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18 06 2011

The Thai election is a referendum on the Butchers of Rajprasong

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

The political situation in Thailand today does not bode well for free and fair elections on 3rd July. This point cannot be stressed enough. It is very hard for democratic elections to take place when the country is being ruled by non-democratic politicians like Abhisit Vejjajiva, who were installed by the military after a judicial coup in late 2008. Previously the military had staged its own coup to overthrow a democratically elected government in 2006. What is more, those in power ordered the deliberate shooting of unarmed pro-democracy demonstrators last year. Up to 90 people died, mainly at the hands of specially trained snipers. In Thailand today there is no freedom of expression and freedom to access information. The present military-backed government is using draconian censorship of the internet and community media and it controls all mainstream media outlets. It also uses the lèse majesté and computer crimes laws to jail those who express views contrary to the Government and the military.

So what is amazing is that the opposition Peua Thai Party, closely allied to the pro-democracy Red Shirts, is leading in the opinion polls. Will they be allowed to form a government if they win the most seats? Will the military and the conservative elites fix the election outcome? These are big questions on the minds of most Thais.

Fear of a Peua Thai victory has energised the head of the army, Prayut Junocha, into making an anti-Peua Thai speech on the two main TV channels owned by the military. He has invoked the spectra of an anti-monarchy movement in a desperate attempt to convince people not to vote for Peua Thai. But it isn’t working. The way in which the monarchy has consistently been used by the military to justify the 2006 coup, the destruction of democracy and the killings of unarmed demonstrators last year, and the fact that the king has remained silent about the prolonged crisis, allowing innocent people to be murdered, has changed people’s attitudes to the monarchy.

In the run up to these elections, the military, the Department of Special Investigation (DSI) and the Electoral Commission, with support from the Democrat Party Government, are taking further steps to fix this election. It will not be anything so crude as just stuffing ballot boxes in all constituencies, however. It will be structural fraud.

The military and DSI have accused Red Shirt leaders of lèse majesté. The DSI has said that it can charge people with this law for merely using “body language” like clapping or smiling when someone else makes a speech. The Electoral Commission has also suggested that any political party which mentions the monarchy, in whatever light, can be banned and dissolved. This has created the conditions where the rule can be selectively used against the Peua Thai Party.

The election is a high risk strategy. The elites are extremely worried by the outcome of the election, but also desperately need to gain legitimacy by actually winning for once. Only the fascist PAD want elections scrapped altogether. Disgracefully, this PAD sentiment is echoed by one key Election Commissioner!

Previous to this, the conservative elites had changed the election rules and the structures of power to favour their side in many different ways:

1. “Normalising” military intervention by staging the 2006 coup, rewriting the Constitution and appointing pro-military Senators.

2. Using draconian censorship and military and Government control of the mainstream media in order to try to sway public opinion.

3. Appointing conservative royalists to the Election Commission and the National Human Rights Commission. The Election Commission can disqualify Red Shirt politicians after the election under weak pretexts if necessary. This could significantly cut Peua Thai’s possible majority.

4. Using the biased courts to dissolve political parties.

5. Suggesting that the political party with most “party list” seats, excluding constituency seats, should have the right to form a Government or arguing that the party with most seats does not have the automatic right to try to form a government.

6. Increasing the use of the lèse majesté and computer crimes laws against any opposition and using of lethal violence against demonstrators, designed to cause fear and demoralisation among Red Shirts.

7. Using threats and bribes to urge corrupt politicians to side with the Democrat Party.

This election is a clear and straight contest between those who favour brutal dictatorship and those who favour democracy.

Despite the persistence all parties handing out cash to the electors, vote buying will not be an issue because people are clear about what is at stake.

The election isn’t about Taksin, either, although most Red Shirts are very favourable towards him because of his pro-poor policies. It is the military, the fascist PAD and the Democrat Party want to make the election about Taksin, but only the Thai and some foreign media fall for this trick.

The military and the Democrats also want this election to be about the king. This may blow up in their faces. Will people interpret a high vote for Peua Thai as an indication of a strong republican mood?

Many media channels still talk about “clashes” between the army and the Red Shirts last year. This term is used to describe the deliberate use of snipers and tanks against unarmed pro-democracy demonstrators. Similar terms are not used by the same media when describing the Syrian crack-down.

Such media also talk about “Taksin’s corruption and abuse of power”, while ignoring the blatant abuse of power by the military and the Democrat Party and the corruption of the military and certain Democrat politicians. Military spending has sky-rocketed after the coup and the military installed Abhisit Government. That is corruption on a grand scale. “Taksin’s corruption” is a convenient short-hand handle for lazy reporters to stick on Taksin.

Taksin may have been corrupt, although the military have only managed to convict him of one single offence of allowing his wife to buy land off the state while he was Prime Minister. The land was actually sold at market rates. However Taksin was responsible for human rights abuses in the war on drugs and in the south. But this election is not a referendum on Taksin. It is a referendum on the Butchers of Rajprasong: the military and the Democrat Party who ordered the killings last year.

It is important to bear all this in mind when news about the election emerges.

 


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