Tuesday, 18 May 2010


Thailand - eyewitness report

By the time this report was written, the tension had increased to a new level in the streets of Bangkok since the passsing of Wednesday night's ultimatum.

By a socialistworld.net reporter in Thailand, Friday 14/10

The protesters are preparing for the impending army intervention which, judging by the murderous fighting at the end of April, would mean preparing for a bloodbath. For more than two months, the red shirts opposition to the government of Abhisit Vejjajiva has been occupying the trade and financial district of Bangkok. They demand the dissolution of Parliament and call for immediate elections.

Context and history of the events:

In September 2006, the then Prime Minister, multibillionaire Thaksin Shinawatra, was toppled by a military coup. At the same time, he was condemned to two years of prison for conflict of interest and various financial skullduggeries. Since then, he lives in exile in Dubai, waiting for a triumphal coming-back to Thailand.

In Thailand, the support for Thaksin essentially comes from an important number of poor farmers from the rural areas (mainly from the North of the country and from the area surrounding Bangkok), as well as from a part of the poor working class from the cities. He was able to build this support via populist policies and thanks to several small measures in favour of the poorest, that were implemented when he was in power. In the meanwhile, he of course played the role that was expected from him as a capitalist oligarch by implementing neoliberal measures which created huge discontent, widespread amongst the workers in the cities.

By the end of 2008, the yellow shirt supporters of Abhisit (the current Prime Minister) occupied the government buildings and two airports, until the then government, accused of being in league with Thaksin, was dissolved. Abhisit's party then managed to raise enough support, including from pro-Thaksin MPs, in order to form a new government. Even if the army did not play any active role in these events, it is clear for many people that so many pro-Thaksin MPs becoming turncoats could only be due to threats from the military.

In the meantime, the red shirts were organizing their first important mobilization by gathering 50,000 supporters in one of Bangkok's biggest stadiums. The main group organizing the protesters is known as the «United Front for Democracy and against Dictatorship and this is supported by the Pheu Thai Party (Party For Thais) that linked to Thaksin.

On the other hand, Abhisit's party, the Democrat Party is supported by the PAD (People Alliance for Democracy) - the yellow-shirted - and they have their main base in the urban middle class, and some layers of the working class.

The current government is widely discredited and implements policies that reinforce the role of the monarchy and of the military on the political plane. More than 70% of the government members have not been elected.

The red shirts and the battles of 2009

Exactly one year ago, in April 2009, the red shirts occupied Bangkok's city centre for the first time. They were demanding Abhisit's immediate resignation and were supporting Thaksin, the opposition figure in exile. Pitched battles raged for several days between thousands of red shirts, mainly young people, and the state forces. A state of emergency was declared and paramilitary forces were deployed. The army charged with tanks and shot at the crowd using real bullets, killing two people and wounding hundreds. The Prime Minister's car was assaulted by a raging mob. An important summit gathering the elites of various surrounding countries also had to be cancelled given the scale of the mobilization. After several weeks, and facing an important repression, the red shirts leaders accepted to dismiss their troops, promising new actions if new elections were not called soon.

April 2010 : the red shirts are rising again

Almost exactly one year after the 2009 events, the red shirts gathered again and decided to occupy en masse one of the capital's economic hearts, the Bangkok district. Many demonstrations were organized by foot, by motorbike... Their most spectacular action happened several weeks ago, when they decided to march on the Parliament, forcing it to cancel its session and the MPs to run away. For several weeks, the government even had to take refuge and meet in a town outside Bangkok.

At the same time, many rallies are organized on a daily basis. The figures suggest about 100,000 to 150,000 people showing up daily in the occupied centre. The newspaper The Nation was explaining that: "More and more poor farmers have arrived and have joined the reds in order to express their anger about their feeling of having become social victims". This same newspaper was writing on its first page :"Poverty is Thailand's biggest enemy. At least 10 million from a total of 65 million people live lower than the poverty threshold. This layer of the population has almost no access to decent food, to healthcare or to an opportunity to reach education".

