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

How to Safeguard Your Mobile Privacy

As the digital world becomes more mobile, so too do concerns about eroding privacy and increased hacking More

'Desert Dancer' Chronicles Iranian Underground Dance Troupe

Film by Richard Raymond is based on true story of Afshin Ghaffarian and his friends More

Obesity Poses Complex Problem

Professor warns of obesity’s worldwide health impact More

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.
Rolling Thunder Run Reveals Changed Attitudes Towards Vietnam Wari
X
Katherine Gypson
May 25, 2015 1:32 AM
For many US war veterans, the Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity to look back at a divisive conflict in the nation’s history and to remember those who did not make it home.
Video

Video Rolling Thunder Run Reveals Changed Attitudes Towards Vietnam War

For many US war veterans, the Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity to look back at a divisive conflict in the nation’s history and to remember those who did not make it home.
Video

Video Female American Soldiers: Healing Through Filmmaking

According to the United States Defense Department, there are more than 200-thousand women serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.  Like their male counterparts, females have experiences that can be very traumatic.  VOA's Bernard Shusman tells us about a program that is helping some American women in the military heal through filmmaking.
Video

Video Iowa Family's Sacrifice Shaped US Military Service for Generations

Few places in America have experienced war like Waterloo. This small town in the Midwest state of Iowa became famous during World War II not for what it accomplished, but what it lost. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the legacy of one family’s sacrifice is still a reminder today of the real cost of war for all families on the homefront.
Video

Video On Film: How Dance Defies Iran's Political Oppression

'Desert Dancer' by filmmaker Richard Raymond is based on the true story of a group of young Iranians, who form an underground dance troupe in the Islamic Republic of Iran. This is the latest in a genre of films that focus on dance as a form of freedom of expression against political oppression and social injustice. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Turkey's Ruling Party Trying to Lure Voters in Opposition Stronghold

Turkey’s AK (Justice and Development) Party is seeking a fourth successive general election victory, with the goal of securing two-thirds of the seats in Parliament to rewrite the constitution and change the country's parliamentary system into a presidential one. To achieve that, the party will need to win seats in opposition strongholds like the western city of Izmir. Dorian Jones reports.
Video

Video Millions Flock to Ethiopia Polls

Millions of Ethiopians cast their votes Sunday in the first national election since the 2012 death of longtime leader Meles Zenawi. Mr. Meles' party, the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front, is almost certain of victory again. VOA's Anita Powell reports from Addis Ababa.
Video

Video Scientists Testing Space Propulsion by Light

Can the sun - the heart of our solar system - power a spacecraft to the edge of our solar system? The answer may come from a just-launched small satellite designed to test the efficiency of solar sail propulsion. Once deployed, its large sail will catch the so-called solar wind and slowly reach what scientists hope to be substantial speed. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video FIFA Trains Somali Referees

As stability returns to the once lawless nation of Somalia, the world football governing body, FIFA, is helping to rebuild the country’s sport sector by training referees as well as its young footballers. Abdulaziz Billow has more from Mogadishu.
Video

Video With US Child Obesity Rates on the Rise, Program Promotes Health Eating

In its fifth year, FoodCorps puts more than 180 young Americans into 500 schools across the United States, where they focus on teaching students about nutrition, engaging them with hands-on activities, and improving their access to healthy foods whether in the cafeteria or the greater community. Aru Pande has more.
Video

Video Virginia Neighborhood Draws People to Nostalgic Main Street

In the U.S., people used to grow up in small towns with a main street lined by family-owned shops and restaurants. Today, however, many main streets are worn down and empty because shoppers have been lured away by shopping malls. But in the Del Ray neighborhood of Alexandria, Virginia, main street is thriving. VOA’s Deborah Block reports it has a nostalgic feel with its small restaurants and unique stores.

VOA Blogs