Class, gender, protest

20 07 2021

Eurasia ReviewIf readers haven’t already seen them, we suggest reading to recent articles at Eurasia Review, considering aspects of class and gender in Thailand in an era of virus and political protest. They are relatively long articles, so we just preview them here.

Eurasia Review’s Murray Hunter observes:

Thailand’s class divisions have dramatically widened during the Covid-19 pandemic. With students returning to the streets in protest, even with tight crowd restrictions in place, after a three-month hiatus during the pandemic, the Prayuth Chan-ocha regime is faltering in public support and perceived competence to handle a dramatic linear increase in case numbers.

He adds that:

With the prime minister and his entourage seen not obeying rules to wear masks at all times during the opening of the Phuket “sandbox”, on July 1, a scheme to bring back foreign tourists to Thailand, the covid pandemic has become the symbol of a great class divide.

Unemployment, poverty and inequality have all increased. Double standards are common:

The Prayuth government has attempted to balance economic considerations and public health in making decisions about restrictions. Large manufacturing concerns have not been under any restrictions during the pandemic, even though small and service businesses have been restricted, with many ordered to close, last year for a number of months on end. Many provincial hotels were forced to shutdown for months, with many never reopening….

The escalating pandemic in Thailand has focused attention of the double standards applicable to the elite in society and the others. This has been very evident in the vaccine rollout. The elite and privileged have been able to secure a vaccination before many of the vulnerable in society. While people have been suffering, the grounds and infrastructure of the [king’s] grand palace complex in central Bangkok has been enlarged, to become a city within a city.

The result of all of this is that “Thailand is now in a much deeper era of class division, where the poor have become poorer, over the duration of the pandemic.”

The Eurasia Review’s other piece is on feminism and protest in Thailand, authored by Wichuta Teeratanabodee. She notes that the criticism of royalism “has set this group of protestors apart from its predecessors.” It is a “youth movement” and a “network of many groups — including feminists, LGBTQ+ people, people with disabilities, and environmental activists in addition to students.” Wichuta observes:

The conspicuous roles of young women in this ongoing wave of protests have put them in the spotlight…. Unlike in previous rallies, which were often led by males, women are now taking on leadership roles to call for democracy. Simultaneously, they have shared stories of women’s struggles in Thai society, focusing particularly on women’s status in politics — which has worsened markedly since the 2014 coup…. [F]eminists in the pro-democracy protests see themselves fighting a two-front war. On one front they demand democracy and an end to the current authoritarian regime, and on another, they fight for gender equality against fellow pro-democracy protestors who do not support feminist objectives….

Feminist and non-feminist protestors in today’s Thailand have a common enemy – the authoritarian regime, which — one prominent activist scholar contends —  has shown “no signs of …willingness to negotiate with democracy”….

We recommend both articles.

Updated: Amartya Sen on Thailand

18 12 2010

In December 2010:

Speaking on the topic of “Justice and the Social Gap” at the closing ceremony of the third National Health Assembly yesterday, … [Nobel laureate Amartya] Sen said significant inequalities between regions, classes, genders, religions, communities and health are all sources of social discontent facing the country.

“My list of the sources of social gaps is obviously not exhaustive. The basic point to make here is we have to put our heads together and identify what can be and often are sources of inequality that may be particularly important for a particular country,” he said.


Inequality is not only bad in itself but it also contributes to a reduction in social cohesion and unity. It gives birth to aggressive discontent…. Has the division between the privileged and underprivileged been reduced? I don’t know. Certainly there are a lot of grievances.

Hanging out with authoritarian leaders: Sen with Singapore's George Yeo

In July 2010:

Nobel economist Amartya Sen says foreign media describing Thailand’s politics as class warfare are oversimplifying a complex problem….

Some foreign media have reported the protests as being between the rural poor and urban middle class.

But Indian-born economist and Nobel laureate Amartya Sen says calling the crisis ‘class warfare’ is an ‘oversimplification’ of the problem.

“To describe the whole thing as a class war between the rich and poor of a very complex problem – I could not begin to take that as a good way of describing it,” he said. “While I was skeptical of basically the foreign news coverage, the BBC as well as CNN and it also includes the New York Times, I have to say that I knew well enough both about Thailand and about conflict in general to regard this to be hardly a possible explanation, to say it is class war.”

