reflections on the situation in Thailand
By Riki Lane
In recent weeks more than 100,000 anti-government protesters have taken to the streets of Bangkok and closed down numerous government offices. The ‘yellow shirt’ protesters are responding to the Yingluck Shinawatra government’s attempt to pass an amnesty bill that could lead to the return from exile of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who is Yingluck’s brother.
The amnesty bill is also criticised by left wing elements of the ‘red shirts’ because it does not include prisoners detained under Article 112, which includes many union and democracy activists, such as Somyot Prueksakasemsuk.
These left wing pro-worker red shirts characterise the yellow shirts as fascistic, anti-democratic, royalists who want to replace elected government with a more directly monarchical rule. The yellow shirts explicitly call for a military coup to introduce a system where many members of parliament are nominated by the monarchy and the military.
It may sound a little Maoist, but I think in Thailand there is a struggle between a modernising neo-liberal bourgeoisie versus feudal remnants in cooperation with the military. The problem for the left is that they have not been able to win the “battle of democracy”, so the anti-monarchical, anti-coup, pro-democratic movement is hegemonised by the bourgeoisie, not the working class.
The last three elections have produced Thaksin lead or influenced governments, which have made major reforms that benefit workers and peasants, such as in health care. The yellow shirts know they cannot win elections, so they organise reactionary mass mobilisations calling for anti-democratic actions by the military and their allies in the monarchy.
The government knows it cannot rely on the military to put down the yellow shirts, and also wants to avoid violent confrontation. A rally of 85,000 red shirts were basically told to go home, so as to avoid escalation and to keep the red shirt movement under the government’s control. For socialists elsewhere, we need to support the democratic anti yellow shirts struggle, while also helping build the left wing forces that can shift the terrain of the battles to working class issues.
Recently in Australia, state and national union peak councils adopted motions (below) supporting Somyot and other political prisoners. These were tabled at the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) regional meeting in Bangkok last week, during the yellow shirts mobilisations. The conference passed a motion in support of the right to freedom of expression for labour and human rights activists. Motions similar to the one below could usefully be put to trade union meetings in the UK.
1) We express our concern and opposition to the use of repressive laws in Thailand to stifle democratic debate and the right of people and workers to freedom of expression. We, as part of the worldwide labour movement, pledge our support for international working people’s solidarity and for the continuing struggle for democracy in Thailand.
We call for the:
• Immediate release of Somyot Pruksakasemsuk
• Immediate release of all political prisoners in Thailand
• Abolition of Article 112 (The Lese Majeste law)
2) To organise an ITUC Asia Pacific delegation to visit Somyot in jail and to meet with his support group in Bangkok.
You can write to Somyot in prison, where he is prison librarian:
Somyot Pruksakasemsuk, Bangkok Remand Prison, 33 Ngamwongwan Rd., Lay Yao, Chatuchak, Bangkok 10900 Thailand