For the first time, in order to ease the climate, Abhisit was forced to organize parleys with the red shirts leaders. He produced a roadmap promising elections due on 14th of November, and a whole range of measures for the poor farmers. This tactic's main aim was to demobilize the protesters and gain some time. The red shirt leaders had on the other hand decided to maintain their occupation of the city centre and to demand the immediate dissolution of the Parliament.

Facing the protesters' determination, the army has already two times tried to invade and clear the occupied area. These attempts were met by a furious resistance by the red shirts, and caused dozens of deaths. During the last weeks, many big assaults have also taken place in Bangkok, which wounded and killed several people amongst the state forces. These attacks certainly are, according to the official media, due to the red hardcores. It is also very possible that these are due to yellow shirt (government) provocateurs who have also launched several violent actions against the reds during recent days.

One of the reds' main demands since these tragic incidents is the arrest of Defence Minister Suthep, for his responsibility in the murderous repression towards the end of April. The government has on its side toughened its rhetoric and warned warning that if the protesters had not left the Rajprasong centre by the 12th of May, water and electricity would be cut before a tough military offensive, probably in the following hours. This was when, since the end of April, the government was on the defensive, fearing the implosion of the armed forces between pro-government and pro-reds.

The red shirts leader Jatuporn Promphan, stated in The Nation on the 12th of May that they would not give way to the government ultimatum and that : "We are not afraid of such pressures. After so many protesters dying, nothing can stop the reds anymore".

The mood in the red entrenched camp, and the latest events

On Wednesday 12th of April, several hours before the end of the ultimatum, I had the opportunity to get into the occupied city centre, barricaded from every side by the opposition to the regime. This district, several square kilometers wide, is very seriously secured by the reds. Every entry to the area is blocked by huge barricades, preventing access to the rally and sleeping areas.

'Black guards', the protesters' security service, search every vehicle to prevent the entry of weapons or grenades. A huge podium, connected to loud-speakers in the whole district, welcomes the main red shirt leaders' speeches in an uninterrupted flow. A crowd of many people and families stands there or sleeps on the ground – their new homes. Food and water distribution, and all other basic commodities are provided everywhere in the huge encampment. Everywhere hang pictures of the demonstrations, images of the repression in April, and banners calling for the dissolution of the Parliament. The welcome by the rank-and-file activists is very warm, and there is a widespread willingness to explain the situation, in spite of the language barrier. When I ask her what she thinks about the current situation and about the government's ultimatum, a young 19 year old red explains to us that : "I have been here for two months. The army has already tried to evict us several times. Many people have already died. They talk about 20 dead, but for us, it has been more than 100. If the army comes back – and that will surely be the case in the coming days – I will fight against them". 

The Nation's columnist has been talking about important disagreements amongst the reds for a few days now. It is clear that the huge hopes that have been raised by this massive movement, which is being used by Thaksin and by his group of thugs to enhance their own political position, cannot be simply satisfied by a simple promise of getting new elections next November. Amongst the leaders, two wings have been sketched out during the last few days : one the one side, a 'moderate' wing who wants to accept the roadmap and demobilize the forces ; on the other hand, a 'hard' wing, gathered around the Pheu Thai party, the main political party behind the reds, which is opposed to the 'roadmap'. Amongst an ever-growing layer of the mobilized red supporters, doubts are surfacing about their leaders' honesty. One of these supporters was stating that : "Today, it is clear that to maintain a confrontational stance against the government would only soon turn this area into a bloodbath. I have tried many times to discuss with the leaders, to no avail. I feel that we cannot trust some of the leaders, and I even wonder if they really fight for democracy". A radio hoisted on the site was stating a short while earlier that " the rank-and-file are self-organizing and warning their leaders that they had better not forget them". Another protester was stating : "You could order now to the protesters, from the stage, that they should go back to their homes – I think their reaction would be to throw everything that they can reach at the person who would risk this. Some are even planning to march on the 11th Infantry Regiment and to arrest the Prime Minister before launching a popular uprising".

