News / Asia

Turmoil in Thailand - Corruption and a Political Struggle

Thailand's Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra speaks during her meeting with election commissioners at the Army Club, Jan. 28, 2014 in Bangkok
Thailand's Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra speaks during her meeting with election commissioners at the Army Club, Jan. 28, 2014 in Bangkok
Charges of corruption can be a useful political weapon. Accusations of malfeasance, or claims that politicians are not taking effective action against corruption, can weaken or cripple them. This has been seen in a number of nations.
 
The current investigation of China’s former domestic security chief, Zhou Yongkang, is seen by many as President Xi Jinping’s move to neutralize him as a political rival.  A drive to pressure Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to adopt a series of anti-corruption reforms has implications for Erdogan’s Justice and Development party in major elections there later this year.  And not long ago, Italy was repeatedly rocked by corruption scandals during Silvio Berluscone’s time as PM, diminishing him.
 
Another example is Thailand, which is in the midst of a crisis involving both politics and corruption. Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, who took office in 2011, is being charged by Thailand’s National Anti-Corruption Commission with improperly running the country’s rice subsidy program.  These charges, which the PM denies, and similar ones against other members of her Pheu Thai party, could impact the result of elections held on February 2 that continued their hold on the government.
 
The streets of Thailand’s capital, Bangkok, have been bloodied in recent days as clashes between Yingluck Shinawatra’s opponents and the authorities have caused at least four fatalities.  The protests are largely driven by younger, urban, middle-class, educated Thais who see the rice subsidy program as a corrupt vote buying scheme.  The demonstrators want her and her party removed from power.
 
The rice subsidies began in 2011 when Yingluck became PM.  The intention was to buy rice from Thai producers at up to 50% more than its market value and warehouse it to create an artificial supply limit that would drive up the grain’s price. It didn’t work. Other countries stepped forward with their rice to fill the gap, so the worldwide price didn’t rise as planned.  The Wall Street Journal reported that the program cost the government up to $8 billion, money hard to generate in financial markets because of Thailand’s instabilities.
 
But the protests are about more than rice. They’re about the perception that both Yingluck, and her brother, former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, have pillaged the country to maintain themselves in power.
 
These protests exploded last November when her party introduced a parliamentary measure that would have nullified the conviction and two year prison sentence given in 2008 to her brother, former PM Thaksin Shinawatra.  He held that office from 2001 until he was ousted in a 2006 military coup and fled the country.
 
“Thaksin’s government, and now Yinglucks,” Center for Strategic and International Studies analyst Gregory Poling told VOA, “are viewed by opponents as the most corrupt in Thailand’s history.” Poling adds “So, when they charge Yingluck with failing to prevent state losses through the controversial rice buying scheme, they do legitimately believe they are battling corruption – both direct corruption by officials in charge of the rice purchases, and what they see as corruption in a larger sense through the use of costly state handouts to buy the support of rural voters.”
 
Thailand’s corruption level, according to Washington-based watchdog group Global Financial Integrity, rose significantly over recent years. GFI’s Brian LeBlanc told VOA that “Thailand’s Illicit Financial Flows (IFF) to Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ratio more than doubled over a decade, leaping from 3.9% in 2002 to 8.4% in 2011. This, compared to an average 4% gain for all developing countries during that period.

Another metric is equally troubling. Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index. In 2012, the anti-corruption group said Thailand ranked 88th on its scale of 177 nations. One year later, the 2013 index showed a precipitous drop to 102.

CSIS analyst Poling tells VOA that Thailand’s National Anti-Corruption Commission is not only pursuing charges against the PM, but also many members of her Pheu Thai party.  This could have significant implications, because if convicted, these lawmakers would be banned from office for five years. And, as Poling notes, that “would effectively negate those [February 2] elections.”
 
The NACC, while part of the government, says it is strongly independent of political parties and pressure. Former NACC commissioner Medhi Krongkaew told VOA “You can see that we have complaints from both sides of political conflicts. For example, both Abhisit (a  Democrat Party leader and a former prime minister) and Yingluck are under our investigations on various charges.” He underscored the validity of the NACC’s actions and its neutrality by saying “We cannot be used as a weapon against any person, if there is no evidence to support the indictment.”
 
