Reports on Thailand from the Left

We have seen plenty of coverage of the red shirt demonstrations in Thailand from the right and the centre. How is it being reported on the left? In answering this, I am reminded of how far away and little known the Kingdom is in the west. Even the admirable Amy Goodman of Democracy Now has read out two short news items misidentifying the army with the police.

The Morning Star in Britain had a couple of articles on the 12th of April. The focus was on the red-shirted demonstrators as representatives of the rural poor, their support for the pro-poor Thai Rak Thai administration and the violent suppression by the state, in addition to suppression of political dissidence through censorship.

A longer piece by Kenny Coyle stressed the emerging class war element of the demonstrations and includes some comments on a central institution which it is not possible to repeat here (and which, I think, become simplistic in this piece). The article concludes:

“At the very least, international solidarity and vigilance might stay the hand of the Thai military from committing further bloodbaths. The Thai embassy in London should be bombarded with protests about the outrageous massacre of its own people and in support of the demand for new democratic elections.”

According to this argument, a victory for the red shirts would bring a new political space in which socialist ideas in the region (presumably the Mekong region) might be rekindled.

Over at the website In Defence of Marxism, which is led by Alan Woods and is I think the best of its type, a typically detailed piece on April 1st sought to explain the background of the current political situation and rooted the problems in the divisions and inequality in society. Here is a sample paragraph (note this is also a not-a-certain-institution-friendly-piece):

“The seedy industries for which Thailand is well known have their origins in the class division between anmart (bureaucrats or aristocrats) and phrai, or commoners and can be understood in the context of social conditions and low status enjoyed by the poor farmers. The bar girls in Soi Cowboy and older women in the sex industry appear undernourished compared to the tourists on the beach in Pattaya. Nearly all are working to support children who live with the grandmother in a village. The begging industry is fully Dickensian with businessmen of the street leading their captive cripples to prime sites to be artistically displayed spreading out the frayed trouser legs with no leg inside, for example, positioning a cute puppy in the arms of the beggar and studying from a safe distance the emotional impact on Japanese tourists leaving the Tokyu department store.”

The article continues to decry the lack of a large-scale political party that represents the interest of the working classes and notes that this has occurred since the demise of the Communist Party of Thailand. Author Joe Gold is optimistic that such a party may be created:

“What is required today is the building of a genuine party of the Thai working class, one that is capable of intervening in the present movement and placing the working class at the head of the people’s protest. All the potential for such a party exists today in Thailand.”

Finally, from International Viewpoint, the online socialist magazine reporting in support of the Fourth International, a piece appeared on April 14th, 2010, entitled “Neither martial law, nor state of emergency, nor coup d’etat! Democracy and social justice.” This article is again in favour of the red shirt movement, labels the Abhisit regime as ‘illegitimate’ and calls for immediate dissolution of parliament:

“The Fourth International is in solidarity with the fight for social justice and democracy of the “Redshirts”. The repression of the demonstrators in Bangkok has not dented their determination. Abhisit, the person responsible for the blood bath, must resign and call legislative elections as soon as possible.

There must be an end to repression, the censure of the media and the denial of democratic freedoms. The rights to organise, freely associate, strike and demonstrate must be respected.”

Again, the PAD yellow shirt movement is labeled as royalist, in fact as ‘reactionary royalist forces,’ which is unfortunate not because the description is untrue but because it implies that other parts of society are not equally royalist in nature. The PAD leadership, by relentlessly describing themselves as the ‘defenders of the monarchy,’ show the power of the right to distort the truth by repeating lies – consider the same phenomenon among the Tea Party supporters in the USA, for example.

One problem that the left faces in analysing the situation in class terms is that most red shirt supporters actually want capitalism in Thailand (with democracy) since it is better than the feudalism which was restored after the 2006 coup. Many, after all, continue to hope for the return of Thaksin Shinawatra and his administration, which of course is entirely a representative of capitalism (albeit certainly pro-poor and redistributive in nature). Thaksin is, therefore, referred to as a ‘transitional figure’ in a process which will lead to some kind of revolution that will go much further than the return of democracy.

