Sunday, April 12, 2009

Thanks Thailand, you screwed up the show again 22 comments

(P.S: Sorry for any disturbances the advertisements above may have caused you)
Why some people love to shoot themselves in the foot I will never understand.

I am talking about the current political chaos in Thailand, which has forced its months-old government to call off the ASEAN summit in Pattaya on Saturday, and to declare a state of emergency in Bangkok just earlier today. There are rumours of yet another coup that could see yet another government change. My guess is that if it comes to this, it won't be as peaceful as the last few bloodless ones because the Abhisit essentially has the implicit blessings of the Thai king and the Bangkok elite and these power brokers will not let their man go quietly.

This is not the first time I'm saying this, but essentially it is tragic that Thaksin had to be forced out just when Thaksinomics was beginning to have a broad-based improvement on the lives of ordinary Thai citizens. I am not sufficiently clued-in on the depth of his corruption, but general consensus was that his reign from 2001-06 had steered Thailand from the abyss of the Asian financial crisis through stimulation of domestic demand and lessening the country's dependence on exports and volatile global demand. The rural regions had also benefited from Thaksinomics, which placed them as the primary target of its policies.

What is generally agreed, as well, is that there were green eyes over the rising popularity of Thaksin. Thus there was clear and strong motivation to remove him, and the means was available as well, for those green eyes allegedly belonged to the tradtionally powerful elite in Bangkok; that included the military, the rich and politically connected, the royalists. These people had the most to lose from a dilution of political tradition.

And so Thaksin was gone. From one who had led Thailand to the brink of being the de facto leader of ASEAN given a still recovering Indonesia (in 2005), Thaksin has fallen badly. He has been hit hard by the global recession since there's nowhere to hide, and there're now no political connections to leverage which could have cushioned his fall. His assets in Thailand are frozen. A desperate man makes a determined man --- the way the Thai authorities have cornered Thaksin has boomeranged back on them in the form of this latest attempt to re-take power in order to unfreeze those assets.

Since Thaksin left, the political situation has been in a state of limbo up till today. An army general took over in the interim, and during that period the Thai monetary authorities screwed up by imposing capital controls and then backtracking within a week. Then they had an election through which a Thaksin loyalist party took power. Samak became Prime Minister. However, he didn't last long as somebody figured out a way of removing him --- for receiving fees for his cooking show outside of his office. Then he was replaced by another Thaksin relative, who didn't last long either. Sheer farcical political theatre.

There are apologists who will argue that this is how modern democracy works and this shows that the people are free to express themselves. They are missing the point. Any political system should be judged by the way in which they can align the majority to pull together in one single direction; hence different political systems can be optimal at different times in a nation's development. The way political change has been enacted gives foreign investors and tourists increasingly little confidence in the stability of the country. Petty issues are used to remove governments, such as Samak. The way in which the yellow-shirted PAD was allowed to take over government buildings and then, horrifyingly, the airport, had shown how the broad national agenda could be hijacked by private ones. King Bhumibol was seen previously seen as a unifying figure that could stabilise the country, now the aging monarch is used by factions as an excuse to take power against majority will. And when he goes, I can't imagine how things will deteriorate.

Frankly, I wouldn't even care about how things go, except that this country is in our vicinity, and its political developments will affect how investors and people from other parts of the world will see our ASEAN region as a whole. And now you have this ASEAN summit which was supposed to be a platform to discuss economic stimulus for the region. The heads of six countries were to have joined the discussions: China, Japan, South Korea, India, Australia, New Zealand. Wen Jiabao, leader of the fastest emerging nation in the world and eager to be a benefactor to its neighbours in order to build its soft power, was to have been in Pattaya. The world was focused on the summit.

And Thailand has to screw it up. Yet again. Of course, this time it's the red-shirts' turn. But the blame is on the Democrat government for failing to ensure the security of the summit. Is it really so difficult to cordon off the supporters for ONE summit lasting just a few days??

I read online that China planned to sign an FTA with ASEAN members and announce a $10billion aid package during the summit. I don't know how true it is. We will never know. And you know what, I also read that the summit will now be held in August, a full 4 months away.

Thanks Thailand, you always have a way to make us feel superior.




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