The Latest from Ji

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.

 





Further updated:Four years living in the shadow of the coup

19 09 2010

Today marks four years of living in the shadow of the coup in Thailand. PPT will post our own reflections on post-coup (or is that inter-coup?) life over the next few days, but for now we wanted to bring your attention to two new statements posted at New Mandala — by Jaran Dittapichai and Giles Ji Ungpakorn. Well worth a read. Check them out here:  New Mandala, 19 September 2010, “Two statements on the fourth anniversary of Thailand’s coup”.

Update 1: Not unrelated, The Thai Report has an excellent round-up, via numerous links to tweets, news reports and video posts, of red shirt activities that marked the anniversary of the 2006 coup. Amongst the more interesting elements of these links is that the size of red shirt crowds exceeded the authorities’ expectations and that the authorities continued to work hard to limit the demonstrations and repress, while instilling fear in the minds of the public.

Update 2: Thailand’s Troubles has a useful report and photos of the red shirt rallies in Bangkok on the anniversary of the coup.





New article by Giles Ji Ungpakorn

15 09 2010

Giles Ji Ungpakorn’s latest essay has been posted to Socialist Worker, the online newspaper of the International Socialist Organization. In it, Ji argues that it is the military, and the nature of its connections to the monarchy, rather than the monarchy itself, which must be interrogated in present-day Thailand. Ji’s argument is important because he dares to question the relationship between the cultural and religious capital vested in the monarchy and the sheer force and possibility of violence represented by the military. These are questions that all those concerned with Thai politics should be asking.

The entire article is well worth a read. It can be found here:  Socialist Worker, 8 September 2010, “The power behind the Thai throne”





Latest communique from Giles Ji Ungpakorn

30 07 2010

PPT reproduces in full the latest communique from Giles Ji Ungpakorn.

Total lack of justice for Red Shirt detainees under Abhisit’s junta

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Red Shirt political prisoners, detained by the Abhisit military junta after the bloody crack down against unarmed pro-democracy demonstrators in Thailand in May, are facing a total lack of justice with internationally recognised legal standards being blatantly ignored. This is more evidence of the total destruction of Democracy, Justice and the Rule of Law in Thailand since the 2006 military coup.

Prachatai the web-based newspaper, which the junta repeatedly tries to close down, reports that Red Shirt detainees in the north-east provinces of Ubon Rajatanee, Kon Kaen, Mahasarakarm, Mukdaharn and Udon Tanee are facing the following problems… and there is no reason to believe that other Red Shirt detainees are any better off elsewhere.

1. Police evidence used for Warrants of arrest is unclear and lacking in legal standards. So people have been arrested and detained under conditions where there is a lack of clear evidence.

2.      Those issued with arrest warrants are sometimes unaware of the warrants. This means that they could be facing further charges of “resisting or avoiding arrest”.

3.      Some of those who have been detained were assaulted by police while being arrested, despite not resisting arrest.

4.      Police use threats and coercion to obtain “confessions”. It is standard practice to tell defendants that their punishment will be less severe if they confess, whether this is true or not and whether they are guilty or not.

5.      Many defendants are denied proper legal representation.

6.      Judges have decided to deny bail to Red Shirts, without using standard legal rules. The judges claim they will all try to escape court proceedings, despite having no evidence to prove this. The judges obviously see them as “political prisoners who are already guilty”.

7.      Prison conditions are brutal and over-crowded.

8.      Defendant’s families are suffering financial consequences. There is no welfare state in Thailand and the fabulously wealthy conservative elites are fiercely opposed to state welfare for citizens.

9. Those defendants who were shot or injured by security officers and those with long-term illnesses, are denied proper medical treatment.

The above situation needs to be considered along with the fact that:

1.      The Department of Special Investigation (D.S.I.) believes that defendants are guilty before being tried in a court of law. Recently the D.S.I. website published the name and pictures of a person whom they accuse of lese majeste. Beside the pictures they wrote that “this person will rot in hell”. Clearly the D.S.I. does not believe that trials are necessary and considers that witch-hunts against government critics are “legal”. They are even flouting the junta’s own Constitution. All this meets with the military backed-government’s approval.

2.      D.S.I. head Tarit Pendit has issued so-called “terrorism” charges against 26 government opponents associated with the peaceful pro-democracy protests, without the slightest evidence that terrorist acts took place or that the 26 people were involved. These “terrorist” charges are similar to “terrorism” charges issued by Hitler’s Nazis against the Free French or similar charges issued by the Israeli government to justify killing unarmed civilians on the relief ships to Palestine.

3.      The D.S.I. is not pursuing any terrorism charges against the royalist PAD gangs who took over Bangkok’s international airports in late 2008. This put a stop to international flights for over a week. The PAD also occupied and trashed Government House and caused a riot outside parliament that same year. No one has been punished or detained. The present Abhisit military junta has PAD members and supporters in the cabinet.

4.      The D.S.I. is not pursuing any murder charges against Abhisit and the generals for ordering the shooting down in cold blood of innocent civilians earlier this year.

