Thailand’s Crisis: A “Carnival of Reaction”
Giles Ji Ungpakorn (Left Turn)
Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok

The term “Carnival of Reaction” was first used by the Irish Marxist James Connolly when referring to the defeat of socialist politics in Ireland and the rise of reactionary Catholicism and reactionary Protestantism either side of the partition border.Thailand’s political crisis after the 19th September 2006 coup and the December 2007 elections is also becoming a “Carnival of Reaction”. On the one hand we see the deterioration of Thai Rak Thai from a modernising capitalist party with pro-poor policies, but a dreadful human rights record, into the Peoples Power Party, headed by ultra Right-wing Prime Minister Samak Suntarawej. His cabinet is staffed with gangsters and sleazy politicians.

On the other hand, we see the so-called Peoples Alliance for Democracy (P.A.D.), which organised large demonstrations in 2005 and 2006 to oust Prime Minister Taksin. The movement started as a coalition between Peoples Movement leaders and the right-wing Royalist businessman Sonti Limtongkul. This movement was never particularly progressive in its demands, but it has now degenerated into a proto-fascist organisation.

Firstly they called for the King to sack Taksin and appoint a new Prime Minister back in 2006. Then they supported and welcomed the 19th September 2006 military coup. They supported the idea of appointed senators, rather than elections for the upper house. They backed, and continue to defend, the military’s anti-democratic Constitution. Now they are raising the ultra Right-wing slogans of “Nation, Religion and King” while playing fascist nationalist songs from the 1970s. In late June 2008 they started a row to try and whip up crude nationalist sentiment over the Khmer temple “Preah Vihear”. This hill-top temple was built by the Khmer (Cambodians) at the time of Ankor. It now sits on the modern border between Thailand and Cambodia. In the 1960s the site was claimed by the Thai military regime, but the Word Court ruled against the Thai government. The present ridiculous row arises because the Cambodian and Thai governments want it designated as a World Heritage site. The P.A.D. scream that this is a “loss of Thai Sovereignty”. This idiotic accusation is without foundation. The temple was clearly built by the Khmer, not the Thais, who were under-developed at the time. The site has officially been in Cambodian territory for 45 years. Never the less national chauvinists do not care about mere facts.

The reason why the P.A.D. felt the need to use demagogic nationalist politics was because they have tried all means to get rid of Thaksin’s Thai Rak Thai party which was transformed after the coup into the Peoples Power Party. Repeated demonstrations, a coup, a court inspired dissolution of Thai Rak Thai and a military Constitution, all failed to dent the electorate’s support for the parties. That is why the P.A.D. have now suggested that parliamentary elections be scrapped for 70% of M.P.s. The poor obviously “cannot be trusted with the vote”.

The opposition Democrat Party under the twin leadership of young, Oxford educated, Abhisit Vejjajiva and Korn Chatikavanij, also favours authoritarian means. Its extreme neo-liberal policies are not popular with the poor who are the majority of the population. They supported the 2006 coup and the P.A.D. and want though internet censorship on alternative news websites like Prachatai. Recently they spent much time in their parliamentary debate attacking the government for “selling Thailand’s Sovereignty” down the river over Preah Vihear. The adoption of infantile chauvinism comes from having nothing of substance to say. The mainstream English language and Thai language press are no better. The Bangkok Post and the Nation actually take the issue of Preah Vihear seriously without question. In the Carnival of Reaction, intellectual faculties have been surgically removed from some people’s brains.

How did it get to this stage? One important reason is the lack of independence among Peoples’ Organisations, N.G.O. networks and Social Movements. This lack of political independence stems from a refusal to take political theory and party building seriously. The concentration on single-issues and political lobbying means that the Peoples Movement has sought one White Knight after another, rather than building a party of the Left.

In 2006, before the coup, we in The Peoples Coalition Party (and Left Turn newspaper) were constantly frustrated by the large anti-government demonstrations organised by the P.A.D. For years we had opposed the Thaksin government on the grounds of gross human rights abuses and privatisation. Yet the P.A.D. demands were thoroughly reactionary. We could not join them, yet we were far too small to influence the thousands that did. When the military staged a coup in September that year, we immediately came out publically against it. Since then we have tried to work with many in the Peoples Movement in opposing authoritarian measures. We have also played a significant part in highlighting the rightward drift of the P.A.D. so that today, many social movements and networks have declared themselves against any new coup and have pulled out of the P.A.D. We are busy building an independent class position in the movement, which rejects the P.A.D. and the government. Hopefully we can be part of ending this Carnival of Reaction.