Time to pull the emergency brake

opinion February 15, 2014 00:00

By The Nation

Our economy is heading towards a cliff; both sides of the political divide must switch their focus from hate speech to the wellbeing of the whole country

Former prime minister Anand Panyarachun is not the only one who is alarmed by the growing threat the political crisis poses to the Thai economy. But his concern adds another authoritative voice to the swelling anxiety. The nation needs to pull the emergency brake, he said, or the “runaway locomotive” would crash into the brick wall and everyone would “die”. For Anand, the sooner the warring parties realise the magnitude of the danger faced by the economy, the better.
Anand was right in saying that the crisis has gone beyond an argument over what does and does not constitute democracy. The “runaway locomotive” scenario cannot accommodate a never-ending debate on what went wrong. The political rivals, he insisted, must focus on what should be done to prevent a final and catastrophic crash. Egos must get out of the way. Everyone must accept that vengeance is a sure-fire accelerator for collective doom.
Initially, it was thought the political crisis would dent Thailand’s graceful entry into the Asean Economic Community, which is just around the corner. Now it seems certain that Thailand will limp into the AEC era as one of the most politically stormy nations in the region. Education, deemed the most important foundation for AEC success, is a major loser in the Thai crisis. Another is the fight against corruption, which has become badly politicised.
But the economy is probably where most blood is gushing out. Last year saw positive internal factors holding out against global uncertainties. This year, most domestic indicators are screaming for support or attention. State spending has been halted by fierce political protests. So far, tourism has not been hit hard but it won’t be a white knight riding to the rescue, either. Exports under-performed last year, when we had a functional government for around 11 months, so it would be a grave mistake to pin our hopes there in 2014.
Two weeks have passed since the general election and nobody has a clue what the new government will look like. In fact, even if a post-election government can be miraculously formed, that won’t erase economic worries. The new government will face all kinds of trouble and be too preoccupied with rearguard political battles to concentrate on helping any particular sector.
Anand stopped short of elaborating on his “emergency brake” idea. But his statement might have provided enough glimpses. He favours a true dialogue based on the need to stop “the bleeding”, which he warned could be fatal. Thaksin Shinawatra should “think really hard” about the country’s wellbeing, and so should his opponents. The rivals should stop exchanging hate speeches through the media, which are making things more difficult every passing day. 
Nothing is legally impossible, according to Anand. He is right again. And, ironically, that is what the political rivals are implying, too. Neither side of the political conflict has shown utmost, unconditional respect for the laws or Constitution. If the political enemies can be selective about which legal aspects they adhere to, doesn’t that mean nothing is written in stone? Isn’t it time now to do what’s best for Thailand first and make that legal later?
One side of the political divide might like the emergency brake proposal more than the other. In that respect, we are probably back to square one. For Anand, however, there is little time left to debate who will win and who will lose, as the locomotive continues its blind and relentless surge towards the brick wall.