Thai voters again rebuff military and elite

But will the democratic mandate be allowed to stand?

Proletarian writers

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Proletarian writers

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As they have repeatedly done, every time they have been allowed to vote since 2001, on 3 July, the people of Thailand decisively elected a government adhering to the popular economic and social policies of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who presently lives in exile, mostly in Dubai, to escape a politically-motivated prison sentence.

In the latest elections, the Puea Thai (For Thais) party, led by Thaksin’s sister, Ms Yingluck Shinawatra won a clear majority of 265 seats in the 500-strong parliament, with the Democrat party trailing on 159 seats.

The misnamed Democrat party, led by a British-born and Eton and Oxford-educated stooge of the royal palace, the military top brass and the most comprador sections of the Thai bourgeoisie, had been installed in office in December 2008, following pro-fascist mobilisations that had closed international airports and paralysed much of national life, along with twisted judicial rulings that removed the democratic government led by Somchai Wongsawat.

Wongsawat had replaced Samak Sundaravej, who had decisively won elections in December 2007, but who, in September 2008, had been removed from office after a court absurdly ruled that his appearance on a television cookery programme created a conflict of interest.

In September 2006, the Thai military had staged one of its many coups, toppling Thaksin Shinawatra whilst he was out of the country at a meeting of the United Nations. Prior to this, Thaksin had been returned to office after having become the first ever prime minister in Thai history to serve a full term.

During Thaksin’s first term, income in the poorest north-eastern area of the country rose by 46 percent and income inequality fell sharply, whereas it had been rising steadily between 1996-2000, not least due to the Asian financial crisis. Access to healthcare had increased from 76 percent to 96 percent of the population.

Puea Thai, which was founded after the banning of both Thaksin’s original Thai Rak Thai (Thais Love Thais) party, and its successor, the People’s Power party, won the election promising a 40 percent increase in the minimum wage, 50 percent price subsidies for farmers, a tablet computer for every school student, and justice for the families of the more than 90 people who were killed and the estimated at least 2,000 who were wounded in the brutal army crackdown ordered by the now defeated Democrat party in response to the protest campaign of the pro-democracy, pro-poor movement generally known as the ‘Red Shirts’ in May 2010.

Its electoral victory comes in the teeth of universal hostility from the monarchy (the very heart of Thai reaction), the army top brass, the state bureaucracy and most of the big bourgeoisie, as well as the thinly disguised displeasure of imperialism, which is increasingly giving vent to its concerns at the trend of events in the country.

Yet the one thing that should be crystal clear from a review of Thai history in the 21st century is that the Thai people support the policies of Thaksin Shinawatra, not those of the army or the right-wing, pro-palace, pro-military parties – and they are prepared to stand up for their choice, whether by casting their votes at the ballot box or by giving their lives in the face of brutal repression.

However, real power in Thailand remains with the monarchy and the army, not the popular masses.

Despite winning an overall majority, Yingluck promptly announced that she had reached agreement on forming a five-party coalition government with minor parties, taking the total number of seats her putative government should command to 299. This is clearly designed to safeguard against attempts to chip away at her majority through bogus legal challenges, which is a stock-in-trade tactic of the Thai ruling class. Yet Thaksin held 377 parliamentary seats at the time of his 2006 removal from office.

Although, so far, the military have ‘graciously’ said that they will ‘allow’ Yingluck to form the government, Frederico Ferrara, a political scientist at the City University of Hong Kong, commented, “there is no indication that the palace, the military and the elite are any more prepared to accept the verdict of the people than they were four years ago. I’m pretty sure there will be attempts to undo the election or undermine this government.” (Quoted in ‘Thailand: A divisive dynasty’, Financial Times, 7 July 2011)

Indeed, at time of writing, Thailand’s Election Commission had only verified the results of 358 of the 500 parliamentary members. Prime Minister-in-waiting Yingluck is among those whose result remains to be confirmed, due to allegations of fraud. Three key ‘red shirt’ leaders, who led the struggle on the streets, are also among those whose confirmations are being held up.

Additionally, a legal case has already been filed calling for the courts to dissolve the Puea Thai party, on the grounds that it supposedly relies for advice and assistance on persons banned from political activity, principally Thaksin.

The Thai people’s stubbornness in electing governments whose policies represent their immediate interests, rather than those of their ruling class, who have loyally served imperialism for decades, for example taking a crucial part in both the Korea and Vietnam wars, is undoubtedly vexing Washington and London.

Hoisted on the petard of their own ‘democratic’ rhetoric, they are now combining verbal gymnastics and contortions worthy of a Houdini with breathtakingly audacious cynicism to argue that the one thing most subversive of democracy is that it should respond to the will of the majority.

