The election by the Thai parliament on Monday 28 January 2008 of Samak Sundarajev, leader of the People Power Party (PPP), to serve as Prime Minister of Thailand, at the head of a six-party coalition dominated by the PPP, climaxed a major victory for the Thai people in frustrating a conspiracy against democracy by the most reactionary sections of society, namely the monarchy and its feudal hangers-on, together with the military-bureaucratic elite.
Samak won 310 votes as against 163 for his only rival.
Samak’s government is overwhelmingly composed of supporters and often close associates of Thailand’s former, deposed Prime Minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, who is currently in exile.
Thaksin was deposed in a military coup on 19 September 2006, undoubtedly with royal complicity if not outright instigation, following several weeks of street demonstrations in the capital Bangkok by sections of the urban middle class, protesting at unproven corruption allegations against Thaksin and members of his family, in the fashion of the now well-scripted “colour revolutions”, much favoured by imperialism for purposes of “regime change” when sovereign governments refuse to do their bidding.
Thaksin is a billionaire businessman whose fortune was largely made in telecoms. However, as his policies combined popular measures to alleviate the plight of the rural poor (to whom no previous Thai government had ever paid the slightest attention), along with an economic development programme that stressed close ties with neighbouring economies, especially those of China, Singapore and Vietnam, rather than with the imperialist countries, he won a devoted and abiding following in the countryside as well as strong support from sections of both the working class and the national bourgeoisie. It was these practical policies that earned him the hatred of monarchists and militarists and led to his downfall.
The formation of Samak’s government followed a general election on 23 December 2007 in which the PPP, formed after the military junta had banned Thaksin’s Thai Rak Thai party (loosely translated as Thais Love Thais) and barred 111 of its leaders from political activity or office.
The junta had been forced to call elections owing to its lack of a sustainable base in Thai society, and growing popular discontent at the worsening economic crisis sparked by their incompetence (in 2007 the country’s rate of growth was the lowest in southeast Asia), but it by no means meekly accepted the outcome.
In a 24 January 2008 editorial, The Economist summarised the junta’s post-electoral manoeuvrings as follows:
“The junta tried its utmost to thwart the relatively benign outcome that now seems possible. It had Mr Thaksin and more than 100 colleagues banned from politics for five years. His Thai Rak Thai party was dissolved. It re-formed as the People’s Power Party (PPP) and, to the generals’ dismay, won far more seats than any other party in the election, just shy of an outright majority. The Thai people – particularly the rural poor who benefited from Mr Thaksin’s development policies – spoke loudly. They told the military-royalist elite in Bangkok that, for all his faults, they still wanted Mr Thaksin, or a like-minded alternative…
“Legal shenanigans since the election might still have frustrated the people’s choice. The Election Commission held an extravagant number of inquiries into allegations of vote-fiddling, mainly directed at the PPP. And the Supreme Court decided to hear several cases calling for the party’s election victory to be annulled…The Supreme Court, sensibly, rejected the idea that the PPP itself should be banned.”
The new government intends to restore Thaksin’s popular economic policies. The newly appointed Finance Minister Surapong Suebwonglee is not only a close associate of Thaksin, but was formerly an activist in the Communist Party of Thailand (CPT), which was extremely strong until the early 1980s, but is now generally considered to be defunct.
Samak’s government is pledged to high levels of public spending to promote economic growth, especially in infrastructure and public transport. They are also pledged to reinstate Thaksin’s policies of generous village development funds, a low-cost universal health care scheme, a debt moratorium for some three million indebted farmers, the purchase and distribution of two million cows to poor farmers, educational loans for poor students, establishment of a “village bank” to provide cheap loans, and a crackdown on drug traffickers.
Among the first measures announced by the new government were the reimposition of price controls on 35 essential goods and steps to monitor the prices of 200 other necessities.
Speculation is now rife that Thaksin will return from exile to clear his name and re-enter the political arena. His wife has already returned home and been bailed on corruption charges, which she denies.
The people of Thailand have won an important victory in their democratic struggle, but one may be sure that intrigues are still being hatched in royal palaces and barracks to frustrate their will. It is noteworthy that the Thai generals receive none of the opprobrium that imperialism reserves for their counterparts in neighbouring Burma. The working class movement should take a stand in support of the democratic struggles of the Thai people, who have made clear their support for the policies of Thaksin Shinawatra.
As we were going to press, as expected, Thaksin made an emotional return home on 28 February, to be greeted by thousands of supporters, including leading members of the government. He expressed confidence that he would be acquitted of all corruption charges, on which he has now been bailed, but stuck to his previous public assurances that he did not intend to re-enter political life. His supporters, however, may well have other ideas and the political struggle in the country is expected to intensify.