This analysis of the recently released Project for a Social Democracy’s Statement of Purpose, available in full below, attempts to put Social Democracy in context in the Thai Situation. As can be seen, there is a significant emphasis on philosophy, or political ideology, as well as on human solidarity, worker’s rights, internationalism, and economic, social, and cultural rights as well as civil and political ones. This is new for Thailand and should be welcomed.
Social Democracy is a Center Left to Left socio-economic position as well as a political stance. As a political position it is widely adopted worldwide and, for historical reasons, is especially prevalent in Europe. It emphasizes internal political democracy, i.e. that its political leaders should come from competitive elections, as well as democracy at the level of national politics, for example by forming political coalitions.
Social Democracy’s main difference from Socialism is that it relies on the market system. That is, the State works with Capitalism, not for its abolition and replacement by a fully planned economy (Planism). Aspects of Social Democracy can often be seen in compromises or hybrid positions. Social Democracy assigns a major role to the main taxpayers as well as what should be the main social actors, a broad middle class, and emphasizes a social contract which produces quality good and services. Thus, in the Thai Situation, the voter (and the wealthy) pay higher inheritance, land and property, and personal income taxes. In exchange, the middle class has access to high quality social services, whether education or the health system, and is proud of using them.
At the level of a socio-economic system, aspects of Thailand are already obviously Social Democrat. For example, the existence of the National Economic and Social Development Board, together with its Thailand’s Five Year Plans, is an example of a compromise between a planned economy and a market economy. This demonstrates Thailand has a hybrid economy, though over the years the rise of the ministries has meant the focus of power has moved from the NESDB to the bureaucracy. The fact Thailand also has strong state-owned enterprises, such as EGAT, also demonstrates a Social Democrat economic system.
However, a Social Democracy does not necessarily endorse an overly planned economy or state-owned enterprises in themselves. For example, the NCPO’s decision to move towards a twenty-year plan does not make sense in terms of a market economy as it locks Thailand into an overly authoritarian future where planning is not flexible enough to meet emerging market conditions. And, there are strong arguments to deregulate the energy market in Thailand if EGAT is not capable of reforming itself to rapidly decentralize the energy grid to maximize the use of solar power and reduce the reliance on environmentally damaging fossil fuels.
In a Thai Social Democracy, broad, long-term social goals should be adopted as part of a new social contract in which a large middle class plays a central developmental role. Thus, the first strategic social goal of a Thai Social Democracy would be to develop Thailand beyond the middle income trap while also respecting the environment – as Social Democracy also strongly emphasizes working with the Green movement on realistic long-term goals, such as reducing greenhouse gas emissions globally to save Thailand’s coastal cities, especially Bangkok.
In the case of Thailand, the middle class is relatively small and underdeveloped. A Social Democracy would emphasize minimum wages and workers’ rights as part of a new deal with the workforce in order to lift it out of poverty – still at nearly 9% nationally – and to transform large elements of the lower class (the upper lower class) into the middle class (the lower middle class). The aim would be to increase aggregate domestic demand, especially for higher quality goods and services, such as slavery-free canned fish products, quality engineered products, and environmentally friendly agriculture such as pesticide-free or organic rice, by ensuring people have enough money to pay for them. This is not particularly contentious.
However, a Thai Social Democracy would also reject the ‘race to the bottom’ mentality of global neo-liberalism, which has resulted in hellish conditions for Chinese factory workers and the destruction of the Chinese atmosphere in its major cities, and instead emphasize unionization, particularly in difficult, dirty, and dangerous conditions, such as the Thai fishing industry. It would therefore work closely with the International Labor Organization to increase standards and aim to re-brand its products to the international market as quality, labor and environmentally friendly products. This could lead to the introduction of internally democratic worker-owned cooperatives, such as already exist in Thailand’s farming industry, in its fishing industry, as well as other aspects of ‘economic democracy’.
This element of rejecting the global ‘race to the bottom’ of capital moving to the country with the lowest wages reflects Social Democracy’s emphasis on human solidarity – that we are all living on the same planet together – and would require a Thai Social Democracy to work with other, similar countries to renegotiate World Trade Organization and other global trade agreements in order to ensure minimum social and environmental industrial standards internationally. The basic logic is to ensure minimum standards and ensure happier, better paid workers, who are then more productive, for example because turnover is lower and motivation is higher.
As can be seen in the Statement, a Social Democrat Thailand would therefore be internationalist and emphasize a closer relationship with the various UN bodies responsible for promoting these standards. This position is in contrast to other Thai political parties, including Pheu Thai, or as Thaksin once famously noted, “The UN is not my father”. In a Thai Social Democracy, the UN would still not be Thailand’s father, as His Majesty the King officially holds that role.
However, the UN would be permitted and expected to play a role as a friendly and concerned uncle and would be allowed to promote civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights in Thailand. This would necessarily mean a much greater role for Thailand’s National Human Rights Commission, presently downgraded to ‘B’ status internationally for its ineffectiveness, which would have to be expanded in size and capacity to reflect all the key stakeholders in Thailand, from workers to employers, as well as civil society, and so that it can both offer advice and monitor implementation of human rights. Internationally, we would see Thailand contributing more to UN missions, providing a role for Thailand’s military and demonstrating leadership ability to the international community.
