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Thailand and Asean : issues and perspectives for 2015

Is Thailand’s political mess a serious crisis of transition, or just another hiccup like those which have already staked the turbulent history of the kingdom?

Olivier Languepin

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Is Thailand’s political mess a serious crisis of transition, or just another hiccup like those which have already staked the turbulent history of the kingdom?

Opinions differ on that matter, which was discussed during a debate organized by the French Alliance of Bangkok on “Thailand, Issues and Prospects, ASEAN horizon 2015”.

Thailand is increasingly perceived as a country ruled by unstable governments straining not to tilt under the friction between democracy and other forces like the army or the traditional elite.

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Economic stagnation is likely to aggravate the situation as the crisis has been lingering for almost a decade. As competition between the two political sides heats up, the risk of a permanent fissure among Thai society is growing.

The debate held in the brand new Alliance Française auditorium located in Wireless Road, was moderated by Arnaud Dubus, journalist (Radio France International), with Bruno Jetin, researcher (IRASEC), Ukrist Pathmanand, Research Professor (Chulalongkorn University), Stephff, cartoonist (The Nation) and Voranai Vanijaka, editor (GQ Magazine) followed by a dialogue with the audience.

Arnaud Dubus, French correspondent for RFI and Liberation in Bangkok

There is an ongoing transition crisis which began in 2005, with the end of the Thaksin government. But the origin of the crisis goes back to the economic development of Thailand in the 80s and 90s.

During this period economic growth has led to a transformation of the rural population, following a diversification of sources of income, with better education and political awareness.

Thaksin has encouraged this awareness, and he gave some political leverage to the people from the provinces.

The current crisis, now seriously hampers the government’s action, and also has implications for the integration of Thailand in ASEAN and the future free trade zone(AEC) to be launched by 2015. Traditionally a locomotive of ASEAN countries (Thailand is the second largest economy in the region after Indonesia), Thailand is cornered in a weak position, because of the uncertainties surrounding its political future.

Significant economic consequences

Bruno Jetin researcher (IRASEC)

The political crisis now clearly have an impact on the economy: it has caused an economic slowdown with a significant decline in growth.

At the beginning of this year, the growth forecast for 2014 from the Bank of Thailand was around 5%, but now 2.4% is expected if a new stable government is appointed before the end of the first semester.

If the crisis continues beyond the first semester, there is a risk of ending up with zero growth.

Because of the crisis, a number of important economic and political decisions are postponed, as Thailand is entering the final phase of the economic integration of ASEAN.

There is also a longer-term slowdown in growth. From 1987 to 1996, growth was 9.5% per year, from 1999 to 2007 it was 5%, and from 2008 to 2013 it has shrunk to 2.8%. This is barely enough for an emerging country.

A different perspective from a Thai journalist

But for Voranai Vanijaka, editor of GQ Magazine and columnist for the Bangkok Post, Thailand is not on the verge of a real drama.

Those who think that the current crisis is about democracy and freedom are mistaken : Thailand is not a Hollywood movie. It is a conflict about power and money as usual.
Those who speak of civil war are not to be taken seriously: it’s just a hiccup among others, although a big one I reckon, but no worse than previous crisis. In a few months there will be a compromise as usual, and Thailand will again be the best place to live and invest in Southeast Asia.

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