Thai academic Giles Ji Ungpakor is the author of the ‘Red Siam’ Manifesto which has energized political debates in recent weeks in Thailand. Giles recently fled Thailand to avoid persecution for “committing” lese majeste. He was accused of offending the Thai monarchy in his 2007 book, A Coup for the Rich: Thailand’s Political Crisis. Giles is now residing in the United Kingdom.
Excerpts from the ‘Red Siam’ manifesto
1. We must have freedom of expression and the freedom to choose our own government without repression and fear.
2. We must have equality. We have to abolish the mentality of “big people-little people”. We must abolish the practice of crawling to the royal family.
3. Our country must be a welfare state. Taxes must be levied on the rich. The poor are not a burden, but are partners in developing the country.
4. In our country the king should honour his constitutional role and stop intervening in politics.
5. For too long Thai society has been under the iron heel of the generals. We must cut the military budget and abolish the influence of the army in society ensuring that it can no long be an obstacle to democracy.
6. We must have justice. The judges should not claim power from the crown in order to stop people criticising their decisions. We must change the way that “contempt of court” laws are used to prevent accountability.
7. Citizens in towns and communities must take part in the management of all public institutions such as state enterprises, the media, schools and hospitals.
8. Our country must modernise. We need to develop the education system, transport and housing. We should create energy from wind and solar power to protect the environment.
9. Our country must be peace loving, not start disputes with neighbouring countries or support wars
Giles wrote the manifesto during his flight from Bangkok to London:
I was not going to leave the country with my tail between my legs, I was not going to run away. Once, I left the country, I decided to fight back without any restriction. I wrote the notes of the Manifesto on the airplane I flew from Bangkok to London.
He notes that the manifesto is not very progressive in a Western European context but in Thailand, it is already subversive:
I felt that really it was necessary for someone to say those things because it was in the mind of thousands of people in Thailand but nobody has said it. The reception has been tremendous; people have been really excited by the Manifesto, and they have been very supportive. Of course, the other side has been very angry, but that is what I expected. People have been sending this Manifesto on and so on. What is interesting is that this Manifesto, in a Western European context, is not very progressive. It is normal. In a Thai context, however, it is explosive.
He clarifies that the manifesto is “not just a critique of the King, it is (also) a critique of how the monarchy system is used in Thailand.”
My Manifesto is not necessarily just a critique of the King, it is a critique of how the monarchy system is used in Thailand. This is because I do not believe the King planned the Coup. I don’t believe that the King is necessarily even the most powerful person in Thailand. I think that the military, and those that surround themselves and legitimise what they’re doing by claiming royal patronage, are those who really have power in Thailand. It (the Manifesto) is more of a critique of them and their use of the monarchy.
John Francis Lee comments that Giles should have avoided writing an unnecessary criticism of the Thai King:
I wish that Giles’ manifesto had skipped the criticism of HM and stuck to the real point of contention. You cannot have it both ways: claiming to want HM the King out of politics and then criticizing him for not being active on the side you’re interested in.
As well, Giles’ harsh, unnecessary criticism of HM left the folks who signed “his” petition in a very awkward position in Thailand. Not everyone can pick up and fly home to Oxford. The folks who signed the petition were not making Giles their spokesman, or even agreeing with all he had said and stood for up to that point.But Giles’ manifesto has played them into the hands of the opposition. And his criticism of HM in his manifesto cast a shadow over the very good points he made that followed.
John was referring to the petition signed by several academics demanding authorities not to use lese majeste in Thailand since the law violates freedom of speech and academic freedom.
The manifesto has been cited as affecting the national security of Thailand. Authorities have asked executives of internet service providers to cooperate in “keeping watch for the circulation of the article.”
If your systems can enable filters to prevent access to it, please do so, as that would greatly benefit national security. Please act urgently’
DoctorJ couldn’t understand why authorities would want to censor the document:
Why the “red siam” is so threatening to them, when in fact, very few people will agree with Giles on this? A wise guy can argue with loads of downside about the communist idea of Giles, but a moron will choose a foolish path like ones in the ICT.
Alex defends the manifesto because it is “explicitly pacifist”
The best thing about the manifesto, in fact, is that, for a change, we have a Thai who is not trying to impose his ideas on others. Oh, and the manifesto is explicitly pacifist.
Thailand Jumped the Shark describes the manifesto as a very revolutionary statement:
I think it is a very revolutionary statement. I agree with a large chunk of it, especially the criticisms against the military, the aristocratic elite, the court system, and PAD, but I think he is not doing the Red Shirt movement any favors by calling for a republic, and I don't think, if you really asked most Red Shirts, that they would want to abolish the monarchy and go to a republic.
I actually feel sorry for Jai, because I don't know how he could ever could go back to Thailand–unless it did become a republic. I don't see that happening soon.
The Red Shirts do not refer to leftists. Red is the color of the opposition. Many of them are supporters of ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. But Red Shirts claim the group is now moving on beyond Thaksin.
FACT – Freedom Against Censorship in Thailand notes that Giles’ flight and the ‘Red Siam’ manifesto have been a bombshell. Jotman underscores the historical significance of the manifesto:
This statement strikes me as both newsworthy and of historic significance. I am aware of no other such statement, personally signed by such a high profile Thai figure, having been issued in recent years.
The Nation's State credits the manifesto for generating debates about the monarchy:
I am not necessarily in agreement with Giles but I certainly appreciate his decision to fight back and to force discussion on the monarchy.
He is certainly right about his manifesto not being progressive in Europe, but it is nothing short to seditious in Thailand.
Al Jazeera has a report about the lese majeste and the political campaign launched by Giles: