by Marque A Rome
(NOTE: The “People’s Democratic Reform Committee” has a much longer name in Thai, occupying a full column inch of text, and translates thus, “People’s Committee to Transform Thailand into a Perfect Democracy with the Monarch as Leader”, students of political science may note.)
Sontiyan Cheunrutainaitham Friday called People’s Democratic Reform Committee secretary Suthep Thaugsuban a man of “special character” who channels the will of the people, terms echoing the hero worship and mysticism of early Fascist thinkers. Sontiyan is regarded as the PDRC’S No. 2 man.
His remarks were made during an interview published in vernacular language newspaper Daily News. The paper is among Thailand’s largest and most influential.
Headlined “Loong Kamnan Embodies the People”, the interview carried a smiling, eight-inch high portrait of Sontiyan and filled three double-wide columns. It was the editorial page feature story.
Suthep is often called “Kamnan Suthep’, ‘kamnan’ being the title of a sub-district or ‘tambon’ chief; ‘loong’ means ‘uncle’. The appellation is honorific yet familial, like ‘Uncle Ho’. Daily News editorial writers and columnists have been critical of Yingluck Shinawatra’s government since the political crisis began in October.
Sontiyan, former director of vernacular news agency T-News, was among 19 PDRC leaders arrested on charges of rebellion but released 16th February with the proviso that they “not incite violence”. He posted a 400,000 baht bond to secure release, yet the interview has him using terms which, if not precisely incendiary, contain the smack of revolution:
“Having studied…people’s revolutions in various countries, I have a theory that, before revolution can succeed, the old order must become over-ripe. When that ripening process reaches its limit, the will to force change crystallizes, spreading throughout society. The change then is systematized.”
He said some ten million people have come out in support of the PDRC, and asserted that election day’s low turn-out 2nd February means voters have faith neither in the polls nor in the government. Sontiyan did not allude, however, to widespread efforts by members of his group to shut down voting during the election.
Critics of the group have charged them with using what are, in effect, brown shirt tactics to compel the government’s ouster and prevent elections.
Sontiyan’s perspective differs: “In 2011, 35 million voted, one million were no-votes, and another six or seven hundred thousand ballots were defaced and so invalidated. In 2014, 20 million voted. The point here is that 15 million disappeared from the polls, wishing thereby to show approval for the PDRC movement. The number of no-votes increased to 3 million, and this group wanted to show opposition to the Thaksin system and the Yingluck government. The number of defaced ballots doubled.”
The ‘Thaksin system’ refers to former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s powerful influence. A 2006 coup d’etat removed him from power. He later fled overseas after conviction for abuse of power. Thaksin is regarded as the ruling Pheu Thai party’s mastermind. The party’s campaign slogan in 2011, “What Thaksin thinks, Pheu Thai carries out” propelled it to a lopsided victory.
“The Centre for Maintaining Peace and Order (CMPO), Thaksin, and the government are mistaken in thinking street protesters amount only to this or that number,” said Sontiyan. “Protesters in the streets are not the real measure of our strength; the real measure lies in poll numbers. (Those who stayed away) have a strength of feeling that cannot be measured in ballots, but can in political terms.
“This they failed to grasp.
“A case offering the clearest evidence of how powerful such united strength can be is that of the Thai Savings Bank: where, over a period of three days, has it happened that nearly 100 billion baht was withdrawn from a bank?”
He noted that the movement has called in the past for boycott of Shinawatra clan businesses: “Millions were in the streets then protesting, but the feeling of society (against the Shinawatras) had not crystallized, so the result was merely the beginning of a process.”
Now, however, opposition to the Shinawatras has crystallized, and its strength can be gaged by the bank run and later sell-off of shares in Shinawatra-associated companies, not by numbers in the streets, which, he suggested, have dwindled: “There seem not to be as many,” he said.
Sontiyan asserted that his movement is peaceful, despite violence of feeling against the Shinawatras. He said “fighting in the streets” is not the only pressure that needs to be applied: “The pressure must take many forms,” he said, “that’s what I mean by over-ripeness,” adding that it matters little whether new elections are held and the Shinawatras win: “This is the fight of a tremendous number of people, who have crystallized around the PDRC and the secretary of the PDRC (Suthep), and that will make their continued government impossible.”
He said Suthep manifests the hopes and aspiration of these people: “Loong Kamnan embodies the people — nothing could be clearer.”
“Does this mean Loong Kamnan cannot act otherwise than in accord with the people’s feeling?” Sontiyan was asked.
“He cannot. Theory shows that if the leader lags, the people will pass him by, but if he tries to keep ahead they will not accept it. When first I discussed these ideas with Suthep, at the beginning of the people’s revolution, my theory was not yet developed. But Suthep has a special character, his grasp is quick, and he mixes everything in consonance with truth.”
Thus the movement has reached a pitch that will be “engraved” in world memory: “The world will record it.”
Sontiyan thinks victory is “quite close”. He said protracted protests in Bangkok and elsewhere, which have lasted over four months, “will have little adverse impact. It must be clear to all that politics will receive a core change.”
Central to victory is allegiance of Thailand’s civil servant corps:
“For old style Fascists, seizing power was easy — get out a gun and take it. Ministry chief administrators then reported to them. That was the usual mechanism.
“But in fighting by means of peaceful protest, the PDRC has no armed force to take control. What has to happen is that society’s various sections, especially the civil servants, must lend support.”
Many civil servants, he said, do lend support: “From the very beginning, the Kamnan invited civil servants to join the movement, to be part of its foundation. He has said this repeatedly, and today they join us in increasingly large numbers. Eventually, even the police will announce support.”
The protests were never intended to continue so long, Sontiyan explained, but circumstances took time to ripen: “That ripening now takes the form of social and economic power we use in applying pressure. The bank run was an object lesson. Now the Kamnan has announced pressure be put on Shinawatra businesses.
“If that succeeds the Shinawatra clan cannot survive. Other businesses, which have acted as facilitators, will discover that by helping the Shinawatras they excite opposition from a majority of the people. Then they’ll stop.
“Victory for the PDRC means Prime Minister Yingluck will not be able to walk down the street; and not only her — her whole family. That’s the point.”
Sontiyan said his group is protected by the Civil Court, which Wednesday issued a ruling forbidding Yingluck’s caretaker government from enforcing important provisions of the Emergency Decree, in effect in Bangkok and environs since mid-January. Centre for Maintaining Peace and Order chief Chalerm Yubamrung admitted that the ruling hamstrings attempts to reclaim government offices and open streets seized during the movement’s ‘Shutdown Bangkok’ campaign.
“One day everyone will reach a point when they say, ‘We’ll have no more of you!'” Sontiyan said of the Yingluck government. “The fact is, the only thing that keeps this government in power now is the police.”
He did not explain how his group’s programme of no elections and reform by unelected bodies of “experts” squares with a concept of “perfect democracy”, nor how the idea of Suthep as ubermensch, at one in spirit and thinking with the people, differs from that of early Fascists.
The latter believed Fascism superior to democracy because the Facsist Leader mystically unites the people in will and spirit, whereas democracy splits them into perpetually bickering factions.
Suthep, former deputy Prime Minister in the government of Democrat Abhisit Vejjajiva, Democrat Party secretary and MP from Suratthani, resigned from his party and parliamentary positions to lead the protests in October. He has since stressed that he will accept no position in government, insisting he will retire. If, indeed, that proves to be the case, Sontiyan may become leader of the PDRC, and perhaps that group’s choice for prime minister in a future government.