Mad authoritarianism

23 04 2021

There’s been considerable discussion in recent days of a draft law that would allow state monitoring of NGO funding and supervision of their activities. This amounts to a predictable deepening of control by an authoritarian regime. At the same time, it is reflective of a quite mad authoritarianism as the regime has increasingly come under the influence of ideas of conspiracy that dominate the “thinking” of mad monarchists.

Thai PBS reports that the effort to strictly control civil society organization and dominate political space by limiting NGOs by the “monitoring of NGO funding and supervision of their activities” through the Bill on the Operations of Not-for-Profit Organisations “stems from fears of foreign intervention in local politics and adverse impacts of NGOs’ foreign donations on national security.”

That report cites Amnesty International as saying that other states have also introduced “restrictive laws and policies, and stigmatising rhetoric…”. The examples provided include “Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, India, Hungary, and the Philippines.”

In the Thai case, the bill appears to reflect the increasingly frenzied deep yellow shirt conversations about CIA (meaning the USA) and Jewish (meaning George Soros) conspiracies to undermine the monarchy. There’s no evidence for such conspiracies, just an ever-mounting social media gnashing of teeth and tan ever-higher piling of buffalo manure, some of it egged on by organized anti-Western bloggers and “news” outlets. Such sources have waged a campaign against “colour revolutions” and, since the rise of the red shirts, have increasingly focused on Thailand. In Thailand, their deeply conservative narrative has been couched in “radical” terms, railing against “American imperialism.”

This narrative caught on among yellow shirts who themselves had dealt in fictious notions of conspiracy against the monarchy that constructed accounts of the Finland Plot to bring down the monarchy and of Thaksin Shinawatra’s anti-monarchism.

Such conservative fictions were easily imbibed by military monarchists. One result is this bill to control civil society groups. It was the post-junta cabinet, dominated by military monarchists that “in late February approved in principle the Bill on the Operations of Not-for-Profit Organisations, which would require NGOs to report their financiers and amount of funding, to have their accounts audited, and to ensure that their activities are lawful.”

Thai Enquirer refers to the Bill as the “Operation of Non-profit Organizations Act,” and notes that the “legislation was proposed by the Council of State…” which cited the concerns that resulted in the draft bill, including that NGOs “receive funding from foreign persons or entities.” Nothing new there; it has been a standard operating procedure for decades. However, in these reactionary times, there’s a view that this “might adversely affect the relationship between Thailand and that of other countries.”

Thai Enquirer explains what the Bill will do:

This draft bill, if passed into law, would require NGOs to register themselves with the Director General of the Department of Provincial Administration, prior to commencing its activities in Thailand. Once registered, they will be additionally required to comply with rules and conditions prescribed by the Minister of Interior, in addition to those requirements set forth in the legislation.

In addition, NGOs would be subject to an annual disclosure viz-a-viz sources of funds and must file an annual tax report to authorities. And, more horrendously, the NGOs can only receive funding from foreign persons, entities, or groups of persons, only for the purpose as prescribed by the Minister of Interior. Failure to comply with these requirements would subject the NGOs to criminal sanctions. Potentially imprisonment for persons involved.

It is unclear whether receiving funds to engage in political advocacy such as calling for the amendment of the constitution would be one of the permissible purposes. However, given the government’s track record and how the government MPs have reacted to iLaw’s requests, it is reasonable to fear that the purpose of political advocacy would not be permitted.

The article continues, noting that the regime:

does not wish to appear subtle about its motives either. It includes as material substance of the law that the bill would effectively ensure that NGOs are operating in Thailand without “Tai-ya-jitr” (hidden agendas). It remains unclear what “hidden agenda” means in this context. Is advocating for democracy … under the authoritarian regime regarded as a “hidden agenda?” … One might therefore reasonably conclude that this law is aimed at curtailing the activity of liberal NGOs….

The regime “has provided numerous hints about how it intends to use the law,” citing “a senior intelligence official specifically cited a statement signed by 13 human rights organisations … as demonstrating the need for further control over organisations working in Thailand.” That statement by human rights groups “condemned the government’s use of force against protesters.”

