comment by Tom Huck to article "More Dishonesty About Thailand's Upheaval From the International New York Times " By Michael Pirsch
As a long time reader of truth-out, since the days of the bush junta 2001-onward, and since it was the same junta that motivated me to leave the states and seek employment as an English teacher for low-income students in Thailand, it is with dismay that I see this article on Thailand featured on your front page.
Please let me point out some oversights and flaws in the presentation of this opinion piece :
(1) "Thaksin Shinawatra, the fugitive former prime minister" -- Thaksin's elected government was overthrown by military coup in 2006 and the courts were stacked top to bottom with a pro-coup judiciary which is now masquerading under the "rule of law". This anti-democratic, militarily installed judiciary are the ones who have branded Thaksin as a 'fugitive', when it might be less obscurantist and biased to include the idea that this judiciary is itself a fugitive from what might be called rule-of-law in practically ever y other country on earth.
(2) Thaksin Shinawatra "who is defined by his corrupt behavior" -- According to (http://prachatai.com/english/node/3769) "the only [corruption] conviction was the Ratchadaphisek land deal. And that was abuse of authority because by law he had to sign his wifes bid. The court didnt say the deal was corrupt and she was first allowed to keep the land and was later given her money back, plus interest. That wouldnt have happened if it was corruption."
Pirsch goes on in this article to list numerous cases of corruption where he is sitting as judge, jury and executioner of Thaksin, but the above listed Ratchadaphisek land deal was the only court finalized instance of prosecuted legal corruption.
In contrast, the protest movement which Pirsch is writing in support of is led by Mr. Suthep Thaugsuban who, according to (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suthep_Thaugsuban) "gave title deeds to 592 plots of land in Khao Sam Liam, Kamala and Nakkerd hills of Phuket province to 489 farmers. It was later found that members of 11 wealthy families in Phuket were among the recipients. " and further "In 2009, Suthep was accused of violating the Constitution of Thailand by holding equity in a media firm that had received concessions from the government." Finally, Mr. Suthep is now facing charges of Crimes Against Humanity at the World Court in the Hague for ordering the Thai military to open fire on civilians protesting in 2010. Those protestors were trying to get a Suthep-led militarist, elitist government shoehorned into power through parliamentary connivance to actually stand for popular election - which it did in 2011 and was roundly defeated by a 4 million vote margin. Ref: (http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424127887324024004578172713289874262)
(3) Thaksin "has used his position in government first and foremost to enrich himself and his family" -- Citations? Proof? Support? Or more partisan opinion?
(4) Thaksin "micro-manages the Thai government through his youngest sister Yingluck, the current Thai minister." -- Citations? Proof? Support? Or more partisan opinion? This is arguably a straight misogynist construction which removes any idea of autonomy from Thailand's first ever elected female Prime Minister. In all fairness, Thaksin is Yingluck's brother but last I saw she did not have puppet strings attached to her body.
(5) Thaksin "in his capacity as a vital cog in the neoliberal policies of bringing corporate control to all (formerly) sovereign countries." -- Again, this is a highly selective representation which ignores the fact that, according to exiled Thai scholar Giles Ungpakorn, author of "Thailand's Crisis and the Fight for Democracy" (2010) and "A Coup For The Rich" (2007) - all Thailand's military controlled, autocratic, highly conservative governments previous to Thaksin were ~more responsible~ for bringing harsh neoliberal corporate control over Thailand as possible; and that these pre-Thaksin governments were ~more~ instrumental in concentrating popular sovereignty into the hands of an elite oligarchy.
If anything, Thaksin's crime was to focus comparatively modest outlays for rural community development and support including loans, tuition assistance. However, in the Thai elitist context, which Mr. Pirsch is adamantly supporting, and which is well documented as far back as Pridi Banomyong's People's Party Announcement #1 in 1932: " The government ...has treated the people as slaves ... and as animals. It has not considered them as human beings. Therefore, instead of helping the people, rather it farms on the backs of the people."
