“Depoliticized” military

26 02 2018

Kavi Chongkittavorn used to be with The Nation but now seems to write op-eds for the Bangkok Post. Some of his recent writings can best be described as undisguised political doggerel. His anti-democrat position was buttressed by an undisguised love for Abhisit Vejjajiva.

His most recent op-ed displays his other great affection. Kavi lauds the military-to-military alliance between the United States and Thailand. Triumphantly, Kavi declares:

The 37th Cobra Gold annual multilateral military exercise ended last week with one major outcome — the depoliticising of Thai-US relations which have been held captive since the May 2014 coup….

The US and Thailand are now strengthening relations through military ties — the pattern that has shaped their traditional alliance for decades but faced some hiccoughs during the Obama administration, which criticised the military’s seizure of power and joined the military training in smaller form. It is a reversal of US policy during the Obama administration….

Gen Prayut has expressed Thailand’s support for the US role in the Indo-Pacific. The region was given a big boost and new meaning when US President Donald Trump highlighted the close cooperation of US allies and friends — India, Japan and Australia — in strategic areas, including maritime security.

Apart from sounding a bit like a report from the Cold War, any notion that military-to-military relations are “depoliticized” is bizarre. Nothing could be more politicized, as any cursory review of Thailand’s little brother-hired hand relationship during the Cold War would reveal. The U.S. spent a lot of time and shiploads of money propping up military dictatorships in Thailand and undermining democratization. As Thailand’s generals learned the finer skills of political repression, some became fabulously wealthy.

Military-led “reconciliation”

23 01 2017

A few days ago, the Bangkok Post reported: on the junta’s plan and bureaucracy for military-led “reconciliation.” It is seemingly a part of the broader 20 year plan that the junta has for the on-going domination of Thailand’s politics it now seems to label as “rounded democratisation.”

We imagine that a “rounded democracy” is something like “Thai-style democracy” or “guided democracy.”

In its highly complex system of committees, super-committees, buzzwords and hocus pocus, the matter of “reconciliation” will, according to General Prawit  Wonsuwan, involve “plans to compile opinions from all sides over three months on what should be done to bring about national reconciliation.”

The “brainstorming period” will lead to a report and then “the next step to improve national unity,” involving an MOU, or as The Dictator put it, “a truthful social contract, under which you do what you say.”

This MOU notion has already rejected by the anti-democrats and military allies like Suthep Thaugsuban. Others of his ilk, like Kasit Piromya seem to want the military to sign up to the MOU. His position is supported by others from pro-Thaksin Shinawatra groups who want the military to pledge no more coups and, in some versions, never overthrow a constitution ever again.

Prawit’s response was lame:

“There is no need for the military to sign it. I can assure you that nobody wants to stage a coup, except when the country is mired in conflict and lack of understanding. No soldier wants to do this…. Nobody wants to do this (stage a coup), except when the country is in a stalemate…. I’ll tell you what. Without the people’s support, nobody can stage a coup. There is no need to fear a coup if there is no support for it from the people….

There are several problems with this coup. Leaving aside Prawit’s nonsense self-justification, we know from Thailand’s history that plenty of officers are willing to seize power.

But the broader problem is the notion that “no more coups” is paired with a view that there should be no more overthrowing of the constitution. That’s dumb, now, when Thailand has a terrible draft constitution that is the military’s constitution. In fact, when Prawit says he doesn’t want another coup is because the current junta has set rules that allow only a “rounded democracy” that is no democracy at all and gives all power to the military and monarchy.

The proof of this is the dominance of military brass on the “reconciliation” control committees.

In response to criticism of that from many quarters, Prawit got lamer still, saying “that should not be a problem because the armed forces are politically neutral and they don’t have conflicts with any side.”

We’d be laughing if that wasn’t such buffalo manure. What the senior brass will do is manipulate and manage to get the outcome The Dictator wants.

And what’s that? Two articles in The Nation are virtually advertorials for the junta. In one of them (the other is linked above), PM’s Office Minister Suvit Maesincee, formerly Director of Sasin Institute for Global Affairs at Chulalongkorn University and one of Thaksin’s and Somkid Jatusripitak’s proteges gives a “hint.”

