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Business-political connections can backfire

Since all Thais were given the vote 81 years ago, few business clans have established a direct involvement in politics. Khunying Kalaya Sophonpanich is one exception to this rule. From the Tejapaibul family, there is Pornthep. Nuanphan Lamsam also briefly got into politics.

Their surnames speak volumes about what they represent. Wherever they go and whatever they do, they remind the public of their families.

There are several reasons most business families shun direct involvement in politics. Chief among these is that if anything goes wrong, it is not only those directly involved who will be affected, but others in the clan as well as the family businesses.

This is exactly what the Bhirombhakdi family is witnessing now, as a result of Chitpas' position as former deputy spokeswoman for the Democrat Party and now a co-leader of the People's Democratic Reform Committee. Chitpas, a daughter of Jutinan, chief of Boon Rawd Trading, now actively helps the PDRC. She drew huge public attention riding a crane to pull away road barriers. Thanks to her English proficiency, she also assists PDRC communication with foreigners.

In a letter circulated widely on social media last Wednesday, the family's chief Santi Bhirombhakdi warned Jutinan of possible impacts on the family and the business from Chitpas' actions. A day after that, four firebombs and a brick were hurled into Jutinan's home, believed to have been politically motivated.

That must have been frightening, and as Santi said, it remains unknown how this political chaos will end and how much the Bhirombhakdi clan and its business will be affected.

This goes a long way to explain why many other families - including the Chirathivats - have been staying out of politics.

Trips tiresome, but a 'must'

Kasikornbank chairman and CEO Banthoon Lamsam has repeatedly told reporters how hard it was to establish the Thai bank's presence on Chinese soil.

The mission was made pos?sible after Prasarn Trairatvorakul, now governor of the Bank of Thailand, became president of KBank some years ago. With someone he could trust, Banthoon began his mission. Frequent trips to China were planned. Besides good food, meeting with senior Chinese officials was high on the agenda as KBank established a presence in that country.

A person close to him says the mission is not yet complete. This was reflected in a recent meeting between Banthoon and Zhou Qiang, president and chief justice of the Supreme People's Court of China. The banker was impressed by this opportunity, realising how small his business is compared with the official's responsibilities. Importantly, Zhou could become a member of the ruling Communist Party's Politburo.

More visits will be planned, of course. A lot remains to be done, as KBank has only two branches in the world's most populous country.

Too much cheap food available

At a press conference recently, Rathian Srimongkol, chief executive officer and president of Krungthai Card, was clearly upset.

While telling the press about the performance of KTC, he said that for some months, credit-card spending had been declining. And a significant drop was witnessed in November.

He understands why credit-card spending as a whole has declined, as this is directly related to household debt, which has soared in Thailand.

But in his opinion, the political protests contributed a large part of the steep decline in those particular two weeks. First, a flow of free food is available at rally sites. Meanwhile, those who spend money at food stalls have to use cash. Plus, the number of shoppers at malls has declined.

So the protests kill the appetite for shopping as well as credit-card spending.

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