Anarchists in Thailand

One aspect about political protests in Europe (not sure about America) is always the presence of anarchists – sometimes dressed in the traditional red and black but more commonly masked and hooded to reduce the risk of being identified, the anarchists are so determinedly opposed to the state that they will take any opportunity to try to bring it down through violence. When there is a political protest in a progressive cause, the anarchists tend to join in on the fringes with their own program of violence; when the protest is reactionary, they might instead attempt to intimidate the protestors or anyone else through using or threatening violence.

Yet we do not seem to have any anarchists in Thailand (unless, as Esther Rantzen might say, you know different[ly]). Of course, some people would argue that all Thai people are at heart anarchists anyway (Thai means ‘free’) and joke about road usage and so forth. In any case, most protests in Thailand attract a wide or at least fairly wide range of different interests. The pro-democracy UDD demonstrations, for example, include leftish progressives (many of whom deeply disdain the capitalism of Thai Rak Thai), Thaksin supporters (these categories are not all mutually exclusive), the rural dispossessed, those upset with the corrupt and brutal Democrat rule, former Communists still wondering when Prem is going to keep his side of the bargain (never, is the answer to that one), labour activists and so on and so forth. The only people who can be accused of anarchic tendencies would be Maj-Gen Seh Daeng Khattiya and his supporters but it must be contradictory being any kind of anarchist in the rigidly hierarchical Thai military forces. Some of the PAD associates appear to be deeply unpleasant and heavily-armed sociopaths, of course, but that is not the same as being an anarchist.

Are there any Southeast Asian anarchists (he asks having thought about this briefly and not done any research at all – hey, it’s a blog not a journal)?  

Football Season Kicks Off

The football season has kicked off with two games played this weekend: Samut Songkhram beat Thai Port 1-0 and Chonburi beat the Army 3-0.

This version of the league has more of a national feel to it, which is good and indeed important and there should be some excitement given that this is a World Cup year and that tends to add lustre to footy wherever it is being played.

It is presumed that the Muang Thong Impact Centres will be the team to beat again, this season. They try to call themselves the Kirins (it is a kind of mythical flying horse thing) but they will always be the Impac’ers to us. I do recall a few years ago the Bangkok Post ran a short weekly column about the Expats League and one phrase stuck in my mind, about a team based in Pattaya and supported by ‘shrill, slim-hipped pole-huggers’ and so that is why Chonburi have their nickname. The Navy, of course, are the Disappearing Containers of Human Bones and Buriram, sponsored by Newin Chidchob, will start the season as the Chameleons. I do not have any particular ideas for either Samut Songkhram or Pichit but no doubt something will occur.

Iran 1 Thailand 0

A last-minute goal by Javad Nekounam allowed Iran to put the Thai team out of its misery last night as the Land of Smilers went down 1-0. That will be the end of the Asian Cup campaign for another cycle and probably marks the beginning of the end of the managerial tenure of Bryan ‘Robbo’ Robson – who was always a curious choice and who may now find out some more about working in Thailand.

No doubt there are some who will be able to take comfort from the fact that Singapore have also been eliminated, after being beaten 2-1 by Jordan, who thereby take the second place in the group. Taking a broader view, it is disappointing that ASEAN football is failing to make much progress and is increasingly overshadowed by East and West Asian countries and, these days, by emergent Central Asian (former Soviet) states, especially since some of them seem to have money to invest in their leading clubs.  

It Kicks Off in Tehran Tonight

The big one kicks off tonight at 11 local time (Bangkok time is now 45 years behind the rest of the world) as the plucky Land of Smilers take on the fierce Iranians – consternation has broken out in Bryan ‘Robbo’ Robson’s camp as it transpires the Iranians, who have already qualified for the finals of the Asian Championship, will not be sending out their under 11 team supplemented by a few ringers, as had been anticipated. Instead, it looks like the full team will pitch up with a view to getting a good work-out in an international environment in which it can be difficult to bring all the players together at the same time. Besides which, they will want to win.

Apparently, the game will be shown live on Channel 7.

Thailand needs a result of some sort (i.e. not a defeat) and hope that the Singapore-Jordan game works in their favour. We shall see – Iran are quite handy and even though the Thais are, according to Mr Robbo, at full strength with everybody 100% fit, Iran will start clear favourites, so long as they can be bothered with it all. Iranians usually can and their manager can expect severe words if his team lets the fans down.

