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)?  

Enter Sereepisut, Pursued by (or Pursuing) …


I know that stories beginning ‘Is it just me or …’ cry out for the answer ‘It’s just you, you clown’ but …

Is it just me or does this story represent one of the more important things that should be changed about Thailand? It is in the Bangkok Post and entitled ‘Sereepisut to Enter Politics’:

‘Pol Gen Sereepisut Taemeeyaves announced on Wednesday his intention to enter politics.

The former national police chief said it was now time for him to enter politics. He believed that with his experience gained during 40 years in government service he would be able to work for the country in the political arena.

Pol Gen Sereepisut, however, said he was still undecided which party to join although he had been approached by many parties including New Politics of Sondhi Limthongkul.

He said he was interested in running for a House seat representing Bangkok where he was popular among the people who admired him for his honesty.

He said he would open a website to communicate with the people.’

That will be: ‘… undecided which party to join …’

It is traditional in Japan (a tradition perhaps more honoured in the breach than the observance) for long-term career civil servants to retire and then take up positions with private sector firms with which they had established relationships over the years (the practice is known as ‘descending from the mountains’ – I will spare you the transliteration). In Thailand, after a career of public service and well-attested ‘honesty,’ civil servants enter politics to get the rewards they deserve for such self-sacrifice ….  Or is this just a single case, an anecdote, the exception that tests the norm?

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?

The Establishment Speaks


Control, so the amartya establishment would no doubt have it, confers legitimacy: when the establishment was able to win elections, then the election was the sacred symbol of democracy and any dissenters were excoriated for illegitimate and perhaps even communist direct action. Then, when Thai Rak Thai proved that winning elections was no longer the preserve of the establishment, suddenly the election was downgraded to just one of the institutions of democracy and far from the most important. Then, public participation suddenly became more important and regular endorsement of policies above and beyond periodic elections should take place (this was supported by the treason of many of the intellectuals whose compromises were revealed as shameful by the change in the political scene).

Above all, the checks and balances then were elevated to high rank: adopting the discourse of American politics (where the ‘checks and balances’ are currently being used by obstructionist rightists to prevent the will of the people being carried out), we were supposed to believe that ‘objective,’ ‘independent’ and ‘non-partisan’ individuals were uniquely placed to be able to judge the legitimacy of the democratically-elected government and should be put in a position of power above the politicians.

From here, of course, it is a very short step to justifying a military coup (which many of the traitor intellectuals were all too keen to do, even in their ‘award-winning’ books).

There is an obvious parallel with the courts. After the judicial coup wrought by the junta before it handed power to the sleazy, repressive and incompetent Abhisit regime, judicial verdicts were more or less guaranteed to follow the establishment line (there are always a few mavericks, for one reason or the other). Hence, in the run up to important and controversial verdicts,* we are urged by all the great and good to respect the courts, told that only courts can make decisions and should by no means make any kind of protest against judicial decisions. As ever, moralistic language is employed to make the distinction that obedience to the rightist establishment is virtuous and disobedience is vicious.

 * I of course have a stake in the most prominent of these decisions, since it might have a powerful influence on my ability to put the rice on the table.  

Fascism Is an Index of a Failed Revolution


It was Walter Benjamin who observed that ‘Every fascism is an index of a failed revolution.’ There is little doubt that the PAD Yellow Shirt movement has become a fascist movement in terms of the rejection of democracy, the promotion of an extreme form of nationalism and the elevation of mythical, heroic elements as being the defining dynamic force of the Kingdom.

So, what is the failed revolution that has given rise to this fascist movement? The PAD emerged during the Thai Rak Thai government and angrily denounced numerous aspects of it, so it seems reasonable to assume that the revolution was a democratic one (or there was an aspiration there would be a democratic revolution). Having seen, as they purport to believe, the failure of democracy in Thailand (i.e. they argue that it has been subverted by certain economic interests, proven corrupt and is in conflict with the fantasmatic elements of Thai society (monarchy, religion and language acting as the Master Signifier here), they now reject the idea of democracy altogether.