Oh, we get it… it is not just about class but about inequality, regional disparity, classes, gender, religion [we assume he means for the southern conflict, but look at the incomes data there too], and so on. As far as PPT can discern, Sen is telling a story of class-based politics in Thailand but refusing, as many economists with Nobel prizes do, that class can’t be a driving factor in historical and political development.

And we can’t neglect this point in his Bangkok Post interview: “Thailand is a democracy. There are few democracies in the world where protesters can occupy the centre of the town without being moved out. Thailand does not get enough credit for tolerating that.” We take it that the good professor missed the crackdown by the government that saw at least 92 killed and several thousand injured. Or maybe he just forgot. No he didn’t, he knows, he just wants the Abhisit Vejjajiva regime to get credit for everything but the killing.

Well at least he keeps getting invited back to Thailand by royalists who love having the aura of a Nobel laureate around to speak for them.

Update: A wag suggests we change our title to: Amartya for the amart. It sounds appropriate to us. Another reader asks that PPT say a little more on class. Official statistics and even World Bank analysis show very clearly that inequality in income and wealth and regional disparities are all related to the state’s proxies for class. Those who have least are overwhelmingly in the north and northeast, engage in agriculture, have no land or small plots. The most recent UNDP report on Thailand (a 6MB download) has much of the official data that can be easily read into class categories.

On class and political struggle

16 10 2010

Readers might remember a bit of a kerfuffle around the time of the red shirt demonstrations in March-May over “class warfare” in Thailand. Former leftist and now Democrat Party deputy leader, Kraisak Choonhavan, famously argued against the red shirts having anything to do with class. Writing in May, he was ticked off that the “international media has largely portrayed the protracted protests in Bangkok this past month as a class struggle between rich urban elites and a poor, neglected rural mass.” That perspective was taken up by several in government.

However, it is interesting that government actions betray a view that corruption (double standards?), inequality and difficult rural conditions play a major role in political mobilization. Most recently, The Nation has this conclusion by a government investigation: “In its report, the working group led by PM’s Office Minister Satit Wongnongtaey concluded that the government should focus on solving social and economic inequality, corruption and shortage of land for agricultural and residential purposes, in addition to unfair income levels and high cost of living of poorer people.”

Korn on class

19 08 2010

Finance Minister Korn Chatikavanij was recently interviewed in Newsweek. Pretty mundane stuff, but two selections caught PPT’s eye.

Towards the end of the interview, Korn is asked: “How will your government address the underlying social and economic problems brought to light by the so-called red-shirt protesters?”

He responds, stating inter alia: “A second approach is addressing the issues that were raised: social inequality and poverty, issues that the government takes very seriously. For instance, we are working to refinance all loan-shark debt, which has been a cancer in our system. We’ve refinanced over 400,000 individual accounts. We need to do more of this and make people realize the government makes them a priority. They don’t need to protest.”

He seems to be saying that people protested because of economic issues – poverty, inequality, loan sharking. But then the interviewer asks: “The Western narrative of the protests this spring was that it was a class struggle between urban and rural Thais. Is this accurate?” Confusing given Korn’s statement above, he answers this racist question by saying: “I don’t believe the Western narrative is correct. There is a genuine income-distribution gap. There are genuine differences in people’s access to resources. All of these need to be addressed as quickly as we can. Arguably this government has done more for the poor than any recent government [sic.]. The big truth is these inequalities do exist, but the big lie was that this was what the conflict was about. It wasn’t. The conflict was really [deposed prime minister] Thaksin Shinawatra and his supporters wanting to regain power, wanting to overturn the corruption conviction against him, and wanting to get back his ill-gotten assets.”

So why did Korn initially say that inequality, poverty and so on were economic issues “that were raised” by the red shirt protests? He seems to have is argument confused. But he gets back on the royalist track when when he adds: “What we’re really facing is a small group of instigators trying to overthrow the core pillars of Thailand.” PPT presumes he means the monarchy. Or does the Democrat Party now rank as a “core pillar”?

Racism: PPT calls this a racist question because there’s nothing peculiarly Western about the discussion of class struggle in Thailand. Making it a “Western” construction is demeaning of Thais (amongst others). Worse, Korn unambiguously accepts the racist construction when he knows that many Thais, including some close to his government, have had the same narrative. He says it himself, before backtracking.