5.      The Abhisit junta has maintained a “state of emergency” in Bangkok and other provinces and many Red Shirts have been detained for breaking the emergency law. Yet when the royalist PAD came out to protest and whip up ultra-nationalism over a pointless border dispute with Cambodia last week, none of the PAD leaders or their supporters were arrested. In fact Abhisit and his PAD Foreign Minister made a point of meeting the PAD protesters and agreeing with them. The royalists hope to create a diversion by whipping up anti-Cambodian sentiment.

6.      Innocent defendants, awaiting trial are shackled in chains while going to court. This barbaric practice is designed to take away the humanity of detainees, not to prevent them from escaping in any way. Many of the Red Shirt leaders, who are political prisoners, actually gave themselves up to the police voluntarily, yet they are chained when attending court hearings. This is yet another indication that the conservative elites regard Red Shirts and ordinary Thai citizens who want democracy, as being “sub-human”. Thai citizens are referred to as merely “dust beneath the feet of the King”.

The entire criminal justice system in Thailand is compromised and corrupt. Citizens are not respected and regarded as equal. Judges are supporters of the conservative elites and are happy to act in a bias manner. There are no standards of basic justice. There is no freedom and Democracy. Yet Abhisit’s junta claims to be setting up committees for “political reform” under former military junta Prime Minister Anan Panyarachun and conservative doctor Prawes Wasi. What is even more shocking is that academics are flocking to these committees like flies to shit. There can be no serious “political reform” without freedom and Democracy, without scrapping the lese majeste law and without punishing the politicians and generals who gunned down innocent pro-democracy demonstrators. Serious reform would need to look into reducing the size, wealth and power of the military, reducing or scrapping the Monarchy, totally culling the judicial system and the police and ending all censorship. Serious reform can only take place after genuine democratic elections for a new government. But Abhisit’s junta shot dead over 90 people in March, April and May in order to avoid such elections. All his so-called “reform process” can amount to is an expensive public relations exercise to try and white-wash the crimes of the present junta.





Tracking down anti-monarchists for “reconciliation”

27 06 2010

PPT missed reporting this from Prachatai about a week ago. Many readers will have seen it, yet it remains significant enough to warrant posting here. The story comes from a report on a cabinet meeting of 15 June, where the new ICT Minister Chuti Krairoek made a report to all of his anxious colleagues regarding websites containing allegedly lese majeste comments. We certainly trust that PPT was discussed and that all ministers read our content, even if they have to do so via Cooloo.

The minister “said that Jakrapob Penkair and Giles Ungpakorn are still active in conveying information through websites in Europe.” Perhaps more significantly, he also reported that the ministry had discovered “a group of 200 people that constantly posts LM messages online, which is against the law.”

The royalist’s prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva apparently urged the minister to “negotiate with the people related to the websites according to the National Reconciliation Roadmap.” That seems like a negotiation that would go like this: “Stop or you go to jail.”

Then the man the military shoe-horned into the prime ministership is reported to state: “A big problem is to censor the websites, for example, Prachatai. It appears that the owner of the website who is a lady has proficiently coordinated with foreign countries by sending them a photo of her behind jail bars to accuse the government for suppressing freedom of the press, so we have to negotiate in keeping with the reconcilation roadmap.”

Of course, PPT understands him. The difficult task is in dealing with those with international connections – for the rest, just jail them and threaten them. By the way, the photo of Chiranuch Premchaiporn referred to is readily available with a search for images on Google and doesn’t need to be a part of any international conspiracy.

In its increasingly Orwellian world, ICT Minister Chuti assigned the Ministry “to look after how people use websites, which is another policy to promote reconciliation. Soon, the Ministry will summon owners of the websites to talk and negotiate for them to restrict the rules of their websites. If there are messages that violate the law, distort the information, or provoke the public, officers will be taking charge of the websites. The minister also insists that this is not a control or restriction of rights to hold opinions.”

For PPT, this sounds like a statement from the Burmese military junta. But that’s where the current government seems to be locating itself in political terms.

More threateningly, “the cabinet has approved an establishment of a new office in one month to look after the violation of the Computer-Related Crime Act to protect and take care of the royal institution.” More royalist nonsense. The more they do this, the more the spotlight is on the royal household and the politics of the palace.





Ji Ungpakorn on academic silence

13 06 2010

PPT reproduces the latest article we have seen from Ji Ungpakorn, from University World News:

THAILAND: Silence of the academic community

Giles Ji Ungpakorn
13 June 2010
Issue: 128

Universities in Bangkok will be opening now. Because the anti-government Red Shirts were crushed with violence last month and 80 or so people killed, I don’t think there will be any immediate activity by the students.

People will be discussing very heatedly among themselves. Students will be worried about writing an essay criticising the status quo and any academic who thought they might encourage argument and debate will keep quiet.

If you’re not particularly politically active, you won’t notice any difference. There will still be university seminars but they won’t be discussing why the King did not come out and say something about the killings.

They will not be discussing if the government of Abhisit Vejjajiva was genuinely democratically elected. And they will not be discussing what kind of society Thailand should be in the future.

In the department of political science and in the department of history you can’t really function unless you discuss things of this nature. So academics have avoided discussing some of the fundamental issues in Thailand. There is a long tradition of avoiding and stifling free thinking and debate.

I had to leave Thailand in 2009 because I wrote a book criticising the 2006 military coup. I said the coup received legitimacy from the King. In my opinion it is impossible to write a book criticising the coup without trying to discuss the role of the monarchy in protecting or not protecting democracy in Thailand.

I was charged with lese-majesty for insulting the King which I didn’t do but this law is being used by various elites to try to silence the opposition. You can go to prison for up to 15 years for lese-majesty but if you write two separate sentences in one book you might be sentenced to 30 years.

The trials are held in secret and no one is allowed to publish what the person said so there is no transparency in this process. I am in exile but I have not committed what would be internationally regarded as a criminal offence.

I only wrote a book defending democracy! Chulalongkorn University, where I was an assistant professor in the department of political science, started out by refusing to sell my book in the university bookshop even though they have sold numerous other books of mine in the past.

The university actually gave my book to [Thailand’s] Special Branch: this shows there is no real academic freedom. The bookshop is part of the university; its management committee is made up of university officials and the deputy rector was chair of the management committee.

More recently, Professor Suthachai Yomprasert in the history department at Chulalongkorn was accused by the military command of plotting to overthrow the monarchy. (see University World News)

Last month, just after the crackdown, Suthachai was summoned to report to the army and was detained without charge. Many others are still in detention but, because of a big campaign within Thailand and abroad, the authorities were forced to release him on 31 May.

Suthachai will be facing charges, probably terrorism. He is an open supporter of the Red Shirts but anyone who knows him knows he is not a terrorist. He uses his brains and his writing to support democracy.

The vast majority of the academics in Thailand have sided with the military and the royalist Yellow Shirts. Ordinary people have been protesting on the side of the (pro-democracy) Red Shirts and their strength of numbers has given some academics encouragement.

But university lecturers who side with the Red Shirts have become targets of the military whereas academics who side with the Yellow Shirts do not face punishment even though they closed down the international airport. It is the Red Shirts who are facing charges of terrorism and sanctions for attempting to overthrow the monarchy.

When the universities were completely bound by the state there was at least a feeling that academics had a degree of freedom. So-called university autonomy, basically the introduction of market forces, was resisted for a long time in Thai universities.

It was only after the 2006 coup, during the 2006-07 military junta, that university autonomy was pushed through a military-appointed parliament. The rectors of all the main universities were part of this parliament.

Academics who sympathised with the Red Shirts may find they have difficulty getting their contracts renewed, if they are on short-term contracts brought in as part of the new university autonomy.

But I doubt we will see mass firings because most of them have either kept their heads down or they support the royalists and the 2006 coup d’etat.

It was shocking for me that the majority of my colleagues in the faculty of political science, people who teach subjects such as democratisation, sided with the coup d’etat that overthrew the elected government. There is no debate over whether or not you should oppose a government you don’t like through democratic means.

But it is not because they are afraid for their jobs the majority of academics have chosen to side with the Yellow Shirts. I think it is a middle-class thing. The middle classes in Bangkok may be irritated from time to time by corruption and authoritarianism, but in general they are doing quite well and they see the Red Shirts as a bunch of ignorant poor workers and farmers.

They are afraid this movement will challenge their wellbeing and result in a redistribution of wealth.

The military and the government have won this particular round and the struggle for democracy has taken a setback. The Red Shirts are regrouping at grass-roots level but it is the status quo that now prevails.





Ji Ungpakorn and red shirts on the current clashes

14 05 2010

The military-backed government of Abhisit Vejjajiva has now deployed army snipers to assassinate unarmed Red Shirt pro-democracy protesters. One woman has been shot dead near the stage at Rajprasong in Bangkok. At least 4 unarmed protesters have been killed in this latest round of army violence.A  Canadian reporter has also been shot. Earlier, Seh Daeng was a victim of an assassination attempt. The Thai elites, the Generals, the Democrat Party and the Palace will stop at nothing to try to cling to power. The Red Shirts are determined to stand firm and fight for freedom and democracy.

UDD leadership statement at 16.13 Bangkok time:

1.      The Government must stop the use of force, cease fire and immediately withdraw troops back to barracks. The Government must end the State of Emergency which has been an excuse to kill citizens.

2.      Parliament should be dissolved immediately, and Abhisit and Deputy Sutep must step down from public office since they have no legitimacy.

3.      Those responsible for the violence, the assassination attempt against Seh Daeng, and the killings of at least two civilians and numerous injuries, must face the justice system, just like the UDD leaders will do because of Government instigated charges.

If the Government does not accept these demands, the situation in Bangkok and other parts of the country will be extremely serious. There is already a Civil War situation.