Latest “developments”

I can’t bring myself to the same blow by blow following of the current “developments” after the intensity of the red rally.

I just can’t follow the tweets, compare them to the internet coverage and then to the final print versions on subjects as trivial as cabinet reshuffles.

Nevertheless, the latest movements need to be addressed, even if they were just long runs on a stationary fitness machine – lots of sweat but going nowhere.

So, Abhisit reshuffled the cabinet. Big deal. Mostly he just accommodated the greed of those Dem members who were left out of his first cabinet. He promised them ministerial places and he kept his word.

Then there’s a question of dealing with Phua Paendin. I think Abhisit wasn’t really punishing them but was more concerned with keeping his BJT allies happy instead. What does he care about a dozen “abstain” voices anyway?

BJT does, and they made it known, and Abhisit had to placate them.

To add 3D texture to this conflict consider that the BJT minister in question dared to defy Abhisit’s order to halt to the road extension in Khao Yai just a day after Abhisit went out of his way to protect him.

He has a point, btw, and a pertinent one. While environmentalists talk about protecting the forest and the right to enjoy the unspoiled views of Khao Yai on twisted roads, the minister talks of people who make a living there and who can’t stand sitting in traffic for hours everyday.

This is the paradox of wanting the “poor” to have equal opportunities and amenities and having to pay for it by sacrificing the nature. Do these environmentalists have any idea how many trees and canals had to be sacrificed to make their living in Bangkok so easy? Isn’t it hypocritical that when their countryside counterparts want the same convenience, Bangkok environmentalists scream “murder”?

I DO feel for the trees. They should have been either replanted or had a religious ceremony before removing them for good. I know our lives are supremely important, but the trees, the living entities that stood there for decades if not centuries, should be recognized too. They played no small part in forming Thai identity over these years. They ARE , literally, the roots of this nation. Not any less than ghost houses and shrines.

On the other hand, the new, “modern” Thailand, has no place for this kind of superstitious garbage.

Some more 3D texture to the reshuffle – not all Phua Paendin factions rebelled, some stay loyal to the government, and that faction includes former candidate for Prime Minister who lost a vote to Abhisit in 2008.

Here is your “unbreachable” gap – if PTP got its way, we’d have a PM who now vote for Abhisit anyway.

In the latest moves towards reconciliation DSI proposed an amnesty for rank and file red shirts who broke the Emergency Decree. Many questioned the need for such amnesty – do they even feel sorry to be forgiven? Do they feel they did anything wrong?

Someone mentioned that the law is lenient enough to such small time offenders, they have no real chance of facing persecution anyway.

Abhisit is so far quiet on the issue.

In the meantime the red leaders enjoying well deserved holidays in Cha-Am were finally moved to a remand prison in Bangkok. Now that’s unpleasant.

Abhisit appointed Kanit as a head of investigations in April-May violence. Red cheerleaders on the Internet and elsewhere immediately rejected him.

He, as they now say, let Democrats off the hook in land scandal back in the 90s.

Kanit was the Attorney General at that time and Democrats were put through the media trial and forced to resign. When the case reached Kanit he dropped it for the lack of evidence.

Now, these days, if someone, say Thaksin, is convicted by Thai media but the case can’t pass Attorney General’s requirements, how do you think red supporters, the self-appointed warriors against double standards, would react?

Red leader Veera, possibly unaware of politically correct moves outside, expressed full trust in Kanit. I bet some reds think he is an old fool walking into a government trap.

More on reconciliation – Abhisit promised to make a grand announcement one day then ended with a ten minute address saying that he’ll present his gift of “roadmap” in time for Christmas. I thought he was joking but it appears he is at least half serious.

Perhaps it just downed on him what this reconciliation and welfare society would truly mean. For half a century Thailand was pursuing the US development model – as much capitalism as possible, everyone for himself, and a relatively small government. To come up with a plan how to change it into a European model in a couple of months is impossible, not if you take the task seriously.

Off the top of my head – can people agree on some 20% value added tax, for example? Can they agree to pay taxes at all? Very few do and personal income tax is probably the smallest income source for the government. Who will pay for all this welfare? Thailand can’t afford to increase business taxes – it has to compete with the neighbors.

If it pays the workers western style wages – can it export its products?

Personally, I think it’s impossible to restructure the country, they’d have to make do with incremental changes but those changes don’t translate in catchy platform slogans.

Personally, I think Abhisit should spend less time on roadmaps and more time on explaining people how this country really works and what is expected of each particular sector of the society and how each sector can possibly improve and to what extent and who should be the agent of those changes, what sacrifices need to be made and by whom.

Unless there’s a thorough understanding of where the country is now, there’s no chance of getting public support to move in any particular direction, regardless of whether it’s a right move or not.

The problem is that reds (and yellows, for that matter), have subjected themselves to rigorous training in half baked “democracy” and overcoming their fossilized perceptions is going to be very very difficult.

There’s no other way, though, deprogramming is unavoidable if the government, any government, even PTP led one, is going to embark on massive socialist/welfare society building effort.

I think it’s possible to explain how the country works in a way the reds and yellows can agree – from cheap labor to voting to taxes. Everybody knows that already anyway, just no one openly talks about it without political prejudice.

And no, the monarchy and succession have nothing to with it.


Bits and pieces

Some things that caught my attention, not in a particular order.

Red ideologists

From Pravit’s interview with a red cyber warrior on Prachatai. This cyber warrior is described as “Luke Chao Na Thai” or “Thai Peasant’s Son”, an influential red-shirt intellectual whose articles under the pen name is widely followed by many middle-class red shirts. “Luke Chao Na Thai” was educated in Thailand and England. He is a bureaucrat in his mid forties who kept his real identity secret due to his bureaucratic status.”

Right now, the society is already divided into red and yellow. There are no more non-partisan people left. Why should we care for yellow shirts since they…

That is straight from horse’s mouth – any non-red is yellow, and we don’t care about them. Enough said.

And another quote:

If they abandon [Thaksin] their power will diminish by 60 per cent.

I always thought exactly the same thing – red ideologists have zero credibility on their own, without Thaksin’s fans they’d have zero following, yet they boast of speaking for the majority.

Weasels and jackals, that’s what first comes to mind. They want Thaksin to win his war, destroy his opponents, so that they can come and declare a victory for themselves. Hyenas is another fitting animal.

Luke Chao Na wasn’t speaking of himself there, btw, he was speaking of middle class reds with socialist thinking, and he gave some names, too – Ji Ungpakorn and Dr Weng.

I hope there are some “reds” who really want to ditch Thaksin and fight on the strength of their own convictions but it’s been three years already, without Thaksin they remain unknown and unheard of.

PTP pitches in

PTP has called for House dissolution, too. That must put more pressure on Abhisit, though it’s not clear yet if these calls are genuine. First it was Chavalit’s initiative, then their paper leader, Wichaidit, came with the call of his own. It might get traction within the party ranks, it might not. Neither of these two mean very much in PTP power pyramid.

Income growth

Saw this article about Thailand’s income gap on Bangkok Post. The link won’t stay for very long, even the image link might get eventually broken.

The key point is that TRT and its populist policies are not the solution to poverty at all. Look at the numbers, from 1995 to 2006:

Income growth 1995-2006

People on the Eastern Seaboard had 125% growth, more than a double of that for Isan, and people in non-TRT areas, South and Central, still grew faster. North made good gains but from a much lower baseline.

Look at the difference between Isan and the East, 36k per year comparing to 290k! No amount of easy loans or 30 baht health-care can ever breach this gap. Never.

What they need is actual broad based development, guided and guaranteed by the state.

Or how about this message to Isanese themselves – if you had voted for Democrats all these years you could have made three times more money than now, everybody else did, but you stuck with Thaksin instead and so remain hopelessly poor.

Red reception

Right now reds are still on high from their Saturday show, but what they might overlook is that they all they saw was only a bunch of reds. It was “if a you don’t go to a rally, then the rally comes to you” moment, but the reception among the general population remains unknown.

People are not hostile, largely indifferent, imo, but that might change to being annoyed if reds keep going on like that, and they plan to. So far Bangokians let reds express themselves to their satisfaction but, I suspect, the perception gap only keeps growing, with moderates failing to give their approval to the red cause while reds celebrating like they’ve already won the elections.

