Seksan, “Thai-ness”, “good” and “bad” people and class

12 03 2018

While PPT has been harping on the insidious discourse of “good” people and “bad” people for a few years, the notion that drives much of the elite’s warped politics, it has gotten some much needed attention a few days ago from former activist Seksan Prasertkul.

Widely shared on social media, he reportedly opined that “adopting a discourse involving ‘good people’ and ‘bad people’ to justify the acquisition of political power and control of the political spectrum will bring the country to its knees…”.

In fact, the junta probably prefers the people of the country on their knees, giving “respect” to the “good” people of the dictatorship.

Fundamentally anti-democratic, Seksan says “[s]uch terminology … has continued to dominate mainstream thinking and is detrimental to the progress of Thai politics…”. It is “used to justify the coup and has often been a tool used to dehumanise people who hold different opinions.”

Seksan observed that “this attitude is born of social conditioning” – he might have said it is born of class: “good people” are “well-to-do and highly educated”; “bad people” are “those who live in rural areas or middle and lower-class urban areas who usually are less educated and have lower incomes.” It’s a class distinction.

The so-called bad people “include democratically elected MPs and the people who elected them — or millions of people from across the nation.” While the elected politicians may be wealthy, those electing them are overwhelmingly from rural and working class locales.Seksan admits “the failure of politicians.”

Seksan refers to an “ideological conflict,” believing that “the core of Thai society for over 10 years is ideological and it is one of the factors that has rendered reconciliation efforts difficult.” He is only partly right. That ideology is reflective of a deep class conflict between the fabulously wealthy and the poor.

He supported a broader political arena.

Seksan also cited “Thai-ness” as a “problematic idea that is used to create conflicts. He said Thai-ness has been used to justify and support authoritarianism, especially after the coup in 2014.”

In recent years, it has often been “people who call for democracy and human rights [who] are branded as being outside of, or not understanding, Thainess and are marginalised or chased out of the country.”

Only the “good,” the supine and royalist anti-democrats meet the dictatorship’s criteria for appropriate “Thai-ness.”





Reasons to think about 1932

20 06 2017

As the anniversary of the 1932 revolution draws closer, the palace and the military dictatorship must be getting twitchy.

First, there’s the speech by the now aged Octobrist, Seksan Prasertkul. He was widely reported after a speech at Thammasat University, honoring Direk Jayanama, a member of the Khana Ratsadon that overthrew the monarchy in 1932.

Seksan seems to have caught up with PPT (sorry, couldn’t resist), saying that the military junta “is systematically laying down the foundations to allow its power to take deep root in Thai politics and overshadow the role of elected politicians in the future…”.

He sees something he calls a “state elite” branding “politicians who sought power through elections as bad people,” and seeking to stay in place itself. He says the “Thailand 4.0 banner, the Pracharath state-and-people cooperation scheme, the national strategic plan, and the current constitution to change Thai politics and keep political power in the hands of the ‘state elites’ and bureaucrats for at least 9-10 years…”. We have been saying that for more than three years (sorry, couldn’t resist).

He says that “the bureaucrats” are Thailand’s “old power” before  Thaksin Shinawatra came along. In a report at The Nation, Seksan is reported as saying that state elites and their “norms have been challenged or at some point eroded by globalisation and capitalism. With the writing of new rules and regulations, the new charter has become the tool they use to rearrange power relationships in the society.”

That’s kind of right, but there is no link between capitalism and an open society. Thailand’s middle class has demonstrated this and so have China and Singapore. Thailand’s capitalists have lined up behind the old elite that is broader than “state” officials. Missing that is risking missing the story of 21st century Thailand.

He is right to warn that “[i]f political parties cannot think of anything better than to challenge state elites or don’t dare touch the neo-liberalism model, or don’t dare to think differently on big issues, it’s no use our having these political parties because they will only be groups of power seekers.”

Look at them lining up for the junta’s rules and the junta’s “election.”

The second story is Thongchai Winichakul at Prachatai. When he talks of rule by law, he’s pointing to a point we have been making for several years (sorry, couldn’t resist).

Thongchai, ever the clever commentator, notes that the “months of May and June mark several key milestones in Thai history. There is June 1932 (the People’s Revolution) and June 1946 (the assassination of King Rama VIII), the two bloody crackdowns in May 1992 and 2010, and the coup in May 2014.”

He’s right to say that “the revolution of 1932 is not yet finished, not merely in with regards to the political system, but with regards to the establishment of the rule of law.”

