An “election” that cannot be free or fair

27 06 2018

We at PPT have long pointed out that notions of Thailand’s junta delivering a free and fair election are ridiculous. In several posts we have shown why this is impossible. There has been relatively little discussion of this so far, but as the “election” becomes a site of debate, there’s more discussion of the nature of the junta’s rigged “election.”

One recent report worth noting is of a human rights activists speaking at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand and reported at Khaosod has delivered a similar conclusion: “Democratic elections next year will be meaningless under the existing political and legal conditions imposed by the military government…”.

One aspect of the report worth considering is the conclusion that “the next elected government could become a puppet of the military, even with the junta out of the picture…”.

According to Sirikan Charoensiri of Thai Lawyers for Human Rights, that puppetry can only be avoided if there is a strong civil society:

Civil society can strongly support the new government to fulfill the wishes of civilians under democratic rules. In this way, civilian authorities could disconnect from the absolute power of the military junta….

That strikes us as grasping at straws. One of the main tasks the military dictatorship gave itself was the atomization of civil society, disciplining some, crushing others and supporting anti-democrat elements of civil society.

Another assessment is by academic James Taylor at East Asian Forum. He argues that the current military dictatorship is just one more authoritarian government:

… throughout its history and in the years since the 2014 coup, Thailand’s fascistic tendencies have emerged through the crevices of an imaginary democratic state. Thailand was never able to establish its democratic bearings and has been constantly held back by military–monarchy interests.

He points to the most basic facts of the post-coup regime and its tasks:

Upon seizing power … the military junta was quick to suppress dissent, limiting rights and freedoms. The coup makers replaced officials at all levels with hand-picked senators and lackeys emplaced in all public sectors, administration, courts and so-called independent bodies. Aside from the implications of the 2017 military constitution, this would make it difficult for a new freely elected party to implement institutional or policy reforms.

Taylor thinks the way forward is for “new movements and sites of struggle must emerge…”.

Such movements and sites are only likely to emerge from principled opposition to military authoritarianism.





Academic commentary on Thailand

13 02 2016

Readers may find some interesting and useful commentary in these two contributions by academics:

James L. Taylor, Adjunct Associate Professor, Anthropology & Development Studies, University of Adelaide in Australia,”Thailand’s military regime continues to tighten its grip

Eugénie Mérieau, PhD candidate at National Institute of Oriental Languages and Civilizations, Paris, France, “The Constitutional Court in the 2016 constitutional draft: A substitute King for Thailand in the post-Bhumibol era?

Both are freely available and reflect on important issues.





Jim Taylor on red shirts

2 04 2011

Readers may be interested to read Jim Taylor’s most recent publication, Larger Than Life: ‘Central World’ and its Demise and Rebirth – Red Shirts and the Creation of an Urban Cultural Myth in Thailand, published by the Asia Research Institute at the Ntional University of Singapore, in March this year, as working paper No. 150.

The abstract is:

This paper looks at the cultural and political implications of the arson of Bangkok’s Central World Shopping Complex, one of the Asian region’s largest sites of elite/middleclass consumption – a “lifestyle destination centre” and a dreamscape. The destruction has become a new urban myth which has hit at the heart of late modern urban Thai values. The site itself is situated next to where the pro-democracy red-shirt protestors were gathered at the Raacha’prasong Intersection and culminated in the final day of the violent crackdown 19 May 2010. I argue that the symbolic and economic gesture of the destruction of the shopping complex has had massive ramifications for political events that followed and as justification for the regime’s extra-judicial and military response to the crisis. Henceforth the social movement’s leaders were labelled in a post 9/11 discourse as state “terrorists”. The unarmed, mostly rural demonstrators, women, children and men, were blamed in deprecating terms by the Bangkok bourgeoisie and state apparatuses for the arson. But I argue that evidence indicates the contrary may be the case; that it was in fact an act of guile by the state to justify the massacres and witch-hunt which followed the crackdown in the centre of Bangkok.

 

This paper looks at the cultural and political implications of the arson of Bangkok’s Central World Shopping Complex, one of the Asian region’s largest sites of elite/middleclass consumption – a “lifestyle destination centre” and a dreamscape. The destruction has become a new urban myth which has hit at the heart of late modern urban Thai values. The site itself is situated next to where the pro-democracy red-shirt protestors were gathered at the Raacha’prasong Intersection and culminated in the final day of the violent crackdown 19 May 2010. I argue that the symbolic and economic gesture of the destruction of the shopping complex has had massive ramifications for political events that followed and as justification for the regime’s extra-judicial and military response to the crisis. Henceforth the social movement’s leaders were labelled in a post 9/11 discourse as state “terrorists”. The unarmed, mostly rural demonstrators, women, children and men, were blamed in deprecating terms by the Bangkok bourgeoisie and state apparatuses for the arson. But I argue that evidence indicates the contrary may be the case; that it was in fact an act of guile by the state to justify the massacres and witch-hunt which followed the crackdown in the centre of Bangkok. This paper looks at the cultural and political implications of the arson of Bangkok’s Central World Shopping Complex, one of the Asian region’s largest sites of elite/middleclass consumption – a “lifestyle destination centre” and a dreamscape. The destruction has become a new urban myth which has hit at the heart of late modern urban Thai values. The site itself is situated next to where the pro-democracy red-shirt protestors were gathered at the Raacha’prasong Intersection and culminated in the final day of the violent crackdown 19 May 2010. I argue that the symbolic and economic gesture of the destruction of the shopping complex has had massive ramifications for political events that followed and as justification for the regime’s extra-judicial and military response to the crisis. Henceforth the social movement’s leaders were labelled in a post 9/11 discourse as state “terrorists”. The unarmed, mostly rural demonstrators, women, children and men, were blamed in deprecating terms by the Bangkok bourgeoisie and state apparatuses for the arson. But I argue that evidence indicates the contrary may be the case; that it was in fact an act of guile by the state to justify the massacres and witch-hunt which followed the crackdown in the centre of Bangkok.




