Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Deconstructing Bangkokian: Explaining Thai Politics to Dumb Foreigners

Confused in Thailand


The Nation

Over the past 40 years, the private sector has ignored politics and continued doing business in spite of the frequent changes. The economy managed to grow by more than 5 per cent on average per year. But now, businessmen have to take political factors into consideration because the political crisis of the past three years has eaten into business confidence.

The political crisis is largely a result of allegations over massive corruption. Even though the country's economy grew partly because of big government projects, the allegations concern conflicts of interest in these deals.

In this column, I think the Bangkokian is off his rocker. There has always been massive corruption in Thailand, even during the absolute monarchy. There was massive corruption during the military periods, during the 70's, during the Prem years, and during the 90's. All that corruption is well documented by academics. There has always been a symbiotic/parasitic relationship between the Chinese business class, the bureaucracy and the military. Again, well-documented.

Dusit Nontanakorn, vice chairman of the Board of Trade, said: "Now we have to ask ourselves if we want high growth plus massive corruption or moderate growth with an acceptable level of corruption. We should see what kind of politics we want, and whether it's the kind that we don't have to trade off growth for corruption."

On what evidence is this based upon? It seems like a simplistic analysis.

Former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra implemented a liberal economic policy, which made him popular with international investors. Thus, when Thaksin was ousted from power, the international community didn't fully understand what had happened in Thailand. International confidence sank further when recently former PM Samak Sundaravej, who came from a general election, was also forced to leave office. Both Thaksin and Samak regularly repeated that they were elected via democratic means.

Revisionist history. During the first portion of Thaksin's tenure, he was extremely nationalistic in his outlook and economic policies. I remember he got a lot of flack in the international press for it. It wasn't until he started negotiating free trade agreements, inviting foreign capital in for mega-projects, and selling off his assets to foreigners did he get the tag of "neo-liberal out to sell the county to foreigners."

Tawatchai Yongkittikul, secretary-general of the Thai Bankers' Association, said: "I wish the media could help explain the situation in Thailand to foreigners, as to why there were movements against these elected governments."

I don't know about the Japanese and Chinese language press in Thailand, but the last place I would look for an explanation of Thai politics is in The Nation and Bangkok Post. Though I have to admit they are excellent souces for anti-Thaksin, Democrat Party and PAD propaganda.

The business sector looks at these recent anti-government movements as a public effort to make its voice heard.

Which public? The right-wing fascistic minority that doesn't even bother to run in elections.

Thailand's democratic development didn't begin until 1932. At that time, the move to turn the country towards constitutional democracy was forced by the elite. The real democratic movement started in the 1970s. Thai politics, however, went astray due to allegations over corruption, vote-buying and intervention in the judicial institutions. The recent protests, on the bright side, show that Thai politics has matured towards another level of transition. But foreigners tend to justify democracy only through general elections.

Again, corruption has always existed in Thailand. I am really getting tired of these hypocrites at The Nation who keep spouting the lie that foreigners only justify democracy through elections. There is not one shred of evidence to prove this point. The hypocrites at The Nation are the last people to lecture anybody about real democracy since most, except for Pravit, actually practices what they preach.

Violently taking over the Government House, preventing a prime minister from traveling, beating up civilians and reporters, justifying coups, advocating for the disenfranchisement of the poor and ignoring the law aren't actions of a democracy loving people either, but you wouldn't know that from reading The Nation.

A free news media that investigates corruption in all sectors of society is also supposed to be part of a well-functioning democracy, but The Nation has never independently investigated any corruption. It just regurgitates what is printed elsewhere or discovered by other non-media agents.

Munenori Yamada, president of the Japan External Trade Organisation in Thailand, admitted that foreigners didn't fully grasp the picture of what has happened in Thailand. Japanese investors suspended their investment in new projects during the military-installed government, hoping to reinvest in Thailand after the election. But when the Samak government came, the political crisis didn't end.

"We tried to understand the political conflict here. But unlike protests elsewhere in the world, there's no clear theme on what is the cause of the discontent. For instance, in the US, people protest about whether they want a centralised government. But here, there's no clear explanation [in terms of making foreigners understand] of why protesters have turned against the government. So Japanese investors are perplexed by the situation," said Yamada.

I don't buy into this notion that the Japanese are ignorant about what is happening in Thailand. Most Japanese are savvy businessmen, they do their homework, and they have done business in Thailand for decades. Many Japanese businessmen either turn a blind eye to corruption or take part in it. The Japanese may not be overt about it, but they have political operatives in every country that look after their interests. Quite frankly, I don't think the Japanese care about the political situation, as long as they are guaranteed some stability for their investments. And the situation is unstable for them in Thailand, because they don't who will win yet: The right-wing nationalists or the liberals.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Pioneer has an interesting though dismal perspective on this same article at Bangkok Pundit, the other major apologist for Thaksin.