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Thailand: Prayuth’s Pipe Dream

Things have to be going pretty badly in a country when its Prime Minister takes out a glossy advert in the nation’s largest newspaper to hype his plans for the future, as Thailand’s unelected PM General Prayut Chan-o-cha did recently. With no accomplishments to show for the first 22 months of what was supposed to be a 20-month, get-the-country-back-on-the-right-track, interim administration, General P brushes aside the unpleasant present and gazes dreamily into the future, 20 years-worth of it. He spies something called the Pracharat, a vague “People’s State” with a “Public-Private-Civil Society.”

No mention of democracy of course, and when leaders start talking about anything called “People’s” you know that most of the people won’t have a say in it. “Public-Private-Civil” actually sounds like what Thailand already has. The Public part is the state-run enterprises staffed by often corrupt and incompetent officials appointed based on who they know rather than what they know. The Private part is the Amat, the Bangkok plutocrats who pull the strings from behind the scenes and are law unto themselves. The Civil part is the Royal Thai Army that reshuffles the deck so the “good people” always win and muzzles anyone who doesn’t go along their program.

Enough of the Big Picture, show me the specifics of the master plan that General P says will transform Thailand into a “first world nation.”

First: A knowledge-based economy. In a country that does everything it can do to suppress knowledge? Perhaps P will expand upon his theme to tell us what kinds of knowledge are acceptable and what kinds are forbidden, as he has been doing so far. Besides, knowledge is power, not the sort of thing you want your obedient masses to have.

Second: Attract foreign investment; especially Chinese investments in megaprojects that will expand Chinese political influence; and incidentally enhance the wallets of the Junta and its ardent supporters. There’s nothn’ like a centrally controlled command economy to get things poppn’; remember the good ol’ USSR-all those huge dams and steel mills.

It will be railroads and coal-fired mega-power plants in Thailand. Japan’s already heavily invested so they will stick around, but their new industry seed money won’t. The US and Europe? forget about them so long as Thailand remains a lawless dictatorship. And nobody is going to be dumb enough to invest significant high-tech smart money in a dumbed-down Thailand. The country is already beginning to de-industrialize and many of its industries make old-tech obsolescent products. Why go to Thailand to do business when there are so many better places you could go? Even its demographics are bad but Mr. P says he will make up for that with free trade zones and imported near-slave labor from neighboring countries.

Third: Warmed-over Thaksinomics. He doesn’t say that of course. He rails angrily against the ‘quick fixes’ of the past while applying those same fixes. Loans to farmers and struggling industries? Is that Mr. P or Mr. T? He’s even brought back some of Mr. T’s economic geniuses to run his “all new non-populist” programs. They’ll give Thailand a good stiff dose of P-ism, at least the worst parts of it.

All of this adds up to 20 years of economic policy dog’s breakfast. Twenty years down the road with this plan and Thailand will end up being as near a first world nation as North Korea. But the scariest part of Prayuth’s 20-year plan is that he obviously expects to be around to celebrate its success. And he will be around so long as the Thai People don’t do something about it. He’ll be around even if his ludicrous plans fail, as they surely will. At the rate he’s going Thailand may not even have a new Constitution by 2036. And as for eliminating corruption, the venerable Prem Tinsulanonda says that ‘we should be ashamed’ about Thailand’s endemic corruption; and that there has been “no improvement” since the Military Coup despite the Junta’s gassy speechifying. 20 more years of angry whining and blame-placing, 20 more years of corruption, 20 more years of bumbling ham-handed, lurching-from-one-crisis-to-another, government, 20 more years of Thailand being a pariah state, 20 more years of economic decline and social malaise. That may not be Prayuth’s plan, but that is what Thailand is likely to get….unless.