Sunday, April 05, 2009

Rise Of Thai Fascism

What kind of country and society imprisons someone for making comments on the internet? What kind of Foreign Minister encourages armed conflict with neighbouring countries in order to distract attention from internal problems? What kind of government comes to power by a combination of a military coup, two judicial coups together with street violence, bribery and threats? What kind of Prime Minister tells lies to the foreign press and Oxford academics about the state of democracy and the use of the draconian lese majeste laws? What kind of ruling class uses “the love of the King” to justify a military coup, terrorist acts by its supporters at international airports and severe censorship? Yes, Thailand is now firmly among the ranks of tin-pot despotic regimes around the world.

That the Thai ruling elite, the military and the fascist PAD yellow shirts, together with the mis-named Democrat Party, should lock up people like Suwicha Takor for 10 years is not surprising. All that Suwicha did was to post a comment about the Monarchy on the internet. The fascist PAD leaders who used street violence and blocked the airports are still free and unlikely to be put in jail. The Generals who abused their power in a coup are still racking in the money. No one should be surprised that there is no justice in Thai courts. There is no transparency and accountability of any major public institutions, including the Monarchy, the Judiciary, the Government and the Army. The judges have their own version of the lese majeste law to stifle any criticism.

What should surprise and worry us is that almost the entire Thai NGO movement, almost the entirety of Thai academia and all the mainstream media have kept silent, or worse, supported this destruction of free speech and democracy. And what should anger us also, is that Amnesty International has refused to do anything of substance to defend prisoners of conscience in Thailand.

The NGO movement turned its back on “politics” and the primacy of mass movements in the 1980s. Instead they embraced “lobby politics”. First they loved-up to the Thai Rak Thai government. Then, when they were wrong-footed by the government’s pro-poor policies that proved that the NGOs had only been “playing” at development, they rushed over to love-up to the conservative Royalists. Such an about face was only possible by ignoring politics, international lessons and any theory. NGO leaders argued that they were the true activists, not book worms or theoreticians. This is explains why they can justify to themselves the support for the 2006 coup and why they have failed to defend democracy since. Instead of bothering to analyse the political situation, they beat a path to lobby generals, governments of every shade and anyone who has power.

The academics are even worse. For decades they have shunned political debate, preferring personal squabbles to principled arguments. No one is ever forced to justify or argue for their beliefs. On the occasion when papers are written, they are descriptive and ignore work by those who pose awkward questions. So when they defended their Middle-Class interests and supported the 2006 coup, they felt no need for a serious explanation other than to say that the poor “did not understand democracy”. This un-academic behaviour has rich rewards. Many have extra earnings from collaborating with the ruling elites.

The Thai conservative elite are playing a dangerous game. They have started a civil war between the people (now represented by the Red Shirts) and the Yellow-shirted Royalists. Early in 2006 they decided that they would use extra-Constitutional means to get rid of an elected government. Their justification was the “corruption” and “abuse of power” by the Thai Rak Thai Prime Minister Taksin Shinawat. While there is much to criticise in the actions of Taksin and Thai Rak Thai, it must also be said that the conservative elites, including the Monarchy, have always been corrupt and abused their power. What they didn’t like was that someone else might be getting more powerful than them through the democratic process.

These elites have for decades ruled Thailand from behind the scenes as if it were their own personal fiefdom. A poisonous patron client network draws in new recruits to this “elite feeding trough” where fortunes are to be made at the expense of the hard-working poor. This vast parasitic organism maintains its legitimacy by claiming that Thailand has an Absolute Monarchy, where the King is an all-powerful god. Yet the King is weak and has no “character” and his power is a fiction. .Army generals, politicians, businessmen and privy councillors prostrate themselves on the ground and pay homage to the “powerful” king, while exercising the real power in the land and racking in the profits. But the King is very old and his son is hated, feared or viewed with contempt. Where will the elite’s new meal ticket come from when the King dies?

Like the story of “the Emperor’s New Clothes”, the elites relied on telling the Thai population (and maybe even the King), a pack of lies in order to promote their own agenda. The King is a God! The King is all powerful! We serve the King! And the lese majeste law and other authoritarian measures are used to back up these lies. But the boy has already spoken! Most people in Thailand can see that the Emperor has no clothes! The King hasn’t “held together Thai society”. He hasn’t created justice and equality and he has sided in public with the military and the anti-democrats throughout his reign.

But the process of destroying the corrupt, privileged and authoritarian network around the Monarchy will take time. People like Suwicha Takor, Da torpido, Boonyuen Prasertying and many others will suffer in jail. The Red Shirts will have to mobilise and organise on a long-term basis. Meanwhile, politicians like Taksin, and many others, are still clinging to Royalist ideas, claiming to be “loyal subjects” of the King, while attacking privy councillors for planning the coup. Many Red Shirts are restless and want to go much further in order to build Democracy and Social Justice.

We must not be afraid anymore. But that is easier for me to say from the safety of Britain! We must all be the little boy who says what he sees as the Emperor walks past naked. Why should we, the Thai people, be “loyal subjects of the King”? In a democratic and equal society the King should be loyal to us. If he or any future Monarch is not prepared to listen to the people, respect the people as his master, and defend democracy, then we definitely need a republic.
3 April 2009 by Associate Professor Giles Ji Ungpakorn

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