(6) Pirsch says "Thaksin arranged not to pay more than 400 million dollars in taxes." For this crime, the military-coup-installed court seized 1.4 BILLION
dollars of Thaksin's family's money
(7) "Paving the way for [Thaksin] to pursue even more wealth at the expense of the nation." -- To be clear, Thaksin is obviously self-interested, but there are many other power centers in Thailand that are much richer, much more well connected, much more thoroughly entrenched in pursuing wealth at the expense of the nation. You might find more than a few of them at (http://www.forbes.com/thailand-billionaires/list/) A list of right wing oligarchs who nearly to a person support Mr. Pirsch's agenda, and whose combined wealth dwarfs that of the Shiniwatra family. Thaksin's combined family is on the list, much reduced after the court appropriated their holdings, but, as a quick look at the list will show, to represent Thaksin as some all consuming, all devouring, all powerful hegemon is certainly disingenuous.
(8) Baker and Pasuk's biography of Thaksin is listed as some sort of definitive record of all-time corruption in Thai history. Again, this is selective, partisan and disingenuous. The record of corruption in Thai government ( led historically and overwhelmingly by the party Mr. Pirsch is sporting) is well documented in books by Katherine Bowie, Giles Ungpakorn, David Struckfess, Paul Handley, and Ivarsson and Isager - for starters.
(9) Pirsch implies that Thaksin seeks to make the country into "Thailand Inc.", while failing to notice that the previous military-friendly-people-averse protests he is supporting in opposition to Thaksin never showed any interest whatsoever in supporting the interests of the rural poor (see Ungpakorn 2007,2010),something which Thaksin did actually if do if only minimally. To imply that the alternative being presented to Thaksin is some sort of proletarian-friendly utopia is a flat lie.
When Suthep, the protest leader, helped run the Thai government from 2008-2011, it was more or less a terror state where rural poor and union organizers ( like Mr. Somyot (https://www.facebook.com/pages/Free-Somyot/122999694453000)) were ruthlessly targeted and harassed. To imply that Mr. Suthep's elitist protestors are going to offer any panacea to Thai labor is laughable.
(10) "No important decision is made by the government without [Thaksin's] assent. His sister Yingluck remains the definition of a puppet prime minister." -- Citations? Evidence? Proof? Or more partisan opinion? Some persons I know personally in the government might wish to disagree, and again, the misogynist construction regarding Yingluck, as well as the contempt for the 17 million mostly low income people who voted for her is readily apparent.
(11) "It is not fully known just how many corruption cases Thaksin would face if he was returned to Thailand." -- Which would be overseen by a corrupt, partisan, military-coup installed judiciary. Clips of highly partisan, backroom Thai Constitution Court proceedings were leaked on Youtube (all in Thai): (https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=Ohmygod+3009&sm=3)
(12) Pirsch lists six demands for reform without once saying anything regarding the corrupt nature of the coup-installed judiciary and their highly destabilizing, free-floating conception of the rule of law.
(13) Pirsch states : "How to achieve these goals has been the focus of the debate" -- without mentioning that there is already a choice, democratic elections and referendums. And the only alternative is either military or judicial coup d'etat to contravene the will of the majority - for which Mr. Pirsch apparently has complete contempt.
(14) Pirsch attacks Mr. Thomas Fuller, the NYT correspondent, who for years failed to document or represent the full extent of political terror imposed upon Thailand by Suthep's government or the nature of the economic system his party imposed by force. Fuller never once has cited the wildly superior economic performance under Thaksin. This indicates a sort of tacit approval through omission by Mr. Fuller who until last week had bent over backwards to make excuses for Mr. Pirsch's protest group and political party. At the very least, this should point to the level of extremism that Mr. Suthep and Mr. Pirsch are seeking to visit upon Thailand. Several foreign and domestic journalists have come under physical assault during the last few weeks in Thailand at the hands of Mr. Pirsch's protestors, including German Nick Nostitz and Voice of America reporter Steve Herman, as well as several otherwise extremely conservative Thai reporters.
