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

Obama: I Will Do 'Everything I Can' to Close Guantanamo

US president says prison continues 'to inspire jihadists and extremists around the world' More

Sierra Leone Educates on Safe Ebola Burials

Also, country is improving at rapid response to isolated outbreaks, but health workers need to be even faster, officials say More

Christmas Gains Popularity in Vietnam

Increasingly wealthy Vietnamese embrace holiday due to its non-religious glamor, commercial appeal 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.
Jane Monheit Christmas Speciali
X
December 22, 2014 8:15 PM
Chanteuse Jane Monheit sings the holiday classic “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” and explains why it’s her favorite song of the season.
Video

Video Jane Monheit Christmas Special

Chanteuse Jane Monheit sings the holiday classic “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” and explains why it’s her favorite song of the season.
Video

Video US Decision on Cuba Underscores Divisions Among Miami Cubans

For decades, older, more conservative Cubans have been gathering at Café Versailles on the corner of Calle Ocho to eat Cuban food and talk politics. After hearing of President Barack Obama’s decision, a number of them gathered in front of the café with posters to protest. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on the situation.
Video

Video Three Cities Bid for Future Obama Presidential Library

President Barack Obama still has two years left in his term in office, but the effort to establish his post-presidential library is already underway. The bid for the Obama Presidential Library is down to four locations in three states -- New York, Hawaii, and Illinois. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, each of them played an important part in the president’s life before he reached the White House.
Video

Video Cuba Deal is Major Victory for Pope’s Diplomatic Initiatives

Pope Francis played a key role in brokering the US-Cuba deal that was made public earlier this week. It is the most stunning success so far in a series of peacemaking efforts by the pontiff. VOA religion reporter Jerome Socolovsky has more.
Video

Video Fears of More Political Gridlock in 2015

2014 proved to be a difficult year politically for President Barack Obama and a very good year for the U.S. Republican Party. Republican gains in the November midterm elections gave them control of the Senate and House of Representatives for the next two years -- setting the stage for more confrontation and gridlock in the final two years of the Obama presidency. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone has a preview from Washington.
Video

Video Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacks

The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video VOA Reporter Tours Devastated Peshawar School

Islamist militants wearing military uniforms and strapped with explosives attacked a military run school Tuesday in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar. At least 141 people were killed in the horrific attack, most of them young students. VOA reporter Ayaz Gul visited the devastated school and attended the funeral of the principal who courageously tried to save her students from the deadly attack.
Video

Video Nigerians Fleeing Boko Haram Languish in Camp Near Capital

In its five-year effort to impose Islamic law in northeastern Nigeria, the Boko Haram extremist group has killed thousands of people and forced hundreds of thousands to flee. Some of those who ran for their lives now live in squalor on the edges of the capital, Abuja. Chris Stein reports for VOA.

All About America

AppleAndroid