There is a parallel with the Labour government of the UK: both Labour and Thai Rak Thai were given enormous mandates to rule as they saw fit and to make a break with the sleazy and incompetent governments that were decisively rejected by the voters. Both had to please powerful non-democratically accountable interests and therefore compromised their ideals. Both have found it very difficult (perhaps in different ways) actually to bring about all the changes that the voters wished them to do. At least Gordon Brown does not have to worry too much about the tanks being driven into Downing Street and handpicked judges being installed to bring about certain verdicts preventing the realization of the will of the people.

Songkran Grachangnetara’s Article


Although the letters page of the Bangkok Post has truly descended into a rogues’ gallery of climate deniers, junta/PAD apologists, conspiracy theorists and Burin Kantabutra, the newspaper has at least published one opinion piece worth reading. It is here and was written by Songkran Grachangnetara, who describes himself as an entrepreneur – I have not heard of him before (have I?).

Among the points he makes, the more interesting are that the PM should acknowledge at last that he does not owe his position to any normal processes (to which I would add legitimate or legal processes) and that there is a hunger among the Thai people for the justice and equality that are so elusive under the present, structurally biased system (and overseen by handpicked judges and bureaucrats).

The article is also quite amusing and, while it is scarcely revolutionary, it just goes to show how few and far between are any examples of honesty in the Thai media (admittedly I only stay aware of the English language organs).

Thai Political Lexicon Part I (note: satire warning!)


Here are a few items in the Thai political lexicon which might confuse newcomers to the Kingdom. On the left is the Thai version rendered into English and on the right is the actual meaning:

Checks and balances: stuffing the bureaucracy so full of social conservatives who owe their positions to patronage that no meaningful political reform is possible.

Enemies of the state (© Abhisit Vejjajiva): pro-democracy demonstrators. Used to be ‘Communists’ or anyone else deemed inconvenient or disruptive.

Unity: obeying the establishment without question.

Reconciliation: see ‘Unity.’

Setting up a committee to scrutinize the legislation: we made a mistake by hastily cobbling together some populist nonsense and now we would like to forget all about it by burying it for a year.

We hope the Cambodian legal system will abide by international standards: We hope the Cambodian legal system is better than the Thai legal system.

Happy Christmas: it is you foreigners who cause all the trouble, are seeking to undermine the Thai state, are probably Communists as well.

Cameron and Abhisit


Having seen the coverage of the conference speech by leader of the Conservative Party Sweaty Dave Cameron, it becomes increasingly clear how similar he is as a politician to the meat puppet Abhisit Vejjajiva.

In one sense, the reasons for this are obvious: both share enormously privileged backgrounds which have kept them insulated from the real world and wholly unable to relate to anyone other than the equally rich and privileged, both have the patina of charm and charisma that the many thousands of pounds education at Eton and Oxford University provides, neither has done a socially-useful day’s work in his life.

When reading out a speech, Cameron has the edge – but only I think because he at least has enough self-awareness to realise that he is cynically mouthing a series of platitudes and obvious lies – only a fool or a charlatan would really suppose that his claims to be interested in helping the poor were anything other than mendacity.

Abhisit, on the other hand, reads out the speech but has very little understanding of the issues or any interest in policies and their implications (in this, he resembles George W Bush more). Perhaps he is different behind the scenes or in committees and so forth but it is really difficult to imagine why (apart from the status and power) he wants to be in politics when he offers no indication of any meaningful personal ideology or philosophy – maybe it is, as is the case with other right wing politicians, that he can occupy office simply to deny power to someone who actually try to change things.

Pro-Democracy Voices Gather


The lines have, so to speak, been drawn up for the pro-democracy demonstration due to be held this weekend. The ISOC has met and announced that 37 ‘companies’ of police and military forces will be stationed to regulate the demonstrations – checkpoints will search the demonstrators (many tens of thousands are expected but it is always difficult to know exactly how many will in fact show up) and reports are that many checkpoints on roads around the city have been established to prevent people from outside Bangkok from making it into the city (some people are travelling individually and incognito as a result).

The demonstration itself will focus on the competence and character of the Abhisit/PAD/military regime – pro-democracy redshirts argue that the incompetence of the government at a time of economic crisis is such that there should be a dissolution of parliament and people given a genuine chance to be governed by people for whom they have voted. They also argue that a variety of scandals and alleged instances of corruption should lead to PM Abhisit (and some others) being impeached and removed from office.

