January 14, 2014 00:00 By Achara Deboonme
It seems that no matter how chaotic our politics get, the economic outlook for Thailand remains bright.
Yesterday, global insurer ACE announced its Bt6.15-billion move for a 61 per cent stake in Siam Commercial Samaggi Insurance. Evan G Greenberg, chairman and chief executive officer, said “Thailand is the second-largest economy in Southeast Asia and at the heart of Indochina – a region that includes Vietnam and Myanmar.”
On Channel 3, a foreign investor forecast Thailand was in a position to prosper as the leader of the Asean Economic Community.
Their words are like the first rain after a long drought. With anti-government protests now into their third month and no solution in sight, few Thais are managing to stay optimistic.
Now, I am becoming convinced that only the military can lift us past the political mess. Why? Because rationality and rule of law no longer exists among many of us.
Right after winning victory over the administration on the controversial amnesty bill, the People’s Democratic Reform Committee proposed its “People’s Council”. Its name suggests it should represent all Thais. In reality, as the PDRC declared it would appoint “good people” to the council, which will be in charge of issuing laws, it can never represent the Thai people.
It’s sad that so many who claim to support democracy have agreed to this. They reason that many poor Thais have been given too large a slice of national resources, and its time to redesign the benefit scheme. What they forget is that since Bangkok became the capital some 220 years ago, national resources poured into this city at the cost of the rural majority.
I was thus dismayed to hear a Constitutional Court judge say Thailand would need high-speed train only when all roads are gone. His judgement convinced me that many of the projects under the Bt2-trillion borrowing bill will never see the light of day. For the record, against Bt528 billion set aside for urban transport – mostly in Bangkok – the Bt955-billion budget for the high-speed train and road network is high, but it will benefit people in many provinces. Thailand is not the only country in the region dreaming about a high-speed train, something that Japan and China have been using to promote economic growth in provinces. Malaysia, Laos, Indonesia and Vietnam have similar plans.
If our students are at Grade 9 now, should we wait till they finish Grade 12 before we start building a university?
Lack of rationality also governs the reason behind the Bangkok shutdown – the demand that caretaker Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra resign. Roads were blocked yesterday and some protesters threatened to seize the Stock Exchange and air-traffic control.
If Yingluck resigns, there must be a replacement. Of course, as this interim government has to take charge of national matters under the 2007 Constitution, her replacement would be someone from the Pheu Thai Party. My question is, if Charupong Ruangsuwan is appointed, will the protesters go home? I doubt it. Their next move would be to say “no” to all “representatives of the Thaksin regime”.
It also irritates me that certain independent institutions are apparently weakening coalition parties, which in turn gives a big psychological boost to protesters. The Constitutional Court’s ruling on the senatorial selection bill was astonishing: Thailand should continue with a Senate that’s partly appointed, not entirely elected.
The National Anti-Corruption Commission recently resolved to take legal action against members of the coalition parties, in a case related to the senatorial bill. It acted fast when compared to the case relating to rigging of the rice-pledging scheme. Had that investigation been completed and charges filed, all Thais – even farmers who support the scheme – would know enough to decide whether to re-elect the corrupt politicians back to office.
I am also puzzled with the Election Commission’s recent moves. Right after being appointed to the post on December 13 after the House was dissolved, a commissioner vehemently said the February 2 election should not go ahead. I understand his concern, given the blocking of candidacy registration and ongoing protests. But from my own research, the EC’s main duty is to conduct elections, which in this case are scheduled by royal decree for February 2. Another duty of the EC is to take legal action against cheating candidates.
Importantly, the new commissioners took this job with full knowledge that they would have to handle this election. If they are not committed to this role, why did they agree to take the job?
For now, most of us are left staring into the abyss. With protesters occupying Bangkok, it remains uncertain whether the election will take place on February 2. Though some have voiced their support for the election, all the moves by independent institutions indicate that Thailand is going to get a non-elected government for the first time in 82 years.
I’m heartened, though, by the words of the two foreign investors. Surprisingly, they still see a bright future for Thailand. It is good news indeed that Thai workers will still have jobs.