Once again the Thai NGOs have sided with the military-installed royalist government against the demands of hundreds of thousands of pro-democracy Red Shirts. The Red Shirts, who represent millions of ordinary working people in urban and rural areas, have been staging huge protests in Bangkok in recent days. Their demands are for the dissolution of parliament and fresh elections. They want the issue of constitutional reform and government policy to be determined by the electorate in elections. The present Government was installed by the military following a coup in 2006, maneuverings by pro-military judges, violent demonstrations by semi-fascist Yellow Shirts, and the proclamation of a military-inspired Constitution. This Constitution has decreased the democratic space in Thai political society. One example is the fact that the previously elected Senate is now half appointed by the military.
The reaction of military-backed Prime Minister Abhisit was to say that “elections solve nothing” and that he would not dissolve parliament until a long drawn-out process of “constitutional reform was carried out.” His government has been pretending to deal with constitutional reform for over a year with no results. Naturally, the main government party, which has never won anything approaching a majority in elections, has “little faith in elections.” The excuse for the 2006 coup was that the majority of the electorate were “too ill-informed to have the right to vote.” Yet repeated elections since 2001 have shown strong support for the Red Shirt parties.
During the latest negotiations between Red Shirts and the government, the NGOs have backed the military/royalist government’s position, as outlined by Abhisit in the televised negotiations. These NGO groups include NGO-COD, the Consumers’ Network, the Health Network, the Sustainable Agriculture Network, the People Living With AIDS network, and FTA Watch (see Prachatai 29/3/2010). They want constitutional reform before any elections. They see the main threat to democracy coming from “electioneering politicians” rather than the military and the royalist elites. They ask the government to “consider” holding elections in 6 months’ time. This position is nothing new. These NGO groups supported the 2006 coup and had close links with the PAD. They are opposed to representative democracy and are suspicious of voting. They regard ordinary villagers and working folk with contempt. NGO Senator Rosana even referred to the recent Red Shirt protestors as “uncivilised.” The latest NGO position is even more reactionary than the position of many academics who signed an open letter calling for elections in 6 months.
Thai NGOs have long ceased to side with the poor and oppressed in society. They have become an elitist group of professional aid workers.
Giles Ji Ungpakorn is a Thai socialist, currently in exile in the U.K. His latest book Thailand’s Crisis and the Fight for Democracy will be published in April 2010.