The struggle for democracy and social justice in Thailand came to a crucial turning point this week.
On Tuesday, Thai prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva trumpeted that he was making an important initiative to “solve” the political crisis.
He offered to dissolve parliament in September and hold elections on 14 November 2010.
Previously he had said that he would not suspend parliament until December and even this offer was conditional on there being “peace in society”.
Therefore he and his military-backed government could go back on the proposal and claim nearer the time that conditions were “not yet right” for elections.
Even as Abhisit made his proposal, the military security command and deputy prime minister were sabre rattling. They threatened to send tanks and soldiers to disperse the pro-democracy Red Shirt protesters in the centre of Bangkok.
They still called them “terrorists”.
Red Shirt leader Jatuporn Prompan said they would give a response to Abhisit’s offer on Wednesday.
Abhisit’s statement was full of lies and excuses.
He continued to accuse Red Shirts of undermining the monarchy. Yet it is the undemocratic actions of the military, the Yellow Shirt mobs and the government,—carried out in the name of the king—which have turned people against the monarchy.
Abhisit also said that he upheld the freedom of the press. But his government has instigated draconian censorship of the media.
His speech conveniently ignored the issue of the military coup in 2006 and all the undemocratic measures taken by him and his allies since. He claimed that the root cause of the crisis was economic inequality.
Such inequality is indeed important, but it cannot be divorced from the assault on democratic rights. This attack on freedom is designed to maintain the economic inequalities in Thai society for the benefit of the elite.
Abhisit offered to set up an “independent” committee to look into the 10 April bloodshed when he sent tanks and armed soldiers against unarmed demonstrators.
The Red Shirts have been very determined and have held a prolonged protest since mid March.
They have faced the armed might of the military and a whole host of lies from the mainstream media.
The Red Shirts have achieved a lot but unfortunately they have not, so far reached out to the trade union movement.
They will be ready for negotiations, but they should not settle for a poor compromise.
All charges against Red Shirts should be dropped and all those imprisoned, as a result of the protest, should be released immediately. All censorship must end.
The state of emergency must be lifted immediately and troops returned to barracks. The head of the army and the major political actors must promise to respect the democratic wishes of the people.
Fresh elections will only be the start of a solution to the deep crisis. Thailand needs drastic changes—political, social and economic.
The lese majeste law—making it illegal for people to criticise the monarchy—must be scrapped and political prisoners released.
Inequality must be tackled by introducing a welfare state funded by taxing the rich.
The military constitution should also be scrapped and the army should be cut down to a bare minimum.
To push forward with these necessary changes, the Red Shirts need to expand their organisation into the trade unions and the lower ranks of the army.
We must look to the organised working class to take this fight forward.
Giles Ji Ungpakorn is a Thai socialist currently in exile in Britain