News / Asia

    In Thailand, No Shortage of Support for Reform

    Anti-government protesters march in a rally in central Bangkok, Jan. 15, 2014.
    Anti-government protesters march in a rally in central Bangkok, Jan. 15, 2014.
    Ron Corben
    Thailand’s political protests have been marked by vague demands for government reform.  Economists also say the country’s future growth depends on passing significant political and institutional reforms, but neither the ruling party, nor the opposition are likely to implement them.
     
    Thailand has enjoyed a remarkable economic rise in recent decades largely from free-trade policies and foreign investment that used the country’s cheap labor to build products for export.
     
    In 1988, more than 40 percent of the population lived below the national poverty line. By 2010, that had fallen to less than 8 percent.
     
    This growth led to dramatic political changes in rural Thailand, as wealthier voters deepened their engagement in the country’s political process. The ruling Pheu Thai party has leveraged the trend for a string of victories at the polls. Their opponents, the Democrats, backed by voters in Bangkok and southern Thailand, continue to lose ground.
     
    "In the north and North East and other parts of the country general elections and democratization brings more tax money to their locality - so they want to continue with the one-man, one-vote system," said Pasuk Pongpaichit, an economist at Chulalongkorn University and co-author of a new Asia Foundation report on Thailand’s economy.

    "Whereas these people [in Bangkok] are saying that 'we don't want a government that comes from a one-man, one-vote [system] - we want an alternative which would allow us to have bigger representation - and this is part of the big problem," she added.
     
    The rural-urban split is frequently used to explain Thailand’s political divisions. But economists say there is also an income disparity that persists despite the country’s impressive economic growth.
     
    "The underlying problem is that we are a highly unequal society and the people on the top have been so used to being able to reap all kinds of benefits from the government expenditure and policies," the economist said. "So that created a reaction when democracy started to work. This paper is only an attempt to address how economic inequality leads to other kinds of inequality and which could affect economic growth adversely, particularly on the quality of education and on the issue of wages."
     
    • Anti-government protesters march during a rally in Bangkok, Jan. 15, 2014.
    • An anti-government protester wears a mask during a rally in central Bangkok, Jan. 15, 2014.
    • Soldiers stand guard inside the Thai Defense Ministry in Bangkok, Jan. 15, 2014.
    • Protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban addresses anti-government protesters occupying a major intersection in central Bangkok, Jan. 14, 2014.
    • Anti-government protesters with national flags gather for a rally in Bangkok, Jan. 14, 2014.
    • Anti-government protesters with national flags gather for a rally at Asok intersection in Bangkok, Jan. 14, 2014.
    • Anti-government protestors participate in a sit-in outside the Royal Thai Police headquarters in Bangkok, Jan. 14, 2014.
    • Anti-government protesters gather outside the Central World mall in the shopping district in central Bangkok, Jan. 13, 2014.
    • An anti-government protester stands behind a barricade in a major intersection in central Bangkok, Jan. 13, 2014.

    Thailand’s ruling party has been heavily criticized for a rice pledging scheme that guarantees high prices to farmers, costing the government billions of dollars. But most government funds are still spent in the capital.
     
    The World Bank estimates that in 2012, Bangkok accounted for 26 percent of Thailand’s gross domestic product, but it received more than 70 percent of government spending.
     
    The Asia Foundation's chief economist, Veronique Salze-Lozac'h, says decentralizing power and spending funds more wisely on core needs like education will require political reforms.
     
    "The economic reforms that need to be taken up are pretty well known," she noted. "But it's not happening mainly because of some political blockages. It's really how to integrate different actors of the economy in the decision-making process."
     
    Since Thailand’s recent protests erupted, a wide range of groups, including the prime minister, have proposed reform measures. Some proposals, such as greater government transparency and a crackdown on vote buying, appear to have broad public support. 
     
    But economist Adam Burke says deeper structural reforms, such as decentralizing power and giving more independence to local governments, face resistance in both the ruling party and their opponents, which continue to be controlled by small groups of wealthy backers.
     
    He says the influence of these groups is felt in the current protests gripping Bangkok.
     
    "It's awfully polarized into these two patronage groups with very, very narrow elites in charge on both sides," Burke said. "And while at the moment no side is interested and has inclinations towards being violent, that can shift fast and things could get very nasty, very rapidly."
     
    No matter how Thailand’s current political impasse gets resolved, economists say reforming the power structure of Thailand’s political parties will be key to building a wealthier and more inclusive society.

    You May Like

    Syrian Rebel Realignment Likely as al-Qaida Leader Blesses Split

    Jihadist group Jabhat al-Nusra splits from al-Qaida in what observers dub a ‘deception and denial’ exercise

    New India Child Labor Law Could Make Children More Vulnerable

    Concerns that allowing children to work in family enterprises will push more to work

    What Take-out Food Reveals About American History

    Carry-out food explains a lot about the changes taking place in society, so here's the deal with pizza, Chinese food and what racism has to do with taking food to go

    This forum has been closed.
    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: Nutthapol from: Bangkok
    January 15, 2014 10:28 AM
    I don’t think that your reporter understands what is happening here in Thailand. Corruptions by politicians is the major cause that dragging our country. If you see that your government is taking 20% of your tax in their pockets, you will understand our feeling. The politicians (government side) were trying to pass an amnesty bill, let go so many corruption cases & giving the money back to the court proven criminal. We need to stop them. We want a political reform but not by the politician. That’s why you see so many educated people on the street.
    In Response

    by: Nomi from: BKK
    January 16, 2014 8:33 PM
    Yes, we saw that all govts so far, and also in the forseeable future, will be looting 20% of Thailand tax coffers. So Pre-thaksin, Thaksin, post-thaksin etc are all corrupt. And future ones too, if they are made up of yhe same old same old.