The rightist government and its media friends have tried, as a means of disguising the issues at hand, to portray the forthcoming demonstration as being likely to lead to violence and disorder and, also, that it is all some kind of conspiracy mounted by former PM Thaksin Shinawatra, who is treated as some kind of devil for his temerity in challenging the aristocratic elite. Consider this story, for example.

It is not likely that there will be any immediate positive change from the demonstration (a positive change would be a move towards democracy), since it is the secret hand which will decide when Abhisit is obliged to give up his power and the secret hand follows its own agenda. On the other hand, there is a real danger that violence will break out (possibly through the use of agents provocateurs as has happened previously) and innocent people will be wounded or killed. At least these days we have the technology to photograph and record what will occur – and these images do leak out, despite this repressive regime’s attempts to suppress political dissidence ruthlessly

Xenophobia


The Bangkok Post is leading with yet another tedious anti-foreigner story: apparently, more than 90% of Phuket beach land is owned by the despicable outsiders who, if it is true, are apparently planning to take the land away or else to poison it so that no Thai person can ever go back there again.

This story follows others in the national media, including various stories about foreigners secretly gaining control over rice-growing land and investigations into Thai-foreigner marriages with a view to seizing land or property that may have been secretly bought – well, we foreigners are not allowed to buy land in the Land of Smiles (Thais of course can buy land pretty much anywhere else) because … well, obviously, it is part of the establishment-military-nationalist elites who aim to frighten the poor and middle classes as a pretext to continue to inflate the budget of the military and the state security organs. Huge amounts of money flow to the military and it would be interesting (but enough to draw an assassination attempt) to know where it all goes.

The repressive Abhisit regime is part of this tendency – it is talking up the ‘dangers’ of the pro-democracy movement demonstration due to be held on the 30th and there is talk of a ‘special law’ to deal with the demonstrators (as opposed to the ‘special’ interpretation of the law which is used to discriminate, some people would argue, against the pro-democracy movement and its supporters). Expect, therefore, more agent provocateur action (perhaps the ‘blue shirts’ – mostly off-duty servicemen and known PAD goons – will reappear to ‘defend their neighbourhood’).

Then again, given Abhisit’s ongoing failure to force his crony into the seat of police chief, perhaps he will have been discarded by the Secret Hand by then. After the birthday party, perhaps. Then, perhaps violence will be used both to destroy the pro-democracy movement and also as a pretext for getting rid of the ineffectual super rich boy, who can also be blamed for it.

I Don’t Know Nothing


I was reading the Wassana Nanuam column ‘From the Barracks’ in the Bangkok Post last night – I try to read her regularly since she seems to know what is going on in the military, much more than I do anyway, even if I do not agree with everything (or even very much) of what she writes.

One thing struck me forcibly. I rarely have time to watch television and get my news mostly online – as a result, I do not know what most people in the news look like. In addition, Thai coverage usually or at least often focuses on the first name of individuals, which is used more commonly than the surname. Consequently, it was not until she pointed it out that I realized that the current Defence Minister (Prawit Wongsuwon) and the current Police Chief (Patcharawat Wongsuwon) are brothers.

Well, I could have dope slapped myself like Click and Clack the Tappit Brothers. Doh! Of course – this is the context of Thai politics and public service that I so often forget about – it is the same set of people, from the same families and sharing the same networks – that get appointed again and again to the important offices of the state (thereby making it much more difficult for outsiders ever to gain admittance or to be treated as anything other than an unnatural outsider if they do gain admittance).

So, this helps explain why there are ructions within the cabinet now – PM Abhisit has been trying to force out the Police Chief and replace him with someone to the taste of the PAD mob, it is political interference of the most obvious kind. There have also been rumours that Khun Prawit was in some way involved in the supposed assassination attempt on repulsive PAD demagogue Sondhi Limthongkul. So this is all getting more personal than I had appreciated.

It seems, disappointingly, that the repressive rightist regime of Abhisit is perfectly happy to see ideology drain out of the political scene and to return to money politics and patronage as a means of supporting the status quo.