As The Interpreter observes:

Since a military coup in 2014, however, civic space and fundamental freedoms have taken a beating in Thailand. Authorities have harassed activists, cracked down on protesters and obstructed the proceedings of civil society. But these actions have failed to fully extinguish dissent, and Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha’s government has now proposed a draconian new law governing associations and organisations, which, if passed, would do more to crush civic space and undermine Thailand’s role in the region than any other effort by the Thai government in the past decade….

Under the proposed legislation, any group engaged in non-profit activities – no matter how small, informal or unorganised – would be required to register with the ministry. Student groups, community organisations, protest movements, artistic collectives, social clubs and short-lived associations would all fall within the remit of the law.

It establishes a “mandatory registration scheme overseen by the Ministry of Interior” and gives “authorities expansive powers to control and monitor groups of all sizes and types.”

Under the current authoritarian regime, the proposed law’s “broad terms and steep penalties would likely be wielded arbitrarily against independent-minded individuals and organisations.”

It imposes harsh penalties for failing to register: “individuals associated with an unregistered group could be punished with up to five years’ imprisonment.”

…The law would give the Ministry of Interior sweeping powers to determine the conditions under which registered groups operate. Activities backed by foreign funds would require pre-approval by the ministry, with foreseeable consequences for groups that frequently come into conflict with the government. More worrying still, the law would allow officials to inspect a registered organisation’s office and access its emails without justification or judicial oversight. It provides no safeguards against governmental misuse or arbitrary application of the law.

…Moreover, the selection of the Ministry of Interior as the ministry responsible for enforcing the law is telling. The Ministry of Interior oversees local administration and internal security within Thailand. As a result, it frequently comes into conflict with community associations, non-governmental organisations and other groups that would be governed by the law. The surveillance and enforcement powers granted by the law would bolster the ministry, to the detriment of those seeking to hold government officials accountable for corruption, human rights abuses or other misdeeds.

Such requirements and such intrusive surveillance mean that the government would determine which NGOs could register and what they could do, if they receive international funding.

The Interpreter further observes:

Adding to the law’s recklessness, the timeline set forth for registration – 30 days from the date of enactment – does not provide enough time for the ministry to register the thousands of currently unregistered groups operating in Thailand. If it were passed, numerous organisations would be forced to cease operations, and many would never reopen.

That is likely one of the aims of the legislation.

Each of the reports mentioned in this post reports on responses from NGOs. Among many issues, they note that the law is in conflict with several provisions of the constitution – not that such matters have ever bothered this regime – and that the law would allow “authorities to harass civil society groups and activists critical of the government by categorising them as NGOs.”

The Interpreter concludes:

If enacted, the proposed law would devastate Thai civil society and could lead to an exodus of international organisations currently based in Thailand.

Clearly, the regime’s support for the monarchy and the need to suppress anti-royalism puts it in alliance with all kinds of mad monarchists. For them and the regime, only conspiracy theories can “explain” attacks on their beloved monarchy and monarchist ideology. When mixed with the regime’s military-induced love of hierarchy and order, the outcome is a political system that is deeply authoritarian. The threat is to make Thailand forever authoritarian.





Recalling the 2006 military coup

20 09 2019

The army’s task: coups and repression

19 September was the anniversary of the 2006 military coup. This was the coup that set the path for Thailand’s decline into military-dominated authoritarianism based in ultra-royalist ideology.

Over the past couple of days we didn’t notice a lot of memorializing of the event that illegally removed then Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and his Thai Rak Thai Party, with tanks on the streets and soldiers decked out in royal yellow.

The military soon hoisted Privy Councilor Gen Surayud Chulanont into the prime ministership.

Anointing the 2006 coup

As we know, the coup did not succeed in its self-assigned task of rooting out the “Thaksin regime,” with Thaksin’s parties having been the most successful over the years that have followed and when the military permitted elections. This is why the 2014 coup was aimed at “putting things right,” through a more thorough political repression and a rigging of the political system for the ruling class. It also unleashed a rabid use of lese majeste to destroy that class’s political opponents.