What we want you to believe

11 05 2010

The responses from Ministry of Foreign Affairs to critical articles about the monarchy and the Abhisit Vejjajiva government are getting pretty standardized, but this one from Thana Duangratana, the Thai Ambassador in Kuala Lumpur to the New Straits Times (10 May 2010) is of some interest.

Thana is responding rather belatedly to the article by Sin-Ming Shaw, which got considerable international syndication. PPT posted on it here. Thana states that the article “contains a number of misunderstandings that make his analysis flawed.”

The first misunderstanding has to do with – no big suprise here – “the role of the palace.” The usual blather is presented including the above politics mantra and the idea that it is nasty unnamed others who draw the palace into the political fray. We at PPT assume that this group of nasty others must now include General Prem Tinsulanonda, the President of the Privy Council for his political interventions in recent years. But then again he may be being told to intervene….

The second point is a little less predictable: “discussing the monarchy is certainly not taboo. Thailand’s so-called lese majeste law has never been an obstacle to discussions, particularly academic ones, on the monarchy…. Indeed, only two years ago, at the 10th International Conference on Thai Studies held in Bangkok, lively discussions took place about the monarchy and its role in Thai society.”

Now this is interesting, for the ICTS was not devoid of conflict. Yes, it took place, but only through the glare of international attention and stoic attention to attempts to censor or pressure by Thai academics. Giles Ji Ungpakorn is an academic who published the book A coup for the Rich and found that he was charged with lese majeste. Many would consider Sulak Sivaraksa an academic and intellectual commentator and he has been charged several times. Thanapol Eawsakul edits Fah Diew Kan which is used and read by many academics. He currently faces two charges/accusations of lese majeste. Very few academics are willing to discuss the monarchy openly for fear of lese majeste charges. PPT thinks the ambassador and the bosses in Bangkok are selective in their historical memory.

The third point is to deny that there is any element of class struggle “or urban-rural division…”. The current government line on this is to simply note that “many other democracies [have] economic and social disparities” and that all Thai governments face this problem. Mirroring Kraisak Choonhavan‘s recent line, the ambassador says a “more thorough study of its welfare-oriented policy is recommended for those who believe the government is not pro-poor.” PPT has already commented on this. There are now a plethora of yellow-shirted semi-serious emails circulating claiming the same thing.

Fourth, the Ambassador points to an error in the Shaw article, where it is stated that the red shirts: “demand that the government dissolve the current legislature immediately, and that Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva resign because he was never elected and is viewed as a front man for the traditional anti-Thaksin monied groups.”

Of course, Abhisit was elected to parliament. However, what Shaw was presumably pointing to was the tawdry manner in which Abhisit was catapulted to the premier’s chair and his party to government, in coalition with breakaway members of the (court dissolved) People’s Power Party in a deal brokered by the military, some business interests and the palace. To say, as the Ambassador does, that Abhisit “was voted prime minister by the majority of the House of Representatives in the same manner and by exactly the same house as his two predecessors” is a misrepresentation.

Abhsit’s two predecessors were made prime minister in quite different circumstances. Samak Sundaravej was leader of the largest party to come out of the 2007 election. His successor, Somchai Wongsawat, was elected to the leadership by his party – still by far the largest in parliament – after Samak was disqualified in the bizarre cooking case. Abhisit needed non-stop demonstrations by his PAD allies, including the occupation of Government House and Bangkok’s two airports, a shonky court case dissolving the PPP, and a behind closed door deal brokered by the abovementioned extra-parliamentary forces to get levered into government.

Fifth, the Ambassador claims that “the legal process on certain cases — including those outstanding against both the so-called ‘Yellow Shirts’ and ‘Red Shirts’ — takes time [and] should not be construed as impunity. The judicial system in Thailand is independent. How quickly each case proceeds depends largely on its complexity.” This is another misrepresentation. As the abovementioned case that dissolved PPP, the earlier case dissolving the Thai Rak Thai Party and the decision to declare the April 2006 election void indicate, politicized decision-making is a trait of the judiciary. They also show that the courts can move fast when they want to.

The sixth point Thana makes refers to the rise of civil society, where the Ambassador reminds Shaw that it was “civil society” that was responsible for rallying “against former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, holding him and other public officers to a higher standard of accountability and propriety.” It is difficult to know what Thana means here. For one thing, it is often said that civil society was intimidated and repressed under Thaksin. Perhaps he refers to the People’s Alliance for Democracy, which was often violent and decidedly uncivil in their actions? PPT wonders if he would also include the red shirts as a part of civil society?