This partnership with the UN would mean we would see a greater recognition of, and provision for, universal human rights. A Social Democrat Thailand would emphasize civil rights, especially regarding torture and disappearances, as well as enhanced freedom of the media regarding defamation; political rights, including freedom of speech and of assembly; social human rights, such as legalized gay marriage, the promotion of women’s rights within the religious system, and the abolition of the death penalty; as well as cultural rights, such as formal recognition of Thailand’s ethnic communities, for example the Thai Lao, the Khon Muang of the North, the Thai Malay, and the mountain peoples, through a national language policy and financial support for dual-language or mother-tongue-as-a-subject teaching.
Providing for a role for the mother tongue in formal education will likely result in better academic results by ensuring higher ‘buy in’ to the academic system, especially in the Deep South, which has the worst educational results in the country. However, the reform of the national education system will be one of the greatest priorities of a Social Democrat Thailand. Social Democratic countries tend to have excellent education systems, but they do so because they emphasize bureaucratic decentralization; well-paid, quality teachers; and the use of the education system to target and investigate social ills at a community level, leveraging mass movements and stressing civil participation to discuss and solve social problems.
This Social Democrat emphasis on utilizing the education system to solve social ills means a Social Democrat Thailand will have to act, in partnership with Unicef and UNESCO, to make Thailand’s education system work. In concert with partners such as the UNDP and Transparency International, it will have to work to reduce the endemic societal corruption. However, it will have to do more than that. It will also have to address the socio-political malaise which is presently afflicting Thailand. At present, there is no national way forward beyond the roadmap in General Prayut’s head; ‘reconciliation’ is only in place because of the imposition of an authoritarian system bordering on totalitarianism; and human rights defenders, students and politicians live in fear of reeducation ‘happiness’ camps. Furtheri it is embarrassing to live in a society which constantly experiences crises, coups, and constitutions, and it is insulting to suggest Thailand is not capable of formulating a permanent socio-political solution.
A Social Democrat Party with 8-10% of the vote in the 2017-2018 election is part of that solution.
Thailand deserves a better future.
The Project for a Social Democracy (PSD) Statement of Purpose
1) The Project for a Social Democracy (PSD) consists of a group of like-minded people who plan to support social democratic philosophy, principles, and policies in Thailand. Our first project is to draft a Declaration of Principles outlining our philosophy and to form a Foundation for a Social Democracy, which will work on strategy and policy development.
2) Social democracy advocates state intervention for social and economic justice in the context of a broadly capitalist economy and with commitment to electoral, representative democracy. Examples of social democratic policies include facilitation of collective bargaining for empowerment of labor and wealth redistribution for the general welfare. Sweden is a typical example, with high taxation on the wealthy and high standards of living for all its citizens in a careful balance of the state, the market, and civil society.
3) Social democratic political parties exist throughout the world, particularly in Europe. The Foundation for a Social Democracy will support all and any Thai political parties which have social democratic groups and promote social democratic values. If necessary, and when permitted by Thailand’s military government, the Foundation may seek to create a new social democrat party or assist the Social Democrat Party.
4) We believe the state, commerce, and civil society all have roles to play in the new Thailand. However, at present, there is an imbalance in the power between the state, the economy, and civil society.
5) Specifically, the state is too strong, while civil society is too weak, and we believe the market can be aided by improving the quality of workers' lives through trade unions and legal protections. That would permit commerce to focus on value added production through technology. Such a step will have the organic effect of improving the lives of workers instead of relying on the present system of debt bondage and wage slavery. Another effect of this imbalance is in the commercial effect on the environment with the support of government, for example, coal-fired power plants. We also believe in building up human potential and civil society through more, better, and free education for all Thais.
6) We believe free and open discussion in the absence of censorship or fear of repercussion is necessary both to civil society and to building up shared understandings, concerns and goals among the many ethnicities and social groupings within these borders, to promote the concept of Thai participatory citizenship. We therefore advocate near absolute freedom of expression and the weakening of libel and defamation laws.
7) Social democratic values are based upon universal human rights such as the UN’s 1948 Universal Declaration on Human Rights and the two International Covenants, on civil and political rights and economic, social, and political rights, to which Thailand is signatory but rarely follows. We believe these human rights can form the basis for a new system of justice and values in Thailand, a deliberative and participatory one which acknowledges Thailand’s uniqueness but is founded on concepts of social justice.
8) Social democracy embodies values of human solidarity through public knowledge and government transparency. We are therefore interested in not just Thai members but also reaching out to foreigners who see themselves as stakeholders in Thailand, for example parents of Thais, spouses of Thais, investors in Thailand, and scholars and academics who care about Thailand's future. We also welcome institutional members as well as individuals.
We know if Thailand can embrace such principles, we can be a world leader and a moral beacon to others.