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The Business of Politics in Thailand
by Pasuk Phongpaichit & Chris Baker

Thaksin Shinawatra has often been compared to Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi. Both are fabulously wealthy media magnates who have entered politics. And both have a possessive passion for football. Berlusconi owns Forza Milan and, as many fans note with mixed feelings, Thaksin recently attempted to acquire a 30% stake in Liverpool FC. But there is more to him than football. He became Thailand’s prime minister in early 2001 after a landslide election victory in which he promised to ‘think new, act new’ to transform the country’s economy and politics. Since then, Thaksin has been highly popular but also highly controversial. Two long-standing observers have described him as ‘the best prime minister Thailand has ever had’ and ‘another grubby businessman’. This is the first serious study of Thaksin in English. It examines where he comes from and what he is trying to do. The authors, an economics professor and independent author, have written several other books on economics, politics and current affairs in Thailand.

1. The background.
Thaksin is one of Thailand’s richest businessmen. With him as leader, big business has grabbed control of the Thai state to defend itself against globalization and democratization.
2. Family and business. By 1950, the Shinawatra clan was among the most powerful families of Thailand. Thaksin joined the police, but was always more involved in politics and business. He soon made his fortune by combining the two.
3. Political rise. Thaksin was drawn deeper into politics because his business depended on political regulation. His early forays were not successful. Everything changed with the 1997 crisis which created a public demand for political change. Thaksin bypassed Thailand’s old party machine politics and appealed directly to small businessmen and farmers.
4. Thaksinomics. His government’s economic policies, dubbed Thaksinomics, focus on growth to pull Thailand out of the crisis and leapfrog the country to first world status. His economic team treats the national economy like a business, looking for unused resources that can increase the national "profit." In practice this means more government assistance to business.
5. Managing society. Thaksin believes all other political agendas must be suppressed to achieve rapid economic growth. The media are more tightly controlled than at any time since 1976 and civil society organizations are harassed.
6. Remaking politics. Thaksin aims to replace Thailand’s old politics dominated by powerful bureaucrats and local bosses by a new politics of big parties funded by business. Thaksin admires Malaysia and Singapore where single parties dominate while a powerless opposition legitimizes the parliamentary system.
7. Power and profit. The Shinawatra family business has prospered since 2001, and diversified into new areas of opportunity, often with government assistance. Stockmarket investors place a premium on the group’s shares.
Epilogue: Political football.
Thaksin’s bid for a share of Liverpool FC epitomizes his ambition for himself and for Thailand.

Published by NIAS Press, NIAS Studies in Contemporary History # 5
Published 2004, 304 pp.
ISBN 978 87 91114 78 6, paperback, £15.99