The global community should support those battling extremism in Thailand

It’s time for the global community of democrats - whether on the left or the right - to stand shoulder to shoulder with those battling extremism in Thailand.

Andrew Spooner is a London-based blogger who writes regularly on Thai politics

Mention Thailand and most people will think of beaches, backpackers, Buddhism and its famous tourism industry. But you can bet as British tourists pack their sun-cream and beach-towels for a Winter holiday they won’t be thinking of one particular ‘F’ word – fascism.

Yet, last week, amidst the worst violence Thailand has witnessed in several years, the word ‘fascism‘ was uttered by a leading group of progressive Thai thinkers and academics.

In the shadow of protests led by Suthep Thuagsuban, a former ‘Democrat’ party deputy prime minister who is tainted not only with highly credible claims of corruption dating back to the 1990s, but who is also awaiting to be indicted for the murder of pro-democracy protesters in 2010, these thinkers/academics had come together to form the Alliance For the Defence of Democracy (AFDD).

Suthep, who resigned from the Democrat Party only last month, is still closely allied to his former boss and former PM, the present Democrat Party leader, Abhisit Vejjajiva (Abhisit, who is also a British citizen and Old Etonian, is a close friend of London Mayor, Boris Johnson), who was himself indicted for the 2010 murders only last week.

It is quite easy to see how the AFDD came to use the ‘F’ word. Suthep’s People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) protest movement is made up of senior Democrat Party figures, Thai aristocrats, the super-rich and Bangkok’s middle classes all of whom are desperate to cling onto the status and power they’ve enjoyed for so long.

The PDRC’s avowed programme has morphed from preventing a controversial amnesty bill – the bill was dropped in mid-November – through to its present aim of ‘stopping’ the February 2014 general election called by the 2011 general election-landslide-winning Thai PM, Yingluck Shinawtra.

Instead the PDRC is seeking to impose a ‘People’s Council‘ – a wholly appointed body drawn from Thailand’s elite – on the country in order to enact what the PDRC calls ‘reforms’. These reforms include, among various vague proposals to ‘stop corruption’, forbidding what the PDRC calls Yingluck’s ‘populist policies’ or, more accurately, what The Economist calls good old-fashioned Keynesian economics‘.

In an article in the Bangkok Post entitled ‘Academics brand people’s council ‘fascism‘, the AFDD were damning in their analysis of the PDRC. The Post quoted Piyabut Saengkanokkul, an AFDD member, who said that

“The idea of setting up a people’s council comprising members of various professions was an idea inherited from fascist corporatism, as seen in Italy during the period of Benito Mussolini’s fascist dictatorship.” 

You don’t have to delve too deep to see who is backing the PDRC’s “fascism”. In fact, many Thai aristocrats and super-wealthy openly boast of their disdain for democracy, accompanying this derision with sneering contempt for ordinary Thai voters.

A recent Reuters article examined the Thai aristos and billionaires who have taken a full and active part in the PDRC protests. Reuters’ damning expose partly focuses on one Chitpas Bhirombhakdi an “heiress to a $2.6 billion family fortune” and a Democrat Party spokesperson who has been in the forefront of the protests. Recently Chitpas was quoted in another newspaper stating that ordinary and poor Thais don’t have a “true understanding of democracy…especially in the rural areas”.

Of course Chitpas’ Democrat Party – the absolute bastion of the Thai establishment – have never won a parliamentary majority with their last semblance of success coming over twenty years ago when they managed to become the largest party in the Thai parliament with 21 per cent of the vote.

Since then Abhisit seized power in what was widely termed a ‘judicial coup‘ in 2008 – an act which later led to huge pro-democracy protests in 2010 and the brutal slaughter of almost 100 Thai civilians of whose murder he know stands charged – which was followed by PM Yingluck’s huge landslide election victory in 2011.

And now, unable to win an election, this once seemingly ‘liberal’ party – it’s simply shameful that the UK Liberal Democrats are allied and connected directly to the Thai Democrat Party via the Liberal International – have now veered towards political extremism.

Once the darlings of Bangkok’s notoriously tepid international media corps, articles are now appearing in the global media exposing the Abhisit-led ‘Democrats’ as the anti-democracy activists they’ve become. Time magazine ran a searing article entitled ‘Thailand’s Democrat Party Is Hilariously Misnamed‘, whilst Associated Press speared Abhisit’s party with this single line – ‘The enemy of the Democrat Party? It’s democracy‘.