The Democrat Party and its supporters are desperately trying to win back the international support that they have lost. It seems clear, however, that the international media and foreign governments are unlikely to see Thailand’s political crisis and its current government in the terms Abhisit and his spin doctors prefer. However, gross exaggeration, misrepresentation and lies are unlikely to be appreciated.

Updated: Ji Ungpakorn on the end of red shirt protests

11 05 2010

As usual, because his posts are blocked by the government censors in Thailand, PPT re-posts this comment by Ji Ungpakorn. On the end of the protest, also see this report. Update: PPT also recommends an article in the New York Times that reveals some of the debates, splits and pressures on the red shirt side.

Red Shirt Protests to end soon. What has been achieved?

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Red Shirt protests in Bangkok, which started in mid-March are about to be wound up. The leaders have accepted a compromise with the military-backed Abhisit government. Elections will not be held immediately, but on 14th November. Earlier Abihist had indicated an election in February 2011 at the earliest.

It is unclear whether the blanket censorship will be lifted. One clear demand that the Red Shirt leaders are expecting is that the Red Shirt TV channel (People Channel TV) will be allowed back on air. It is unclear whether websites like Prachatai will be unblocked. Another demand is that the law be applied equally to all. The Government claims that tomorrow the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister will “surrender” to the police regarding charges of murdering citizens back on 10th April. But it is unclear whether any real charges will be filed against them.

Nothing has been said about the political prisoners, both those in jail for lese majeste and those in jail for blocking roads during the recent protest.

What have the Red Shirts achieved?

1. The Red Shirts have shown that they are a genuine mass movement for Democracy made up of ordinary working people in rural and urban areas. They have shown that the crisis is about CLASS. They have shown that the Red Shirts are a grass roots movement which will not disappear easily.

2. The Red Shirts have exposed the real and bloody nature of the military-backed Government which can only stay in power through repression and blanket censorship.

3. The struggle of the Red Shirts has turned ordinary people into leaders; into internet and media experts who can get around censorship in order to spread their message. In the process of struggle they have thrown off the myths and mind fetters about the Monarchy. As a result, the Monarchy appears to be in terminal crisis. If this is really so, it will seriously weaken the power of the army.

4. They have stood up to the army and shown that it is not a simple matter to just shoot down pro-democracy demonstrators. In the process they have caused splits in the police force and lower ranks of the army.

5. They have forced the Government to speed up elections.

But this is a compromise. It is not the end of the shady dictatorship of the army and the elites which stands behind the present Government. It will disappoint many.

However, it is difficult to see how the Red Shirts could have fought on at this present stage without new strategies.

The important question is how they will organise and fight in the future. If the Red Shirts are to strengthen themselves they have to organise among the trade unions in order to win strike action. They have to make serious efforts to build networks among army recruits and they have to develop a clear political platform for Puea Thai Party in order to win the hearts and minds of ordinary workers and farmers. They should advocate a Welfare State, improved benefits for workers, a real peace process for the South, genuine reform of the media and the justice system. They must stand against censorship and repressive laws. No one can just leave these matters in the hands of the leadership. Red Shirt local groups need to elect representatives who can be part of a progressive grass roots leadership in order to lead the struggle forward. Women should make up a significant proportion of this leadership.

Only these things would make a difference between a shoddy compromise and a real step forward to Freedom, Democracy and Social Justice.

Class, fear and propaganda

20 03 2010

PPT has for some time been posting about the way the mainstream media has been pro-government and, in substantial parts, essentially yellow-shirted in its biased reporting. That has now changed. Large parts of the media are now simply acting as the tools of the military-backed and palace-supported government fronted by Abhisit Vejjajiva.

Part of the reason for this is a ratcheting up of the fear of the red shirt rallying that is now felt by the government and its supporters. So fearful have they become, that they have allowed the red shirt agenda to become the agenda. Some of this is made clear in a Bangkok Post (20 March 2010) report that tells of Prime Minister Abhisit’s supposed “offensive to counter ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s daily video-link where he encourages people to join the red shirt rallies.”

Abhisit got together a group of local media and broadcast in Thai for a substantial time yesterday (Friday). On other channels, commentators made exactly the same points that Abhisit made. In other words, this was a concerted media propaganda campaign organized by and for the government.