Stories worth reading

14 03 2011

There are a bunch of useful stories worth reading, although PPT is having trouble getting to them. So we thought listing them for readers might be a way of ensuring that attention is given to these accounts:

MCOT: “Four more leaders of the red-shirted United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) on Monday surrendered to the Department of Special Investigation (DSI) after being on the run for nine months with outstanding arrest warrants for terrorism, and were later granted releases on bail. Suporn Atthawong, Payap Panket, Chinnawat Haboonpad, and Waipoj Arpornrat turned themselves in at DSI headquarters Monday morning but denied all charges and posed Bt600,000 as bail bond for each.” They seem keen to stand in any upcoming election. Jim Taylor has more on this at Prachatai.

MCOT: “Police have withdrawn from the protest site of Thailand’s yellow-clad activist movement, the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD), on Rajdamnoen Nok Avenue after their deployment there stirred fears among demonstrators that the police might try to disperse their months-long rally.” The story on the massed police attempt to clear PAD toilets is quite funny.

Bangkok Post: “Thailand is well suited to democracy, thanks to its extensive civil society and a high level of social trust, a renowned American professor said…. Robert D Putnam, of Harvard University’s John F Kennedy School of Government, was speaking at a seminar titled “Community and Democracy: Why Civil Society is Essential to Democratic Reform” held at Chulalongkorn University yesterday…. Mr Putnam said democracy required a lot of work, time and strong social capital or civil society. He pointed out how the United States saw rapid political changes during the 1910s due to intense social capital interactions and at other times on the ups and downs of social capital, including the Great Depression, the country’s longest period of high unemployment and poverty.”

PPT is not aware that Professor Putnam knows anything at all about Thailand. We think he confuses social capital and political activism and largely ignores political power and ideology as a driving forces behind civil society organizations. Bringing in the “experts” is a long tradition when Thailand faces crisis and doesn’t often lead far. Recall the junta government bringing in a bunch of experts to “discuss” sufficiency economy.

Asia Provocateur by Andrew Spooner has a story on a death threat received by Jitra Kotchadej, who was involved in a protest against Abhisit Vejjajiva a few days ago.

AHRC has a Forwarded Press Release on “Angkhana Neelaphaijit, the chairperson of the Justice for Peace Foundation (JPF), released a statement on behalf of the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) during the presentation of the joint report of the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearance and the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention during meeting of the Human Rights Council in Geneva. In the statement, the JPF and the ICJ called for the Thai government accept the request to visit by the Working Groups and for the Working Groups to work with the Thai government to end arbitrary detention and to bring to light the fate of people who have been disappeared.”





Red shirts, lese majeste and regime strategy

28 02 2011

It appears that the current regime strategy is not to confront and challenge all red shirts but to divide and conquer. The regime, through military intelligence and the police, as well as through negotiations, are seeking to split red shirts into groups that are more moderate and those considered more radical. The definition of radicalism appears to revolve around the position of the monarchy.

The strategy seems that this strategy is gaining some traction if the buzz on blogs and in emails is to be believed.

The red shirts, of course, could easily have managed a split amongst themselves without regime incentives, but it is clear that the regime’s approach is causing considerable angst amongst red shirts. For instance, it is remembered that red shirt leaders have twice surrendered to the authorities despite pleas and demands from demonstrators that surrender not be an option. That is one example and there are many more amongst a movement that is large and diverse.

Surachai

PPT is not about to rehearse the debates amongst red shirts here, for there is a useful thread at New Mandala that begins with a post by James Taylor.

One of the major debating points, no doubt fostered by the regime and its supporters, is the claim that the “moderate” red shirts are doing deals with the government that involve selling out more “radical” red shirts like Surachai Sae Dan while pushing aside and diminishing the innovative actions by Sombat Boonngamanong. There are other claims that the released leadership has abandoned the rank-and-file red shirts still in jail and that it is in the regime’s interest for the released leaders to regain control of the red shirt movement.

Sombat and friend

While PPT is not about to agree that Surachai is a “charlatan,” as Ji Ungpakorn claims, we do think that Ji identifies some plausible elements of the state strategy to divide the appeal of the red shirts (although he doesn’t necessarily put it in these terms). Most significant for us is his identification of some of the old war horses that engaged in similar campaigns during the state’s psych-ops war on the CPT in the 1970s and 1980s, using operatives who had split from the CPT.

Ji

Some of the current claims about the red shirt leadership come with considerable embellishment. It appears, for example, that red shirt leaders have not abandoned those still imprisoned by the regime. And, while there are those amongst the red shirts who readily accept conspiracy claims, many in the rank-and-file do seem to relish having the leadership out of jail.

At the same time, many in the red shirt leadership need to ensure that the Democrat Party and its cronies are not permitted any free kicks should the regime decide that an election is winnable and dissolve parliament.

The regime’s strategy to split the movement is clear; keeping such a diverse mass of followers together is no easy task when the vast resources of the royalist state are arrayed against them.








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