So what next? Suthep has now taken to threatening PM Yingluck’s 11year old son from the protest stage whilst his acolytes have said they will lead a mob to ‘storm’ the US Embassy. The PDRC, who have vowed to stop the February 2014 general election, still rely on the support of Abhisit’s Democrats who look increasingly likely to boycott the elections. And, waiting in the wings, is the notoriously coup-happy Thai Army.

The experienced and widely-published Bangkok-based German photojournalist, Nick Nostitz, who has been covering Thailand’s political upheavals for the last decade – he was recently singled out for physical attack by the PDRC and then later produced an exceptional report on PDRC attacks on a pro-democracy Red Shirt rally – told me this about possible future Thai Army involvement.

“After the PDRC met the top brass on Saturday, it looks that presently the military still refuses to intervene any further than offering itself as a facilitator for possible negotiations. However, the Thai military is notoriously secretive in their decision making processes, next week the configuration could completely change again.”

Thailand stands at crossroads – the potential for civil war is now obvious and fascism is rearing its ugly head. It’s time for the global community of democrats – whether on the left or the right – to stand shoulder to shoulder with those battling extremism in Thailand.

27 Responses to “The global community should support those battling extremism in Thailand”

  1. Haleema Mini

    I am Thai and you are SO wrong, like a lot of Western journalists. Thaksin (current Thai PM’s brother) is the one calling all the shots and he and his cronies are some of the richest people in Thailand. You are very uninformed to think that elections in Thailand mean anything more than selling votes and capitulating to Thaksin’s paid thugs. Get some facts, dude!

  2. promsop

    Since my opinion as a foreigner will not seem sufficiently informed to you, I will give you my husband’s opinion: he is thai, so does it give it any more credit than mine? Oh no! Wait! My husband is indeed Thai but originally coming from rural areas of the Northeast of Thailand. So in your eyes that makes him a buffalo unable to think, easily paid off, greedy, and probably not worth listening to? Too bad he belongs, as I do as a farang, to the big bunch of “unable to think” kind of person, is it? Would it help if I told you that he has read quite a lot of political essays, literature, traveled a lot and so on? Studied in depth Thai history (and not only out of Thai censured school history books)?
    Anyway, if you are still reading me right now (which I doubt), I will give you his enlightened rural-Thai opinion. Yes Thaksin is corrupted. So are almost all politics in Thailand (the glorious Suthep included). Yes Phua Thai buys votes. So does the democrat party (and with some success, since the central and southern provinces display their highest election-spending, according to some report from Thammasat scholars). And in the end, none of the wrongdoing of Thaksin and co. can stand as an apology to the use of fascist and racist arguments; the arrogance towards people belonging to lower classes than oneself; the denial of democracy as a politicial system; and the denial of civil rights (the right to vote for instance); the discrimination according to one’s opinion, jail imprisonment for stating one’s mind (the lese-majeste laws that are defended by many supporters of today’s movement) and an army shooting civilians (I am thinking of 2010).
    Whether you agree with that is your own choice. But if you find it annoying, then give me better arguments than the usual:” you are not thai so understand nothing”; or “your are from a farmer community and are too stupid to stand an opinion”. Thanks in advance.

  3. BrianJonesG8ASO

    Taksin, on the run from a prison sentence, has been governing the country from Dubai via his stupid sister, who can’t even read an Autocue properly.
    The uneducated people of Isaan are his voters, but they do so for money. The corruption is manifest, Taksin hasn’t even been indicted on all counts, there was massive tax evasion and many deaths from his shoot to kill drug “suspects” idea. If he was charged with all his many offences, he could never set foot in Thailand again as his entire remaining life would be taken up defending court cases.
    The educated people of Bangkok, those who provide the wealth the Taksin supporters syphon off, have had enough, and have managed to derail the Amnesty Bill but they now want a more democratic government, and rightly too.
    Any violence at the demonstrations has been caused by paid troublemakers, as was the case with the previous Red Shirt blockade.
    Taksin is playing a dangerous game with the future prosperity and stability of a whole country, this situation is worsened as the King is not long for this world, and if he was to die any time soon, all hell would break loose.
    There is only solution I can see, and that is for Tasin to suffer a similar fate as Marvin Gaye’s father did – lead poisoning.
    Long live the King,

  4. cheekycheesy

    I am Thai and I live in the US, and for you hopefully I am qualify enough to say that we have got to look past this thing called ” thaksin regime”. What is it? lol I bet most people cant even answer it. Just an excuse to use so they can gather protesters. I do not care much about the yellow shirt, red shirt, or whatever color shirt. What I care about is Democracy in Thailand. You are misinformed about selling votes yourself. Every single political parties in Thailand sell votes. Just because you sell them votes does not mean they will vote for you. Anyone with common sense will know that. If vote buying is effective as you claim they are I am sure with the combination of all the powerful and wealthy protesters money they can buy votes then, but will it work for them? I guess they already know it wont work. In Thai politics nowadays there is no such thing as “facts”, only opinions.