Amnesty


There is renewed talk about the possibility of some kind of amnesty being passed for some or all of those involved in the violent PAD seizure of the airports and the state-sanctioned suppression of the pro-democracy movement (aka ‘Songkran riots’). This has most recently been suggested by the Bhumjaithai Party, whose leader Newin Chidchob is one of those waiting for the verdict in the rubber saplings trial to be revealed (does anyone really believe that those in the know do not er know the result of this already?). Khun Newin would certainly benefit from such an amnesty – he is widely suspected of being responsible for paying the ‘blue-shirt’ thugs who were responsible for most of the Songkran violence and he might also be able to wangle his way out of the sapling verdict if, as seems possible based on gossip but not on any available evidence, certain people have decided that there should be guilty verdicts. Also to benefit would be the vile PAD leaders, who bizarrely remain able to walk free despite their obvious guilt in the airport seizures and other crimes. Flap-mouthed Kasit, the PAD’s cabinet member (he was made Foreign Secretary) would also benefit, being forgiven for his part in the airport seizures. Presumably, therefore, pro-democracy UDD leaders should also benefit to the same extent, although it is most likely that some pretext will be used to make sure they get prosecuted or otherwise punished anyway. At the moment, there is no prospect of politicians who have been banned because of the dissolution of parties being forgiven but this is something that has been mooted previously. Perhaps a general amnesty of everyone would be one way forward? Yes, probably – but what about those people who were murdered or wounded by the PAD, the police and the military? Are they just to be forgotten? Well, insofar as they are small people, then the answer is probably yes. In any case, to be forgiven, people will have to answer this question in the negative: Are you now or have you ever been Thaksin Shinawatra?

More Interesting Times on the Horizon


It seems like we may be in for more interesting times starting next week, if not before. On Monday, a court is due to make a judgment about the so-called saplings case: numerous cabinet ministers are accused of corruption over a policy to purchase a large number of saplings to plant in Isan to help with deforestation and to offer some income-generating opportunities for the poor people there and there are allegations of … well, not sure exactly, purchasing decisions? Proper procedures? There is, of course, as Stringer Bell once observed, a game beneath the game. On the same day, the UDD is due to present its petition of several million (last claim was five million) signatures calling for a Royal Pardon for Thaksin Shinawatra – this will presumably be turned down for legalistic reasons (to obtain a pardon, apparently, a person must have served at least a part of a prison sentence, no matter what the quality of the judges who gave the verdict). The disappointment may lead to some demonstrations. Meanwhile, repellent ultra-rightist demagogue Sondhi Limthongkul is making ever wilder evidence-free accusations against the political leaders of the day – he is motivated by what he sees as the unwillingness of the police/polis to unearth the truth behind his supposed assassination attempt (I of course do not condone violence but, if I did …). Yesterday he was accusing Interior Minister Suthep , a major financial supporter of the Democrat Party, of being a traitor and in cahoots with Khun Thaksin. He is unlikely to stop his ranting and has the coverage guaranteed by his ownership of various media outlets. Presumably the police and military will be ready for whatever they think is going to happen – it may just be coincidence but there seem to have been more traffic police stopping vehicles, perhaps watching who is coming to Bangkok? Maybe just revenue-generation but who knows what will happen? I often think that I have no real idea what is going on at all.

People of Sakon Nakhon Vote for Democracy


The sensational victory in the Sakon Nakhon by-election by Puea Thai is, of course, being presented by the media as the result of a clash of personalities – voters preferred to favour former PM Thaksin over the turncoat Newin Chidchob, whose Bhunjaithai Party has made various promises for building sports grounds and providing ambulance teams for local villages which, it seems, very few people really believed he had any intention of really doing.

Since the focus is on personalities rather than policies, we can expect the next few days or weeks (depending on how soon the next big story comes along) to be dominated by talk of making protests to the Election Commission (EC) about the involvement of Khun Thaksin, who was banned from politics by one of the previous in-no-way directed from above EC decisions. Expect rather fewer stories about the involvement of equally-banned Newin himself.

This all detracts from the real story of this election: the people of Thailand have, once again, voted for democracy. They have seen what happens when a party for which they voted won power (fairly and squarely) and that is what they want. They have also seen what happens to innocent pro-democracy supporters when they are suppressed by state-sanctioned violence (and they also know Newin’s shameful role in that violence) (allegedly). They have voted accordingly.

