The Nation



Expats' view on political chaos

Marc Spiegel, left, and Nandor von der Luehe, centre.

Marc Spiegel, left, and Nandor von der Luehe, centre.

Leaders voice support for fresh election, reform

Several long-time expatriate business leaders based in Thailand have been voicing their opinions on the country's latest round of political confrontation.

Nandor von der Luehe, director of the Thai-Swiss Chamber of Commerce and former president of the Joint Foreign Chamber of Commerce in Thailand, said: "First of all, as foreigners, we try to stay out of politics, but on the other hand, we're also stakeholders in the Thai economy.

"We're observing what's happening very closely - the political stand-off we've seen over the past 40 days. It's the right step in the right direction for the prime minister to dissolve the House for a new general election.

"We hope Thailand can reform itself. Over the past several years, we already had many conflicts. In terms of economic impacts, we've seen the GDP and export growth rates to be far less than what we expected early this year," he said. Export growth is flat, while growth in gross domestic product is likely to drop to 3 per cent from 5 per cent forecast early this year.

"Political tension certainly did not help this situation and as a caretaker government, the disbursement of government budgets will slow down, causing another problem for the economy.

"Foreign direct investment or FDI will also be affected. Investors look carefully to see which country they will put their money into. People are watching the Asean Economic Community [AEC], where to put their FDI money. You just don't put your money into a bank where you're not so sure how safe it is or like a country where demonstrations are going on. "Certain sectors such as the automotive sector are strong, however, so they can still attract foreign investors.

"In terms of domestic consumption, that's also hurt by the political situation. After raising the minimum wage to Bt300 per day, everything seems to be more expensive," so the net benefit from the wage increase was limited as far as boosting domestic consumption is concerned.

Marc Spiegel, president of the Thai-Finnish Chamber of Commerce and vice president of the Joint Foreign Chamber of Commerce, said: "It's the right decision to dissolve the House to prevent the conflict from escalating any further.

"Given that, I come from America. Throughout our history, we had many protests when the people did not support the ideas of government. It's the way people speak out, but of course we hope it's done peacefully within the rule of law and without any violence.

"In terms of economic impact [from the political conflict], it has already included the tourism sector, in which 400,000 foreigners have cancelled their trips to Thailand. "Another casualty is probably the Bt2-trillion mega-infrastructure scheme, which is being reviewed by the Constitutional Court.

"The good news is that the Red Line electric-train project is already under construction in Bangkok, while the Purple Line's contract has been signed. But now there will be delays in budget disbursement.

"Thailand has declared that it wants to be a centre of Asean and, given its mega-infrastructure schemes, it has the capability to do so. But there is also competition from other countries such as China.

"However, compared with other countries in the region, the politics of Philippines until recently was much worse. It turned the corner two or three years ago, but Thailand has dropped. The Philippines also ranked better than Thailand in Transparency International's index, at 94 compared with Thailand's 102.

"Malaysia's politics also outperformed Thailand's, but the last election was not very clean. Still, it's ranked 53rd on the transparency index. Indonesia is doing worse at 114 on the transparency index, which covers about 180 countries worldwide.

"In terms of democracy, Thailand has had its Constitution for only 81 years. If you look at my country, America, we got the constitution in 1787 - 81 years later we were facing civil war. That gives you some idea of an advancement."

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