  5. Simon Churchill

    So what if Thaksin was running the country from the outside? Does that matter if the majority voted for his party? Do you not understand democracy? The party with the highest votes wins, simple, or is that too simple? The majority of the people in the world want to live in free democratic countries with free speech and not be dictated to by minority groups or individuals up their own arses. My partner is a middle class political science graduate from Bangkok and she can see through the lies and smoke screens of the MOB (Yellow Shirts). She agrees about the paying for votes, it is true, all the parties do it. The people take the vote money and then vote for the party they want, not the party paying the most. The problem is most of the yellow shirts are irrespective of education, short sighted, narrow minded and easily led as they do not have the guts to allow free society where all get to be treated equally!!!!

  6. Simon Churchill

    Total absolute bollocks. You sound worse than any member of the MOB full of lies and most probably enjoying being courted by Thai elite not wanting to lose out to real democracy. You sound just like some Right wing Norwegian Birth Control NGOs I met in Bangkok, are you one???

  7. Simon Churchill

    Nui wants to remind you that Abhisit
    Vejjajiva Abhisit is not just a British Citizen, but was born in UK he was born on August 3, 1964 in
    Newcastle. Thus he should not have held
    position of Prime Minister.

  8. Auckland, NZ

    The majority of the international media have always tried to paint the protest as a war between the rich and the poor, which is a misconception. This is a protest against injustice and corruption of Yingluck’s political party, who have used their position in the government for personal gains instead of helping the country. If this was ever about the protesters trying to hold on to “wealth and power”, it would’ve happened long before this, why would they wait two years? And let’s not forget the Southern Thais who are also supporting the protest, the majority of them are not rich.
    Remember that the protest was only sparked by the attempt of her party to introduce the amnesty bill which would wipe clean all criminal convictions against their former party leader/ Yingluck’s own brother, including corruption charges and the murder of 2,500 people during the war on drugs in 2003 – of which half of the people executed had nothing to do with the drug trade/use on any level. Let’s also not forget when her party held a press conference publically rejecting the constitutional courts ruling that their charter amendment draft was unconstitutional and illegal. Any government which uses their majority in parliament to deny the justice system are illegitimate, and all those involved should be charged for it. Anyone with the slightest sense of decency would be appalled by the attempt of her party at abusing their power in such a way, it is immoral and unethical. Just because you were democratically elected, does not give you the right to abuse the system.

  9. promsop

    Are you sure the idea of a class struggle between rich and poor is fully a misconception? I would agree with you that this is a simplification and that many other factors enter the game. Yet the class struggle is part of the problem in Thailand: it is part of the rhetoric from both sides and account for many of the hatred. The anti-government protesters have made humiliating comments on the rural poors (it is coming up again and again, that poor people are not smart enough to be full citizen, buffalos, greedy and so on); and many rural people supporting Yingluck see Suthep and his supporters as a bunch of arrogant upper-classes who would not let go of their privileges.
    I also think that many anti-government protesters do not realize the impact that some of their statements can have for other Thais and worldwide: they do not see the “class” component in it, how patronizing it seems. I don’t remember which speakers (quoted in reuters) stated that protesters first had to educate their “maids and drivers”: to me it seemed so much like Marie-Antoinette (Louis XVI’s wife in France just before the revolution) proposing her cake (brioche) to the people of Paris in a hunger strike. And from the accounts I get from my relatives and friends in Thailand, the patronizing really hurts the feeling of many thais.
    So yes maybe, some or many protesters do not think they are in the street to steal the poor; Yet, the public face that they are showing today reveal the powerful class structure in Thailand and make it unbearable for many thais.

  10. Brown Note

    Ahhhhh, Andrew Spooner. Yes I vaguely remember this name being at the top of some other boring, misinformed, poorly written pieces during the 2010 protests. You sir, are just as clueless now as you were then. You are the type of foreign reporter who perpetuate the “farang will never understand Thai culture” stereotype. In fact, many of us have been here for a long time and do understand Thai culture very well. You are not one of them. For those of you who want to know how “voting” works in most Isan villages, just ask your bargirl GF. Democracy, despite what the West loves to think, is a flawed system, and does not work when the majority are corrupt.

