This column in about why Thailand’s Left (and Center) must treat the coming constitution drafting as a one-shot opportunity. If it does not, we know exactly what will happen because of the last constitution drafting process. The last draft constitution contained nothing for organized labour, nothing for pluralism and Thailand’s minorities, nothing for decentralization – in effect, nothing for a better version of democracy than the 2007 constitution. In response, probably the most innovative act by the organized Left was to host the Prachamati website – a public platform for voting on the content of the constitution which was, however, obviously restricted to those with access to technology.
That is a lot of martyrs to democracy since 1973 to be, roughly speaking, living in a militarized version of Thailand circa 1972 – only with a military government considerably more efficient than in the past because of the electronic surveillance state and thus less reliant on physical violence to achieve its objectives. Of course, the Left cannot particularly be blamed – the military has shut down any political meetings of five people or more. New Democracy Movement students who have attempted to link up, seventies style, with ‘the people’ – the lower and lower-middle classes of the North and Northeast especially – have been charged with sedition.
But if the Left and Center do not organize, what is most likely to come next is a carbon copy of the abortive 2015 constitution, except without the ‘coup committee’. CDC Chairperson Meechai Ruchupan has practically admitted as much. There is no obvious motivation for the military to permit anything more than that. It will then maybe allow a referendum with the main criteria being, as with the 2007 constitution, that no one will be permitted to campaign against it, and the full weight of the state media apparatus will be turned to persuading people to vote for it.
The result will be a constitution that will see exactly the same two ideologies pitted against each other as for most of the last decade. As the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, the official foundation of the Social Democratic Party of Germany (established in 1863 as a bona fide Marxist party and now a Center Left party which has seen the world a bit) put it last October:
First, on the actors’ level, it is a power struggle between two elite networks and their allies over the political and economic control of Thailand. Secondly, on the level of structural change, it reflects the rising complexity of an emerging capitalist economy and the diversity and permanent conflict of a pluralist mass society. Thirdly, on the level of social change, it reflects a struggle between those who seek to uphold the status quo and those who seek change. Finally, on the level of normative change, it is a clash between the moralist political discourse rooted in a Buddhist cosmology and a democratic political discourse rooted in [post-Enlightenment] metaphysics.
This acutely insightful summary also has an accompanying diagram to add some detail to the ‘Red’ vs. ‘Yellow’ breakdown:
The reason the Thai military will be happy to produce yet another insipid constitution is because this ‘clash of polar opposites’ is what it understands. From a fourth-generation warfare perspective, this situation is an easy one to perform a threat analysis on as it follows a ‘Cold War’ profile the military are used to. Effectively, all ‘Red Shirts’ and Pheu Thai voters are potential enemies – this is because Pheu Thai is now seen as a South-American style ‘Socialism of the 21st Century’ democratic socialist populist party much more than a western-style social democrat party. Thaksin Shinawatra is their leader whoever the party leader actually is – the Thai equivalent of Ho Chi Minh. This ‘Friend vs. Enemy’ stance is key to understanding the psychology of Thailand’s dictatorship as an authoritarian government needs an enemy within the concept of ‘the Political’ (following Nazi jurist Car Schmitt) to survive – in fact, to define itself and provide a purpose.
And, though the ‘Reds’ might win the next election (because the only people who would vote for a military party would be radical Democrat voters and the chance of a national unity party under someone like Dr. Surin Pitsuwan is remote because unity is not born out of repression but out of genuine reconciliation from allowing groups of more than four people to meet politically), the Thai military knows exactly what to do in these circumstances – call Suthep Thaugsuban, engineer another coup, and maybe this time crank up the old diesel generator and get out the electrodes for some quick ‘attitudinal adjustment’.
And if people think the days of torture are past us, mass torture and enforced disappearances are still with us and can easily worsen. Moreover, the socio-political situation in Thailand is likely to deteriorate in the coming years for three key reasons. Firstly, global climate change is already causing entire economies to suffer due to drought, floods, an accelerated El Nino effect and global rises in sea levels. The analysts breaking down the 21st Conference of Parties on Climate Change’ Intended Nationally Determined Contributions for the upcoming November-December meeting believe the deal at present will lead to a 3 Centigrade increase by 2020. This is one degree over the target, which combined with locked-in climate change due to melting ice sheets is enough to cause a runaway greenhouse effect. Thus, global climate change will cost Thailand tens of billions of dollars over the coming decades, including massive costs associated with the inevitable eventual abandonment of Bangkok as a capital city.
Secondly, transnational capital is becoming more and more adept at switching countries and exploiting trade deals such as the Trans Pacific Partnership – with the main aim being to drive labour costs down, thereby breaking organized labour, and, also inevitably, benefiting the international corporatocracy. Thirdly, Thailand’s military is adopting a resource-extraction growth model – relying increasingly on mining and fossil fuel concessions such as gold, natural gas and potash. These are good for the next 20-30 years, then they run out.
When the mineral resources and gas run out an the effects of global CC become nigh-on unstoppable, if Thailand has not developed a sovereign wealth fund and has instead squandered the money from the resources extraction – say, in trying to keep back the sea from Bangkok as a desperate defense of a city which is the most primate on earth as well as being the heart of the present dynasty and so the entire Central Thai culture – we are looking at the slow collapse of an entire country. Fear and repression will be the order of the day as permanent military rule – as has been in fact the norm in Thailand – is re-established. Occasional mass torture will be the least of people’s worries.
So, Thailand’s Left and Center must treat the coming constitution drafting as a one shot and organize. As Eminem put it:
“Look, if you had one shot, one opportunity
To seize everything you ever wanted - one moment
Would you capture it or just let it slip?”
What to organize is relatively simple. Thailand’s Left needs to organize until the Thai military accepts that people must be permitted to freely assemble to produce a constitution which is progressive enough so that it actually honors Thailand’s dead, not only those of the two Octobers but all those who have died in the quest for democracy in all the months of the year, a number which is in the thousands since 1932 and which includes members of Thailand’s military. In organizing, Thailand’s Left may also find within itself the ability to break the Red vs. Yellow dichotomy and create a genuine Center Left third choice for Thai centrist voters which can win at least 10% at the next election, hold the balance of power, and thereby offer Thailand what it needs most right now - hope. One shot.