One effort to recall the 2006 coup was by Ji Ungpakorn. He observes the:

forces behind the 19th September coup were anti-democratic groups in the military and civilian elite, disgruntled business leaders and neo-liberal intellectuals and politicians. The coup was also supported by the monarchy….

2006 coup

And adds:

Most NGOs and large sections of the middle classes also supported the coup. What all these groups had in common was contempt or hatred for the poor. For them, “too much democracy” gave “too much” power to the poor electorate and encouraged governments to “over-spend” on welfare. For them, Thailand is still divided between the “enlightened middle-classes who understand democracy” and the “ignorant rural and urban poor”. In fact, the reverse is the case. It is the poor who understand and are committed to democracy while the so-called middle classes are determined to hang on to their privileges by any means possible.

For a flavor of the times, see reports of the coup by the BBC and The Guardian. For early efforts to understand the 2006 coup, consider Ji’s A Coup for the Rich, Thailand Since the Coup, and Thailand and the “good coup.”

It’s been downhill since 2006: repression, military political domination and ultra-royalism, leading to a form of neo-feudalism in contemporary Thailand.





Failing royal project

12 12 2017

The usual propaganda about taxpayer-funded royal projects is that they are all wonderfully successful. That’s buffalo manure, but there are almost never media reports about gigantic and expensive failures. The Nation, however, breaks the propaganda mold.

This report is somewhat odd in that it is about The Dictator making a trip to Kalasin to promote “his” so-called Kalasin Model “to fight rampant poverty in the province.” It is the usual royal boosterism.

In the morning, Prayut will hand over an agricultural machine and livestock from the Royal Cattle and Buffalo Bank for Farmers to farmers at Ban Pone Village in Kammuang district. He is then scheduled to travel to Lampayang Royal Reservoir in Khaowong district, followed by a meeting with local leaders at Khaowong Technical College.

Meanwhile, ageing and self-appointed NGO leader Bamrung Kayotha, a member of the junta’s sub-committee on national reform on natural resources and environment, said “he wished that Prayut had chosen to visit the Lampayang Bhumipat water diversion tunnel in Khaowong district.”

That tunnel is a “Royal Initiated Project of the late King Rama IX, he said, featuring a 740-metre underground tunnel able to provide water to over 12,000 rai (1,920 hectares) of land.” How’s that gone?

The project, costing a king’s ransom, “has been abandoned and the transportation route to the project was damaged for a long time without repair…”.

Not so says the chief irrigation official of Kalasin Irrigation, who claims the “tunnel project has been functional and could distribute water to farmers in two tambons covering about 12,000 rai (1,920 hectares) of land…”. Further, the “tunnel project has no problems…”.

Something’s wrong and one of these guys is fibbing. But when it comes to royal projects, the official line will be that the project is just great.





Junta doubles down in repression of (former) allies

1 12 2017

For the first time in quite a while, PPT can agree with commentator Thitinan Pongsudhirak. And, it seems, he is agreeing with us. In an op-ed at the Bangkok Post, he states:

After the most recent cabinet reshuffle produced the fifth line-up of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha’s government, it is clear the military intends to stay in power for the long term in one form or another. The reshuffle provided a more civilian look but let there be no doubt that Thailand still has a military government, led by generals who seized power more than three and a half years ago [PPT: the civilians are mostly window dressing for a military junta]. As the top brass perpetuates its rule and puts off the election as long as they can, political tensions will mount as civilian-led forces agitate for a share of power and a return to popular rule.

… It is likely Thailand will soon be mired in yet another round of political conflict between civilian and military leaders.

While Thitinan still holds that the “people” gave the junta leeway because they were all frightened about the future after the previous king finally died, a reason now gone in a puff of smoke, he does also suggest that the usual failings of autocrats and dictators have come to the fore.