  11. J. Smith

    You give the impression that your understanding of Thai culture is limited to Nana Plaza.
    I don’t have to ask your bargirl GF to to know how voting works. I just see
    it in wife’s Isaan village. There, the DP candidate always makes a point of doubling
    the PT offer. He has never got over 20%.
    I write “offer” because many villagers refuse to take money. Even your poor, uneducated “peasants” have their pride. Surprised?
    This ridiculous “custom” of giving money at elections could easily be stopped
    if all parties agreed to it. It could, for example, have been one of the points in the talks
    that the PM pleaded to have,but were categorically rejected by Suthep.
    No talks, no elections: clearly, his own dictatorship is all that the “corrupt-free
    Democrat” Suthep will accept

  12. J. Smith

    There are two basic “facts”:
    1. Thaksin parties have won all their elections, five in a row.
    2. The Democrats last won an election 21 years ago.

    It is clear to me that it’s a simple “fact” that Thaksin parties are genuinely
    popular. “Corruption” (which exists throughout Thai society) and “vote buying”
    are just smokescreens to hide the simple “fact” that the majority just don’t
    like the Democratic Party.
    The Democrat’s answer to their continued rejection by the majority?
    Abolish democracy through military coups, rigged courts and now a
    People’s Council,aka dictatorship.

  13. Brown Note

    Interestingly, in the 10 years I have been living in Thailand, I have never set foot in Nana Plaza, nor has my wife of 5 years. Clearly the mocking condescension of my tone was lost on you, as was the facetious use of the word voting. FYI condescension means I’m talking down to you. You seem pretty passionate about the topic though, and quite defensive. Part of me wonders if you’re just one of Robert Amsterdam’s hired goons (like Spooner himself). Otherwise, I’m curious which Isan village you reside in, to have such in-depth knowledge of the inner workings of the bribery system amongst the uneducated peasants (your words).

  14. Simon Churchill

    I can ask my Thai girlfriend about voting in Thailand and she will tell you that yes some do take money for votes, but they DO NOT vote for the most generous payout and will take the money with glee. This point seems to be lost somewhere? By the way my girlfriend is a Bangkok political science graduate not a bar girl. She knows her political history very well and being born in 1963 we are not talking about the last few years. How come you can claim supporters of Democracy are misinformed? Typical yellow stance, all red shirts are misinformed yet make up the majority (democracy). I would like to see how informed you are compared to my girlfriend. Guess your just another stupid right wing extremist, elite supporter?

  15. Brown Note

    I feel quite satisfied that you needed to resort to personal name-calling, similar to a 12-year old schoolgirl, as it essentially nullifies any validity your other points may have had. It’s frankly hilarious that you all get so worked up over local politics, in which you have no say, no influence, and do not matter at all. I’m not red or yellow, and Thailand’s current political landscape consists entirely of two big rich families battling it out. Everyone else is just a pawn in their elaborate game. You can paint it any way you want – democracy vs. fascism, the rich vs. the poor, a class struggle. In fact that’s how both sides want you to paint it, to give it some legitimacy. But at the end of the day, none of that is true, and whichever big rich family you decide to believe, you’re still being lied to. For me, I really don’t care about sides – the entire spectrum is pathetic. I really don’t care about anything for that matter, and neither should you. I’m just a make-believe anti-democratic communist here to piss in the cornflakes of old crusty expats who have nothing better to do than get overly emotionally entrenched in contemporary Thai politics.

  16. J. Smith

    Thank you, I already knew the meaning of “condescend”, although you clearly are the specialist in this field. I also know that it stems from an
    attitude of arrogance; another of your specialities?
    But our comments should relate to the article and to the current political
    unrest in Thailand. So please—- apart from being mockingly condescensive, facetious, curious, claiming to “understand Thai culture
    very well” and platitudes on democracy—– could you give us some relevant facts and opinions on the subject?
    Where is Spooner misinformed? what is your corrupt majority?
    are you surprised many villagers (Kalasin) don’t take money? should
    Suthep have accepted the PM’s offer of talks? and so on. There are so many things to discuss.
    Or from your pedestal do you see anyone who differs with you only
    as part of a corrupt majority or a hired goon? and therefore unworthy of you condescending to talk with?

