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Time is ripe for a new Thai political movement

Oct 04. 2017
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By Atipong Pathanasethpong,
John Draper
Special to The Nation

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Ultra-nationalism is resurgent across the globe, threatening us with a descent into the horrors of neo-Nazism. At the same time, environmental degradation is resulting in devastating weather conditions.

In Thailand, amid torrential flooding, Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha’s coal ambitions and 20-year dream of a militarised state seem 

tailored to pull the country downward, following the very worst global trends rather than leading the region towards greater civilisation. The trends of ignoring the plight of ethnic communities and rejecting the principle of jointly caring for the global environment are connected: ultra-nationalists promote ethnocentrism above the common good and reject international solidarity in facing adversity.

Even as the United States’ rejection of science and withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement fuels the fires of global warming as the world suffers the worst hurricanes on record, Thailand’s military government is seemingly incapable of rapidly restructuring its energy sector for far cleaner energy production, via solar farming, solar rooftops, and small to medium solar plants. Even as President Donald Trump’s rhetoric fuels the flames of ethnic hatred, our own military regime all-but endorses the values of the Thai ultra-nationalist Rubbish Collection Organisation that dehumanises political opponents as “trash” to be targeted and “eliminated”.

Ultra-nationalists view domestic ethnic minority communities as adversaries of the state, and neighbouring countries as enemies rather than allies. They reject Asean’s founding principles of common values and cross-boundary cooperation in areas populated by the ethnic minorities of Thailand, such as the Lao of the Northeast, the Karen of the western border, the Malay of the deep South, and the Northern Khmer of the lower Northeast. Ultra-nationalists oppose the teaching of ethnic languages in the boundary areas, just as many US white supremacists oppose the teaching of any language other than English.

Nevertheless, there is hope for a better future. Though the Left may seem to be collapsing in Europe while Trump’s America flirts with neo-Nazism, the Centre holds. In France, Emmanuel Macron’s triumph over Marine le Pen was a victory of the Centre Left over the Far Right. In Germany Angela Merkel is moving her Christian Democratic Union party closer to the Centre. The Trump experiment and Brexit have been so clearly a mistake that they are now seen as textbook examples of political misdirection and outright lies. A majority of British voters now want a return to the EU before Britain has even left.

The Centre Left offers a way forward. The Centre Left stands for internationalism, human solidarity in adversity, cosmopolitanism and the concept of a global village regulated by human rights. It rejects the economic race to the bottom of unbridled “development” that, for example, has seen capital and factories move to China with no concern for the environment and in two decades shrouded Beijing in smog and polluted its waterways. Centre-Left principles are elements of a civilising mission in profound contrast to the savagery of neo-Nazism and a resource extraction model which devastates the environment and then moves on, seeking ever more territory.

The Project for a Social Democracy is working to create a Centre-Left Thai Foundation for Social Democracy. The Foundation will serve as a transparent marketplace for sharing and developing ideas and plans for a better Thailand. We advocate economic rights to reduce wealth inequality; social rights supporting LGBTQI individuals, women, the elderly, and the disabled; cultural rights for Thailand’s many ethnic groups; and a social safety net to ensure equitable opportunity for all. We believe that empowering these communities will empower them to respect our environment.

We invite Greens, socialists, unionists, and direct democracy and communitarian advocates to the kind of alliance not regularly formed outside of Western coalition governments. As part of such an alliance we hope to mobilise the dynamism of Thai youth, helping to heal the scars of the Thammasat University Massacre of October 1976 and to overcome the consequent disruption of normal political development. We envision a Thailand in which student politics is normal and where peaceful street protests are once again possible and meaningful. A Thailand in which basic civil and political rights are restored in communion with nature.

The Foundation will be the first step in gaining political power for those in need of such rights. It will be instrumental in building a Centre Left movement better representing Left ideologies than a post-Yingluck Pheu Thai is likely to do. As such a movement organises through the Foundation, from positing ideals to proposing costed policies, it will be seen even by the military and their ultra-nationalist supporters as serious and mature, rather than as the naive, populist, uneducated rabble that opposition parties are often characterised as. We will be guided by policies and principles resulting from discussions among dozens of pro-environment single-issue political parties. 

From such alliances we expect the emergence of a national Centre Left party offering a grand compromise of the kind which the UK and many of the Nordic Bloc countries underwent in the late 20th century and which transformed South Korea into an Asian Tiger. Core elements of the welfare state, wealth transfer, unionisation, and acceptance of economic, social and cultural rights would be married to political stability for environmentally sustainable economic growth far outperforming what can be obtained under the crisis-coup-constitution cycle. The party, once it becomes national and begins to gain seats in parliament, would begin to realise these policies.

Now is the time neither for frustrated striking out nor for indifferently waiting for our climate and politics to resolve themselves. It is time for acting politically for a human rights-based pro-green agenda by working towards a Foundation for a Social Democracy. We call for action before what will essentially be an election with only two polarised parties and the usual feudal machine politics dominated by a militarised upper House perpetuates the round of crises. Now is the time to lay the foundations of a cosmopolitan, internationalist, environmentally friendly Thailand.  

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