Don’t Cry for Me, Thailand: Lessons from Argentina’s Recent Political History

With the overwhelming win of the Pheu Thai Party in the July 3 elections and as Yingluck Shinawatra is headed to become the first ever female Prime Minister in Thailand, it is eerie to see the parallels between the recent developments in Thailand’s political history centered around the figure of Thaksin Shinawatra and the period of the late General Juan Domingo Peron’s influence in Argentina, particularly during the 1960’s and 70’s.

Both leaders were close to the political power elite (the army in Peron’s case and the police and big business in Thaksin’s) before coming to power with the vast support of their people by offering populist policies that truly addressed the needs of the poor and the working class during a period of rapid industrialization in their respective countries (Peron in 1946 and Thaksin in 2001).

Peron was aided by his charismatic wife, ‘Evita’, and Thaksin exploited his personal and cultural ties with the people of the North and Northeast of Thailand. Similarly, both were thrown out of government by military coups after sectors of the Army and the reactionary conservative forces took advantage of political and economic crises (Peron in 1955 and Thaksin in 2006).

Like Thaksin in Dubai, for nearly twenty years Peron staged his comeback from his exile in Spain. He assumed a revolutionary persona and a father figure role to the different grassroots movements and armed organizations such as the Montoneros and met with his militants in their frequent visits to his villa giving them advise and orders. Likewise, since 2008 Thaksin has been conducting a very successful and intelligent strategy to continue asserting his power from abroad with the hopes of one day returning to Thailand.

In 1973, as the Argentine military dictatorship’s grasp on power was waning due to the mass movements, the ban on the Peronist party was lifted on the condition that Peron would be prohibited to run. Hector Jose Campora, Peron’s substitute and close aid, won the presidency. This opened the doors for Peron’s return. The slogan during this campaign was ‘Campora to office, Peron to power’ which sounds strangely similar to the motto ‘Thaksin thinks, Pheu Thai does’ that appeared in the most recent 2011 elections. One of Campora’s first acts as president was to rightly grant amnesty to all political prisoners from the previous repressive governments.

If history repeats itself, Yingluck Shinawatra, Thaksin’s youngest sister, now the new Prime Minister of Thailand would be playing Campora’s role. Unless Thaksin honestly leaves politics as he has stated in recent interviews or Yingluck shows a real capacity for independence, we can possibly anticipate something similar to or a variation of what happened in Argentina.

Peron returned to Argentina in June of 1973. Campora resigned, and Peron was elected president for a third time in October. Finally, the Argentine people had democratically chosen their leader. After assuming power however, he threw out his radical revolutionary facade and aligned himself with the right wing fascist forces within his movement and the Army while ostracizing the masses of Peronist youth and workers who had long fought for his comeback and dreamed of a ‘Socialist Fatherland’.

After the death of Peron in 1974, his third wife Isabel assumed power until a military coup two years later took control of the country, setting off the darkest period in modern Argentine history called the Dirty War that ended in 1983. Nowadays, the ‘Peronists’ who run Argentina follow the same model of piecemeal populist redistribution while helping maintain the status quo of the power elite only after abandoning the outright neoliberal socioeconomic policies of another ‘Peronist’ president, Carlos Menem during the 90’s.

The ‘lesson’ to be grasped here is not to simply assume that this will be a repeat scenario of Argentina’s political past. History is contingent on people’s choices and actions. For those of us who want to see true democracy in Thailand and around the world, this should serve as a warning to our brothers and sisters in Thailand of the dangers of a cult of personality.

The red shirts have legitimate demands for political equality and economic justice, and their struggle is a correct one. However, putting all their faith on one man and feeding Thaksin’s apetite for power, as many (but not all) of the leaders and masses of the Pheu Thai Party and Red Shirt movement have shown by constantly consulting with him, obeying his orders and cheering his speeches sent via skype on mass rallies, can only lead to expected outcomes. After all, he is a big media and corporate mogul who favors neoliberalism and has used military and authoritarian methods, particularly on the people of the South.

If Argentina’s recent history can provide any lessons, it is that the exploited and oppressed people of Thailand must break the top down and opportunistic model of organizing of many factions of the red shirts and continue developing an independent grassroots movement that will fight for their real self-interests and beyond the piecemeal programs offered by all sides these days. Otherwise, we are heading down the road to Argentina’s past mistakes.