What we’d emphasize, though, is that 1932 was an event that unleashed a struggle that has gone on since. The royalists have worked for more than eight decades to roll back the changes of 1932. What the junta has put in its constitution is a system of government that the royalists (and the royals) have tried to establish again and again. Now they think they have succeeded.

The 2017 constitution is the political victory of the royalists. Accepting it as the rules of the political system is a capitulation to the anti-democratic royalists of 1933, 1947, 1957, 1976, 1991, 2006 and 2014.

Only a people’s movement recognizing people’s sovereignty can defeat the anti-democrats.





Readers as dopes

13 01 2014

Veera Prateepchaikul at the Bangkok Post comes up with this sucker headline: “I will vote Pheu Thai… if”. It is a sucker headline followed by sucker paragraphs. He treats his readers with disdain by making essentially false claims. In his article he claims, with tongue in cheek:

I couldn’t agree more with the “Two Yes-Two No” movement’s statement in support of the right to an election and reform under the democratic system, and opposing coups and violence of all forms.

I also agree with the stance of this network of prominent scholars, intellectuals and activists from across the political divide that reforms must be undertaken within a democratic framework, must involve all stakeholders from the top to the bottom, and must address pressing problems such as corruption, and social and economic disparity.

The movement also said the reform process could be implemented simultaneously with the election process.

The network was formed amid public concern about political violence. Last week saw candlelight rallies at various places such as Kasetsart University and at the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre, where supporters wore white, holding posters which read “Respect My Vote” in support of the Feb 2 election.

The key members of the network appeared at Thammasat University on Friday to announce their stance on the political conflict.

Former ’70s student leader Seksan Prasertkul said the election was an important starter in the search for consensus on social change because it is necessary for the government and civic sector to work together.

This would help them achieve change that is sustainable and beneficial.

For the reform process to begin, it is appropriate the government should be the coordinator, Mr Seksan said.

Good ol’ Veera, the democrat Veera, the anti-military coup Veera! Has PPT been reading the wrong Veera? Is there a schizophrenic Veera?  No! Not at all! He opines:

Honestly, I agree with most of the points in the statement except one regarding the reform process, which the network said must be undertaken simultaneously with the election.

But that’s the point of the lot that Veera has said he agrees with. Of course, he was pulling our collective leg. He explains:

Mr Seksan said the election is an important starting point for reform and the government should first receive the consensus of the majority to assume the role of a coordinator in the reform process.

But I beg to differ when he says the election is as an important starter for reform….

How can Mr Seksan and other members in the network be so sure the Pheu Thai-led government, which will almost certainly win the consensus after the Feb 2 election _ if there is an election at all _ will be different from other governments and that they will carry on with the reform work after the election?

Have Mr Seksan and his associates noticed any healthy signs from the Pheu Thai Party that it is serious about reform?

And then he gets on the anti-democracy soapbox and explains “his” anti-democracy perspective with accusations and unproven claims. He essentially calls the scholars naive and optimistic and states why their proposal should be ditched:

The protesters are not against an election as a matter of principle. What they want is for reforms to take place first. That is to clean up the house before we go to the polls.

Ah, yes, the anti-democracy refrain. But wait, a last shot:

But if the network can convince the caretaker government to make clear-cut, legally binding commitments about the reforms that will have to be implemented after the election, it will be appreciated indeed.

He must think readers are dopes and will forget that his is the anti-democracy demand when what these scholars suggested was that reform “must be undertaken simultaneously with the election.” That’s Veera quoting them.

For the anti-democracy cabal, reform is going to be a long and elite-driven, undemocratic fixing of the political system, after which elections might be allowed.





Three views on 14 October

14 10 2013

Today is the 40th anniversary of the 14 October 1973 student-led uprising that brought an end to 16 years of the authoritarian regime established by royal favorite, General Sarit Thanarat. This was a momentous event that, for a short time, unleashed many of the struggles that had been suppressed for so long by Sarit and those who followed him. It is to be expected, then, that there would be commentaries and reflection on 1973 and contemporary politics.

PPT noticed three commentaries, and we thought we could highlight bits and pieces from each of these. Two are by heroes of the 1973 events and a third is by a young critic.

Seksan

Seksan

First, at the Bangkok Post, Seksan Prasertkul, a key leader of the student uprising who spoke at Thammasat University. Seksan has been reasonably quiet and conservative in recent years, engaging with aspects of Buddhism that do not necessarily promote social or political engagement. Unsurprisingly, he called on people to promote peace through democratic principles.

Reflecting on 1973, Seksan said “the October uprising created new, middle-class political groups – one urban movement concerned with natural resources and the environment, and a provincial group engaged in the representative parliamentary system.” That’s rather too simplistic, but let’s stick with his reported statements. He sees these as “capitalist groups of urban and provincial middle-class movements have been incredibly good partners in striving against the old capitalist and political forces…”.

