Yesterday in front of the American Chamber of Commerce, the Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra professed his love for George W. Bush, saying that they were both “Texas-style politicians” since Thaksin went to some dinky college in Texas where some claim he got someone to write a PhD dissertation for him. “I am a cowboy too”, said the PM, according to the Nation newspaper. The Thai & American businessmen in the audience gave him a standing ovation. Yay!
There are so many reasons for being appalled and disappointed with this scene that it’s difficult to know where to start.
To begin with, the current government is run by a cabal of representatives of wealthy business families who are systematically re-writing the rules of the country to the benefit of their own families and businesses. Thaksin is the front man for this group, a long-time expert in using government to build his wealth; and someone who understands how to use modern media to spin, misdirect and outright lie for fun, profit, and power.
The guy made his first bundle of cash selling computers to the police department while he was still a policeman. Then, he gave big gifts to the military generals who controlled Thailand’s telecommunications at the time and in return got a monopoly mobile phone license that gave him an even bigger pile of cash. In Thailand, this is what passes for “successful businessm”.
Since he entered politics (when bribing generals wasn’t enough anymore), he’s promised to fix Bangkok’s traffic problems in 6 months, clean the canals in 2 years, and end poverty in 6 years. The deadlines for the first two are long gone, and we still have terrible traffic and dirty canals. As for the third, well, his “lend ’em money to buy phones and motorcycles” programs for the poor have doubled household debt in Thailand while increasing profits for his own company; while government banks are again swimming in dud loans (but at least KTB has funny commercials). In the meantime, his “health care for all” program has pushed 1/3 of public hospitals into near-bankruptcy.
But he takes credit for the economy growing, even though this was basically due to consumer spending that has increased debts, and large commodity exports to China that his government has nothing to do with. And so he looks to be headed to another election victory this January.
Nobody cares that 2,500 people were killed without trial during his “war on drugs”. Nobody cares about the 80 people killed being arrested in the South. Hell, when you’re busy folding origami birds, little things like government murders are hardly worth paying attention to.
But there are great things he’s done too – he thought of a “Thailand Elite” program, where if you pay $25,000, you get discounts for a lifetime and don’t have to wait on big immigration lines at the airport! He figured that if they can sell a million of these things, they’ll be sitting pretty. So far, they’ve sold about 300. Great businessman, yeah.
Oh, and recently, his government has mandated that discos don’t play music above 91 decibels. Because, you know, loud music in discos is a major source of death in Thailand. This from the mastermind who decided that the best way to save fuel without hurting the economy is to close shopping centers early, because shopping has nothing to do with the economy.
But American businesspeople love the guy – and why not? His “monopoly mafia” strategy (or “no crooks except my guys”) is making progress in streamlining corruption throughout the country. Now, instead of trying to figure out how many people you need to bribe and how much, in many cases there’s only one bribe to the cabal or the party, and the amounts are becoming standard. That’s transparency for you.
So – questionable academic achivement, history of using government connections to make money for himself, a string of failures and broken promises, and a likely re-election… no wonder he identifies with GW Bush.
The way this government works – a shiny coat that outsiders marvel at with a rotten core that very few see except for insiders who are busy looting the place before it all falls apart – it indeed “Texas style”, at least in terms of looking like that venerable Texan institution, Enron.
Get ready for a disaster in Thailand starting around 2006 or so.