 

Juan Kim is a university instructor who teaches Latin American literature and film in the United States.

Comments

48% of the votes of those

48% of the votes of those that bothered to show up on election day - and only 35% of all eligible votes went to PTP - not an "overwhelming win" by any stretch of the imagination - rather a signal of the political bankruptcy that has Thailand in its grip.

That PTP is run by an overt criminal, evading a 2 year jail sentence and running the party through nepotism via his own sister has "third world" written all over it. It is a humiliating disgrace.

Second, the Red Shirts never were, aren't, and never will be "grassroots." Every rally is organized and led by PTP & Thaksin's political lackeys - protesters in Bangkok or literally bused in by Thaksin's organizers, and the man literally calls in to each rally in front of an audience clearly exhibiting the symptoms of a personality cult. That PTP decided to run yet another "Shinawatra" in Thaksin's place, and that he is still clearly running both PTP and UDD - makes comments like Juan Kim's up there absolutely ridiculous.

It is a street front -organized by a political opposition and backed by foreign corporate interests - on record.

http://landdestroyer.blogspot.com/2011/07/cfr-to-thailand-accept-us-stooge-or.html

Prachatai is likewise funded by the same foreign interests and is hiding it from their readership while begging for donations...

http://ned.org/where-we-work/asia/thailand

http://landdestroyer.blogspot.com/2011/07/anatomy-of-globalist-funded-sedition.html

The comparison between Mr.

The comparison between Mr. Peron and Argentina, on one side, and Mr. Thaksin and Thailand, on the other, sadly now seems valid. Mr. Kim writes: "[Peron] assumed a revolutionary persona and a father figure role to the different grassroots movements and armed organizations such as the Montoneros and met with his militants in their frequent visits to his villa giving them advise and orders." In the same manner, Mr. Thaksin met repeatedly with the red shirt armed faction leader "Seh Daeng" in his Dubai villa shortly before the outbreak of last year's violence. Thanks to brave reporters (http://atimes.com/atimes/Southeast_Asia/LE29Ae02.html) and the relentless efforts of Human Rights Watch (http://www.hrw.org/node/98416), we are now aware of the clandestine efforts of the red shirt leaders to instigate violence with the security forces, presumably to cause loss of life and use this to bring down the government. The violent red shirt movement is not a starting point for any democratic development. Fortunately, most Thai people understand this: according to a recent poll (http://www.bangkokpost.com/news/local/229077/majority-of-thais-don-t-back-redsor-yellows), only 13.6% of the Thai population support the red shirts, 10.3% the yellow shirts, and 76% support neither yellow shirts not red shirts. Thailand's further democratization must come from the 76% of the population that does not believe in intimidation and violence.

TC, would you stop plugging

TC, would you stop plugging your damn blog?

To the author of this moronic piece, you seriously need to get out more. Thaksin is an iconic figure, but his powers are waning. Ironically, even if he's fading, that doesn't mean his enemies are gaining. UDD still adores Thaksin, but if he betrays them(or shows the slightest signs of doing so), he'd be thrown out like any other.

I concede that Argentina's struggles are from Military rule, like Thailand. But Thaksin was never that chummy with the army, if so, they wouldn't have thrown him out.

And Comparing Argentina with Thailand is so old hat, we'd been through this in 2006 by ASTV. Don't you have any new gigs to show us?

UDD still adores Thaksin, but

UDD still adores Thaksin, but if he betrays them(or shows the slightest signs of doing so), he'd be thrown out like any other.

That will be the dumbest mutiny in history.

Formulas. Thaksin + ฿฿฿฿฿฿฿฿฿ = < UDD, PTP, JJM (heck, I'll work for anyone, I'm hungry) Red Shirts, Amsterdam, Prachatai, New Mandala, and many more. >

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Thanks for the article Juan, I found it interesting.

Do you know much about, or have much interest in the insanity and chaos that had it's roots in the immediate years following Peron instructing Argentina to not let Madonna sigh. following you leave off? GDP in freefall. Corrupt Presidents and Defense / Cabinet ministers dropping like flies. I love that crazy story. It's everything that's wrong about tyranny, everything that's wrong about democracy, everything that is infuriating about humanity's inability to accept responsibility for their decisions.