He argued that “the capitalist political forces which have emerged recently have responded to the needs of the poor in a more substantial manner” than just calling for better wages. We assume he means elements of a broader social welfare system put in place since 2001. He went on to criticize the 2006 coup that overthrew the elected government of Thaksin Shinawatra “in an unconstitutional way.” He’s certainly right to observe:

“Ultimately, the coup ushered in forces that wanted to drag parliament back to the old days when it was dictated by authoritarianism…”.

Ironically, Mr Seksan said, many urban middle-class groups did not seem to uphold democratic principles and responded inappropriately to the mistakes of the Thaksin government.

Seksan called on red shirts to become more expansive in seeking democracy:

“The movement should be a tool of the struggle for democracy and not to serve a single government or political party, unless the plight of their preferred party and leaders directly affect the survival of Thailand’s democracy,” Mr Seksan said. He said the quest for sustainable and peaceful political liberalism needed to be developed along with democratic principles.

“Democratisation is a delicate and complicated process since we need to deal with authoritarian cultural notions and, above all, to build equity and human dignity,” Mr Seksan said.

… “Democracy releases people from exploitation and merges their collective power.”

Thirayuth

Thirayuth

Second, and reflecting a similar conservatism that many might see as deriving of age and others might see as developing from a lack of connection with current political struggles, another former student leader and self-styled deconstructionist political critic, Thirayuth Boonmee has had his say.

The report at the Bangkok Post states that Thirayuth “has broken his long silence to give his views on the current state of Thai democracy 40 years later.” To be honest, we hadn’t noticed that he had been quiet. In a post in 2012, we described him as an aging and often theoretically incomprehensible middle class “radical.” He has long been an outspoken critic associated with yellow-shirted intellectuals, being especially vocal in his criticism of “populism,” which he sees as being akin to “policy corruption” or vote-buying.

Thirayuth’s position seems to be pretty much standard for yellow-shirted intellectuals. Being rather lazy in researching historical events and struggles, Thirayuth claims that:

since the change of the country’s administration in 1932 from an absolute to a constitutional monarchy, only a handful of military and civilian personnel and some politicians had benefited from what is called “democracy”.

Even after the Oct 14 incident, students, intellectuals and middle-class Thais lavishly and wastefully exploited the state of democracy, opening the opportunity for groups of capitalists who were freed from military and police control to wreap [sic.] the benefits for themselves.

He is right to note that the military has “returned to be totally loyal to the monarchy,” although while he dates that as being since 1932, we’d date it earlier, from 1958 or perhaps 1973. He is also right to note that “Thai capitalist groups pay no attention to democracy, but cling firmly to the royal institution and the armed forces for their business interests.” Oddly, he right to be at one with Thaksin loyalist Jakrapob Penkair (look for his FCCT transcript) in being critical of “a society plagued by the patronage system or, in harsher words, a society of servants.” He is also right to observe that coups “had proved to be a mistake.” Well, maybe “disaster” would be a better word than “mistake.”

Thirayuth believes he has the answer for what he calls 40 years of “lost opportunities”: forget Thaksin , red shirts and yellow shirts and emphasize “good governance and proper mechanisms to get rid of corruption…”. And, look to decentralization. Hardly an intellectual bombshell, for he is essentially mimicking the royalist critic Prawase Wasi and a royalist mantra on the evils of politicians.

This rather boring and predictable stuff brings us to a third and younger critic, Prajak Kongkiarti. At The Nation, he is more realistic than the aged professors. He says that so much political reform is required that it may be another decade before it can be achieved. What needs to be done? He is clear:

Prajak

Prajak

To establish a truly democratic society, Thailand needs to reform all of its key political pillars, including the monarchy, the military, politicians, independent organisations like the Supreme Court and the news media….

The Thammasat University lecturer urges that Article 112 of the Criminal Code, the lese majeste law, be addressed first. But reform of the military, an issue far less discussed, is urgent as well, he says.

That sounds like a reasonable assessment to us, showing a keen awareness of the political issues that have been driving politics in recent years. He is reflective of that period, apparently being the only one willing to point out the very large gorilla that inhabits too much of the political space but which may not be spoken of or criticized for fear of repression or worse.





Nitirat’s commitment vs. royalist intimidation

28 01 2012

Despite enormous pressure and intimidation, the Nitirat group remained committed to its campaign to amend the lese majeste law.