Thitinan considers that “[i]t would be unsurprising if the Prayut government now goes into a campaign mode of sorts, visiting provincial areas and handing out more subsidies and largesse with an eye to returning to post-election power.” He seems to have taken his eye off the ball, as this has been happening for a very long time.

But he’s right to observe: “It is also likely to put aside a firm election date until it feels more secure and popular. Its aim to stay in power will pose a dilemma for Thailand.” He’s also likely to be right that the “more the Prayut government tries to hang on to power, the less popular it will become.”

Unfortunately, that suggests a military regime that will become increasingly repressive as it claims a right to rule. Here, comparisons with the vile regime of 1991-92, led by General Suchinda Kraprayoon are probably appropriate. That junta decided it deserved to rule and was prepared to murder civilians to keep its place in power.

For us, what is most telling is the manner in which the junta has cracked down on the anti-coal dissidents in the south. Using methods previously reserved for its political opponents, the junta has gone after people who have been politically supportive of the 2014 coup and the military regime.

While these protesters are locals, they have many supporters and some leaders who are among the often yellow-hued NGOs in Bangkok. This group falls within a broader Bangkok middle class and its political opinion leaders in the former People’s Alliance for Democracy have been increasingly critical of the junta.

Those political cracks are likely to be broken apart following the junta’s doubling-down response to the protesters. Prachatai reports that “police are preparing to issue arrest warrants for 20 more protestors against the coal-fired power plant in Songkhla.”

That’s another 20 people in addition to the 15 leaders of the network from Songkhla and Pattani provinces who had already been arrested, jailed, and then “released on 29 November after six lecturers from Prince of Songkla University and Thaksin University used their academic positions to guarantee bail for them.”

Their arrest saw “114 academics from Southern Thailand … issue … a joint statement condemning the authorities for using force against the protesters and arresting the 15 activists.”

It seems the junta is demonstrating that it will not tolerate any dissent, and this includes middle-class dissent by (former?) political allies.

Of course, the brutality and callousness of the regime is also being demonstrated to these former supporters, and not just in the arrests in the south. While the many cases of the abuse of poor recruits drafted into the military has tended to be tolerated by regime supporters, when the victim is from a family that is in a different class, suddenly the brutality of the regime is recognized, even if the underlying reasons for it are not.

We seem to be entering a dangerous period.

 





Where to locate NGOs?

3 08 2017

Pinkaew Laungaramsri of the Faculty of Social Science at Chiang Mai University has caused something of a stir by fiercely criticizing Thailand’s NGOs. She has done this in Prachatai’s new book, in Thai, A Molten Land: The Mandatory Transition.

Some of her points:

Thai NGOs are morphing into an extension of the state bureaucracy. More and more NGOs are choosing to work alongside the state, to the point where they can be said to be one part of the state….

Though NGOs in Thailand used to fiercely critique populism, they were willing to be collaborators with the junta as soon as it invited the private sector and civil society to assist in administering rural subsidies. The NGOs leapt at the chance! Tracing these developments, one should not be surprised that NGOs have willingly sat in junta-appointed committees, the National Reform Council or the National Reform Steering Committee….

Disappointed with elections, NGOs decided that their works need not be relevant to democracy. They became ready to work with whoever came into power, in order to ensure the survival of their works and organisations. Past goals of curbing the state’s power and increasing the power of the people — once the rallying point of NGOs — evolved into concerns with self-preservation and power. This is the current state of Thailand’s civil society….

… there is no point to NGOs existing if they have no principles regarding how the politics of this country should be. This dilution of NGO principles over the past 10 years has made the regime and substance of Thai politics irrelevant to civil society movements….

The key question is, in the wake of the coloured shirts — and in this society devoid of just laws but weighed down by a dictatorial constitution — who will act as the catalyst to mobilise those who have had enough of the junta’s rule?…

In general she’s correct in all of these observations. However, she’s also got a rather idealistic view of NGOs in the past. Like society in general, NGOs tend to represent the range of values and political positions in society. What she seems to suggest is that some individuals who were NGO leaders have moved to the right.

PPT’s view is that many of those who “shifted” haven’t moved that far, if at all. Thai NGO leaders have tended to believe that they were leaders of the people, leading them from ignorance and poverty into some better world. Usually they didn’t ask the people what they wanted. They thought of themselves as “good people” who deserved to be leaders.





Another 20 years of military bossiness

15 03 2016

The Dictator has log babbled about a 20-year “reform” agenda, beating the previous post-coup record established by the royal favorite Thanin Kraivixien, who set a 12-year time frame.

In the bid to keep the military in power or in a place where it can trump any elected or vaguely constitutional regime, The Dictator has returned to this 20-year “plan” which he calls “Pracha Rat,”  and developed for him by the likes of royalist conservative Prawase Wasi and multiple NGO anti-democrats who remain skeptical of people power and of the capacity of the grassroots to engage in politics. Electoral democracy scares the silk pants off middle class do-gooders and the military.

The Nation reports that General Prayuth Chan-ocha* has declared that 20 years is “essential to ensure sustainable development of the Kingdom…”. In this, “sustainable” is another genuflection to the anti-democrats and an attempt to coax them across to support for ongoing military interference and bossiness.

Prayuth stated that to sustain “Pracha Rat and its goals … there should be an emphasis on judicial assurances, the integrated participation of all sectors of society, the empowerment of state agencies, and continued public support for the national strategy.” All of this is anti-democrat code, telling them that if they do not agree to military oversight, their “reform,” fixing the judiciary, weakening elections and boosting the power of the state’s agencies, then Thaksin Shinawatra, the red shirts and the “uneducate” will be back.

He blamed “politicians” for having made people “colour-blinded and short-sighted,” conveniently forgetting that the yellow shirts – the first of the colors – developed with palace and military connivance, the support of politicians in the senate (all the unelected swill) and in the Democrat Party.

*Oddly The Nation refers to Prayuth as a “retired general.” This is a bit much, given that no general ever retires, keeping their moniker, their uniforms and their position in the hierarchy.





Resistance matters

18 01 2016

Resistance to the military dictatorship has been constant. Yet the regime has also been quite successful in repressing opponents.

Maintaining pressure on the regime is critical for Thailand’s future. Time and again in the past, students and academics have been important in opposing authoritarianism. Things are challenging this time, with these groups having been split by the red-yellow divide.

Yet it is heartening to see the neo-democracy students being so brave in facing down the military dictatorship. According to a story at Khaosod, academics are following suit.

The report states that “[p]ro-democracy academics want to shift to a proactive stance in an attempt to restore some political rights amid concerns the junta may attempt to remain in power much longer.”

They are right to be concerned for Thailand’s political future.

The report is about a group of “[s]ome 30 academics and NGO activists organized as ‘Thai Academics for Civil Rights’ [which] will meet Thursday through Saturday to review their role and come up with strategies and measures to push back against repression by the military junta against students and scholars.”

Anusorn Unno, the dean of Thammasat University’s Faculty of Sociology and Anthropology, asked: “What can we do to steal the agenda from the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO)?” He said:

his group is counting on the growing disillusionment of groups which used to support the coup-makers, including medical doctors, NGO workers, rubber farmers and some members of the movement created to oust the former civilian government, the People’s Committee for Absolute Democracy with the King as Head of State, or PCAD.

These people increasingly recognize that paving way for the military to seize power didn’t enable [the country] to progress…. It wasn’t that clear in the first year since the coup, but the dust has now settled.

In fact, it was clear from day 1, but we agree that a wider group is beginning to see the failures and strategies of the dictatorship for embedding royalist authoritarianism.

Anusorn observes that: “The support base of the regime is eroding and simmering conflicts which have been suppressed await to be reignited…”. He mentioned Corruption Park.

The Assembly of the Poor is involved, with Barame Chairat, a coordinator, observing: “I agree that we need to launch an offensive because we have been on the receiving end so far… If we don’t do this, more will suffer.”





Making up

9 01 2016

Yesterday PPT post on the ongoing kerfuffle over ThaiHealth. In that post we noted that the junta’s attacks on the organization had something to do with shifting funds to the military dictatorship’s own projects and that there was a decided political dimension to the attacks. On the latter, we noted that some of the NGOs and foundations involved were clearly on the side of the junta, had supported the coups of 2006 and 2014 and thus were unlikely “opponents.” We guessed that the junta might be needling them for potentially being too liberal.

It seems we were wrong, and that the military dictatorship and its junta have quickly rectified their mistake and are quickly restoring funds to tame and royalist NGOs.

The Dictator has reportedly “ordered Thai Health Promotion Foundation (ThaiHealth) to immediately release funds for projects based on the Pracha Rath or ‘state of the people’ concept, as funding-approval difficulties have caused many projects to be delayed.”

It seems that one of the key NGO bodies supporting the military junta’s Pracha Rath projects is the Local Development Institute, and General Prayuth Chan-ocha met with one of its yellow-hued leaders, medical doctor Poldej Pinprateeb to sort the matter out among political allies.

Poldej served the previous junta-appointed government led by palace flunkey and Privy Council member General Surayud  Chulanont.

LDI is an institute chock full of aging yellow shirts and military supporters, and is closely linked to royalist “liberal” Prawase Wasi and longtime academic and “development promoter” Saneh Chammarik. It has links to the Rural Doctor Foundation and ThaiPBS, which were also on the junta’s hit list at ThaiHealth. For more on this network, see the academic article here. (We can’t find a free copy.)

Poldej praised The Dictator: “I would like to applaud the PM for making swift decisions to tackle this problem and letting the Pracha Rath projects move forward again…”.





Platitudes on the military dictatorship II

25 09 2015

One of the striking aspects of the formation of the People’s Alliance for Democracy a decade and more ago was the involvement of “civil society,” and particularly the leadership of several NGOs. The link between anti-democratic movements and those who were then leading NGOs and managing the national NGO bureaucracy has not been seriously challenged.

Of course, civil society everywhere is reflective of the society in which it exists, meaning that the calls to develop civil society or to listen to civil society are rather blunt and politically naive as civil society includes some very nasty groups indeed. In Thailand, some of the space of civil society has been filled by noxious rightists and fascists.

Over the past 20-30 years, there has been a kind of competition for control of NGOs, with royalists like Prawase Wasi seeking to domesticate NGOs after the elite feared that many of the early NGOs were falling under the control of returnees from the jungle after the defeat of the Communist Party of Thailand.

More recently, as Sanitsuda Ekachai at the Bangkok Post points out, when Thaksin Shinawatra “was looking for innovative policies to launch his Thai Rak Thai Party, he looked for inspiration from activists leading social movements…”.

As is well known, he “was not disappointed.” He was delivered ideas on universal health care and community funds that “became his landmark policy successes…”.

Sanitsuda points out that, now, self-appointed premier and the country’s dictator, General Prayuth Chan-ocha is moving down this path. It is no accident that The Dictator has turned to “civil society movements” for an “innovative policy product to win the hearts and minds of people on the ground,” and that this coincides with his hiring of former Thaksin minister Somkid Jatusripitak.

She says that The Dictator has “apparent support from many civic groups” as he grabbed Prawase’s idea for his “Pracharath (citizens and state) policy drive…”.

In campaign mode, The Dictator declared that he would “strengthen the grassroots economy to bridge inequality while civil society leader Dr Prawase Wasi, the owner of the Pracharath development concept, lectured on what it takes to rescue the nation from the ‘black hole’ well beyond a massive one-time financial injection.”

Sanitsuda points out that The Dictator’s event saw “[h]igh-minded phrases such as holistic development, livelihood rights, people’s participation, bottom-up planning, environmental conservation, green farming and community banks fill… the air.”

Noting that so-called grassroots and civic groups “have been pushing every government” for many years to address what they have determined are the “people’s real needs,” Sanitsuda says that the groups are dealing with the military dictatorship and hoping it will deliver.

Elmer and DaffyIn most parts of the world, and in Thailand for most of its modern period, only a looney would think that the military would deliver for the “grassroots.” But in the Thailand where elections are “undemocratic” and where universal health care is “populist,” these self-proclaimed representatives of the people, none of them ever elected to anything, say that “[w]ith strong military blessing, many activists hope it might be possible to make community groups part and parcel of community fund management to strengthen the local economy, transparency and grassroots democracy.”

Yes, these NGO and civil society leaders think that a military dictatorship can deliver “transparency and grassroots democracy.” They can only think this by ignoring the real world and the people at the grassroots.

Sanitsuda notes that these “leaders” “risk of being attacked as coup cheerleaders.” That’s true, but many of them did cheer the coups in 2006 and 2014, so they’d hardly be worried about supporting the military dictatorship.

We agree with her that “having Dr Prawase, the respected [sic.] development guru and reformer [sic.], on its side is the best legitimacy it [the junta] could ever have hoped for.” However, it is also a fact that Prawase has joined each of the anti-democratic cabals in recent years. His views are royalist to the core.

None of these self-proclaimed representatives seems to worry too much about working with a military junta that is, every day, working against the grassroots, kicking people off their land, throwing them out of forests, supporting cowboy capitalists doing mining and timber deals, proclaiming the rights of elites, using double standards in courts and repressing every person who wants to vote.

 





Updated: NGO debates on military rule

12 11 2014

Ji Ungkaporn’s latest post is of interest, reporting division amongst NGOs over the military dictatorship and its rule:

A much needed debate starts among Thai NGOs

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Cracks are now starting to appear in the NGO movement which up until now has tended to support the anti-democratic forces of the yellow shirts and even welcomed the two military coups.

Witoon Lianchamroon has resigned from the national NGO Coordinating Committee (NGO COD), criticising it of lacking any real political position on the state of “Democracy”, “Justice” and “Participation” under the present junta. The North-eastern NGO COD has also criticised the national NGO body for failing to defend North-eastern NGO activists who have been summoned by the military for declaring that they will take no part in the military’s so-called reforms. At the same time local social movements of villagers have been threatened by the army for wanting to stage a march highlighting their problems. Some leaders have been arrested.

One week before this, Kingkorn Narintornkun Na Ayuttaya, a prominent NGO leader, wrote an open letter criticising fellow NGO activists who were taking part in the military junta’s anti-reforms.

All this debate is a welcome development in a movement where NGO elders usually stifled open political discussion and channelled political disagreements into personal conflicts.

Ever since the collapse of the Communist Party, the emerging NGOs tended to turn their backs on political theory and political organisation in an anarchistic fashion. They have also taken a position against “representative democracy” and government spending on welfare. This allowed them to join up with reactionary yellow shirts who were against the Taksin government. What is worse is that while formally “rejecting politics” they embraced neo-liberal economic and political theories without any criticism.

So when Kingkorn Narintornkun Na Ayuttaya criticised some NGO people for taking part in the junta’s anti-reforms, she still claimed that Taksin’s “Populist” policies were problematic, echoing the right wing critics of democracy. She also made the ridiculous claim that Taksin’s government was a “parliamentary dictatorship” because it held a large majority of elected seats in parliament. Both these false claims were used by the anti-democrats to destroy democracy and justify the military coups.

If a real debate and reassessment of the role of NGOs does actually take place it will be a very welcome development. But it will come to nothing if it remains in the confines of criticising “Populist” policies or “Representative Democracy”. It will also come to nothing if the NGOs fail to make a clear stand against the military dictatorship and the repressive lèse majesté law.

Taksin’s pro-poor policies which provided health care, created jobs and supported rice farmers and the urban poor, were long over-due in Thailand. But they were not nearly enough because he turned his back on progressive taxation of the rich and the building of a genuine welfare state. His government was also guilty of gross human rights abuses just like Abhisit’s government and the present military junta.

What is needed is more class politics; more discussion of socialism, and the building of an independent political party and political movement of the working class and small farmers. This means that the Red Shirts also need to open up a debate and reassess their politics.

Update: There’s more on this at the Bangkok Post.