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Thailand Election 2023: It's the Economy, Stupid; Stupid, Indeed.

Updated: Apr 6, 2023

The Thai election of 2023 is heating up as political parties have announced their constituency MP candidates on Monday and their party list MP candidates on Tuesday. The Prime Ministerial candidates for each party are also becoming clearer. Phue Thai has announced its official PM candidates to be the daughter of former PM Thaksin, Paetongtarn Shinawatra, party stalwart Chaikasem Nitisiri, and popular real estate magnate Sretta Thavisin. None of them are on the party list, and Chaikasem still retains his candidacy, contrary to our previous prediction. Other major candidates from various political parties include Prayuth Chan-o-Cha and Pirapan Salirathavibhaga for Ruam Thai Srang Chat, Pita Limjaroenrat for the Move Forward Party, Anutin Charnvirakul for Bhumjai Thai Party, Prawit Wongsuwan for Palang Pracharat Party, and Jurin Laksanawisit for the Democrat Party. It's important to note that all of the aforementioned candidates, with the exception of Prayuth Chan-o-Cha, are on their respective party lists. Additionally, in order for a candidate to be a legitimate contender for Prime Minister, their party must possess at least 25 seats in parliament.




As of now, we maintain that the election results will follow our previous prediction, with Phue Thai expected to take the lead with around 207 seats, followed by Bhumjai Thai Party, Ruam Thai Srang Chart, Move Forward Party, Palang Pracharat Party, and the Democrat Party, each retaining around 40-60 seats. This will give the Phue Thai Party significant leverage in the establishment of the new government, regardless of whether or not the next Prime Minister comes from their list of three candidates. Therefore, in this article, we will provide a preliminary analysis of their economic policies, which we anticipate will form a significant portion of the next government's agenda. It's interesting to note that the economic policy team of the Phue Thai Party seems to be following the playbook of their predecessor, the Thai Rak Thai Party. The Thai Rak Thai Party won the election on January 6, 2001, securing an unexpected 248 out of 500 seats. This victory was fueled by the frustration of the Thai people, who were observing the chaotic and troublesome negotiations between the previous governments and the IMF to pull the country out of the Asian financial crisis, which originated in Bangkok in 1997. This time around, the Phue Thai Party's economic policy team aims to follow in the footsteps of the Thai Rak Thai Party in 2001, blaming the Prayuth-led government for its failure to achieve reasonable economic performance due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, economic headwinds from the trade war between major powers like the US and China, and the ongoing conflict in Ukraine.



While several of the Phue Thai Party's policies seem to differ significantly from those of the Thaksin-led Thai Rak Thai Party (and also Yinglak's-led Phue Thai Party) era, some similarities can be observed. For example, this time there are policies like One Family One Soft Power (OFOS) and the Thailand Creative Content Agency (THACCA), which seem to follow in the footsteps of Thai Rak Thai's One Tambol One Product (OTOP) and Thailand Creative & Design Center (TCDC) policy. Additionally, other policies, such as the signature policy of universal healthcare, which guarantees healthcare for all at a cost of 30 Baht, seem to be taken straight from Thai Rak Thai's playbook.


It's worth noting that several Thai scholars have criticized the policies of Thaksin-led Thai Rak Thai and Yinglak-led Phue Thai, referring to them as populist policies that aim to bypass traditional political canvassers and directly buy votes from people, particularly those in rural areas, such as Northern and Northeastern Thailand. This has led to massive protests twice before, led by Sondhi Limthongkul, the media mogul with the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD), followed by a coup in 2006 to topple Thaksin's administration. Similarly, protests led by Suthep Thueksuban, the political heavyweight and former secretary-general of the Democrat Party, with the People's Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC), led to another coup in 2014 to topple Yinglak's administration, resulting in Prayuth's rule that continues to this day.



Whether the accusations of populist policies leading to protests and two coups are true or not, the reality is that the junta government that followed was unable to abandon several "semi-welfare" policies established by the Thai Rak Thai Party. They had to continue these programs in order to secure political support from people in rural areas. However, there may be a different side to the story. Pansak Vinyaratn, the chief policy advisor for both Thaksin's Thai Rak Thai and Yinglak's Phue Thai, referred to Robert Looney's article published on December 2, 2003, which argued that their economic policies aimed to deconstruct the so-called East Asia Economic Model (EAEM). The EAEM relied heavily on export-led economic growth, which led to an imbalanced economic model and was a major cause of the Asian financial crisis in 1997. This model also made the Thai economy overly dependent on global economic interdependence and therefore more vulnerable to shocks from the global economy, such as those caused by the COVID-19 pandemic or the conflict in Ukraine.