Abhisit also spoke to Al Jazeera, the BBC and CNN. (PPT has yet to see the latter international interviews/reports, but we sat through the Thai versions). Abhisit was agitated, spoke very rapidly and seemed quite disturbed by the events on the streets and by the developing class warfare discourse. Another campaign is under way attacking the red shirt blood sacrifice.

The Post claims that Abhisit wanted to attack “Thaksin’s repeated messages that prai [phrai], or proletariat, are oppressed by the elite and that Thaksin wanted to fight for the proletariat…”. In a strict sense, the phrai are not the proletariat, and Thaksin and others use the term more to mean the “commoners” who face the aristocrats at the center of the amart. Other outlets were more accurate in simply using the terms “amart” and “phrai.”

Abhisit is reported as saying: “Pol Lt Col Thaksin used to be an extremely rich prime minister. Is he an elite or one of the proletariat? This morning I saw a photograph in Matichon newspaper picturing where demonstrators were lying down…”. He continued to say he saw a “photograph of Pol Col Thaksin and his children overseas. Do these represent the elite and the proletariat?” Abhisit was trying to capture a contrast between Thaksin and his supporters, but it is meaningless to people who see themselves sacrificing something for change (and, in many cases, for Thaksin).

Then Abhisit started to sound like an American Republican by damning “class war,” saying “Thaksin should not speak in a way that could create hatred between the rich and poor. Society would be fine as long as people could do their jobs lawfully and had opportunities and rules that everyone respected. Mr Abhisit warned that attempts to divide society and incite people to topple the system were dangerous.”

That seems to be the point. The red shirts have hit on a deeply felt resentment of power and privilege, and the conservative establishment is spitting mad. Few red shirts or any of their supporters is going to seriously buy into an argument that society “would be fine as long as people could do their jobs.” This is the pampered elite speaking to the people they exploit.

Abhisit “explained” – pleaded and dissembled might be the correct terms here – that Thailand no longer had a proletariat and an elite. He said: “All Thai people are equal in terms of freedom but they are unequal in opportunities and his government is trying and doing more than other governments to solve this inequality.” He claimed that “his government was doing what other governments dared not do.” Most red shirts would just laugh at this or get angry. Only this week Abhisit personally vetoed a proposal for the government to raise the already low rice price by a measly 200 baht a ton. Symbolically that is a telling move.

The Nation (20 March 2010) adds to this story, saying that Abhisit asked: “Is Thaksin an ammart or a phrai? He was prime minister and super-rich.” Does Abhisit really think that red shirt supporters don’t know that Thaksin was rich? We’ll forget the historical examples of wealthy people supporting various people’s struggles, but Abhisit seems to live in a different world.

He demonstrated this when he claimed: “Inequality is normal in any society, but it should not be used to incite hatred in society…”. Well, yes, but the downtrodden don’t want to see inequality justified, and when the premier asks “whether Thaksin had tried to solve the problem of inequality between ammart and phrai while serving as prime minister between 2001 and 2006,” most red shirts would claim that he did more than anyone before him and certainly any leader since. That’s one of the reasons why Thaksin continues to be supported; he was seen as trying to do something.

The media propaganda campaign for the Abhisit government is also shown in the Bangkok Post’s (20 March 2010) report that Saturday’s red shirt 46km caravan around Bangkok will cause traffic chaos as “30,000 protesters” join in. Maybe 30,000 will join the drive around Bangkok, but having been to the rally site at Rajadamnoen again last night, PPT was staggered by how many protesters were there.

PPT walked around a very large area where the protesters are camped out and then up to Pan Fah Bridge and down to the Democracy Monument. Our estimate is 50,000 to 75,000 people were there. We were very surprised for having been limited to local media for the last few days, PPT expected a hugely diminished crowd. Some media reports were of 10,000 protesters left. Looking at the crowd from the apex of the Pan Fah Bridge, it was a huge sea of red. At the same time, many screens have been set up around the area where the rally is going on, and so there are groups numbering from tens to hundreds sitting in front of the screens, some of them a considerable distance from the main rally site. In addition, there were smaller stages, with various groups talking to small crowds. Thousands of other red shirts camped out all over the area, sleeping, eating, singing and shopping.