Still, let’s be positive – it’s still 0-0 now and that might be enough if they can hang on for the next seven hours or so.

Mr Robbo is expected to name a 4-5-1 formation and, if I were him, I would have the driver of the team bus practicing parking it in front of the goal and hoping for the best.

Why the Aristocracy Hates Capitalism

Well, there are several reasons, of course but one of the more important is pointed out by Theodor Adorno,* who wrote:

“The concept of connections, a category of mediation and circulation, never flourished best in the sphere of circulation proper, the market, but in closed and monopolistic hierarchies.”

The patronage system is challenged by market-based activities where transactions are valued according to more transparent criteria – in other words, we should support capitalism (with a peg on our noses if necessary) as a stage in the struggle against the existing feudal order.

 * Adorno, Theodor, Minima Moralia: Reflections on a Damaged Life (London and New York: Verso, 2005), translated by E.F.N. Jephcott, p.23.

Frightful Hobgoblins

There is a frightful hobgoblin stalking the sois and paddy fields of Thailand. Is it the hobgoblin of continued, intensified repression or will it be the hobgoblin of freedom? We will not know for certain tomorrow if it is the latter but we will be likely to be able to tell if it is the former.

Although I am told that the ‘guys upstairs’ (quite literally considering where I work most of the rime) will be working throughout the night seeking a peaceful or at least acceptable solution, the people I have spoken to generally seem to think that a certain General Secret Hand, facing death shortly, is ready to ignite the flames of violence once more in his often spoken desire to have, as his legacy, a boot stamping on the face of the people of Isan forever.

Alternatively: the hobgoblin might be the spirit of whoever it is that is represented by the black car I saw parked up along Ladprao on my way home tonight (not that far from the Chok Chai Si Police Station, in fact). It was decorated with three pictures (paintings I suppose) on the side I passed by: Bob Marley, Osama Bin Laden and a Swastika (I’m sure it wasn’t the reverse version that is a Buddhist symbol) – on the front wing was a plain red flag displayed like a diplomatic flag would be. What kind of person would decorate a car in this way? (I am not, by the way, making this up).


Bangkokians will know full well how popular the Blackberry has become in the Big Mango. Why the popularity? According to Gregory Wade, Managing Director of Research in Motion, there are three reasons:

“Why are the Thai people so attracted to BlackBerry? Why is it so popular? What sets Thailand apart from other markets?,” Wade asked the audience.

His answer was threefold*. First was social media. Thailand has 13 million people using social media of which 2 million are using Facebook. Sixty percent of mobile Facebook access is done through a mobile device. People are moving, people are mobile, people are multi-tasking.

Second is localisation. The BlackBerry has a localised product set, not just the phone, complete with applications that are Thai enabled.

Third is the aspiration of Thais who love their celebrities and want to emulate them, using the same phones as these social influencers.

“This is an example of a unique element in Thailand that has taken hold, whether they are societal influencers, business influencers or celebrity influencers. Thai people love to adopt the latest technology. They want to adopt the latest and greatest design, setting the trend,” he said.”

I think it is not controversial to say that Thai people like new trends, technological or not and many will emulate the great and the good. I will also make the observation that, in underground railway stations, passengers approach the glass wall that separates train from people and I can confirm that at least 70%, men as well as women, will check their appearance both from the front and from the back.

* I just said that.

So Who, Actually, Funded the Lengthy PAD Campaign of Violence?

There are many questions that cannot be asked in Thailand, the title to this post is just one of them and most are so dangerous that it is not possible even to hint that we know what they are. How has this politics of silence come about?

Hannah Arendt, in her book On Revolution, makes some useful comments here (p.9):

“Where violence rules absolutely … everything and everybody must fall silent. It is because of this silence that violence is a marginal phenomenon in the political realm; for man, to the extent that he is a political being, is endowed with the power of speech … The point here is that violence itself is incapable of speech, and not merely that speech is helpless when confronted with violence.”

