The Thai NGO Coordinating committee (NGO-COD) issued a statement on 20th May 2010 about the violence in Bangkok. The statement blamed both the government and the UDD Red Shirts for the deaths. This is despite the fact that the UDD protestors were unarmed and the government used tanks, snipers and weapons of war against the protestors. Eighty-eight civilians died at the hands of the army. The NGO-COD makes no mention of the draconian censorship at the hands of the government. The UDD were calling for democratic elections because the Abhisit government was never elected and is only in power because of the military. The NGO-COD clearly do not see that a pro-democracy protest is legitimate.
It is interesting to look at a number of statements made by the NGO-COD about the violent Yellow Shirt PAD protests throughout 2008. These protests were aimed at toppling a democratically elected government and bringing about a restriction of voting rights among the general population. In May, June, and September 2008, Pairot Polpet, as NGO-COD chairperson, issued statements calling for the elected Palang Prachachon government to respect the right of the PAD to “peaceful protest.” In June 2008, the NGO-COD called on the government to resign. Elected PAD and NGO Senator Rosana Tositrakul stated that the government had no right to disperse the PAD protestors who had seized Government House. In May 2010 Rosana urged the Abhisit government to use force to disperse the Red Shirts. It is important to note that in 2008 the elected Palang Prachachon government did not use the army or live ammunition on the PAD. Police misuse of teargas, may, however, have caused one PAD death outside parliament in October 2008. Other PAD deaths were accidents caused by the PAD’s homemade bombs.
Later, after the Democrats had been maneuvered into power by the army and PAD, in April 2009, the NGO-COD called on the Red Shirts to stop “violent protests” against the new government. They called on the Democrat government to “only use legal means to disperse protestors.” One day later, the army and the government used live ammunition to disperse the Red Shirts, killing and injuring many. An NGO-COD statement a week later did not call on the government to resign. The Consumers’ Association, AIDS networks, and the Slum Dwellers group, under the leadership of Nimit Tienudom and Saree Ongsomwang, went further and denounced the Red Shirt protests on 13th April 2009, but not the actions of the government. A month later, on 8th May 2009, the northern section of the NGO-COD issued a statement about the Thai political crisis. This statement claimed that the root cause of the crisis was the way that “politicians had been able to manipulate the system for their own benefit.” There was not one single mention of the role of the army in destroying Democracy. Four days earlier, Pairot Polpet, the chairperson of the NGO-COD, joined a military-sponsored event in front of the statue of King Rama 6th, called “Stop Harming Thailand.” Despite its claim to be about “peace,” the event was aimed at opposing further mass protests by Red Shirts. No such activity had ever been organized at the time when armed PAD thugs roamed the streets and shut down the two international airports.
The NGOs in Thailand are a disgrace and cannot be regarded as a progressive force or part of any democratizing civil society.
Giles Ji Ungpakorn is a Thai socialist, currently in exile in the U.K. See, also, C.P. Chandrasekhar and Jayati Ghosh, “Thailand: Economic Background to Political Crisis” (MRZine, 21 April 2010).