By the time I am writing these lines (Thursday 13/05), the army has locked the whole area and got the green light to open fire using real bullets. Dozens of tanks are gathered near the barricades. A state of emergency has been declared in 15 provinces of the country. Only several minutes ago, the main red shirt leader has been killed during an interview with a Japanese TV channel by an army sniper. Battles have flared in the surrounding area in order to keep the army at bay, already resulting in one dead – a 25 year old youth name Chartchai Chalao – and 20 seriously wounded people. The red leaders have also ordered their troops to be deployed on every barricade and to stand waiting for the army. The situation will very certainly worsen in the coming hours.

What prospects for the workers and the poor masses of Thailand ?

It is clear that the events in Thailand are the expression of a power struggle between Thaksin and the Abhisit government. This situation has certainly sharpened the already existing tensions between the rural and urban populations.

The Abhisit government is today clearly supported by the military and by the monarchy, with one purpose : prevent Thaksin and his clique from coming back to power. Thaksin's supporters have self-proclaimed themselves as mouthpieces of the country's poor masses, and are only using the anger and the frustration which exists in Thai society to their own advantage. These various leaders have today deliberately sharpened the tensions and the divisions between the rural poor and the urban workers and middle class.

Yet, the victims of the elites' greed are still the poor farmers, the working class and some other layers of society, whatever side they have now chosen. Corruption has reached a never-attained before level in the country. It is clear that in this situation, none of the leaders will denounce any of the causes of the problems suffered by the Thai people. Thailand is one of the worst-hit countries by the capitalist crisis, and both camps' leaders anyway agree about who will be the one to pay for it during the coming months and years: workers and the poorest in society.

It is thus today a real disaster that there exists no party with a programme starting from the needs of the poor farmers and of the workers, in order to channel the huge existing anger which is expressing itself in the streets of the country. We will not end poverty and oppression by trusting either the government or some corrupted billionaire.

The situation today is very unstable, and it is hard to know what is going to happen in the coming days. It is clear that the government has decided to test its strength, and this is now but a matter of hours. What will the reds' ability to resist be ? Will the dissensions amongst the military burst into the open ? What will be the scale of the slaughter that we are going to witness ?

Whatever happens, even if this is not the most likely, should the red shirts finally get the calling of new elections, the official commentators are expecting a victory of Thaksin's supporters' party. Should this happen, it is very likely that the yellow shirt coalition, supported by part of the military, would again take to the streets. This all means that it is very likely that the instability continues in the country.

Moreover, what we are now seeing happening in Thailand – a country that has already known 18 coups since the 1930s – is an indication of the instability which could develop on a wider scale throughout the whole of Asia as a reaction against the worsening of the crisis. For us, revolutionary socialists of the world, it is therefore even more important to understand the emergency in relation to the building of a mass political force in order to defend the interests of the workers and of the poor masses, as well as the need to organize the battle for a socialist society, the only alternative which could finally break with capitalist barbarism.

The Committee for a Workers' International demands:

• No to suppression of democratic rights and clamp-downs on the media

• Abolish any draconian law such as ISA (Internal Security Act) which suppresses the rights of the people

• No to the rule of generals and the rule of corrupt, millionaire politicians

• Total opposition to a military coup

• For a mass struggle to win full democratic rights, including workers' rights to organise, to protest, and to strike

• For independent, fighting, democratic unions and small farmers' organisations

• Trade union rights for the armed forces rank and file - win poor soldiers to the struggles of working people

• For the building of a mass workers' and poor farmers' party

• For a united struggle of workers, poor farmers, students and others oppressed by the system to overthrow the corrupt government

• For a genuine, representative Constituent Assembly

• Abolish the monarchy

• For a majority workers' and poor farmers' government

• Full rights for the oppressed Muslim population in the South of Thailand and all other minorities