Suvit and Somkid  have collaborated in developing the junta’s 20-year strategy, and Suvit states: “Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha’s leadership was also a crucial factor in supporting the implementation of the Thailand 4.0 vision.”

We get the message. Thailand’s future is The Dictator’s future and he’s going to be around for some time to come.

Maintaining the fairy tale

11 12 2016

Along with the whitewashing of the new king’s notorious past, the fawning over the dead king continues.

Much of this treacly nonsense is a simple repetition of decades of palace propaganda. Some of it is a deliberate set of manufactured stories that beggar belief for anyone who thinks.

We guess some of it is constructed under threat. By this we mean that when normally sensible people come up with errant nonsense, we assume that they say what they do for fear of sanction.

There’s an example of this at The Nation, where law professor Parinya Thaewanarumitkul is reported to have recycled a history that suits royalists and palace propaganda: that the late king was some kind of paragon as a constitutional monarch.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

In a public lecture on the late king and democracy, Prinya declares that the late king “remained a constitutional monarch despite doubts about his role in the appointment of ‘royally appointed’ prime ministers…”. At least it is admitted that the appointments of Sanya Dharmasakti and Anand Panyarachun were “controversial.”

They were also loyal royalists close to the palace.

Prinya does not mention – at least not in the reporting at The Nation – the rightist Thanin Kraivixien or the dozen or so military coups that the palace generally supported. The king was always keen to support his military friends and “protectors.” He doesn’t mention the trampling to dust of constitutions that the king was happy to go along with.King and junta

In line with the usual propaganda, “Parinya said that the late monarch had played a crucial role in bringing the country together and getting it through times of crisis.”

He is referring to 1973 and 1992. In both cases, the king can be seen as intervening when the military was in trouble and to prevent any serious reform.

Prinya also mentions the “recent crisis that followed the coup in 2006, for instance, resulted in people appealing to the King, asking for a royally appointed prime minister as a means to end the turmoil…”.

We assume he means before the 2006 coup for he goes on to “explain” that the king was properly constitutional in his response.

Not quite right. He told a gaggle of judges to “fix” things for him. The coup soon followed.

His claim that the king “could not just appoint anyone by his preference. He only endorsed as he was asked to”  is simply a manipulation of the facts.

His claim that the late king “never exercised it [his power] undemocratically” is untrue.

No serious academic researcher could draw such conclusions. Only a blind royalist or one under threat. There’s better stuff here.

Ji on theories of democratization

10 08 2014

As we often do, here is a reproduction of Ji Ungpakorn’s most recent post:

Thailand’s Crisis and Shattered Political Theories

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

The present political crisis in Thailand has shattered a number of “democratisation” myths created over the years by mainstream political science academics.

The first myth is about “civil society”, as defined by the middle-class or the “chattering classes” and Non-Government Organisations. After the end of the Cold War we were told that a well-developed civil society and a large middle class was the key to a free and democratic society. Yet we have seen the middle-classes and the NGOs take part in many anti-democratic protests and we have seen them welcome two military coups. The middle classes have organised to protect their privileges and prevent the urban workers and rural farmers from having a say in politics. The NGOs have also behaved in a similar manner for slightly different reasons.

Middle-class academics, lawyers and doctors have joined the whistle blowing anti-democrats led by Sutep Tueksuban and his henchmen.

Marxists have always seen the middle classes as being a potential base for fascism and dictatorship. We saw this in the 1930s. They can also join pro-democracy movements at other times and support working class demands. But the middle classes are too fragmented and weak to set their own class agenda. They flip flop between the interests of the business and bureaucratic elites and the interests of the working class.

Perhaps what we can recue from the “civil society” theory of democratisation is the importance of “social movements”, but not the so-called “new social movements” which were widely touted by right-wing academics after the collapse of the Stalinist regimes in Eastern Europe. We were told then that social movements were no longer class based and were about life-style politics and single issues, not about challenging state power. In Thailand the largest social movement in history is the red shirt movement. The red shirts are more or less classed based and have wide political aims involving democratisation and challenging the old state.