In other words, in the Thai context, people must be silent because of the absolute rule of violence in society about which everybody knows and about which must, therefore, keep silent (as is well-known: the army will step in whenever they like – the last coup was nearly bloodless but not because the army wanted it to be bloodless).

Chaturon on Justice in Thailand

As more court verdicts are due to be announced in due course, it might be helpful to consider how the judicial system in Thailand has been transformed since September 19th, 2006. Here are some observations by Chaturon Chaisang from his book Thai Democracy in Crisis: 2y Truths (p.174) on the issue of banning political party executives:

“As for politicians who held office in previous governments and were accused of various crimes which mostly concerned corruption, the crucial point is that the judicial process has been distorted. The Assets Examination Committee was set up by the junta, and comprised biased individuals who vowed outright to deal with a person or group of persons whom they targeted. And the proceedings of the committee were not in line with the practice of the Criminal Code in many aspects.

Then the cases were forwarded to the National Counter Corruption Committee. The problem of illegitimacy arose again, as the NCCC was also appointed by the junta, and was composed of individuals who harboured hatred towards the accused. All this is a distortion of the judicial process, preventing the accused from receiving justice.”

Of course, Khun Chaturon is one of those affected by these decisions since he is one of the 111 Thai Rak Thai executives banned as a result of the retroactive legislation introduced by the junta. Readers may judge for themselves whether this might have affected his opinions.

The issue of retroactive legislation against a set of people issued by an unaccountable body that seized power by threat of violence and then retroactively pardoned itself for an illegal act* is one which is also worth considering.

* Plotting the 2006 coup took place while the 1997 Constitution was in force and was, therefore, illegal. The junta abolished that Constitution once their tanks were in place and then declared an amnesty for all those involved.

From Big Asian Cup to Little Asian Cup

The weekend saw the end of Muang Thong Exhibition Centres/Kirins from Asian Big Cup after they were beaten on penalties in Singapore by the Armed Forces (described, in a slightly bitter story which is the newspaper downstairs but I cannot find online as ‘a failing club with zero support’ IIRC) in a one-off game – this is unfortunate, since the Muang Thongoes slogged their way to the championship, won away handily in Vietnam and then had to fly in and play on an artificial surface and now are out. Well, now they are, like the Scouser Liverpoolers, entered into Little Asian Cup and profess themselves pleased (not sure who actually said she/he was pleased but it probably does not matter) with their draw, which pits them against South China of Hong Kong (as I recall, this was the team whose defeat heralded the famous Gazza Dentist’s Chair celebration some years ago – those were the days, now he seems to be a sad, trouble-making drunk constantly attracting the attentions of the police) … What was I saying? Oh yes, the other two teams in the group are V.B. of the Maldives (must be rubbish – any team named after a rubbish Australian beer must be suspect) and Persiwa Wamena of Indonesia (never heard of them and Indonesian football does not have much of a reputation). The E.C.s should be able to finish in the top two of this group and, therefore, qualify for the exciting next stage.

Wassana on Anupong

Wassana on Anupong In her column in the Bangkok Post this week, Khun Wassana Nanuam looks at the career of General Anupong Paojinda, who has held the post of head of the army under two democratically-elected prime ministers and two military-installed ‘prime ministers.’ She attributes his comparative longevity to the continued power of the military in the Thai political system and the need in the post September 19th 2006 world to placate the military, particularly its top brass which displays an inordinate sense of entitlement, status and desire to wield power presumably (she does not make this point but I do) so as to be able to distribute resources to reinforce power networks. Anupong of course was initially appointed by former PM Thaksin Shinawatra, the first politician to be democratically elected and to serve a full term, then the first to be re-elected, then the first to establish a single party government. Anupong turned against Thaksin as part of the coup even though he had been appointed as a former classmate and the hope that he would be loyal to the state. In fact, Anupong then exposed his own character fully when, with the democratically-elected government imperiled by the heavily-armed PAD mob (and its celebrity sponsors) which had occupied Government House and the airports, he declared that the army would not obey the government but would be ‘neutral.’ Fortunately, Anupong is due to retire this year and one of his four hand-picked cronies is likely to succeed him (since interfering with this process by democratically-elected politicians will almost certainly bring another coup). Interestingly, Khun Wassana observes in concluding: “While nobody knows for sure who the next army commander will be, one thing that is certain is that the new top soldier will have to be braver and more committed than Gen Anupong, not in clinging to the seat of power but in bringing more professionalism to the army, as he will be in for a really tough time.” It is true that the red-shirt pro-democracy movement appears to have resolved to shine a light on the military’s activities by rallying outside some of their very numerous bases. The inquiry into the GT200 ‘bomb detection’ devices is also likely to open a can of worms concerning the methods adopted in military purchasing, which the apparent desire to buy yet more Gripen jet fighters will, it is to be hoped, exacerbate.

