Leftism in Thailand


Of all the numerous stories in the press recently about ousted former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra (most of them transparently false), one of the most intriguing is that he is to be awarded a ‘Bolivarian’ medal by one or another South American government.

Simon Bolivar is renowned as one the great liberators of the South American people and as one of the founding fathers of the independent continent. He is, in short, something of an icon for the left, especially at a time when progressive leaders such as Hugo Chavez and Evo Morales have come under such sustained assault from western interests and the international media.

Might khun Thaksin, therefore,  be regarded in the same liberational light? Well, it is certainly true that the policy development process that took place in the early days of the Thai Rak Thai party was facilitated by a number of those who had gone into the jungle as Communists and returned to mainstream society after the announcement of an amnesty. Moreover, the redistributional nature of the policy manifesto (continued by its successor the People’s Power Party) is certainly progressive in nature – voters turn out in their millions for a Thai government which, for the first time, ranks the interests of the rural poor alongside the urban middle classes.

However, khun Thaksin was motivated also by other political priorities that found no favour with what passes for the progressive community in Thailand – notably, privatisation and the pursuit of Free Trade Agreements. Others, including the Ungphakon group, also blame khun Thaksin for the human rights abuses that took place when he was in office, prior to the military coup.

Anyway, there appears to be a small window of opportunity for those supporting democracy in Thailand to associate the will of the people with a progressive social and economic agenda. This, if it is to be done, will have to be expressed using a non-ideological vocabulary since any talk of the left is routinely met with the strident (although false) claim that such people are unpatriotic.

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