In a democratic society, when there is a deep crisis, it is customary for the government to dissolve parliament and call elections in order for the people to decide. This happened in Britain and France after mass strikes and demonstrations in the 1960s and 1970s.
After mass Yellow Shirt protests against the government in Bangkok in 2006, Taksin’s Thai Rak Thai government dissolved parliament and called elections. Yet the Democrat Party and others refused to take part in these elections because they knew they would lose. This led to a military coup. The military wrote their own undemocratic constitution. Fresh elections were held under the control of the military, yet Taksin’s party won an overall majority again. Abhisit’s government is only in power by using two judiciary coups, Yellow Shirt violence at Government House and the airports, and the actions of the army. It has never been elected.
So why are the government and their elite friends refusing to dissolve parliament and call immediate elections? They brush aside this simple Red Shirt demand. Instead they bring armed soldiers and tanks on to the streets to break up an unarmed pro-democracy protest. So far at least 27 people have died this year.
This is what the Thai crisis is all about. It is about Democracy vs. Dictatorship. It is also about equality.
Let us look at the justification for refusing an election. It is the same as the justification for the 2006 coup. Basically the elites claim that the majority of ordinary people in Thailand are too poorly educated and too stupid to be allowed a free vote. They claim that they are all “bought” by Taksin. It is the same old story throughout the history of democratic struggles in the world. The poor are always insulted in this way. Only the privileged classes and middle classes are deemed to be mature enough to vote.
The government and the military have now announced that the entire Red Shirt leadership is “republican” and therefore it is “OK” to shoot everyone. Yes, I am a republican, but the Red Shirt leaders are unfortunately not. Tell a huge lie about the Red Shirts so you can kill them “with legitimacy.” This is what Abhisit means by “democracy.” In Thailand it is now a capital offence to have political views which differ from the royalist elites. This means that no one can tell if most Thais love the King or not. The chances are that millions of ordinary people now hate the monarchy because of what has been done in its name. The tyrants can only react with violence, lies, and censorship. That is a sign of desperation.
So why are the NGOs and academics claiming that both sides in Thailand must “avoid violence” and “take responsibility”? Which side has the guns and tanks? Which side is refusing democratic elections? Would they have said this about the Peoples Power movement in the Philippines? Do they accuse Aung San Suu Kyi and the Buddhist monks of being equally responsible for the violence in Burma? Were the students in Tiananmen Square “responsible” for their own deaths? Why are the NGOs and academics not backing simple demands for democracy?
The answer is that the NGOs and academics do not believe in voting or the democratic process. They have become members of the elite class and are uncomfortable about the self-empowerment of the poor. When the poor fight back, they quickly run to the side of the elites. There was once a time when NGO activists were on the side of the poor and the oppressed against tyranny. Unfortunately, all that has now changed.
Thailand will never be the same. What will happen, no one knows. But this is a revolutionary situation with a potential for Freedom, Democracy, Social Justice . . . or Barbarism.
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. See, also, “Thailand: Seeing through the Mist of Tear Gas” (MRZine, 16 April 2010).