Sihanouk on Thailand

In his memoir Sihanouk Reminisces: World Leaders I Have Known (written by Bernard Krisher but dictated by the King, the man himself observes (p.70):

“… my small Cambodia was sandwiched between two powerful and threatening neighbors, Thailand and South Vietnam, which were both not only American allies but also in collusion with the Khmer Serei guerillas, whom they protected and trained. Both Thailand and South Vietnam also endorsed the “Anschluss’ of parts of Cambodia and they harbored these far rightist, anti-Sihanouk guerillas in order to further their territorial ambitions, which they justified with dubious interpretations of history.”

Based on what I have read of this book so far, I would classify Sihanouk as an unreliable narrator but, even so, it would be well for people to remember that there are longstanding reasons for discord between Thailand and Cambodia.

Incidentally, one of the reasons I love Asia Books is that occasionally little gems like this one will suddenly pop up – presumably, there are warehouses somewhere with old stock that occasionally are used to replenish the shelves.


Red Shirts Plan Multi-Pronged Campaign?

It looks like we may have a month or so of intensified political action as the pro-democracy UDD movement is rumoured to be widening its campaign to take in a number of targets. For example, today we can see:

A rally outside the Department of Special Investigations to find out whether and for what reason the petition for a Royal Pardon for former PM Thaksin has been delayed.

An accusation that current PM Abhisit Vejjajiva is also involved in this delay.

The suggestion that UDD supporters will stage a rally outside Suvarnabhumi Airport to protest about the shameful delay into investigating and arresting the leading fascist PAD supporters who seized the airports in 2008, causing an estimated 140 billion baht worth of damage to the country. The ringleaders include the current Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya. This is a dangerous tactic since [certain people who will not be named here] are likely to organise violence at such a rally and then claim moral equivalence with the heavily-armed yellow shirt fascists.

A suggestion by a government suit (which seems to be an entirely evidence-free assertion which might be used to increase the use of jackboots laws) that as many as ten different locations might be targeted by the pro-democracy movement.

The Puea Thai Party may be suing the head of the Electoral Commission for failure to dissolve the Democrat Party for (allegedly and so on and so forth but really ….) taking illegal donations – evidence far more substantial than that used to dissolve non-establishment political parties, according to what some people say; I couldn’t possibly comment.

It is no surprise that an intensification of action, if it does happen, will happen over the next few weeks since it is anticipated that the court will announce the decision concerning the judicial seizure of assets of Khun Thaksin – it is being bruited about that those who really make the decision (on the entirely fanciful basis that it is not done purely based on legal merit – I would never do anything illegal like suggest that judges are motivated by politics and secret orders) are preparing to seize the whole lot.

Not all UDD supporters are supporters of Thaksin, as I have mentioned before. But such a blow would affect the whole political framework – would it even mark the final victory of the establishment against redistributive ideology?

Thailand 1 Singapore 0

The 40th King’s Cup tournament has kicked off in Nakshon Ratchasima with a victory for Thailand over Singapore. The ten-men Thais, wearing their ‘unlucky’ yellow shirts, were reduced to 10 men when Teerathep Winothai was sent off early in the second half but shortly thereafter got the only goal of the game.

In the other match, Denmark beat Poland 3-1 with goals from Soren Risks, Morten Rassmussen and Jesper Bech (no, me neither). On Wednesday, Thailand will play the sledded Poles and the Singaporeans will try to determine what is rotten in the state of Denmark.

Thailand 2 Hyundai Ulsan 1

The King’s Cup kicks off in Nakhon Ratchasima on Sunday and will feature not just Thailand but also Denmark, Poland and Singapore. Not sure what kind of sides Denmark and Poland will be able to put out but I imagine that Singapore will be up for a shock.