The second myth is about “independent bodies” and the need to create political structures which act as “checks and balances” on elected governments as part of the “democratic” process. This is very fashionable among Western liberals, who favour non-elected Central Banks and a non-elected, supposedly neutral, judiciary. In Thailand we have seen these so-called independent bodies, such as the Election Commission, the National Human Rights Commission, the Anti-Corruption Commission and the courts, subverted and used by the conservative elites in order to destroy freedom and the democratic process. These bodies have place anti-democratic fetters upon elected governments. In the European Union the European Central Bank has also played a key role in trying to place restrictions on government policies in countries like Greece.

Marxists have always maintained that no group of people in society is ever neutral or independent of class interests. It is not so-called independent bodies which check and balance elected governments. It is opposition political parties, social movements, trade unions and opposition or alternative media which perform this function.

The third myth is that democracy can only become stable and well-developed if there is a political culture of democracy among the people and if political parties and political structures are mature. But what we have seen in Thailand is that the vast majority of the population have a democratic political culture while the conservative elites do not. The army is then used by the elites to frustrate the wish for democracy. We have also seen a long established political party; the Democrat Party, stand clearly against the democratic process along with various state structures and bodies.

The fourth myth is that developing globalised capitalism and the free-market somehow encourage the growth of democracy. This has not happened at all. The globalised Thai big businesses have supported the conservative elites and the junta and its friends are extreme advocates of neo-liberal free-market policies. So is the King with his “sufficiency economy” ideology. They all have a laissez faire mind-set. In contrast, it is Taksin Shinawat and his various parties which have used a mixture of state funded development and welfare (grass-roots Keynesianism) alongside neo-liberal market forces. The conservatives have attacked this as “dangerous populism”.

The bottom line in reality is that the present crisis is a result of increased political empowerment of workers and small farmers, a phenomenon that was seized upon and encouraged by Taksin and his allies for their own interests. It is a crisis of class society with the conservative elites and middle-classes resenting the rise of the working class and the small farmers.

And what this crisis clearly shows is that strong social movements from below are the critical key to building and fighting for democracy. Every inch of the democratic space will have to be fought for and taken from the elites in this struggle. Democracy will not be crafted by committees of “wise men”, lawyers and academics who are appointed by the junta.

It is a fair bet that despite all this, Thai academics at universities and in the Prachatipok Institute will still carry on spouting these shattered and discredited democratisation theories and in a climate where the questioning of authority is discouraged, they will mainly go unchallenged.

Review of “Saying the Unsayable” on the monarchy

13 12 2010

The Bangkok Post has a review of Saying the Unsayable: Monarchy and democracy in Thailand, edited by Soren Ivarsson and Lotte Isager (Nias Press, 278 pp, 795 baht ISBN 978-87-7694-072-0). It is reviewed by Chris Baker:

Half way through this book, one of the contributors asks, “Is Thailand primarily a democracy protected by a constitution that guarantees rights, or is primarily a monarchy with authoritarian structures that prevent democratisation?” Not so long ago, such a question was unimaginable. The standard formula is that Thailand is a constitutional monarchy, a parliamentary democracy with the King as head of state. But ever since the People’s Alliance for Democracy swathed themselves in yellow and announced “We fight for the king”, cracks have appeared in that formula. The mantra that the monarchy is “above politics” has never made much sense since monarchy is nothing if not a political institution. The claim that monarchy is beyond discussion or debate falters because the institution is too important to ignore. As Thailand’s economy has become so rapidly and drastically globalised, more and more outsiders want to understand the country’s key institutions because it matters to their business profits and personal lives. In academic writing on Thai politics, monarchy is now the prime focus of attention.

The eleven contributors to this book of essays include seven foreigners and four Thais. Two of the Thais have elected to use a nom de plume. Yet this is a careful book which has nothing personal or strident, no whiff of revolt. The nine essays and the deft summary in the introduction present analyses of the meaning of the Thai monarchy in the present and the recent past. Although this book claims its subject is “the Thai monarchy”, in fact it’s focus is rather narrower. The words “queen”, “prince” “princess”, “crown” and “succession” do not appear in the index. Only two of the essays stray into history. This book is a study of one reign.

