Three views on 14 October

14 10 2013

Today is the 40th anniversary of the 14 October 1973 student-led uprising that brought an end to 16 years of the authoritarian regime established by royal favorite, General Sarit Thanarat. This was a momentous event that, for a short time, unleashed many of the struggles that had been suppressed for so long by Sarit and those who followed him. It is to be expected, then, that there would be commentaries and reflection on 1973 and contemporary politics.

PPT noticed three commentaries, and we thought we could highlight bits and pieces from each of these. Two are by heroes of the 1973 events and a third is by a young critic.



First, at the Bangkok Post, Seksan Prasertkul, a key leader of the student uprising who spoke at Thammasat University. Seksan has been reasonably quiet and conservative in recent years, engaging with aspects of Buddhism that do not necessarily promote social or political engagement. Unsurprisingly, he called on people to promote peace through democratic principles.

Reflecting on 1973, Seksan said “the October uprising created new, middle-class political groups – one urban movement concerned with natural resources and the environment, and a provincial group engaged in the representative parliamentary system.” That’s rather too simplistic, but let’s stick with his reported statements. He sees these as “capitalist groups of urban and provincial middle-class movements have been incredibly good partners in striving against the old capitalist and political forces…”.

He argued that “the capitalist political forces which have emerged recently have responded to the needs of the poor in a more substantial manner” than just calling for better wages. We assume he means elements of a broader social welfare system put in place since 2001. He went on to criticize the 2006 coup that overthrew the elected government of Thaksin Shinawatra “in an unconstitutional way.” He’s certainly right to observe:

“Ultimately, the coup ushered in forces that wanted to drag parliament back to the old days when it was dictated by authoritarianism…”.

Ironically, Mr Seksan said, many urban middle-class groups did not seem to uphold democratic principles and responded inappropriately to the mistakes of the Thaksin government.

Seksan called on red shirts to become more expansive in seeking democracy:

“The movement should be a tool of the struggle for democracy and not to serve a single government or political party, unless the plight of their preferred party and leaders directly affect the survival of Thailand’s democracy,” Mr Seksan said. He said the quest for sustainable and peaceful political liberalism needed to be developed along with democratic principles.

“Democratisation is a delicate and complicated process since we need to deal with authoritarian cultural notions and, above all, to build equity and human dignity,” Mr Seksan said.

… “Democracy releases people from exploitation and merges their collective power.”



Second, and reflecting a similar conservatism that many might see as deriving of age and others might see as developing from a lack of connection with current political struggles, another former student leader and self-styled deconstructionist political critic, Thirayuth Boonmee has had his say.

The report at the Bangkok Post states that Thirayuth “has broken his long silence to give his views on the current state of Thai democracy 40 years later.” To be honest, we hadn’t noticed that he had been quiet. In a post in 2012, we described him as an aging and often theoretically incomprehensible middle class “radical.” He has long been an outspoken critic associated with yellow-shirted intellectuals, being especially vocal in his criticism of “populism,” which he sees as being akin to “policy corruption” or vote-buying.

Thirayuth’s position seems to be pretty much standard for yellow-shirted intellectuals. Being rather lazy in researching historical events and struggles, Thirayuth claims that:

since the change of the country’s administration in 1932 from an absolute to a constitutional monarchy, only a handful of military and civilian personnel and some politicians had benefited from what is called “democracy”.

Even after the Oct 14 incident, students, intellectuals and middle-class Thais lavishly and wastefully exploited the state of democracy, opening the opportunity for groups of capitalists who were freed from military and police control to wreap [sic.] the benefits for themselves.

He is right to note that the military has “returned to be totally loyal to the monarchy,” although while he dates that as being since 1932, we’d date it earlier, from 1958 or perhaps 1973. He is also right to note that “Thai capitalist groups pay no attention to democracy, but cling firmly to the royal institution and the armed forces for their business interests.” Oddly, he right to be at one with Thaksin loyalist Jakrapob Penkair (look for his FCCT transcript) in being critical of “a society plagued by the patronage system or, in harsher words, a society of servants.” He is also right to observe that coups “had proved to be a mistake.” Well, maybe “disaster” would be a better word than “mistake.”

Thirayuth believes he has the answer for what he calls 40 years of “lost opportunities”: forget Thaksin , red shirts and yellow shirts and emphasize “good governance and proper mechanisms to get rid of corruption…”. And, look to decentralization. Hardly an intellectual bombshell, for he is essentially mimicking the royalist critic Prawase Wasi and a royalist mantra on the evils of politicians.

This rather boring and predictable stuff brings us to a third and younger critic, Prajak Kongkiarti. At The Nation, he is more realistic than the aged professors. He says that so much political reform is required that it may be another decade before it can be achieved. What needs to be done? He is clear:



To establish a truly democratic society, Thailand needs to reform all of its key political pillars, including the monarchy, the military, politicians, independent organisations like the Supreme Court and the news media….

The Thammasat University lecturer urges that Article 112 of the Criminal Code, the lese majeste law, be addressed first. But reform of the military, an issue far less discussed, is urgent as well, he says.

That sounds like a reasonable assessment to us, showing a keen awareness of the political issues that have been driving politics in recent years. He is reflective of that period, apparently being the only one willing to point out the very large gorilla that inhabits too much of the political space but which may not be spoken of or criticized for fear of repression or worse.



One response

14 10 2014
14 October remembered | Political Prisoners in Thailand

[…] following some 16 years of military domination. Our earlier posts are: 2009, 2010, 2012, and 2013. Sadly, we failed to post in […]

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