In the four weeks since the coup, the military have repressed, but not eliminated, dissent.
The wave of protests immediately after the coup was a big step and a break from the past. Showing enormous courage, Thai working people demonstrated in their hundreds and thousands. At first the military seemed nonplussed, then they started their crackdown. Even after rounds of arrests, people continued to protest in large numbers, finding inventive ways to organise such as changing the sites to places where they were not expected.
Arrests of activists have become widespread, mostly followed by release with warnings to be politically inactive or face more serious action. The military have become particularly organised about this rounding up of opponents and repressing any expression of dissent much more systematically than in the 2006 coup.
They are arresting any group of five people or more who can be interpreted as protesting. The resistance has taken their cues from art, appropriating Orwell’s 1984 and the three fingered salute from The Hunger Games. The military responded by shutting down a showing of 1984 in the Red Shirt stronghold of Chiang Mai, and arresting people for the three fingered salute.
Lèse majesté is being used against opponents,calling people in to present themselves to the military. This includes people from overseas, such as the UK SWP aligned Giles Ungpakorn, who fled Thailand after being charged with lèse majesté in 2009 for his account of the 2006 coup in his book A Coup for the Rich.
Now the military are attacking migrant workers-deporting 25,000 Cambodian workers since 1 June.
Together with reports of brutal assaults by police and soldiers, this has triggered a wave of Cambodian workers fleeing back across the border from Thailand into Cambodia.
The military has tightened grip and seems firmly in control. The yellow shirts have got what they wanted — an unelected government rather than the Red Shirt backed parties of Thaksin and Yingluck Shinawatra, which have won every election since 2001. As they cannot win elections, the monarchist Yellow Shirts’ call for an end to the “the tyranny of the parliamentary majority”. Yellow Shirt leaders argue that elected members of parliament be “balanced” by appointment of “virtuous people”.
Coup leader General Prayuth seems to support this: “We need to solve many issues … even the starting point of democracy itself — the election … Parliamentary dictatorship has to be removed.” If the military follow this path, they will extend to the House of Representatives the system in the Senate introduced after the 2006 coup, where appointed Senators ensure a right wing majority. That anti-democratic Senate appointed judges and other officials who worked to undermine and bring down elected Red Shirt governments.
However, the military may find that “reforming” the constitution in this way encourages mass opposition. Thai working people have found a larger political voice and that they can elect governments that take some limited actions in their interests, and may refuse to accept the appearance of electoral democracy without any substantial content.
The red shirt leaders are trying to keep everything quiet, but they had no control over the wave of protests immediately after the coup.
Long term left activists say people need to be cautious and prepare for a long struggle that can build towards another mass uprising, such as in 1973, 1992 and 2010. Their forces are small, and the labour movement is small and divided. However, huge numbers of Thai people are angry that their electoral wishes keep being overturned by the military and reactionary mobilisation. The large numbers who have been prepared to protest is a good sign for the chance to build a larger, more powerful pro-democracy movement. To achieve lasting gains, a movement is needed that can mobilise workers around their own interests, rather than relying on the big business oriented Red Shirt leadership.
Solidarity actions internationally have been small and uncoordinated. The labour movement around the world needs to work to organise solidarity. A good first step would be an international day of action.