The latter might seem odd, but the mushrooming of vendors selling everything from Marxist-Leninist literature to mosquito nets to VCDs and shoes and, of course, food (in remarkable regional variety) is something PPT wasn’t expecting. The atmosphere is laid-back – indeed, quite literally as red shirts seem to have purchased deck chairs and now make themselves comfortable for the night time talks. People there seem happy and friendly. Also noticeable was the number of couples with kids arriving for the evening and small groups of workers arriving as they finish their shifts. Groups of red shirts were still arriving at 10.30 p.m. Traffic in the area was light but flowing easily. Back up in the Sukhumvit, the traffic was horrendous, even at 11 p.m. That’s the elite partying on a Friday night.

It is remarkable how inaccurate the reporting from the red shirt rally is. As PPT left the rally, we ran into an outside broadcast van for Thai Television, so we asked the reporter there why the reporting from the rally was like this. She might have felt threatened by the accusation, but said that was what “the bosses” ordered. PPT left it at that.

To finish this post, we point to the The Nation’s (20 March 2010) story where it is stated: “Fearing the urban middle-class Bangkokians would either join the red shirts today or confront them, Bangkok Governor MR Sukhumbhand Paribatra has advised people to stay at home while the demonstrators march through the capital.” Televison commentators keep telling people to stay at home. Based on experiences of the past few days, they really do fear that the support for the red shirts will be huge. That said, recalling events in 1975 and 1976, marches like this, even if motorized, offer opportunities for opposed forces to attack.

More on class

20 03 2010

Pravit Rojanaphruk writing at Prachatai (18 March 2010) has comments on “class war”. He begins by noting that the “mainstream mass media has been so busy blasting Thaksin Shinawatra for being the cause of all political evil that it has failed to see the seeds of the class struggle that have been germinating since the 2006 coup.” PPT agrees and it is clear that the red shirt tactics of blood sacrifice and class warfare have scared the government and its supporters.

Pravit notes that Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban has expressed concern about talk of a class war. Today (Friday), public television has been drenched by anti-red shirt propaganda and slabs of speech and interview with a quite agitated Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva. They have clearly been spooked by a number of the red shirt activities. One example is seen in the spot that suddenly appeared under the heading “How’d you like to have blood poured on your place?” In the spot, “average” people are asked to comment on the red shirt’s “blood sacrifice,” with the most disturbing comment being that those who did this “are not Thai.”

Some of Abhisit’s talk on television has running footers supposedly showing SMS messages sent in, some of them in English. All were positive. PPT sent one that said: “You seem overly agitated and worried.” It didn’t appear.

Pravit observes that the discussion of class exploitation and unequal political voice has been growing among the red-shirt protesters, most of whom are dirt poor with little or no formal education. Well-to-do Bangkokians only have to see the welcome given by the capital’s working class to their red-shirt counterparts to recognise this.” True, but if they are watching and reading mainstream media, they’ll know nothing of it.

Just as PPT has observed in recent posts, Pravit notes that in red shirt “songs, grievances and angst” it is all “about class inequality as well as socio-economic and political disparity. The sense of injustice and inequality in Thai politics and society is real and has struck a chord with many in the Bangkok working and lower middle-class…”. Pravit makes this important point: “The point is not whether the number of protesters is more or less than 100,000, because there are enough red-shirt sympathisers upcountry and in the slums of Bangkok. And judging by yesterday’s motorcade the poor are a force to be reckoned with even if they are going to disperse in the next few days. What will not disappear though is that, with or without Thaksin, there is growing recognition that the poor are oppressed and exploited, and their demands for greater socio-political and economic equality have gone unheeded by many in the mainstream mass media, which continues writing columns lambasting Thaksin.

And this is equally perceptive: “The level of disdain and bias among the educated middle-class and the elite, mostly in Bangkok, is appalling. They’re not just ignorant about the plight of the poor, but are indifferent to it. The level of real contact between the middle-class and the elite with the poor is mostly superficial and confined to relationships where the latter are servants and subordinates. The middle-class and elite feel that they are entitled to being superior and that the poor should know their place in life. Therefore, when the poor continue supporting Thaksin, many of the well-off folk in Bangkok have no problems supporting a military coup.” Pravit, you’ve done it again. Absolutely spot on.