    What we want is for a government that will pledge to reduce spending on Bangkok from the current 70%, to no more than 50% , given Bangkok only contributed 26%

    But I can see why Bangkokians are unwilling to be fair and just in terms of sharing national wealth in this case.
    In Response

    by: Andrew from: Bangkok
    January 15, 2014 4:16 PM
    The amnesty bill has been laid to rest and no longer the issue. Yingluck pulled the bill and desolved the parliament for a new election in February. It should be enough to qual these issues. Instead, you still have people protesting in the street and demanding her resignation. This is not true democracy. If this is true democracy than let the people be heard. If she wins again in February than she is obviously the people's choice. Can't always have it your way..right or wrong. btw, I'm an educated Thai and I think this is wrong than these protesters are pulling down Thailand's economy by protesting.

    by: Joseph Effiong from: Calabar - Nigeria
    January 15, 2014 10:02 AM
    Dialogue lead to peace will violence leads to destruction and dead.

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Uganda Unveils its First Solar-powered Busi
    X
    July 28, 2016 4:16 AM
    A solar-powered bus described by its Ugandan makers as the first in Africa has made its public debut. Kiira Motors' electric bus, Kayoola, displayed recently at a stadium in Uganda's capital. From Kampala, Maurice Magorane filed this report narrated by Salem Solomon.
    Video

    Video Uganda Unveils its First Solar-powered Bus

    A solar-powered bus described by its Ugandan makers as the first in Africa has made its public debut. Kiira Motors' electric bus, Kayoola, displayed recently at a stadium in Uganda's capital. From Kampala, Maurice Magorane filed this report narrated by Salem Solomon.
    Video

    Video Silicon Valley: More Than A Place, It's a Culture

    Silicon Valley is a technology powerhouse and a place that companies such as Google, Facebook and Apple call home. It is a region in northern California that stretches from San Francisco to San Jose. But, more than that, it's known for its startup culture. VOA's Elizabeth Lee went inside one company to find out what it's like to work in a startup.
    Video

    Video Immigrant Delegate Marvels at Democratic Process

    It’s been a bitter and divisive election season – but first time Indian-American delegate Dr. Shashi Gupta headed to the Democratic National Convention with a sense of hope. VOA’s Katherine Gypson followed this immigrant with the love of U.S. politics all the way to Philadelphia.
    Video

    Video Philadelphia Uses DNC Spotlight to Profile Historic Role in Founding of United States

    The slogan of the Democratic National Convention now underway in Philadelphia is “Let’s Make History Again” which recognizes the role the city played in the foundation of the United States in the 18th century. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, local institutions are opening their doors in an effort to capitalize on the convention spotlight to draw visitors, and to offer more than just a history lesson.
    Video

    Video A Life of Fighting Back: Hillary Clinton Shatters Glass Ceiling

    Hillary Clinton made history Thursday, overcoming personal and political setbacks to become the first woman to win the presidential nomination of a major U.S. political party. If she wins in November, she will go from “first lady” to U.S. Senator from New York, to Secretary of State, to “Madam President.” Polls show Clinton is both beloved and despised. White House Correspondent Cindy Saine takes a look at the life of the woman both supporters and detractors agree is a fighter for the ages.
    Video

    Video Dutch Entrepreneurs Turn Rainwater Into Beer

    June has been recorded as one of the wettest months in more than a century in many parts of Europe. To a group of entrepreneurs in Amsterdam the rain came as a blessing, as they used the extra water to brew beer. Serginho Roosblad has more to the story.
    Video

    Video First Time Delegate’s First Day Frustrations

    With thousands of people filling the streets of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania for the 2016 Democratic National Convention, VOA’s Kane Farabaugh narrowed in on one delegate as she made her first trip to a national party convention. It was a day that was anything but routine for this United States military veteran.
    Video

    Video Commerce Thrives on US-Mexico Border

    At the Democratic Convention in Philadelphia this week, the party’s presumptive presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, is expected to attack proposals made by her opponent, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Last Friday, President Barack Obama hosted his Mexican counterpart, President Enrique Peña Nieto, to underscore the good relations between the two countries. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Tucson.
    Video

    Video Film Helps Save Ethiopian Children Thought to be Cursed

    'Omo Child' looks at effort of African man to stop killings of ‘mingi’ children
    Video

    Video London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunities

    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
    Video

    Video Recycling Lifeline for Lebanon’s Last Glassblowers

    In a small Lebanese coastal town, one family is preserving a craft that stretches back millennia. The art of glass blowing was developed by Phoenicians in the region, and the Khalifehs say they are the only ones keeping the skill alive in Lebanon. But despite teaming up with an eco-entrepreneur and receiving an unexpected boost from the country’s recent trash crisis the future remains uncertain. John Owens reports from Sarafand.
    Video

    Video Migrants Continue to Risk Lives Crossing US Border from Mexico

    In his speech Thursday before the Republican National Convention, the party’s presidential candidate, Donald Trump, reiterated his proposal to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border if elected. Polls show a large percentage of Americans support better control of the nation's southwestern border, but as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from the border town of Nogales in the Mexican state of Sonora, the situation faced by people trying to cross the border is already daunting.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora