lacked the right information” to make political decisions. In fact, there was always a patronising element to their practical work. Many Thai NGO leaders are self-appointed middle class activists who shun elections and believe that NGOs should “nanny” peasants and workers. They have become bureaucratised. They are now fearful and contemptuous of the Red Shirt movement. On the opposite side, the progressive Red Shirts who oppose Pua Thai and lèse majesté are weakened by a lack of centralised coordination and unclear alternative political agendas. Both sides have failed to build an alternative political party to the parties of the elites.
Published on Oct 5, 2013