Pravit finishes by arguing that it is the “upper echelons of society [that] have been screwing-up Thailand for the past many decades” and suggests that it “might be fair for the poor to now say: ‘Enough is enough’, and seek a chance to run or ruin this country…”. This phrase “enough is enough” was a neat little slogan on red shirt placards that PPT saw last Sunday.

We said these are interesting times. Now with privilege and position apparently being directly challenged, they are again dangerous times. This “establishment” has show time and again its willingness to protect its interests using draconian means.

Ji on the verdict

1 03 2010

PPT reproduces in full the response of Ji Ungpakorn to the verdict on Thaksin’s assets.  For the Thai version, see  “ยึดให้หมด! ทั้งวังทั้งหุ้นทั้งเพชร ยึดยึด ยึดให้หมด!!”


Seize it all!! The palaces, the shares, the diamonds, all the ill-gotten gains!

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

I don’t shed any tears about Taksin’s billions being seized. I will advocate that the billions of ill-gotten gains in the hands of the Thai rich: the politicians in this government, the generals, the businessmen and businesswomen and of course the entire royal family and all their hangers-on, shall have to be seized in the future. The rich do not have the right to accumulate wealth on the backs of the majority of hard working Thais.

No public figures, including the King and the generals, or politicians, should hold shares or have special interests in business. This always leads to corruption. Just think about the corrupt benefits which the politicians around George Bush enjoyed as a result of the illegal war in Iraq. So if Taksin gained from the policies of his government (and that has to be proved in a real court, not a Thai kangaroo court), then he is no different from George Bush or the other business oriented politicians in the West. Conservative politicians who shackle trade union rights and force the public to face cuts and job losses because of what their mates in the banks did, are also acting in their own interests. If guilty, should they be punished? Yes!, certainly.  All of them. But is it OK to stage a military coup against them so that another faction of the corrupt rich take power?

There is one difference between the corruption of politicians and that of kings and generals. In a democracy we can throw the politicians out at election time and this is an even better standard of public scrutiny than leaving it to biased judges. The kings and generals are not subject to such public scrutiny, however. So, lets get rid of all private business interests in society and tax the rich until they are no longer richer than the general public. And lets have all public positions subject to election and instant recall.

Pumipon has just left hospital for his palace. In my view it was timed to try to turn the public interest and media away from the Taksin case and promote the King instead. The bombs outside Bangkok Bank were also the work of those wishing to libel the red shirts. All displacement activities.

Pumipon has deteriorations in his brain function, like most elderly people and his hospital stay was genuine. His pneumonia and fevers were likely to be a result of infections from not being able to swallow food properly. His lungs got infected. He cannot sit up straight or walk properly even now. His speech is even more slurred and incoherent than before. As such he has become a more useful tool of the army and the conservatives. He was “urged” to be seen to talk to the judges, so that the conservatives could pretend that the King “ordered” their verdict. He was “asked” to leave hospital on a day when it would suit the conservatives. He was photographed in September 2006 with the junta generals. But who was telling whom what to do?

There are of course a number of questions about Pumipon’s hospital stay. Who paid for it? He is the richest man in Thailand. Did he pay out of his own pocket? Why did he stay so long? Remember that the conservative royalists kept saying that poor villagers went to the doctor “more than was necessary” after Thai Rak Thai’s 30 baht health care scheme was introduced? Was Pumipon in hospital at the expense of the nation for longer than was necessary? He left hospital with his dog leading the way. Is it against health regulations to allow a dog into a public hospital? Or is the dog “semi-divine” too?

I say….Seize it all!! The palaces, the shares, the diamonds, all the ill-gotten gains!

Equality matters

10 05 2009

The recent book by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett entitled The spirit level: Why more equal societies almost always do better, and published by Penguin Books in 2009, has created considerable interest.

PPT thought that readers might be interested in the book. While it is about the advanced economies and about economic opportunities, but it provides a timely message for the middle classes and the rich, even in Thailand, who oppose the very idea of political and economic opportunities for the poor.

The Spirit Level argues that in the advanced economies that have large income disparities, it is not just the poor who suffer. In fact, the deleterious impact is society-wide. That makes the argument for equality more than a plea for fairness. Rather it is a warning to the rich and the middle classes that they will end up worse off unless they ensure that the poorer members of the society are doing well.

The implication is that if the poor are doing well, the middle classes and the rich are less threatened and less burdened by the costs of managing a highly unequal society.

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