(15) Again, Pirsch criticizes the rice scheme citing "Some analysts" without giving any specifics. He might check how agriculture subsidies work in the US, or how the interests of his military constituencies were coddled 2009-2011 when enormous state funds were appropriated to build a highly subsidized military base in Kohn Kean to keep an eye on pesky rural voters, or the ongoing giant military blimp fiasco which costs millions yearly but has flown for all of 10 minutes, or the giant military outlay for GT200 "remote substance detectors" which turned out to be completely nonfunctional - a situation which caused the military to accuse "the press of working for Asia Satcom's competitors" (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/GT200)
(16) "It becomes clear from the single-minded Phuea Thai party goal of absolving Thaksin" -- This is utterly disingenuous, since it was the Phuea Thai party which led the Amnesty bill which additionally offered amnesty to Mr. Suthep and Mr. Abhist, the two men who are Phuea Thai's political opponents and who are charged with Crimes Against Humanity in the World Court. This bill causes Mr. Suthep and his protestors to go into paroxysms of hysteria - even though it is rarely mentioned that the same bill would have absolved Mr. Suthep domestically of all his criminal charges.
(17) Pirsch makes reference to the % of eligible vote turnout as somehow condemning Phuea Thai because they only received "32 percent of the number of eligible voters." -- He fails to mention that Suthep himself, using the similar calculation received only 24% of the number of eligible voters. It is again, utterly and laughably partisan to assert that Suthep now can somehow magically law claim to the interests of 44-70% of the eligible voters who never cast a ballot for his party or his platform. This is a case which underscores the rather blatant undemocratic nature of the protests, and the stretches of the imagination that Prisch is asking us to make in his biased and partisan interests.
The final vote in 2011 was
Pheua Thai 15,744,190
The overall turnout was over 71% - an incredibly large number compared to the USA. The final margin was 4.2 million votes. It was, by any comparative standard, a landslide with a giant rebuke to Suthep who had been running the country for the previous 3 years.
And again, this just underscores the irresponsible, undemocratic petulance of the protestors who are trying to jury-rig Thailand's democratic institutions for their own ends and disenfranchise gigantic swaths of the electorate in their crude self-interest.
(18) The overwhelming household income of Prisch's protestors is over 50,000 baht per month. (42% of their total - This is an astonishingly high level of salary in Thailand.)
While the Phuea Thai voters who put Yingluck in office survive on about $330 per month (27%) or even as low as $175 per month or less (14%)
To think that Mr. Pirsch has these poor Thai people's interests in mind by nullifying their voting rights is ridiculous.
He goes on to proffer the standard elitist fantasy that their votes are "bought". This is what Bangkok Pundit quotes (from BK Post) regarding poor voters' sympathies: "in talking to the underprivileged residents in the Bang Khen district in the weeks before the July 3 election, it was obvious they were almost all red shirt sympathisers and anyone trying to buy votes was wasting money." (http://asiancorrespondent.com/116697/vote-buying-thaksin-and-the-democrats/)
Pirsch's language starts with de-humanizing misogynistic rhetoric regarding Yingluck's lack of agency, legitimacy or autonomy, and moves on to removing agency, autonomy, and legitimacy from 17 million poor and rural Thai voters. This is inexcusable for any union organizer.
I have to say that this is an astonishing display of bigoted, elitist and orientalist disrespect for the humanity of the poorest and most vulnerable people in Thailand.
Pirsch claims to be a union organizer, but he seems woefully disconnected from the democratic aspirations of working people in Thailand. I would sincerely like to know where he lives "as an economic refugee", or how he makes his living in Thailand, and what if any labor-oriented activity he participates in within Thailand or if he has any conception of labor in Thailand at all.
It seems to me that Mr. Pirsch has allowed his overwhelming, absolutist obsession with Mr. Thaksin to override any practical respect or concern he might have for the poor and working people of Thailand.
Thaksin and Pheua Thai - as Professor Ungpakorn has indicated - are capitalist entities which will eventually have to be overcome in the true and best interests of Thai working people. But to suggest as Mr. Pirsch is doing that Suthep and his elite-friendly protestors provide any meaningful, much less "democratic" alternative is a complete betrayal of those same working people, and an insult not only to the critical thinking facilities Pirsch claims to admire, but to the progressive future of Thailand itself.
I would expect much more from a so-called union organizer, a so-called pirate radio dj, and especially from the Truth-Out website, since it was born out of the disenfranchisement of so many American voters during the "election" of Bush back in 2000.
ref.: http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/20601-more-dishonesty-about-thailands-upheaval-from-the-international-new-york-times and see comments
In Thailand, Standing Up for Less Democracy
By THOMAS FULLER
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