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Country in danger when populism silences criticism
THE NATIONThe observers agree that the government is in real trouble on these fronts, but criticism of the administration has been muffled, prompting many to wonder why. Why have there been only small repercussions for the government, despite its poor performance?
The answer lies in the government's populist policies. The governments of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, and those to which he has been linked - from the Thai Rak Thai and People's Power administrations to the Pheu Thai government - have been very good at selling populist policies that please the people by providing income or opportunities to access assets normally out of their reach.
It seems that when a Thaksin-allied party is dissolved and reborn under a new name, the level of populist schemes is only heightened, and the schemes become strong selling points for the party.
During the Thai Rak Thai government, such populist schemes focused on pleasing the grassroots, including the village revolving funds, scholarships for each district and the Bt30 universal-healthcare programme.
These populist schemes allowed Thai Rak Thai to receive support from the grassroots, who are the majority. But at the same time, the Thai Rak Thai government faced strong opposition because it pleased only one group. When corruption or loopholes were detected, other groups, which did not receive any benefits, came out to attack the government with no holds barred.
Now the situation is different because Pheu Thai's populist schemes have pleased all sectors. For example, the rice-pledging scheme was attacked by politicians and academics as being problematic and likely to cause the country to go bankrupt, but those directly involved did not say a word.
Why have they been silent? Because the scheme benefited all farmers, rice millers, rice traders and government officials. Since they have been receiving benefits, why should they cry foul?
When all populist schemes are considered, it could be seen that all groups have received benefits. Farmers have benefited from the rice-pledging scheme and the government has also intervened in prices of other produce. Even rubber growers have received benefits, prompting a failure by opponents to instigate rubber growers to protest. And the Bt300 minimum wage also pleased a lot of workers.
Middle-class people have also been pleased with the first-car and first-house tax rebate programmes as well as the Bt15,000-salary campaign for university graduates. These schemes pleased working middle-class people starting their families. Many do not like the government, but they don't mind taking the benefits.
In the meantime, businessmen are having sweet dreams about profiting from the government's plan to spend Bt2 trillion to develop transport infrastructure.
By contrast, the opposition Democrat Party has not given any hope to anyone because it has not been acting as a good opposition to check and balance the government's power.
Now all classes have fallen into the trap of populist schemes so they do not pay attention to complicated details about the budget and rising public debt.
Many still enjoy this situation and it may be too late before they realise the problem - by that time, the economy may have already collapsed. Those who cannot figure out the dangers should think about what happened to Argentina in 1999 and the early 2000s. When its economy collapsed, the people were the ones to suffer, not the politicians.
email@example.com October 17, 2013 9:55 pm
A NUMBER of commentators have come out to warn the government about the potentially severe impact of problematic populist projects, such as the rice-pledging scheme, and the first-car and first-house tax rebates. They have also warned the government about the potential risks involved in seeking to enact the amnesty bill and three charter-amendment bills.