• No to neo-liberal policies of privatisation and de-regulation

• Take into democratic public ownership the big business enterprises, major industries, large private land-holdings and banks

• For an economy planned to meet the needs of the working people and poor farmers, under the democratic control and management of elected committees from the working class and small farmers

• For a socialist Thailand, as part of a socialist confederation throughout South East Asia


Monday, 3 May 2010



On 3 April, Najib Razak celebrated his one year as prime minister after succeeding from Abdullah Badawi. Since taking over, he has been entrusted to save the 'sinking ship' of UMNO (United Malay National Organisation) and BN (National Front) after the BN government under Abdullah was humiliated when it lost its two thirds majority in parliament for the first time since the 1969 election as well as losing four state governments to Pakatan Rakyat (PR-People's Coalition) in the 2008 general election.

When Najib came into power, he immediately devised the slogan, "One Malaysia: People First, Performance Now", to fortify his political standing as well as strengthening UMNO and BN. This slogan was supposed to address the racial inequalities by, "developing respect for one another and to learn to trust one another more...it is a formula for unity in diversity". Following this, he launched a series of policies of 'reform' to make "BN relevant to the multiracial society of Malaysia". Firstly, he introduced 'Key Performance Indicators' and later a 'Government Transformation Programme' in order "to improve government services and managements". Recently he announced the NEM (New Economic Model) "to strengthen the economy from the global economic uncertainty and to make sure Malaysia becomes a developed country".

A recent survey by the independent pollster, Merdeka Centre, showed that Najib's popularity rating has improved to 68% from around 40% when he was appointed as prime minister. With that, Najib proclaimed that his 'One Malaysia' multiracial unity concept and his policies to improve the economy are being supported by the people and the BN has been regaining the support they lost in the last general election. The victory of BN over Pakatan Rakyat in the by-election in the Hulu Selangor parliamentary seat on 25 April has been used as further evidence of increased support for Najib and his policies, especially since there he was "fighting a battle in a state controlled by the opposition". This shows that the Najib government is going all out to make sure they win comfortably in the next general election in two or three years' time.

However, the strengthened opposition of the Pakatan Rakyat - the coalitions of PKR (People's Justice Party), PAS (Malaysian Islamic Party) and DAP (Democratic Action Party) - under the leadership of Anwar Ibrahim is also campaigning to "save Malaysia", to bring to an end the BN rule that has lasted for more than half a century and to take over the running of the federal government in the next general election to establish a "better Malaysia".

Hulu Selangor bye-election

The Hulu Selangor by-election, the tenth by-election since the last general election, has been regarded as a referendum for both the BN and the PR. For the BN it was a gauge of the acceptance by people of Najib's policies over the last one year and for the PR it was to measure the support of the people for the PR-ruled Selangor state government's policies. Because of that both parties had gone desperately all-out to win the seat to boost their popularity among the masses in general.

This by-election has been labelled by the opposition as the, "dirtiest, [most] corrupt and expensive" by-election in which "character assassination, racism, bribery and brute force" were used by the BN camp to garner votes.

There is an irony in Malaysia that the ordinary people can only get any benefit from their state assemblymen or parliamentarians when he or she dies and causes a by-election. In this one, all types of 'goodies' and promises were ladled out by both sides to garner votes. However, with the BN having the upper-hand over the 'Three Ms' - 'Machinery, Media and Money' - they went all out to win this by-election. Even an unsolved land issue between settlers with the Federal Land Development Authority (FELDA) – the government-linked plantation giant – that had been going on for a decade, was suddenly resolved when the prime minister, Najib, promised to compensate the one hundred settlers affected with RM50,000 each. The opposition accused the BN of having spent RM167million on projects in a 7 day campaigning period to win votes in Hulu Selangor which has around 60,000 inhabitants.