A typical example was provided by the Financial Times of 7 July, in an article by Joshua Kurlantzick, a leading member of the US foreign-policy elite and fellow of the Council of Foreign Relations, who declared:

Only a decade ago, Thailand was one of Asia’s strongest democracies. Today, that democracy has fallen off a cliff, a worrying trend, which despite the optimism of the Arab spring, is increasingly being seen elsewhere in the developing world too. Now, with the election of the Puea Thai party, led by Yingluck Shinawatra, sister of exiled former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, Thailand risks losing a last chance to put its wobbly democracy back on track …

Mr Thaksin was at the heart of these tensions. First elected in 2001, he proved a revelation. For the first time here was a Thai politician who appealed to the poor – who, as in many developing countries, comprise the majority of the electorate. Politically engaged for the first time, they turned out in droves. Yet as he won mandate after mandate, Mr Thaksin – like other elected autocrats such as Vladimir Putin or Hugo Chavez – began to undermine the rule of law … alarming Thailand’s middle class and elites, the military and royal family …

As by far the most divisive figure in the country, [Thaksin’s] return could spark major street protests by the middle class and elites, just the kind of unrest that could provide a rationale for military intervention to restore order.

In the longer run, both Thailand’s urban middle classes and its poor must accept the need for painful change. The poor, and their allies in Ms Yingluck’s party, must accept that they have to protect private property rights and the rule of law and also that they must not let Mr Thaksin back into Thailand, no matter how much they love him.

The middle classes, including their allies in the army and the royal palace, need to accept that if Thailand is to be a democracy, the will of the voters must triumph. Hardest of all, Mr Thaksin must accept that he really does have to retire … But if he and his sister insist on a comeback, he may yet have to take responsibility for the final fiery death of a once-promising democratic nation.” (‘Thaksin’s dreams can end Thai democracy’)

In other words, all sides must make ‘concessions’. The rich must concede that the poor may vote. The poor must concede that the rich must tell them who to vote for and what policies an elected government may or may not pursue. Almost a perfect encapsulation of the fraudulence of bourgeois democracy.

Reflected in this political contention is not only the desire of Thai reaction and its imperialist backers not to cede ground to the popular masses and the political forces who represent them, in however partial a way, but also the quest of the Obama administration, in particular, to shore up US imperialism’s regional position in the face of the steadily rising strength and prestige of the People’s Republic of China.

Kurlantzick is the author of Charm Offensive: How China’s Soft Power is Transforming the World, which, according to its ‘product description’ on the Amazon website, considers “the way that China is using soft power to appeal to its neighbours and to distant countries alike … to project a benign national image, pose as a model of social and economic success, and develop stronger international alliances. Drawing on years of experience tracking China’s policies in southeast Asia, Latin America, and Africa, Joshua Kurlantzick reveals how China has wooed the world with a charm offensive that has largely escaped the attention of American policymakers. Beijing’s new diplomacy has altered the political landscape in southeast Asia and far beyond, changing the dynamics of China’s relationships with other countries. China has also worked to take advantage of American policy mistakes, the author contends. In a provocative conclusion, he considers a future in which China may be the first nation since the Soviet Union to rival the US in international influence.

In an earlier article, published on 9 June, Kurlantzick hinted that the United States may use the cynical banner of ‘human rights’, the same pretext currently being deployed to ‘justify’ the fascist bombing of Libya, to increase its interference in Thai affairs:

To be sure, Thailand’s political crisis is an internal matter and the United States can only exercise so much leverage over another country’s domestic politics. But Washington could begin to treat Thailand more like other countries with serious human rights problems.”

Kurlantzick warned that Bangkok had already “become more comfortable with China’s rising power than most other countries in southeast Asia”. He continued:

The United States should not be worried that criticism will push it entirely into China’s camp. Washington still has significant leverage in southeast Asia. Bangkok still cannot get from the China relationship what it obtains from the United States, in terms of high-level military ties and training, as well as effective intelligence cooperation.” (Quoted in ‘US-China rivalry compounds Thai election tension’,, 2 July 2011)

In a pre-election interview, Yingluck Shinawatra had told the Xinhua news agency that, “China and Thailand are like one family. I would like to build better relations with China.” (‘Puea Thai wants better ties with China: Thai PM hopeful’, 17 June 2011).

As the US continues to lend every support to frustrating the will and interests of the Thai masses, it will undoubtedly cement the alliance between China and those who in Thailand are truly representative of the Thai people.