They voted in all the corrupted sleazy politicians. They are responsible for 100% of the corruption. And then, when their delegates trash the place. They're furious. Kick some cars, talk some smack. Light some fires. Amidst this insanity their Savior arrives. Guy saves the entire nation, leads and inspires them, just pulls miracle after genius miracle and coaxes them out. The greatest economic "Template Recovery" of the century. He should be a national hero. He's my hero and I'm not from Argentina. He's just god.

To the Argentinian electorate? Once he had saved them in mere years, full recovery, debts repaid, just ridiculous amazing. He criticized a shady business associate of Kirchner over a graft scandal involving city public road contracts. He was told to scoot along.

Once democracy failed, Argentina was saved.

Once democracy saved, and returned to Argentina, Argentina will be doomed. I'll give 1:1 line on Argentina calling for his help to save them again. 2:1 on his saving them again.

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As for Thaksin, I saw a post on THAIVISAFORUM a long time ago, maybe a year ago, which I thought was interesting. Comparing Thaksin with Kazakhstan. I forget the guys name, but I thought that made the best comparison between how Thaksin saw his role and a currently serving Premier.

First of all, thanks for

First of all, thanks for reading my article. I am glad it stirred such high emotional comments albeit a negative one from the usual suspects. To respond to a couple of things, I didn’t talk of an overwhelming majority. I said it was an overwhelming win, which it was by all means. You can say whatever you want about Thaksin’s popularity. The reality is that his party openly campaigned with another Shinawatra as its leader, and they easily beat all their competition.

Unfortunately, silent majorities don’t make history. Those who organize do. I am aware of the limitations of the Red Shirt movement, but as in all social movements, there are diverse elements (both good and bad) and equally new possibilities for struggles that should definitely try to include more of that ‘silent majority’.

I did see a brief comment comparing Peron and Thaksin by somebody responding to an article in the Bangkok Post a few months ago, but I wasn’t aware of the ASTV piece (and I’d appreciate if I could get a link). But as you may see, the main argument of this article relates to what has happened since that time. Also, if you read again, I meant Peron was close to the Army, not Thaksin (and only a sector of it, after all they tried to get rid of him in 1945, one year before he became president).

I never portrayed myself as an expert on Thai politics. I am simply observing some similarities I see from my end, and I thank you all for pointing out things that I should take into account more. My stance is in solidarity with a sector Thai society, which is the vast majority of its people (regardless of their political affiliation -after all, my wife is an Abhisit admiring Democrat). Their struggles and the mistakes that come with them are a learning process. It happens in all social movements whose aim is to make a more just society. Thanks for your comments, I am glad to hear and learn from real experts.

#21477 Thaksin IS the Red

#21477 Thaksin IS the Red shirt movement. He is PTP. Without him they don't exist - and even now with him they just barely do. 35% of eligible votes indicates a movement on its way out of existence - and "if Thaksin betrays them?" He is betraying them right now! He is purely, overtly, obviously exploiting them.

He did absolutely nothing for the rural poor but hand them fistfuls of cash for their support - this is what is called a political machine and is NOT democracy. If the rural poor are to improve their lot, they will do so through pragmatism, education, and gaining economic and political independence on a local level - meaning NO centralized movement will dictate to them or exploit them - their full efforts and resources will go into their own communities. This is currently not happening much under the current establishment and will happen even less under a degenerating socialist welfare state.

http://landdestroyer.blogspot.com/2011/03/globalists-worst-nightmare.html

I have done extensive traveling through Thailand and I know what these people's problems are - they know what they are too. They simply lack the technical ability to solve them themselves with local resources. Its not that it is impossible - it is that they simply lack the ability to do it now which allows parasitic politicians and organizations/institutions both local and national (and international) to come in and exploit their dependency and needs.

Please stop insulting our intelligence by suggesting Thaksin, PTP, and UDD are all seperate entities. Please stop suggesting any of these represent a hopeful, sustainable future for Thailand.

PS Prachatai is US funded -and purposefully hides its funding from its readership...

http://ned.org/where-we-work/asia/thailand

Who is NED?

http://landdestroyer.blogspot.com/2011/07/anatomy-of-globalist-funded-sedition.html

And who is

And who is TC?

http://tony-cartalucci-critic.blogspot.com/