Another point that is forgotten by the media – exactly a year ago reds were a bunch of merry men, too. They kept singing and dancing through the first days of Songkran and they were largely tolerated, just like now. They overestimated their support, or rather mistook tolerance for blessings.

It seems they are making the same mistake again.

Income distribution

Today there’s a new Chang Noi’s article in The Nation, this time it’s on income distribution, and right from the start it asserts that “intense division is not caused by one man but a massively unequal distribution of wealth and power”.

I have a big problem with this.

If there was a massive interest in wealth distribution issues, it was when PAD was protesting against Thaksin and his cronies, undoubtedly the richest government in Thai history. Later in Chang Noi’s article he gives a list of the wealthiest Thai families in terms of stock holding: Maleenont, Shinawatra, Damaphong, Chirathiwat, Benjarongkul, Damrongchaitham, Asavaphokin, Liewpairat, Photharamik, Kannasut and Joranajit.

About half of them had direct representatives in TRT government, with the rest being personally very close, except, perhaps, Chirathiwats and Lewpairats. They’ve made a real fortune on SET in those days, accounting for the largest part of GDP increase at that time, and Democrats raised the issue at least once – how most of the GDP growth is concentrated in very few hands.

Now the reds, presenting themselves as the grassroots at the lower end of wealth spectrum, are campaigning to restore those fat cats back to power. It would have been ironic but it just makes me feel hopeless.

I also don’t see the poor having problems with the rich as a matter of principle – they seem to worship the money, and the richer their leaders are the better. “Rich don’t need to steal, especially Thaksin”, as they argue come election time. Or if they steal, it doesn’t matter, what matters is how much they give us back. That is an entirely different argument – it’s not the disparity that matters, it’s personal income.

Chang Noi also gives a lot of numbers to show huge income and wealth disparity in Thailand comparing to other countries. The List of Countries By Income Equality on wikipedia doesn’t look so gloomy, however. Thailand is better than Malaysia in every measurement there, for example. I’m not saying that wiki numbers are correct and Chang Nois wrong, but it seems Chang Noi was cherry picking through his statistics.

Even if Thailand has a big wealth gap – why exactly is it so bad? What is so wrong with it? It’s not like it appeared yesterday, and it’s not like the poor toil at their rice fields being consumed by envy of Charathiwats, if they know the name at all. I don’t think that urban poor care about owners of Bangkok skyscrapers either. The problem didn’t even register in public consciousness until Thaksin decided it would be a good rallying point in a battle to regain his lost billions.

Storm in a teacup.

I also don’t agree with the argument that it’s Thailand tax system that is responsible for the wealth gap. Only the relatively rich pay personal income taxes, about 20% of population of taxable age, going by Chang Noi’s data, so you can’t say that poor are overtaxed. Of course they pay VAT and excise taxes on personal consumption, and those make a bigger part of their overall income, but, on the other hand, if Thailand followed “socialist” European countries, VAT would have to be increased by another 10% at least.

There are also other implications of increasing incomes for the poor – low labor costs are still Thailand’s main advantage on the international market and unless the country can secure some global market niche where it can afford to charge extra, they have to pay the workers as little as possible or they won’t have any income to redistribute in the first place. Moving the entire country upscale is not going to happen overnight, so increasing minimum wages will have to wait.

Another point to consider is that western countries with high equality are living off the slave labor in countries like China. Those workers in Chinese factories are an integral part of the global economy, even if geographically they are thousands miles away, they need to be brought into equality indexes as well. I’m not saying that the west is hypocritical or uncaring, but it needs to be considered.

Consider some outsourcing project where some Hans or Joe or Luis was replaced by Indians or Cambodians. The positions still exists, the job is still done, the product still comes out just the same, and the wages are lower than ever, except these meager incomes are not on the books anymore. Extra profits squeezed form their sweat allow the govt to pay generous unemployment benefits, and the country becomes the model of social justice. It might not happen everywhere all the time, but remember that every Nokia phone produced in China and sold in Thailand provides social welfare for some Finn out there. In my opinion its Finland’s right to provide for their own, but I’m very skeptical when it’s presented as some sort of social ideal.

There’s a lot to think about here.