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Thailand’s Unhappy New Year

2015 was a bust on all fronts in Thailand. Prayuth and his military gang who can’t shoot straight solved none of the problems they supposedly seized power to solve and created a raft of new ones which they refuse to recognize as problems. The Kingdom’s economy started sluggishly and ended worse. Personal and family debt was high to begin with and is now soaring. Repression of freedom of expression, freedom of anything for that matter, became steadily more pervasive and heavy handed. The Land of Smiles’ international image became tarnished as the sour snarls behind those smiles peeked out every time something happened to anger the thin-skinned Junta. Prayuth ditched Thailand’s old friends, like the United States, and embraced dubious new ones like China.

So if 2015 was a bad year, will 2016 be better? In one word – No! It will be more of the same. This is a government with no new ideas. They will continue on the same track because they are too witless to do otherwise. More of the same and no new ideas add up to worse.

Economically, Thailand is in competition with the rest of the world, whether the Generals want it to be or not. It is losing that competition big time and the results of its shortcomings will become ever more apparent in the New Year.

The keys to successful competition in the international marketplace for a country stalled in the so-called “middle income trap” like Thailand are a young dynamic well-educated work force, a business and cultural climate that encourages entrepreneurship and innovation, and a government that provides a stable environment so its people can make things happen.

Thailand under Prayuth and the Lords of Bangkok has none of those things. It is in fact the antithesis of all those things. So long as this regime remains in power its only route out of the “middle income trap” will be down.

The Junta isn’t to blame for Thailand’s rapidly aging population, but it is to blame for everything else. Thailand’s education system was once better than those of its Southeast Asian rivals, but it was already slipping when the coupsters seized power, and has been in free fall since. Prayuth’s “12 Commandments” on education basically tell students to shut up and obey authority, and that applies to parents and teachers too. Worse yet, the rivals’ educational systems are rapidly improving while Thailand’s is stuck in reverse. The Junta cannot turn the system around and remain in power. It needs a docile, dumbed-down population in order to survive. It also can’t survive an entrepreneurial, innovative business and cultural climate because that would be a challenge to its backward-looking, return-to-the-Nineteenth-Century, supporters.

Don’t forget that before Thaksin became Prime Minister he was a businessman who specialized in eating the lunches of the desiccated crony capitalists who supported the coup. And as far as giving the Thai people free reign to make good things happen, forget about that. The incestuous culturally-blind members of the Thai Military elite are incapable of getting their narrow minds around that one.

And what will Prayuth offer the Thai people and the world in 2016? More promises of happiness and stability that won’t be fulfilled. More promises of reform and corruption fighting that won’t be fulfilled. More promises of a revived economy that won’t be fulfilled. And what is his recipe for success? A bit of warmed over Thaksin populism. Big ticket Chinese-backed construction projects that must already have his cronies rubbing their hands in anticipation of fat opportunities for graft. More costly attempts to prop up old industries like rice and rubber and autos while ignoring new ones that would require more brains than brawn; plus an infusion of slave, or near slave, labor from poor neighboring countries to plug Thailand’s demographic gap.

How about a couple of huge pollution-spewing coal-fired electrical generating plants? Is that reactionary enough for you? And don’t forget 2015’s one bright spot, tourism. Americans and Europeans may shun Thailand in 2016, so bring on more Chinese. But the bright hope of tourism hangs by a slender thread. Another Erawan-style terrorist attack could snap that thread, and who knows when or if there will be another in Thailand or anywhere else.

2016 will be a year of stagnation in Thailand. A year during which nothing will change for the better, and most things won’t change at all; a year that will be characterized by what didn’t happen, rather than what did. Billions of Baht will be pumped into the economy to create a false sense of progress, but by 2017 the warm buzz will have worn off and the economy will have gone nowhere.

There will be no elections, sham or otherwise. There probably won’t be a new Constitution; not that that matters as all previous Thai Constitutions are best used for toilet paper. The seemingly endless “Waiting for Godot” Royal death watch will continue, unless the King dies, and if he does die it will make surprisingly little difference. And, I’m sorry to say, on December 31, 2016, Prayuth will still be in power. Only the Thai people can remove him, and they don’t seem inclined to do so…yet. That’s too bad, because the world will keep moving along and Thailand will be yet another year behind it.