Giles Ungpakorn explains why socialists, despite having no illusions in Thaksin’s Pheu Thai Party, must urge the Red Shirts in Thailand to vote for Pheu Thai in the upcoming general elections.

Normally, no socialist should ever call for a vote for a capitalist party in any election. To do so would risk making the kind of mistakes that the Stalinists used to make when they adopted the Popular Front strategy, building alliances with the bourgeoisie and making anti-working class concessions. But it is my opinion, that in the July 3, 2011, general election in Thailand, socialists have no choice but to call for a vote for the Pheu Thai Party [also spelled Peua Thai Party]. Pheu Thai is a thoroughly capitalist party.

The Pheu Thai Party is the descendant of the Thai Rak Thai Party of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra. Although a party of big business, like all other Thai parties, it was democratically elected to office, with a large majority. This is because it put forward pro-poor policies such as universal health care. But this Thai Rak Thai government was overthrown by a right-wing royalist military coup in 2006 and the party was disbanded by right-wing judges.

Thai Rak Thai morphed into the Palang Prachachon Party, which won the next general election in 2007. This government was then brought down in 2008 by a combination of legal manoeuvres, fascist demonstrations (which closed the airports) and pressure from the military. The party was disbanded by the courts and the present ‘Democrat Party’ government under Abhisit Vejjajiva was installed by the military. Thaksin’s party morphed a second time into Pheu Thai Party and a mass movement for democracy arose. This was the mass movement called the Red Shirts.

Red Shirts

The Red Shirts are the largest mass movement in Thai political history, larger than the communist movement in the 1970s and numbering many hundreds of thousands. Its supporters run into millions. Its main base is among the poor: small-scale farmers, petty traders, urban workers and the urban poor. Although made up of supporters of Thaksin Shinawatra, the movement has developed beyond him. It has moved to the left, stressing the inequality in Thai society. Last year it staged huge demonstrations for democracy.

Many aspects of Thai society, including the monarchy and the military are regularly criticised in Red Shirt circles. In April and May last year, the Democrat Party government and the military shot up to 90 unarmed Red Shirt demonstrators. Now a general election will be held in early July 2011.

Thai socialists

Obviously Thai socialists had to relate to and join the Red Shirt mass movement. Turn Left Thailand did just this. But we are extremely small. We have less than 50 members with two key members exiled abroad. We have been trying to relate to a movement of hundreds of thousands. We have managed to have an input into political debates. We have urged people to learn from the Arab uprisings, especially the importance of mass movements and workers’ strikes. We argue that we don’t just want democracy, although that is extremely important. We want a welfare state and eventually socialism. We have also campaigned against draconian royalist laws and for the release of political prisoners.

In the coming election, millions of Red Shirt supporters will be hoping for a Peua Thai victory. Such a victory will not be easy given the level of censorship and repression and the opportunities for the military and the elites to fix the election. The head of the army has been on army-controlled TV many times, warning of a “republican plot”. This is an attempt to stop people voting for Pheu Thai, even though it is in no way a republican party. The National Human Rights Commission and the Electoral Commission are staffed by royalists. There are no parties of the left or the trade union movement.

The coming election is not about trying to get a woman to become Thailand’s prime minister [Thaksin’s sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, leads the Pheu Thai], even though a Pheu Thai victory would have such a result. We are well aware that the politics of the candidate is much more important than their gender. We have seen reactionary women leaders in the Philippines, India and Britain.

The election will be a stark choice between the forces of dictatorship and repression and a party which represents the democratic aspirations of millions. If the Democrat Party and the military have a victory at the polls, they will claim democratic legitimacy for everything that they have done since the 2006 coup, including the shooting of demonstrators. That is why Thai socialists have to call for a vote for Pheu Thai.

We make no concessions to Pheu Thai in doing so. We are talking to Red Shirts, not Pheu Thai.


To call for an abstention would be seen to be side-stepping the fight and it would make us totally irrelevant. Not only that, the fascist PAD [People’s Alliance for Democracy, or Yellow Shirts] movement is calling for an abstention because it set up a party and now realises that it will not be able to win any seats.

But by calling for a vote for Pheu Thai, socialists have to point out that we should have absolutely no illusions. We should not have illusions that Pheu Thai want to take on the ruling elites and destroy the power of the military. Pheu Thai won’t campaign against royalist repressive laws and won’t want to bring the generals, judges and authoritarian politicians to justice. Pheu Thai certainly won’t start to build a welfare state.


The power to bring about real change in Thai society lies with the Red Shirts. But this mass movement has to be convinced politically that these tasks are necessary. That is what we and many others are trying to do. But to be able to argue and discuss with Red Shirt activists, we need also to stand with them in the immediate electoral battle. We must also talk about the need to build a socialist party as an alternative to Pheu Thai.

Turn Left Thailand welcomes any discussions which international comrades might wish to have with us on this issue.

This article was originally published in the Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal.