The appointment of dictator Prayuth Chan-ocha as prime minister by his hand-picked military parliament was such an unsurprising non-event that Prayuth did not even bother to attend. The so-called “vote” was unanimous.
Prayuth has set himself up as Thailand’s “Supremo”, placing himself in charge of all important posts. This harks back to the dark old days of the military dictatorships in the 1960s and 1970s.
As acclaimed writer Wat Wanyangkoon said: “The junta is detritus left over from the Cold War.”
Prayuth’s junta is brutal and stupid. It is brutal in its crack-down on pro-democracy activists, the use of the lese-majeste (insulting the monarch) law to jail its opponents, and the use of violence against detainees.
It is stupid in its attempts to create an image that the coup has created “peace and happiness” among citizens.
Prayuth also loves to strut around barking orders in a pathetic quest to appear like some out-dated “strongman”. There are more Thai political activists living in exile now than at any other period since the bloody crack-down at Thammasart University in 1976.
The junta claims it is in the process of “reforming” the Thai political system. The real meaning of this process is to set up a Burmese-style pretend democracy where people will be allowed to take part in elections, but the military and the conservative anti-democrats hold real power.
Reactionary middle-class academics, self-serving government officials and most of the media are going along with this process. They think that they can fool the population into believing that these are real “reforms”, but they are only deluding themselves and those who have weak minds.
Genuine political reform will only take place when the military junta is thrown out of office along with its fawning supporters. Such reform would have to cut down the power and influence of the military, abolish lese-majeste and tackle economic inequality.
It would need to scrap all laws written by military juntas and abolish the so-called “independent bodies”, which have served the anti-democrats. Political prisoners would also have to be immediately released and army officers and politicians who are guilty of gross human rights abuses would have to be punished.
Top of the list of those who need to be brought to trial would be Prayuth. He ordered the shooting of 90 un-armed pro-democracy demonstrators in 2010.
Former PM Thaksin Shinawatra would also need to be brought to trial for human rights abuses during his rule.
But we must not be deluded that the junta and its anti-democratic followers will somehow self-destruct and democracy will be automatically restored with the passing of time. Neither must we be deluded into thinking that the death of the king and queen will solve anything.
The royals are merely willing tools of the military and the conservatives and the next generation of royals are no different.
Democracy and social justice will only be built if we organise and fight for these things. The Pheu Thai party (tied to Thaskin and which led the government overthrown by Prayuth) and the leaders of the pro-democracy Red Shirt movement have no intention of leading this necessary struggle.
They would rather see a future agreement between the elite factions and protect the status quo, than risk turning society upside down in a genuine process of political change.
The struggle for democracy requires political organisation on the ground inside the country to build a genuine mass movement out of the Red Shirts and others. Some lessons can be taken from the organising methods of the Communist Party of Thailand in the 1970s. However we need to reject the CPT’s authoritarian structure and its reliance on armed struggle.
Lobbying foreign powers may have its uses, but any group that merely concentrates on this, rather than building a movement inside Thailand, will achieve nothing. So far the “Free Thai Movement” has not shown a serious willingness to organise a mass movement. This is regrettable.
A pro-democracy mass-movement in Thailand also needs to announce publicly what it aims to achieve. It needs to call for the dismantling of military power and the abolition of lese-majeste.
It needs to spell out what genuine reforms will look like and that human rights abusers will be brought to justice.
Without such an approach, the struggle will be in danger of ending in a dirty compromise with the conservatives.
[Abridged from Red Thai Socialist. Giles Ji Ungpakorn is an activist and writer. He was exiled from Thailand in 2009 after being charged with lese majeste for writing a book criticising the 2006 military coup. He is a member of the socialist group Left Turn Thailand.]