We’re just back after three weeks in steamy monsoonal Thailand, and yes, we had a great time. This wasn’t a serious trip, we spent most of the time swimming, snorkelling and doing other human things. It was most definitely un petit vacance pour destresser.
What was unescapable was the Thai election. Election posters everywhere and everywhere in Krabi, Ko Lanta and Bangkok there were as many posters for Yingluck, the ousted Thaksin’s proxy, as for the other candidates. And Yingluck had more campaign trucks playing her campaign songs than anyone else.
Now we should all be paying attention to what is happening. The decision and the politics are for Thais alone, but what is happening is very interesting.
Over the last thirty or so years Thailand has industrialised, and has gone from being a predominately rural poor country to a country that is partially industrialised to one in which some people, predominately poor peasants in the north and east, have been left behind economically, others, those who work in the car and computer plants around Bangkok, have done a bit better, but as Thailand was seen as a low labour cost option, not that much better, and at the same time some people have become very rich indeed.
Thaksin appealed to the poor and the disenfranchised and this let the genie of social reform out of the bottle. The army and the establishment were not best pleased with him and they got rid of him in a military coup in 2006. Thaksin is alleged to have engaged in corrupt behaviour, but then they would say that wouldn’t they.
Along the way the social reform agenda has taken on a life of its own, culminating the redshirt movement and the near insurrection in Bangkok last year.
Yingluck has been riding the social reform tiger, and now looks likely to win the election, much to the consternation of the conservative army generals. Which means that things will not continue as before.
What will happen, I don’t know. It’s for the Thai electorate to decide. But it has definite implications for all of us as the last thirty years of economic change and growth have integrated Thailand into the global economy – the Honda and Toyota plants, the WD hard disk plants and the rest – and disruption and violence are bad for (global) business