The bravery involved in standing up to the immense power of the hierarchical power of the forces that use and protect the monarchy is seen in how others squirm and flee principled political action.

The elected government under the Puea Thai Party has repeatedly expressed its unwillingness to to get involved in any principled action on lese majeste.

The pressure on supporters of Nitirat has been enormous and the threats are clear and real. Thammasat University law lecturer Sawatree Suksri revealed she had “received a letter from a military officer warning against proceeding with the campaign.”

Reflective of this pressure, former activist – “former” refers to an era now almost four decades ago – Seksan Prasertkul has distanced himself from Nitirat. He says he supports the monarchy but he is clearly fearful. He says he has “no plan to join the movement because I am fed up with conflicts…”. While Seksan hasn’t been politically progressive for years, his incapacity to take a principled stand is obviously also a product of fear.

Meanwhile, Nitirat have reiterated that its members are facing individual attack – including death threats – rather than being directed to the proposals themselves. “It claimed that facts and legal principles were also distorted to create misunderstandings among the public.” That is crystal clear.

The group insisted on the legitimacy of its proposals and its right to debate laws that are unjust or illegitimate.

United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship chair Thida Tawornsate Tojirakarn “urged all groups to maintain objectivity when discussing proposals, including amending Section 112.” She added: “Society should listen and we red shirts will do so. We live in an open society and criticism should be based on reason, not emotion…”.

That seems unlikely as the full power of the royalists has been rained down on a group that has dared to challenge laws and rules that limit democracy in Thailand.

Nitirat’s efforts are remarkably brave and leave them open to the kinds of nasty pressure and intimidation usually reserved for individuals accused of lese majeste.





Support for Nitirat’s lese majeste reform proposal

19 01 2012

PPT missed this report a couple of days ago, and we post it now because it is significant.

At Matichon, it is reported that a list of significant academics, writers, lawyers and intellectuals in Thailand have supported Nitirat’s call for a review of the lese majeste law. Significantly, and like an earlier international academic call for the law’s reform, it has 112 signatories. Each signatory was listed in a Nitirat pamphlet.

The names include many very well-respected and senior intellectuals. The lead signatories are Charnvit Kasetsiri, Pasuk Phongpaichit and Nidhi Eowsriwong, each of them well-known and respected in Thailand and internationally. Other respected signatories include: Thongchai Winichakul, Thak Chaloemtiarnana, Suchit Wongthes, Seksan Prasertkul, Tanet Charoenmuang, Kasian Tejapira and Kengkij Kitirianglarp.





Updated: Reform by the elite and for the elite

11 07 2010

Update: New Mandala is trying to put together alternative profiles of the people involved in the reform panels. Worth a look.

Much of the media has included analysis and reports on the formation and make-up of the so-called reform panels headed by Prawase Wasi and Anand Panyarachun. PPT commented here. The Nation had a useful article a couple of days ago.

While Anand and Prawase as the heads of the National Reform Committee and the Reform Assembly promised a “plan for a better future for the country,” critics pointed out that the “handpicked and appointed” members was claimed to “come from different backgrounds with a vast range of expertise,” there was very limited representation from groups outside the established elite.

For example, yellow-shirt ideologue Chai-Anan Samudavanija was just one of several prominent People’s Alliance for Democracy supporter appointed, along with poet Naovarat Pongpaiboon, who has composed odes to PAD. When it came to representation from “critics,” this came down to well-know figures like political economist Narong Phetprasert, retired academic Nidhi Eowsriwong, monk Phra Paisal Wisalo, historian Srisak Vallibhodhama, former student activist Seksan Prasertkul, and sociologist MR Akin Rabhibatana.

None of these people can be seen to represent the poor or disadvantaged in society. Nor are they uncompromised. For example, Akin has worked for many years at the Crown Property Bureau. Narong has a background in the racist “neo-nationalist” movement of the 1990s.

Anand and Prawase will “gather and analyse facts and information” while also inviting “people to offer their opinions about reforms.” They claim the focus will be on “the problem of social inequality.” PPT suggests that the best way to view these committees are as being an opportunity for the ruling elite – itself not entirely united – to sort out what it is prepared to throw to the masses in order to re-establish its desired state of “social harmony.”

The first meeting of Anand’s panel was greeted by protesters from a group calling itself “Network of Social Activists for Democracy.” They read out a “statement heavily attacking the Anand panel. The statement said that the committee was set up to “buy time” and to act as a government tool in distracting the public attention away from the recent political unrest, in which many people were killed and a thousand others were injured. The statement said participation in the government-initiated reform efforts was tantamount to supporting the government’s legitimacy in the use of force against red-shirt protesters.”