As demonstrations continue to impact Thailand and its government, there is a parallel effort underway to channel the energy of these protestors, and others, for constructive change. The United Nations Development Program has sponsored the Thai Youth Anti-Corruption Network, which says it has more than 3,500 students from more than 90 universities in its ranks.  One of its slogans is “Refuse to be corrupt!”
 
It’s an uphill climb away from corruption in Thailand.

While the youth group presses aggressively for transparency and accountability, it also works against a broadly held acceptance of corruption in the country. The TYACN cites a June 2012 public survey in which more than 63 percent of Thais polled said corruption in government is acceptable so long as they benefit from it.

Jeffrey Young

Jeffrey Young came to the “Corruption” beat after years of doing news analysis, primarily on global strategic issues such as nuclear proliferation.  During most of 2013, he was on special assignment in Baghdad and elsewhere with the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR).  Previous VOA activities include VOA-TV, where he created the “How America Works” and “How America Elects” series, and the “Focus” news analysis unit.

You May Like

Video Genome Initiative Urgently Works to Freeze DNA Before Species Go Extinct

Smithsonian senior research botanist Vicki Funk says ultimate goal is 'trying to get one-half of the diversity of plant life on Earth at the genus level in two years' More

Video Russia Accused of Abusing Interpol to Pursue Opponents

Report from member of British think tank says Russian extradition requests keep targets from traveling More

US Lawmakers Weigh Turkish Anti-terror Moves

Turkey’s two-pronged campaign against Islamic State militants, Kurdish PKK forces provokes mixed reactions on Capitol Hill More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Roial1 from: British Columbia, Canada
February 24, 2014 12:00 PM
In the context of corruption in Thailand, there will never be an end to corruption if it is not attacked from the top down AND from the bottom up at the same time.
I have personally witnessed, twice, police officers take bribes on the Sukhumvit highway. On just two trips to the main airport.

With that kind of "police protection" any hope of crime prevention is impossible. Who is going to investigate? The police???
In Response

by: Raymond
February 25, 2014 7:13 AM
The present Yingluck government in Thailand is no where near the "most corrupt government in Thai history"...not even close. As anyone with an ounce of knowledge about Thailand knows, corruption is a way of life, endemic, at every level, throughout the entire country. It did not begin with Thaksin or Yingluck and it will not end with the so-called Thai Democrats and royalists taking over...or with a bunch of corrupt generals taking over. It's the basic underlying system of how everything happens and gets done in Thailand and has been around for hundreds of years. It's called the Thailand Patronage System. It's pyramid-like in structure and at the very top sits.....

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Russia Accused of Abusing Interpol to Pursue Opponentsi
X
Henry Ridgwell
July 28, 2015 9:53 PM
A British pro-democracy group has accused Russia of abusing the global law enforcement agency Interpol by requesting the arrest and extradition of political opponents. A new report by the group notes such requests can mean the accused are unable to travel and are often unable to open bank accounts. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Russia Accused of Abusing Interpol to Pursue Opponents

A British pro-democracy group has accused Russia of abusing the global law enforcement agency Interpol by requesting the arrest and extradition of political opponents. A new report by the group notes such requests can mean the accused are unable to travel and are often unable to open bank accounts. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Genome Initiative Urgently Moves to Freeze DNA Before Species Go Extinct

Earth is in the midst of its sixth mass extinction. The last such event was caused by an asteroid 66 million years ago. It killed off the dinosaurs and practically everything else. So scientists are in a race against time to classify the estimated 11 million species alive today. So far only 2 million are described by science, and researchers are worried many will disappear before they even have a name. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Scientists: One-Dose Malaria Cure is Possible