The first section focuses on the current image of the monarchy, and the contrast between the two essays highlights how complex the topic is. Peter Jackson argues that the monarch is seen as magical and semi-divine. The palace entourage have promoted an old idea that the monarch is a sammuti devaraja, a “virtual god-king”, not an actual god-king but capable of being imagined as one. Yet, Jackson argues, over the course of the reign the word “virtual” in this formula has tended to fade. The adulation of the monarch is one of many cults promising prosperity and security which have flourished all over the world in the context of globalisation and its insecurities. People started to worship the Fifth King as an ancestor spirit capable of granting prosperity, and the Ninth has become associated with the cult.

By contrast, Sarun Krittikarn argues that the distinguishing feature of the present reign is the accessibility and evident humanity of the royals. Rather than being cloaked in mystery and ritual, they appear every day on television doing very human things. From this inspection, “it is obvious that the family has gradually adopted middle-class values and lifestyles”. The people gaze at them constantly, and the monarch gazes back from pictures, banners, statues and banners which seem to be everywhere. He watches over his subjects constantly. “Under his gaze, we are turned into a child in need of security.” Of course, the sheer multiplication of images runs the risk that the image overwhelms the reality behind it. Moreover, Sarun suggests, while the royal image is supposed to serve as the focus of nationalist loyalty, viewing the image has rather become a form of entertainment which arouses feelings of comfort.

In the official version of history, King Prajadhipok welcomed the transition from absolutism to democracy, thus ensuring that democracy and monarchy could comfortably coexist, and earning for himself the title as “father of Thai democracy”. Two essays attack this history head-on. Nattapoll Chaiching marshals all the evidence showing that Prajadhipok fought bitterly to reverse the 1932 revolution, and that after his abdication committed royalists took up the same cause until they succeeded with Field-Marshal Sarit’s coup in 1957. Kevin Hewison and Kengkij Kitirianglarp take up the story from there, tracing the idea of “Thai-style democracy” from Sarit to the present. Since 1932, royalists had argued that the Thai people were not ready for democracy or not suited to it at all. Sarit claimed that strong leaders who responded to popular needs were a better form of “democracy” than that contrived by elections. Kukrit Pramoj imagined that there was a virtual bond between king and subjects which meant that kingship was a perfect form of representation, somehow “natural” for Thailand, and indispensable for peace and prosperity. Since then “Thai-style democracy” in which the monarch acts as a moral balance against wicked politicians has been a cornerstone of royalist thinking. Hewison and Kengkij argue that Thaksin was found so frightful because he was beginning to show that democracy could work, an elected leader could deliver prosperity to the people and be rewarded with unprecedented popularity.

The 2006 coup hangs heavily over the book. Almost every essay refers to it. David Streckfuss notes the epidemic of lese-majesty cases since the coup. He draws a comparison with the last epidemic of comparable scale – in Germany in the late nineteenth century. In one six-year period, 248 people were convicted. Yet the result was only to make more people more defiant. Eventually in 1904, the Emperor himself told the judiciary to desist, and issued pardons to those still undergoing punishment.

The last two essays focus on the sufficiency economy. Soren Ivarsson and Lotte Isager put the idea in the context of a worldwide enthusiasm for “etho-politics”, theories in which greater self-discipline by the individual does away with the need for such a great political superstructure. The ideal is a community which can exist without conflict. But in truth, they argue, this is always a dream. Andrew Walker adds that the image of a self-sufficient local rural economy may never have existed in Thailand and is certainly far removed from present-day realities. One large portion of the rural population does not have enough land or other assets to be sufficient, and survives by migrating away from the village in search of work. Another large portion finds that the best way to deal with the risks and insecurities of small-scale agriculture is to invest more, play the market, and diversify risks rather than retreating into a shell of sufficiency.

As the editors note in the Introduction, a monarchy like any other institution is constantly being made and remade. The immense changes over the present reign make that abundantly clear. This book is a valuable contribution to a growing literature that helps to make this institution and its complex dynamics more understandable.

Burma as a model for reconciliation

15 11 2010

PPT knows a lot has been written on the release of Burma’s pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi. We simply note that the Abhisit Vejjajiva government somehow give the impression that they think that the events in Burma are a model for Thailand. This from MCOT News:

The Thai government welcomes the release of Myanmar pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest by the military junta, according to a statement issued by the Thai Foreign Affairs Ministry.