On the other hand, the Selangor's PR state government had also used its resources as well as its authority to garner votes. But as in the Bagan Pinang by election, people were seeing that the PR politicians' policies, programmes and approaches were not much different than the BN politicians'. Both parties appeared only sympathetic to the ordinary people during the election and did not care about their welfare and needs all this while. For instance, the plantation workers as well as the 'orang asli' (the indigenous people) in Hulu Selangor, are living in deplorable conditions, but their economic and social issues and their rights, that are discriminated against by big companies, have not been taken care of. In that case, people, especially the 'fence sitters', are keen to lean towards a party that can immediately solve certain problems or give better rewards or promises.

The thin majority of 1,725 gained by the BN in the by-election was not exactly because the people supported the Najib 'OneMalaysia' and NEM, but mainly because of the BN aggressively using its control of the '3Ms' to win. This victory will be used to boost BN's image and also to continually damage the reputation of Pakatan Rakyat, such as by triggering more defections from the PR camp into the BN.

Racial politics

This and the previous by-elections have also shown that UMNO and the BN have no other way but utilising their patronage and also racial sentiments to garner votes. Yet it was for this that they were punished in the last general election. This shows that they are incapable of getting rid of their ingrained racial politics that they have maintained since independence in 1957.

UMNO as the dominant party in BN as usual used the idea of Malay special rights and Malay hegemony to maintain the support of especially the rural Malays while propagating the unity idea of 'OneMalaysia' among the non-Malays. The multiracial coalition appearance of the BN is still used to make sure it is supported by all races. But almost all its main coalition partners other than UMNO – the MCA (Malaysian Chinese Association), the MIC (Malaysian Indian Congress), Gerakan (Movement) and the PPP (People Progressive Party) – have not been able to regain the respective support of their races since the last general election. In that situation, UMNO has been the dominant player. As can be seen in the Hulu Selangor by-election, Najib himself had to go down to campaign, which is rare in any by-elections, to make sure of victory.

At the same time, since the start of the year, the racial/religious tensions have been heightened by a few politically-linked incidents related to racial/religious sentiments. The conservative and ultra-right wing group, Perkasa, has openly vowed to safeguard Malay rights and hegemony and this group is now backed by former PM, Mahatir Mohammad. It is also tacitly supported by UMNO to cater for the sentiments of some sections of Malays that see their economic rights being taken away by non-Malays. The government's unwillingness to disband this group, but at the same time propagating 'OneMalaysia', is seen as hypocritical.

At this juncture, Najib has slightly increased his popularity because of the hopes he has raised about building unity and meeting the needs of all regardless of race. On the other hand, the failure of PR to counter Najib's policies with clear alternatives has also given some space for Najib to manoeuvre. However, with racial prejudices and hypocrisy prevalent, this could be temporary as people realise that his 'OneMalaysia' and NEM are only another kind of political propaganda of the BN and that it cannot meet the social and economic needs of the ordinary people, regardless of race.

Reforms and democracy

Nevertheless the impact of the 'political tsunami' of the 2008 general election is still felt, especially among the urban population in West Malaysia. This is comprised of people of the working and middle class as well youth who are hoping for better living standards and to get rid of the impact of the neo-liberal attacks of of the BN government. They are also looking for change and to obtain the democratic rights that are being suppressed by the BN government. The anger and hatred towards the 'happy-go-lucky' attitude and the 'arrogance' of UMNO and the BN has pushed them to lend support for Pakatan Rakyat.

With the stimulus packages introduced to improve the economy, the Najib government has the advantage of using it to launch his 'reform' projects, such as improving infrastructure as well as public services to recapture the support of the people. Programmes such as OneMalaysia Clinics were launched in some areas to demonstrate that the BN government is caring for all people regardless of race and religion. But such reforms are very limited. However, the BN government has shown it is incapable of reforming his administration and its state tools such as the police and legal systems. The corruption and mismanagement of public funds are still rife. Meanwhile, the reforms it has made, such as to the Internal Security Act (ISA) and the University and College Act) (UACA) are very limited and still can be used to suppress the democratic rights of the people.

Recently, a PR leader lamented that, since taking over the government, Najib has been emulating some of the 'reforms' and economic agenda of Pakatan Rakyat such as 'freeing' the economy. After the last general election Anwar and the PR launched their Malaysian Economic Agenda as the alternative to the BN's economic policies, with the main agenda of "liberalising the economy and distributing wealth equally, regardless of race". This will be done, they say, by safeguarding the free market system and basically making the government administration better and more transparent. And now under pressure, Najib has had to emulate some of the PR reform agenda. How far he can go will depend on the country's economic performance in the coming period.

Meanwhile, the Pakatan Rakyat state governments which are propagating transparency and 'government for the people' have also introduced some welfare benefits and projects and are making the local councils more efficient to a certain extent than when they were under BN administration.

Although such reforms have benefited certain people, the majority still consider that their living standards have not improved much and even some see their situation getting worst. Issues such as high crime rates, inflation, illegal loans, the increasing cost of living and stagnating wages are continually hounding the ordinary people - the working class, middle class, poor farmers and fishermen as well the youth. This shows that the reforms propagated by both the BN and the PR have not fundamentally addressed the social and economic needs of these ordinary people. They have adjusted their policies to accommodate to the profit-orientation of the 'free' market system of capitalism.

Fight against capitalism

Although the stimulus packages have cushioned the economy to a certain extent for some periods, this cannot be the permanent solution for the Malaysian economy which is still very much export-oriented with a limited domestic market. The NEM was aimed at developing service and high-tech industries to make Malaysia a high income economy rather than being as currently, a middle income economy mainly based on manufacturing and commodities (oil, palm oil, rubber). This means that in recent times the government has been under pressure when the Foreign Direct Investment is not much coming to Malaysia but going to countries like China, Vietnam, Indonesia and others that offer far cheaper labour costs and reasonably good investment facilities. But, with the continuing global economic uncertainties and high competition for FDI among the region's countries, this would make the dream of a high income economy not possible.

The truth is that, at present, Malaysia still has to depend on being high income economies such as the US, Europe and Japan to at least maintain its middle income standing. This was clear when, a few weeks ago, Najib met Obama in the USA and also visited Japan to attract more FDI into Malaysia to counter poor investment by foreign companies. In the coming period, if the BN government cannot find ways of improving the economy, this could further provoke more social explosions on issues such as unemployment and inflation, as well as leading to tensions between the races due to an unequal distribution of wealth.

The PR state governments, as well the federal government of BN, are working under the dictates of the free market system of capitalism. Because of that, the reforms promised by the PR and their implementation in some of the state governments have been limited. Sometimes they succumb to the pressure of the business class and investors. Although the BN government says it is working to fulfill the needs of the people, in the background they are propagating the mantra of capitalism - to maximize the profits of national and international capitalists. The plan to introduce a Goods and Service Tax (GST), a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) and to cut subsidies and public spending show the pressure of capitalism to further plunder the resources and labour of the working class and the poor in the country.

Genuine racial unity is not possible as long as the fundamental needs and the cultural and religious rights of all races are not equally fulfilled and respected. This will not be possible as long as the government bases its politics on fulfilling the profit needs of the elites, cronies and capitalists.

Capitalist democracy, as far as it is implemented by the BN, is used to safeguard the power and profit interests of the minority - the elites and capitalists. In a genuine democracy, the majority would participate in all planning and decision-making processes to determine that wealth and resources are equally distributed and shared according to people's needs. This requires a transformation from the current system to a system based on public ownership of the main industries, banks and land and planning of the economy to be democratically controlled and managed by elected representatives of the the majority - the working class and the ordinary people. In order to achieve this reality, we need an independent working class party that is also supported by youth and other oppressed layers in society. This party has to be clearly against the system of capitalism and armed with socialist policies to fight for democratic rights as well as the cultural, social and economic needs of the majority - the working class and others oppressed by the system - regardless of race and religion.