Scientists have long been trying to develop an effective protection and cure for malaria - one of the deadliest diseases that affects people in tropical areas, especially children. As the World Health Organization announces plans to begin clinical trials of a promising new vaccine, scientists in South Africa report that they too are at an important threshold. George Putic reports, they are testing a compound that could be a single-dose cure for malaria.
Video

Video Special Olympics Athletes Meet International Friends

The Special Olympics are underway in Los Angeles, California, with athletes from 165 countries participating in an event that gives people with intellectual disabilities the chance to take part in an international competition. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports that for athletes and their families, it's also an opportunity to make new friends in an international setting.
Video

Video 'New York' Magazine Features 35 Cosby Accusers

The latest issue of 'New York' magazine features 35 women who say they were drugged and raped by film and television celebrity Bill Cosby. The women are aged from 44 to 80 and come from different walks of life and races. The magazine interviewed each of them separately, but Zlatica Hoke reports their stories are similar.
Video

Video US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Win

The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video Iran Nuclear Pact Wins Few New US Congressional Backers

Later this week, President Barack Obama returns from a trip to Africa to confront a U.S. Congress roiled by the nuclear accord with Iran, an agreement that has received the blessing of the U.N. Security Council. Days of intensive lobbying and testimony by top administration officials have won few new congressional supporters of the pact. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports.
Video

Video Washington DC Underground Streetcar Station to Become Arts Venue

Abandoned more than 50 years ago, the underground streetcar station in Washington D.C.’s historic DuPont Circle district is about to be reborn. The plan calls for turning the spacious underground platforms - once meant to be a transportation hub, - into a unique space for art exhibitions, presentations, concerts and even a film set. Roman Mamonov has more from beneath the streets of the U.S. capital. Joy Wagner narrates his report.
Video

Video Europe’s Twin Crises Collide in Greece as Migrant Numbers Soar

Greece has replaced Italy as the main gateway for migrants into Europe, with more than 100,000 arrivals in the first six months of 2015. Many want to move further into Europe and escape Greece’s economic crisis, but they face widespread dangers on the journey overland through the Balkans. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Stink Intensifies as Lebanon’s Trash Crisis Continues

After the closure of a major rubbish dump a week ago, the streets of Beirut are filling up with trash. Having failed to draw up a plan B, politicians are struggling to deal with the problem. John Owens has more for VOA from Beirut.
Video

Video Paris Rolls Out Blueprint to Fight Climate Change

A U.N. climate conference in December aims to produce an ambitious agreement to fight heat-trapping greenhouse gases. But many local governments are not waiting, and have drafted their own climate action plans. That’s the case with Paris — which is getting special attention, since it’s hosting the climate summit. Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at the transformation of the French capital into an eco-city.
Video

Video Racially Diverse Spider-Man Takes Center Stage

Whether it’s in a comic book or on the big screen, fans have always known the man behind the Spider-Man mask as Peter Parker. But that is changing, at least in the comic book world. Marvel Comics announced that a character called Miles Morales will replace Peter Parker as Spider-Man in a new comic book series. He is half Latino, half African American, and he is quite popular among comic book fans. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports from Los Angeles.
Video

Video Critics of Japan Defense Policy Focus on Okinawa

In Okinawa, many locals have long complained that Tokyo places an unfair burden on the tiny island by locating most of Japan's U.S. military bases there. As Japan's government moves toward strengthening and expanding the country's defense policies, opponents of those plans are joining local protesters in Okinawa, voicing concern about where the country is headed. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from Okinawa.
Video

Video IS Uses Chemical Weapons in Syrian Attack

Islamic State militants have added a new weapon in their arsenal of fear: chemical weapons. VOA Kurdish service reporter Zana Omer was on the scene within hours of a recent attack in Hasakah, Syria, and has details of the subsequent investigation, in this report narrated by Miguel Amaya.
Video

Video Historic Symbol Is Theme of Vibrant New Show

A new exhibit in Washington is paying tribute to the American flag with a wide and eclectic selection of artwork that uses the historic symbol as its central theme. VOA’s Julie Taboh was at the DC Chamber of Commerce for the show’s opening.

VOA Blogs