The statement, issued Saturday after the release of the Nobel Peace Prize winner, said her release marked “another important step in the national reconciliation and democratisation process in Myanmar”. It said the Thai government hoped that she will have a “constructive role to play in Myanmar’s nation building process”.

“The Royal Thai government reaffirms its commitment to cooperating with the new government of Myanmar in these endeavours for peace, development and prosperity of Myanmar as well as for the well-being of the Myanmar people,” the statement issued by the Ministry added.

Co-operation for national reconciliation seems to involve forcible repatriation of refugees and business opportunities.

As a variant on the Chinese model, for Abhisit and his regime, a fixed election followed by the release of red shirt leaders might be one of the models they have in mind for an electoral authoritarianism in Thailand.

A country for old men?

22 09 2009

Also available as ประเทศนี้สำหรับคนรุ่นเก่าหรือไง

With so much happening in Thailand’s politics in the past few weeks, it has been difficult to keep up. Seeing the bigger picture is a challenge.

Following our retrospective on Thailand three years after the 2006 palace-military coup, where we attempted to be positive, we now offer some observations regarding the current situation.

We begin with the police chief debacle. Why has this appointment been so drawn out and so conflicted? Of course, there are the related views that Thaksin Shinawatra controls the police or that the police support Thaksin. Another view is that there was a tug-of-war going on between coalition partners. There is truth in both perspectives. However, PPT suggests that there is more to this dispute.

Reports suggest that Privy Council President General Prem Tinsulanonda (b. 1920) is at work. We won’t go into great detail for Bangkok Pundit has collected some of the comment on the police chief saga and most especially on the latest debates on who should get the job, including from ASTV/Manager and the Bangkok Post (17 September 2009: “New twist in police drama”) where there were guarded comments “new influential players.”

Police General Jumpol Manmai, the “alternative” candidate is known to be close to Prem and The Nation (17 September 2009: “Top Cop : Deadlock remains”) had stated that Jumpol “is known to have very strong backing outside the Police Commission, and lobbying was said to have reached fever pitch in the past few days.”

So is it Prem who is lobbying? Probably. Why? We suggest it is because, for some years, the palace and Privy Council have been trying to get increased control over the legal system. There has been a heightened urgency to this in the battle to root out Thaksin and his “regime.” Retired judges have been brought onto the Privy Council.

In what has clearly been a deliberated strategy, five of the last seven appointments to the Privy Council have been from the courts. The odd ones out were Admiral Chumpol Patchusanont (Former Commander of the Royal Thai Navy) and General Surayud Chulanont, who was appointed after he left the army and stepped down to be premier appointed by the military and then went back to the Privy Council when that guest appearance ended.

The former judges on the Privy Council are: Sawat Wathanakorn (appointed 18 July 2002 and a Former Judge of the Supreme Administrative Court); Santi Thakral (15 March 2005, Former President of the Supreme Court of Justice); Ortniti Titamnaj (16 August 2007, Former President of the Supreme Court of Justice); Supachai Phungam (8 April 2008, Former President of the Supreme Court of Justice); and Chanchai Likitjitta (8 April 2008, Former President of the Supreme Court of Justice and Minister of Justice). That so many judges are appointed send a clear message regarding intent. The king’s speeches to judges confirm the palace’s intentions. That such links to the judiciary have been put to use in the battle against Thaksin is seen in the ample evidence of meddling in the courts.

The palace has also been keen to have its people at the top of the police. In recent years, Police General Seripisut Temiyavet was said to be a palace favorite. When the military took over in 2006, Seri was made acting and then Police Commissioner and became a member of the junta’s Council for National Security.

At about the same time, long-time palace favorite Police General Vasit Dejkunjorn, once the Chief of the Royal Court Police for the Thai royal family, was put in charge of a review of the police force. At the time, this was reported as an attempt to clean up the notoriously corrupt force and to break Thaksin’s alleged political hold over it. As late as just a week or so ago, the Democrats had Vasit look into corruption in the Bangkok Metropolitan Authority.