Will it make any difference? Well, looming on the horizon is the possible downfall of the Abhisit regime as a result of a score or more Ministers and MPs being disqualified by the EC for holding shares in government concessions they are not supposed to hold. 16 senators have already been convicted (not sure if this is a final decision or whether appeals are possible or what, frankly, will happen). There seems to be no chance of the Democrats ruling on their own so either Abhisit will be told to give up the ghost (if the military has its own party ready for the next election) or the evils of money politics will multiply as Abhisit is instructed to cling to power at whatever cost to the country.

Class Traitor Somsak to be Sonthi’s Nominee


The ultra-rightist anti-democracy PAD mob has established a political party, to be known as New Politics. The new party is to be led (temporarily at least) by the class traitor Somsak Kosaisuk, who was the leader of the union of the State Railway of Thailand – he threatened to call a national strike in support of the anti-democracy movement but was of course ignored by the working classes of Thailand.

The criminal Somsak was one of the chief plotters behind the PAD’s illegal and violence-sodden occupation of Government House and the two international airports and it is to the great surprise of the majority of the people why he is not now serving the lengthy prison sentence his crimes would seem to demand. Still, he continues to walk the streets along with the other plotters. It is expected the convicted criminal Sonthi Limthongkul will take over leadership as and when the numerous criminal charges facing him somehow ‘melt away.’ Somsak is a puppet or nominee of Sonthi, therefore – making him rather a hypocrite after he criticized democratically-elected PMs Samak Sundaravej and Somchai Wongsawat as being ‘nominees’ (both were removed from office after unorthodox court decisions).

Like other charlatans, the New Political Party talks up its anti-corruption credentials and promises to have only virtuous people to represent the people – it has not been made clear what defines this virtue but it is likely to include ultra-rightist nationalism, xenophobia, hypocrisy and willingness to use violence against the public and the police, which has been the main platform of the PAD.

It is not clear who would vote for these people – although popular among a few thousand Bangkok elites, the ultra-right is well catered for in Thai politics and it would seem most likely to be competing with the Democrats. Then, this is Thailand and who can say what motivates some people?

Abhisit’s Money Politics


Abhisit’s money politics are now in full spate: we are seeing the most recent outbreak of squabbling over which faction gets to control which budget purely on the basis of what benefit each can get from it:

“The source quoted a Bhumjaithai executive as saying: “If he’s not going to resign during the party meeting on May 21 [Thursday], we’ll use a resolution from the meeting of the party’s MPs to force him out.”

The source said Mr Chartchai had performed well as a deputy minister but had failed to contribute to the party’s political activities.

Bhumjaithai will meet tomorrow to discuss Mr Chartchai’s replacement. A strong candidate is Nakhon Phanom MP Supachai Phosu, the source said.

In the wake of reports of a cabinet change under the Bhumjaithai quota, the Puea Pandin Party is demanding another cabinet seat.

Puea Pandin spokesman Alongkot Maneekart said the party held 24 House seats but only received three cabinet portfolios. With 24 MPs the party should get an additional cabinet seat.

It was hardly fair that Bhumjaithai, which has just a few seats more than Puea Pandin, had more cabinet ministers, Mr Alongkot said.”

So, the interests of voters are set aside, the role of ideology is set aside and the interests of good governance are set aside. Will the people of Thailand really stand for this regression after having enjoyed five years of genuine democratic representation?

Athena-like Wisdom


With the Athena-like wisdom for which she is renowned, Electoral Commission member Sodsri Sattayatham has revealed that a party with the name ‘Socialist’ in its title has been banned, because “…a “socialist” party could be defined as a “communist” party, and the commission ruled that the name may violate democracy.” Does she know there is a difference between socialism and communism? Does she know that a number of Communist parties around the world participate happily in democratic elections and have in some cases (in India and Europe) represented their electors with distinction?
Presumably not because Khun Sodsri then equates anyone interested in establishing such a party with being a subversive: “Mrs Sodsri called on the national security agencies to monitor the activities of people who tried to set up a party under a socialist system with a different name.”
People who wonder why the left has failed to establish a viable political party in Thailand over the years might reflect upon the answer: every such attempt is suppressed by the establishment using laws the establishment itself creates and administers and supplementing this with violence when deemed necessary.

