On May 1992, part III

18 05 2015

PPT’s third and final post today is also on the commemoration of the events of the civilian rising against military-dominated politics in May 1992. In both the earlier posts, here and here, we were concerned at the attempt by various individuals and groups attempting to rewrite history by making this event one that is bizarrely congruent with the May 2014 coup and anti-democracy.

As if to prove how disingenuous this tripe is, a revealing report at Prachatai indicates the nature of the current military dictatorship.

Simply and nastily, the dictatorship “ordered  a cancellation of public speeches of anti-military figures at an event to commemorate democratic uprising in May 1992.”

At “the Heroes of Democracy Foundation, a group of military officers on Saturday came into the office of the foundation in Pak Kret District of Nonthaburi Province, north of Bangkok, at around 1 pm and ordered the foundation staffs to cut out a planned speech session by pro-democracy speakers.”

One of the speakers was to be Prateep Ungsongtham Hata, who is a well-recognized anti-coup protester, and “slum angel.” Others due to speak included Weng Tojirakarn, a red shirt leader, and Chalard Worachat, an activist known for his hunger strike against the 1992 military intervention and which was a principled protest leading to the civilian uprising.

The military dictatorship prefers a version of history sanitized of its murders. As the brief Wikipedia account explains, an “investigation”  by the “Defense Ministry’s Fact Finding Committee led by General Pichitr Kullavanijaya,” identified military culprits, “but it is still kept from the Thai public.”

Pichitr has been rewarded by being made one of the king’s privy councilors and is a royalist political activist.

Chalard’s challenge

21 06 2014

At the Chicago Tribune there is a report on the more than three decades of protest by Chalard Worachat. PPT recently posted on his actions against the anti-democrats, yet we neglected to post on his continuing protest against the current military dictatorship, so this post corrects that.

The report states that Chalard, who was instrumental in bringing down the military-backed regime in 1992, is “contemplating a very different outcome: wasting away unnoticed on a Bangkok pavement.” Naturally enough, Chalard wants “to see Thailand’s military … set a date for a new general election to usher in a democratically elected government.” He adds: “If it doesn’t happen soon, then I’ll have to sacrifice my life…”.

Chalard almost always protests to demand an end to “the political meddling of the military…”. That he has been at it since the 1980s tells a grim story about the military’s capacity, with its palace allies, to short-circuit democracy.

Chalard “last week filed criminal charges against junta leader General Prayuth Chan-ocha and other officers for insulting the monarchy and treason. The case was promptly dismissed.”

The Reuters report seems confused regarding Chalard’s previous protests. It claims “Chalad could once count on mass support, much of it from Bangkok’s middle classes, his latest protest is happening in near anonymity. Reclining on the street dressed in black pajamas, Chalad was accompanied by just two supporters.” In fact, this is the pattern of Chalard’s previous protests when they begin. It is his determination that eventually allows him to turn the mirror on the fraudulent military leaders and sees him gaining support.

This time, however, the military is being careful, watching him and threatening to arrest those who come out to support him. They say: “We don’t see the necessity to enforce anything on him…. At the moment the public mood is quite okay and it seems people understand the intention of the military.”

In addition, Chalard believes “much of the middle class swung its support behind anti-Shinawatra protests that set the stage for the army’s takeover, and are not too bothered by the coup.” He adds:

The thing is, Thais don’t have sufficient education so their understanding of democracy is shaky…. They think the democratic system doesn’t achieve anything… That’s part of the military’s plan “to make people think Thai democracy is weak.”

That’s undoubtedly true, but in 1991 the middle class also supported the military coup. Will they be fickle again? Will they ditch their current heroes in search of another way to bolster their political and economic security when the corruption and self-serving politics of this dictatorship become clear?

He’s back!

9 04 2014

We find it a little difficult to believe, but we are very pleased to see that veteran democracy campaigner Chalard Worachat is back at it. Prachatai reports that 22 years after he put backbone into the movement to prevent the military consolidating power in 1992, Chalard is camping out near Parliament House and has been there since 22 March (another report says 21 March). That is the day the Constitutional Court nullified the 2 February election.

Back in 1992, it was Chamlong Srimuang, now a grinning leader of the rightist Dhamma Army and of the People’s Alliance for Democracy who got credit for his hunger strike that eventually led to demonstrations and a massacre of civilians (note this report where a little-known intervention by the king is reported, trying to get Chamlong to abandon his hunger strike). In fact, though, it was Chalard who, as a very lonely protester, began a hunger strike that forced usually spineless politicians like Chuan Leekpai of the Democrat Party to take notice.


A Prachatai photo

Prachatai sates that:

Chalard’s very first hunger strike took place [in 1980]…. He protested against the right-wing Prime Minister Kriangsak Chamanan, who was installed after the 1977 military coup, for raising oil prices…. It caused Kriangsak to resign on the 36th hour of Chalard’s hunger strike.

In 1983, Chalard was back, protesting:

during the General Prem Tinasulanond government, the House tried to pass a bill allowing bureaucrats and military officers to become Prime Minister, in effect allowing Prem to extend his term. Chalard held a hunger strike for nine days before successfully stopping passage of the bill.

He was back again in 1992, and then “played an important role in pushing for the 1997 constitution…”. From 1965 to 1987, Chalard was a member of the now disgraced Democrat Party. He once represented the Party in parliament. However, he:

protested against his party leader by holding a hunger strike to call on Chuan to amend the 1992 constitution to be more democratic, but on the 49th day, he quit due to his deteriorating health. The Supreme Patriach asked him to ordain instead…. His strike however led to “Chalard’s Friends,” a committee which successfully pushed for political reform as its main social agenda, and later paved the way for the drafting of the 1997 constitution.

In the hours after the 2006 palace-military coup, Chalard was arrested for protesting against it.

As Prachatai puts it, he is now back at the spot:

… where this 71-year-old man held a 45-day long hunger strike in 1992 to protest against General Suchinda Kraprayoon, then Prime Minister who came from a coup he led in 1991. The protest led to Black May, a people’s uprising in Bangkok which toppled the military regime and paved the way to a more democratic government for Thailand.

And, he has much the “same demands — to abolish an undemocratic constitution and oppose an appointed Prime Minister, as well as a military coup.” He isn’t refusing food yet, “but he says he will, should a military coup happen.”

Today, Chalard said “the core problem of Thai politics is the 2007 constitution which allows independent agencies too much power over the government.” He says: “We must call for the abolition of the current seditious constitution, and bring back a more democratic one.” If this doesn’t happen, Chalard states that the “situation will lead to chaos, more violence and a military coup for sure…. What we need is a new election to be held as soon as possible. We need a Prime Minister who comes from elections.”

Asked about the failed Democrat Party, “Chalard said he first decided to join the party because it was against the military in the 1970s…. Now it changed from opposing dictatorship to supporting it…”. In fact, even in the 1970s, the party’s opposition to military government was tepid.

Chalard’s actions always spur reaction, so it will be interesting to see if this current lone protest has any impact.

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