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We must not forget that the military is a state within the state. If politicians—popularly elected or otherwise—deviate too far from the lines drawn by the military, they won’t accept it. Unfortunately, the military hasn’t learned much from their previous mistakes; that is, every coup thus far has been a fundamental failure, and the military must take full responsibility for this. As in the wake of previous coups, the military might appoint a ‘neutral’ person to be prime minister or ask for a royal-appointed premier. In any case, the military cannot deny responsibility for the consequences of such decision. Let’s look at the case of royal-appointed premiers like Sanya Dharmasakti, Thanin Kraivixien, and Anand Panyarachun. These three are all good and honest individuals. The first is good like a monastery-attendant or church-goer. The second is a good rightwing extremist. And the last one is a good neoliberal. The royal-appointed prime minister in the wake of the 2006 coup is a highly disciplined military general as well as a devoted Buddhist. A simple question must be asked: to what extent have these four individuals been successful? Have they been good to the poor and excluded in society?
Will the National Council for Peace and Order, which seized the helm of state power on 22 May 2014, be able to find a better knight on a white horse than any of these four individuals? Even if the junta cannot find a white knight to solve the multiple crises the country is confronting, does any one of them truly understand the structural injustice of Thai society as well as the asymmetrical regional order in the Asia Pacific? Are they aware of the dangers of American or Chinese imperialism—or MNCs, some which are Thai-owned such as CP and ThaiBev? The latter two actors may not be as ‘bad’ as Thaksin Shinawatra simply because they have refrained from becoming directly involved in politics. But they have benefited enormously from state power in a way that the remaining 80-90 percent of the people have not. In sum, if the right questions are not posed, even a white knight will not be able to deliver better answers or solutions. We will be stuck in a vicious deadlock.
Let’s now move on to more specific issues.
1. Let me repeat an important point yet again. When we say that we want our country to be a constitutional monarchy, shouldn’t we also emphasize that fact that the monarch must be under the constitution and therefore is not a divine ruler? As such, the monarch must not possess any divine rights or celestial privileges. Royal activities and management of royal property must be rendered transparent and accountable. Thus, for instance, the Crown Property Bureau must be put under state control and made accountable to public scrutiny. Furthermore, the notorious Article 112 of the Criminal Code must be abolished (in accordance with the king’s wish, which was expressed publicly several times). These measures will also help enhance the stability of the monarchy.
2. Many Red Shirts are not pawns of Thaksin Shinawatra. They have bravely struggled for freedom from domination by the “ammarts” (e.g., the royal class, forces of absolutism, state officials who oppress ordinary citizens, well-to-do Bangkokians who look down on the poor and rural folks, etc.). If we cannot grasp this important point we will not be able to cope with the intensifying class antagonism in the country. At the same time, we must also not forget that this struggle should also be articulated in the direction of freedom from exploitation by capital. This is because often times we are not only dominated but also exploited. And the dominated can also be one of the exploiters.
3. The problem of class domination and urban-rural divide can be traced back at least to the reign of King Chulalongkorn. Of course, King Rama V initiated many reforms that truly benefited the kingdom. At the same time, many of them also had disastrous consequences, which can be felt till the present. A case in point is the centralization of power in Bangkok. This has led to asymmetrical and oppressive relations politically, culturally and economically between Bangkok and the provinces (especially in the Southern and Northeastern parts of the kingdom). The pertinent point may not be to make everyone enjoy the privileges and benefits of the rich, the dominant, the included or the powerful but to make the latter refuse or forgo these privileges so that they will be on a par with the marginalized or excluded. This may be a true basis for equality.
4. There must be a major land reform in the country that guarantees equal land rights to everyone. Land-grabbing must be halted. Unproductive landlords who extract monopoly rents must pay much higher taxes; or the landless poor should have the right to make good use of unproductive lands. The Crown Property Bureau owns approximately 30 percent of the land in Bangkok. ThaiBev owns roughly the same size in Chiang Mai province. Is this acceptable? Must this issue be politicized?
5. When talking about democracy, the focus must be on its emancipatory kernel, not its form. Take a look at Thai MPs during 1932-1947. Despite the Japanese occupation and the autocratic prime minister, many MPs were autonomous and possessed moral courage. They admirably devoted themselves to the wellbeing of fellow citizens and the country as well as to the causes of democracy and national independence. A number of them joined the Free Thai Movement, which helped to restore de jure sovereignty in the country in the wake of WWII. However, after the Second World War several of them were assassinated such as Tiang Sirikun a politician from Sakon Nakhon province, Chamlong Daoruang from Mahasarakham, Tawin Udul from Roi Et and Thong-in Phuriphat from Ubon Ratchathani. Although Pridi Banomyong was not assassinated his reputation was seriously tarnished and he had to spend the rest of his life in exile. If we fail to recognize the virtues of these figures it will be difficult to restore moral courage in parliament. The majority of our MPs will simply be bootlickers and servants of the powers-that-be. Many in the public will continue to venerate false heroes like militarist figures who massacred the people and trammeled on democracy such as P. Phibunsongkram, Sarit Thanarat, Phao Sriyanond and, more recently, Chatichai Choonhavan.
6. Thus the importance of education cannot be overemphasized. When Pridi Banomyong founded the University of Moral and Political Sciences (Thammasat University), he intended not only to cultivate knowledge but also Dhamma. He saw Dhamma as a powerful weapon to serve emancipatory causes as well as to empower the people. If universities today understand the substance of this idea they will rethink and arrest the trend towards privatization and move education in the direction of the Threefold Training. Suffice it to say that this entails using morality, meditation, and wisdom for emancipation; that is, the overcoming of the forces of greed, hatred, and delusion in the contemporary world. For instance, an education guided by the Threefold Training will work to narrow or eliminate the obscene gap between rich and poor; will take environmental sustainability seriously; will see the perils of capitalism and consumerism; will reduce selfishness; will cultivate truth, goodness, and beauty; and so on.
7. Lastly, the mainstream mass media needs a major overhaul in both structure and contents if it is to serve as a means of emancipation, if it is to help us envision alternatives to the present order. How this will come about requires a collective undertaking.
These are just some of the crucial issues to think critically about in order to rejuvenate the emancipatory potentials of democracy. My wager is that democracy will be rejuvenated only by first passing through Dhammic Socialism.
Pridi Banomyong envisioned democracy along the lines of Dhammic Socialism. He tried to learn about Dhammic Socialism from Buddhadasa Bhikkhu in order to adapt it to Thai society. He failed. The military coup in 1947 destroyed Pridi’s political life and quashed the democratic movements in the country. The emancipatory potentials of democracy have yet to be reclaimed to these days. NCPO may be successful in breaking the back of Thaksin Shinawatra and Co., but if the junta doesn’t grasp the abovementioned issues it will never be able to transform the crisis into a new beginning. In other words, the junta or any post-coup government established by it will fail as disastrously as in all previous coups.
Please take my words as a cautionary advice, not as a curse or belittlement because I have always tried to be a kalyanamitta or virtuous companion to everyone. As a kalyanamitta I have to say things that the junta may not want to hear. If the junta doubts my sincerity, then this is the best that I can do to help it.
23 May 2014