New Parties and Ideology


In an article in yesterday’s Bangkok Post about the future of Thai politics, there is an enormous hole where the discussion of ideology should be. Parties (and future parties), according to the writer, appear to be devolving into regional groupings who offer to present a number of MPs (who will be elected on the basis of patronage and vote-buying of one form or another) who might then join whatever coalition offers them the best terms, according to whatever criteria they might have put into place. This would, of course, be a very backwards step in terms of progressive politics.

Ironically, the two likely new political parties (not properly considered in this article) are the two most likely to express some kind of coherent ideology, wrong-headed though that ideology is likely to be.

The two parties are, according to rumour and anecdote rather than hard fact, as is the way of Thailand, to represent the yellow shirt PAD and the green shirt military. Presumably they will come up with some anodyne-uplifting-luck inducing names with which to label themselves.

What would a PAD party stand for? It is difficult to be sure because of the contradictory nature of their leadership. They oppose the vote for poor people and wish to have portions (or all) of both houses nominated rather than elected in some fashion. They oppose globalisation and privatization so would perhaps introduce some protectionist measures (which would be disastrous – well, all of their policies are likely to be disastrous). Core leader Chamlong Srimuang seems to have some desire to turn Thailand into a gigantic monastery so we might expect a lot of social conservatism, more taxes on evils such as instant coffee, alcohol and sex, promotion of ‘traditional’ values and so forth. The movement has also been relentlessly told that politicians are corrupt and should not be in power – they will have either to retract this charge or make use of the Thai double think technique which says that the same act may have good or ill consequences depending on whether the person committing the act has a ‘pure’ mind or not.

The green shirt party have a clear ideology: they want to retain all the power they can, they will devote ever more resources to the military and will share the spoils among themselves. They are likely to try to justify this by talking up threats from other countries (Cambodia, China etc) and linking nationalism with patriotism. This kind of thing remains popular with certain sets of people. They are reputed to have a great deal of money to promote this view.

How will they deal with the fact that no political party now represents the interests of the majority poor, rural people? Well, apart from refusing them the vote, which would probably inspire rebellion, they will have to use Culture Wars and rely on ‘populism’ in terms of economic policies. It remains to be seen whether this will be sufficient to attract the votes of the rural poor.

Red Is Not Yellow


The coalition put together by Thaksin Shinawatra’s Thai Rak Thai party prior to its electoral landslide in 2001 was one of the widest and most diverse ever seen in Thai politics. It included many of the elements of Thai society that had until then largely been excluded from power or representation in government. Hence, the rural poor and the trades unions found themselves shoulder to shoulder with the ethnic Chinese business class and the non-governmental organisations (NGOs).

Notwithstanding the enormous electoral success achieved and the prosperous economy, it was inevitable that some of the contradictions within the coalition would lead to conflict. Hence, the pro-globalisation sections clashed with the labour leaders concerned with protecting local jobs and with privatization; meanwhile, the many interests represented by the NGOs could not always be met since they were often contradictory and, perhaps more importantly, could not be fixed within the short timescale focus of Thai politics. Consequently, some sections fell away from the initial coalition (it is not surprising but it is disappointing that it is representatives of some of the sections that fell away that became prominent leaders in the violent anti-democracy PAD movement).

That movement paved the way for the military intervention in 2006, the various court decisions that followed and the ushering in of the right wing collaborationist Democrat government. Now, the red-shirted pro-democracy protestors who are widely but wrongly described in the media as pro-Thaksin supporters, are surrounding Government House. The red shirts represent a variety of different groups, just like the original coalition did and many sections are antithetical to each other. Apparently, on Saturday, a group of protestors in Chiang Mai prevented a pro-gay parade taking place (although the presence of military agent provocateurs cannot be eliminated), even using violence according to some reports. This is not just a bad thing in itself but is counter-productive in bringing about the aims of the pro-democracy movement and also provides a pretext for military services to act against them (assuming, of course, that they are not already doing so). It also enables the media to make easy moral equivalence statements about the red shirts and the repellent PAD movement. Further, there is even some chance of PAD leaders being arrested for their (alleged) crimes – and that might include the current Foreign Minister, who was a prominent supporter of the illegal seizure of the two international airports last December. This process might be imperiled as a result.

Let us hope that violence is avoided tonight and in the future demonstrations.