In the run-up, Thailand won a friendly the other night against Korean club team Hyundai Ulsan at the Rajamangala Stadium here in the City of Angels. The game ended 2-1 with the winner coming just after the start of the second half. Manager Bryan ‘Robbo’ Robson apparently picked a combination of regular internationals and emerging players from the not so successful under-23 SEA Games team. A couple of good performances from Khun Robbo’s team would no doubt make his current position a little less parlous.

Boys in Brown Strike Like Lightning

From the Bangkok Post:

“The Department of Investigation will ask Interpol to help track down a key suspect in the murder of a Saudi Arabian diplomat 20 years ago.

DSI deputy chief Narat Sawettanat yesterday said he would visit the Interpol office in France later this month to make a request for the capture of Abu Ali, an Arab businessman.

Pol Col Narat said the DSI would ask Interpol to put Mr Ali on its wanted list and track him down before Feb 1, when the statute of limitations on the case expires.”

You really couldn’t make it up.

When Treason Prospers

” … the professional soldiers, members of that curious esoteric world which has so little contact with the civilian world, and works in such different ways. The non-professional soldier, the conscript or temporary officer, or in most cases the policeman, however heavily armed, tends to react much more like the civilians to whom he will return or among whom he operates. Separated from the rest of society by a life consisting (in peacetime) of fancy dress, instruction and practice, games and boredom, organized on the assumption that their members at all levels are generally rather stupid and always expendable, held together by the increasingly anomalous values of bravery, honour, contempt for and suspicion of civilians, professional armies tend almost by definition to ideological eccentricity (Eric Hobsbawm, Coup D’Etat in Revolutionaries, pp.258-64).”

Wassana Nanuam’s ‘From the Barracks’ column this week makes, once again, for fairly depressing reading: firstly, because it is clear that there are factions within the military (including Prem Tinsulanonda) who still see a role for yet another military coup and who have learned nothing from history or ethics; secondly, what is perhaps even worse, is that the motivation for the coup, among most of those who believe it should go ahead, is primarily greed and the desire for personal power and its prerequisites. Despite Prem’s viper-tongued claims that the country will fall into civil war and that there is a need for more troops in Isan (Prem’s vision for the future of Thailand: a boot stamping in the face of the poor forever), it is naked greed that motivates these individuals. Consider, for example, the 2006 junta: their first act (after cancelling the constitution etc) was to award themselves large salaries and start to pad the military budget again. Some, including Surayud Chulanont, the junta’s ‘prime minister,’ appears to have taken the opportunity to steal public land – he may have done so before, the dates in reports I have seen are a little ambiguous.

Thailand 0 Jordan 0

It was no surprise – the Thai team has been firing blanks for a while, partly because of the injuries to strikers and more particularly because of a lack of guile or, under Bryan ‘Robbo’ Robson, any particularly convincing plan to score a goal. The Jordan team was not very good but well enough organised as the back and sufficiently likely to score a breakaway goal to prevent much pressure being built on their defence.

It also rained quite fiercely before the kick off- rain in European countries livens up the grass and provides a bit of an advantage for teams who can pass it well; rain in Thailand tends to turn the pitch into a muddy obstacle course that saps strength and accuracy and reduces the role of skill.

So, now it will be a case of having to get a result in Tehran in order to qualify for the 2011 Asian Cup and, if the Iranians (and their fierce crowd) perform to anywhere near their normal standard then there is not much chance of that. Presumably, Mr Robson will find his life about to become a little more uncomfortable.

Thailand 3 Zimbabwe 0

Thailand put three past a weak Zimbabwe team at the Thai-Japanese Friendship Stadium last night, which was pretty much the minimum expected against a team that pitched up on Monday with only five of their regular squad apparently included. Will there be asylum seeking activity?

Manager Bryan ‘Robbo’ Robson, who is on the way to China to watch the Mighty Jordan play, was concerned that none of his four strikers could find the net. The Mighty Jordan will play their crucial qualifying game here next Wednesday – I fear a dodgy away win followed by more anti-foreigner sentiment.