A silent exit for Thailand’s Berlusconi

In economic publishing, Thailand has always been labeled as one of the “little Asian Tigers.” It was an integral part of the Far East’s rebirth, but never achieved the surprising success of the four true tigers, South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Singapore. However, it largely defeated underdevelopment and set the stage to become the next Asian success story. The balance between its components was an important asset for a country with a population of 68 million in 500,000 square kilometers. The earth is fertile, the sea full of fish, and the people industrious. The country is diversified and unique, so much so that tourism represents one of the primary sources of income. Millions of visitors are attracted by Thailand’s beauty, perennial sun, and gentle climate. Not by chance, Thailand boasts ASEAN’s second largest economy (after the much more populous Indonesia), and when evaluating per capita income at purchasing power parity, it’s second only to Malaysia and the small enterprises of Singapore and Brunei. The economic structure is based on the processing industry and agriculture. Both are export-oriented, with peaks of excellence in electronics, components, and automobiles. It’s a prestigious position for an area frequently devoted solely to the export of raw materials. The building of a national industry also derives from having avoided colonization (the only one out of the 10 ASEAN countries) and attracted multinationals at the same time with a particularly friendly business climate.

This sustained and timely march toward better standards of living has been interrupted since Thaksin Shinawatra, his family, and their interests came to power. The tycoon, Chiang Mai, dominated the political scene since 2001 when he won the election and was nominated prime minister. He had always dominated elections, both with his party as well as his sister’s, Yingluck. In any case, the opposition called his victories into question for strong irregularities that have invested his personal affairs and have nominated his relatives for institutional appointments. Opposing parties have not been able to create a valid platform capable of defeating Thaksin’s populist program. The family has found an immense electoral reserve in rural areas, to which they concede energy and medical subsidies, and higher prices for their products. Bangkok’s elite, industries, finance, and the democratic movement see the Shinawatra family as an obstacle to Thailand’s development, a step backwards with respect to modernization. They protest, but they’re not strong enough to win elections. Therefore, the military is taking care of removing the Thaksins in one of its usual coup d’états. The first took place in 2006 (when Thaksin was forced into exile), and the second in 2014 when Yingluck was deposed. Her removal preceded the judiciary’s incrimination for falsifying the support program for rice production.

Independently from the confirmation of accusations and the regularity of elections, it should be noted that Thailand has been a blocked country for years. The alternation of civil and military governments has impeded reforms, continual riots discourage investments, clashes between opposite factions depress tourism, and instability doesn’t favor social dynamism. Thailand’s economy is trudging along in one of the most dynamic regions in the world. Justice will establish if the Thaksins are guilty; instead, the economy’s ambitions need a better climate immediately where the entire Thaksin affair can be forgotten as soon as possible so the country can restart the march toward asserting itself globally and eliminating poverty.