Blog: Dave LeggettThoughts on Thailand

Dave Leggett | 14 May 2010

The political situation in Thailand seems to be worsening. What's causing it?

Our ASEAN specialist Tony Pugliese was recently in London and we met up for a chin-wag and a few beers. Besides our usual long debates on footballing matters (we watched the Champions League final at a bar in Covent Garden) I quizzed him on the political situation in Thailand. His view was that an election later this year is needed to properly 'clear the air'. And a compromise of sorts seemed to be on the cards a few weeks ago.

Since then the situation seems to have deteriorated and I'll be catching up with Tony to discuss it further soon.

What are the root causes of what's going on? Tony puts it down to the rapid pace of Thailand's economic development. One consequence of that has been the creation of a big divide between the relatively affluent urban 'middle classes' – the people in Bangkok who supported the so-called 'soft coup' that removed the Thaksin government from power – and a large body of economically 'left behind' people in rural areas. The Thaksin Shinawatra government played mainly to the second group and that became its political power base. It was, however, viewed by many as a government that was fundamentally corrupt and the exiled Thaksin does appear to have amassed a fair bit of wealth. Tony reckoned his government wasn't all bad though, and that it had done some good things for the masses in more rural areas.

The demonstrations in Bangkok have served to deepen the divide.

Tony was relatively sanguine about prospects for the auto industry and market in Thailand, but he thought an election later this year is key to calming the conflict down. And the longer it goes on, the worse things will be getting for the Thai economy.

I guess the underlying difficulty in Thailand is uneven economic development and how that can have pretty profound political consequences. I wonder what they make of it all in Beijing?  

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