Michael Montesano says this of Vasit: “Briefer of CIA director Allen Dulles during the latter’s late-1950s visit to Thailand, veteran of anti-Soviet espionage in Bangkok, long the Thai Special Branch’s leading trainer in anti-Communist operations, and palace insider at the time of his country’s most intensive counter-insurgency efforts, Police General Vasit Dejkunjorn ranked among Thailand’s most important Cold Warriors.” His own background in the shadows of the Cold War did not prevent him from being of an office holder at Transparency International in Thailand. Vasit remains a warrior for the palace in his columns in Matichon and as a royalist speaker. For a very short time Vasit was deputy interior minister for Chatichai Choonhavan being raised from his position as deputy police chief.

Vasit is 79 or 80 (thanks to a reader for this information), been “retired” for years, but keeps popping up in strategic locations. His political views reflect the position of the palace. For examples of his royalism and extreme views, see here and here.

Meanwhile, over at the Democrat Party, at present it seems that chief adviser Chuan Leekpai (b. 1938) is the power behind Abhisit. In recent years, Chuan has been increasingly outspoken in support of Prem. In recent days, Chuan has become the link between Prem and the government. For example, just a few days ago, as PAD fired up on Preah Vihear, Prem became involved, with the Bangkok Post reporting that “Gen Prem is reportedly concerned about the possibility of tensions spinning out of control if it is not attended to properly. A source said former supreme commander Gen Mongkol Ampornpisit, one of Gen Prem’s closest aides, paid a visit to Chuan Leekpai, the former prime minister and chief adviser of the ruling Democrat Party, at the party’s headquarters in August, to convey Gen Prem’s concern over the border developments.” The Post considers that Prem’s concern nudged Abhisit to send Foreign Minister Kasit to arrange a broadcast “assuring the Thai public that the country has not yet lost a single inch of land area in regard to the Preah Vihear dispute.”

As PPT shown in recent postings, Abhisit has been promoting increasingly nationalist and royalist causes. We won’t detail all of this again, but it is clear that Abhisit is not stupid. His emphasis on right-wing, conservative and nationalist strategies is a reflection of the views of his strongest backers. We see this backing as involving Chuan, Prem and the palace more generally. It seems Abhisit doesn’t have much support within his own party, so this backstopping, is keeping him in his position, has to be acknowledged. So Abhisit, with the support of important and highly conservative and royalists, adopts measures that hark back to a darker past.

Of course, the recently launched project called “Thai Unity” reflects the views king (b. 1927) and currently in hospital. His call for “unity” is a conservative refrain heard since the days when the king feared he might lose his throne to communists.

Abhisit’s calls to nationalism and patriotism may seem anachronistic and even dim-witted but they are an accurate reflection of the fact that the conservatives are bereft of new ideas. Hence, we have loyalist Anand Punyarachun (b. 1932) promoting nonsense like the interview with Stephen B. Young, the “Patronizing White Man With Degree Reassures Thai Elites With Unexamined Rhetoric” upon Thailand and believing that he makes sense and has something to say. What he actually says is that these old men haven’t a clue what the new Thailand is about.

The result is that all they can do is fall back on projects that are emblematic of the military-authoritarian governments of past generations.

Related, the huge effort to protect Prem in recent days is also to be understood as a part of this conservative project (see here and here).

Add in the remarkably expensive efforts to “protect the monarchy” through the use of lese majeste and computer crimes laws and the debt to the elders adds up to a government that is becoming increasingly conservative, more repressive and is normalizing authoritarianism.

While PPT points to this authoritarian slide, we also celebrate and support the courageous struggles of those within Thailand who continue to speak out even as they are watched by the current surveillance state. In 1997, Burmese Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi urged those outside Burma to “Please use your liberty to promote ours.” Comparing the current waves of royalism and the increasingly repressive Democrat Party-led state to the Burmese military regime would be factually incorrect and politically dangerous, yet there seems a determination to take Thailand back.

Thailand is now at a precipice between, as we noted in our coup anniversary post, the potential for deepening democratization, and the potential for unbridled repression at the hands of state, para-state, and royal actors. It is important to continually observe and criticize repression, and call for justice – especially for those jailed by repressive laws and those awaiting trial. A democratic Thailand will be a place where these old authoritarian men have a place, but it won’t be a place that celebrates their anachronistic ideas through government programs that enhance repression.