The policies of Thai Rak Thai and Phue Thai, whether it be OTOP (influenced by Japan's One Village One Product movement in Ōita Prefecture in 1979) or the recent OFOS, aim to boost the domestic economy in a proportionate manner. This approach would make the Thai economy more balanced and thus should be considered a dual-track policy, with one track focusing on maintaining the former EAEM while the other generates a robust domestic economy. Achieving this goal requires the government to facilitate the people in increasing their value, either through design or production. The Thailand Creative & Design Center (TCDC) and Thailand Creative Content Agency (THACCA) would be the primary agencies responsible for fulfilling this policy. Relying on the previous low-cost, low-quality approach is not sustainable, and thus the government must enable the people to increase their value, which will ultimately lead to a more sustainable and robust economy.


Another crucial aspect, borrowed from Hernando De Soto's The Mystery of Capital, is the government's responsibility to provide capital to poor people who lack the opportunity to access credit facilitated by major financial institutions. De Soto's key idea is to turn "dead capital," which refers to assets held by poor people or those at the bottom of the pyramid who cannot turn these assets into credit and thus cannot borrow money. The government can step in and guarantee these assets, enabling people to borrow money and increase economic activity through their ventures and grassroots economy. This strategy has the advantage that poor people tend to spend their money more proportionally than the middle class and the rich, thereby gaining more "velocity of money" and reinforcing economic activity. This generates better and more GDP compared to different economic policies, whether they be supply-side economics or Import Substitution Industrialization (ISI), which tends to result in the spillover money leaking out of domestic consumption since the middle class and the rich tend to consume imported products or spend money on travel abroad more than the poor.



Several Thai scholars have viewed Thaksin's campaign as either votes buying or, at best, populist. This movement has led to mass protests and the two coups.


However, these policies have been viewed by the conservative middle class and the wealthy as Thaksin's attempt to centralize his power and use his supporters as a political power to usurp power for decades. Moreover, the unclear financial discipline, such as the rice pledging scheme campaign during Yinglak's era, has led to fears of an economic collapse similar to those experienced by Argentina and several countries in Latin America. As a result, these policies inevitably lead to politics, not just the economy, as Clinton advocated in his successful campaign.


This reflects to the article's title, "stupid, indeed" can be thus interpreted in a couple of ways:

  1. It could be seen as emphasizing the importance of the economy even further by repeating the word "stupid" to stress that the economy should not be underestimated or overlooked.

  2. Alternatively, it could be viewed as a commentary on the state of the economy, implying that the economy itself is "stupid" or not functioning as it should be, and politicians should pay attention to it and try to improve it.



"The aim of the city is the good life," in Aristotle's book "Nicomachean Ethics", where he argued that happiness (or eudaimonia) is the ultimate goal of human life to resonate with us today. As we navigate the complexities of modern life, his ideas remind us to focus on what truly matters and to strive for a life of meaning and fulfillment. By cultivating virtues such as courage, wisdom, and compassion, we can live a life that is not only happy but also virtuous, just as Aristotle envisioned over two millennia ago.


It's unclear whether the vicious circle of elections and coups will continue to haunt the country after the upcoming election. If this does occur, it raises the question of how to break out of this cycle. Finding a solution would require the cooperation and commitment of all parties involved in the political process. This includes a willingness to accept the results of fair and transparent elections and to work together to address the issues facing the country. Additionally, there must be a concerted effort to address the underlying structural issues that have led to this cycle of instability. Only by addressing these issues can the country move forward and build a stable and prosperous future. It's the Economy, Stupid; Stupid, Indeed.


 





If you missed out on the live webcasts, all episodes of "A Closer Look" series by Asia Society Switzerland, which focuses on Laos, South Korea, Solomon Islands, Nepal, and Thailand, are now available for streaming on their website: http://ow.ly/Xalc50NwUmW

 

Geopolitics.Asia will provide serious policy analysis on Mondays, trend monitoring on weekdays, and cultural and lifestyle issues on weekends. Please note that our weekday situation monitoring will not include a trend radar or scenario analysis for the time being, as we work to fully automate these processes with AI. You can, however, access to our previous experiments on trend radar and scenario planning generated by the AI, 1) Simple scenario planning at Jan 26, 2023, 2) Double iteration scenario planning technique at February 2, 2023, 3) Triple iteration scenario planning techniqueat February 9, 2023, and 4) Hyperdimensional scenario planning technique at February 17, 2023.


Stay tuned for updates on this exciting development!


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