  17. promsop

    “old crusty expats who have nothing better to do than get overly emotionally entrenched in contemporary Thai politics”. Well maybe some of those expats have a thai wife/husband and thai children. So it does not seem so odd that they care about the country their children are living in. By the way in Europe, the progressive view is to grant long-term immigrants the right to vote (at least in local and european elections), not claiming on all roofs that they should not get involved in the politics of the country they live in: such claim is made by extremist right-wing parties. So why say that expat should have no emotions on the politics of Thailand?

  18. J. Smith

    Do you really “don’t care” if Thailand loses it’s fledgling democracy
    and drifts to dictatorship? communist a la Stalin, North Korea
    or fascist a la Franco, Pinochet?
    Most of us “old crusty expats” live here because we love this country;
    it’s warm climate, it’s friendly people, laid-back lifestyle and cheap
    prices. Many of us have Thai wives and children. We are getting
    “so worked up” and “overly emotionally entrenched” NOT in Thai
    politics, but because democracy is under very real threat here.
    Not local politics is our concern , but doing the little we can to defend Thai democracy, for the sake of ourselves, our families and even for you!! Because the alternative is so terrible.
    You “really don’t care about anything” EXCEPT for pouring scorn on
    those caring for the future of their families and beloved country.

  19. Haleema Mini

    I totally agree with you.

  20. pelkhurst

    Seriously? You think that votes are only bought in Isaan? How do you explain this from Korn (Dem):

    The popularity of Thaksin in the Northeast and to a lesser degree in the North is undeniable. It is also undeniable that traditionally they have been less politically active then southerners. It is also undeniable that money politics is less prevalent in the South. We we have less money than PPP. However I agree with Chris [Baker], money “is the price you pay to play the game but it doesn’t dictate whether you win or lose”. “If a candidate today in Loei runs under the Democrat banner for him to try to win he would need to spend two or three times more than his PPP opponent in order to win and even then he still might lose.

    Do you really think that someone implicated in at least two major corruption scandals (Suthep) is sincere about battling corruption? Do you really thinks the Dems are not corrupt?

    If you don’t know who Korn or Baker are get your google fired up and check them out.

    I find it difficult to fathom how someone could live here and think that corruption and vote buying are the province of one faction, and buy into this being about democracy and getting rid of corruption. Just how long have you lived here?

  21. pelkhurst

    I imagine you think I am a paid shill to0. BTW, I don’t need to learn what is going on here as filtered through a bar girl or any other person as I can read Thai publications and journals, watch TV, and listen to the radio as you would expect from someone who has lived 25 years. Having said that, you don’t need to speak Thai to know that corruption and vote buying are a smoke-screen for what is really going on. The democrats can’t buy their way into power here for love or money.

  22. pelkhurst

    You are either being disingenuous or ignorant if you think that Taksin and his cronies are the only corrupt politicians in Thailand. Do you really not know Suthep’s history of corruption? Read a book, dude!

  23. pelkhurst

    Can we just stop it with this ‘on the run’ and ‘fugitive’ trope? Taksin, who I am not fond of, was deposed in a illegal and unconstitutional military coup and then convicted by a court created under a newly written constitution and staffed by the coup backers. No country in the world other than Thailand would recognize a verdict of that sort, even if he might indeed be guilty of the charges.

    Your blanket condemnation of the people of Isaan as uneducated is, for what of a better word, uneducated.

    As for violence, I imagine you believe Suthep when he said that the protesters, shot on his orders three years ago, might have run into bullets, couldn’t be that soldiers meant to shoot them. Or you believe someone doctored all the recent videos clearly showing anti-government protesters pelting police with ping-pong bombs, rock, metal rods, etc.

    Finally, where did you get this crazy idea that the anti-government protesters want democracy?? They are on record multiple times saying they DO NOT want a democracy, rather they want to restrict the political rights of people in the N and NE. First with a hand-picked council and PM, and then with an elected government that they believe will win once they have made whatever chances are necessary for them to win. That is the antithesis of democracy.

  24. Chuck Wow

    Andrew Spooner’s wife is employed by Robert Amsterdam, Thaksin’s Lawyer, as a translator. Andrew Spooner directly profits by putting out propaganda pieces that help pay his wife’s salary.

    Andrew Spooner also regularly posts as “J. Smith” on various online forums.

  25. J. Smith

    The J. Smith here first heard the names “Spooner” and “Amsterdam”
    from this article and blog.
    I guess you would dismiss Spooner’s possible confirmation of this as
    propaganda, but it is true.

  26. หมอหัวเสธ เสธหัวหมอ

    What protesters want are no election and no elected PM. It is very clear that they are fascism.

  27. Coconut

    Very we’ll said Auckland. Just wish more western observers could understand these points

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