PPT on the coup anniversary

19 09 2009

After the 2006 coup: regression and possibilities

Also available as: หลังรัฐประหาร ๒๕๔๙: ความเสื่อมถอย และความเป็นไปได้

The military coup of 19 September 2006, which ousted the elected Thai Rak Thai government and Thaksin Shinawatra, has ushered in a period in which many previous accomplishments in struggles for democratization, civil rights, and freedom of speech have seemingly been reversed. Thailand today has a government which attained power via dubious judicial decisions and extra-parliamentary manoeuvres, increasing restraints on free expression through both censorship of media and rampant use of lese majeste charges, and a political environment marred by constant threats of further military coups and violence. While lamenting these serious setbacks, PPT feels that the third anniversary of the coup is an appropriate occasion on which to note two interrelated issues that have been brought to the fore in the last three years.

First, notwithstanding the real gains in democratization and observation of human rights during the 1990s, the events of the last decade, starting with the Thaksin regime’s own violations of media freedoms and human rights and degenerating further with the royalist coup-backers’ overt statements of contempt for democracy, free speech, or the rights of political opponents to assemble, have pointed out the tenuousness of the earlier gains. Constant struggle to protect the gains is required as authoritarian forces continually work to roll them back.

Second, the post-coup aggressiveness to reverse electoral decisions and stifle political dissent, all in the name of protecting the Monarchy, has finally thrown more light on conservative and authoritarian institutions and actors.

Not least among the reasons for that tenuousness of democratic advances has been the protected and too-frequently unremarked position of royal institutions like the Crown Property Bureau (CPB) and the Privy Council, as well as the special privileges afforded those with connections to these institutions, including major sections of the military. Democratic advances have been limited and checked because these institutions and the people around them have remained beyond the normal application of law and the scrutiny by any other institution, including any accountability to parliament. The use of uniquely harsh lese majeste laws are used to limit scrutiny.

While the current government has worked exceptionally diligently to protect the monarchy, this has seen the status and role of the monarchy and the Privy Council discussed and debated. Royalists are furious and stunned. These debates are not mainstream, but even the vast, not-yet-fully-enumerated wealth of the monarchy and its increasing calls on taxpayer funds are increasingly topics of conversation.

Arguably more significant has been the increasing popular resentment that has developed to conservative and authoritarian institutions. Part of this has to do with widespread dismay that it was royalists who ousted Thaksin and his supporters several times. The red shirt movement is marked by various tendencies and possibilities, not all of them progressive by any means. Certainly an uncritical longing for Thaksin’s return, unmediated by criticisms of his regimes’ own anti-democratic practices, is not a solid foundation for democratic progress. But the central demand of the red shirts, shared by all segments of the movement, seems to be for a return to democracy and observation of the principle that all people have a right to a voice in the policies of the Thai state. This includes having the right to elect a government.

Most importantly, acts of protest and opposition by hundreds of thousands of ordinary people dressed in red, even under threat of military violence, are themselves signs of democratic vibrancy. The Democrat Party government wishes to lay responsibility for red shirt activities solely at the door of Thaksin, but it takes considerable imagination to conclude that these people are mere pawns, duped or paid by Thaksin. They remain determined to have their voices heard.

Three years after the coup, the potential for democratization is still very much alive. Whether that potential is realized in upcoming years will depend on continuing criticism and scrutiny of these authoritarian institutions. It will also require that a broad range of people identify authoritarian trends and condemn them.

Such actions by Thais deserves the support and encouragement from international actors. When organizations like Amnesty International refuse to condemn royalist authoritarianism they strengthen reactionary politics. However, other international observers have been far less timid and condemn such actions and call attention to human rights violations. Here we mention the Asian Human Rights Commission as a great example.

The events since 2006 reconfirm that the descent into crude authoritarianism is not inevitable. However, constant struggle, vigilance, the promotion of human rights and the support of progressive groups is absolutely critical for more democratic institutions to regain lost ground and become embedded.

%d bloggers like this: