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The Business of Politics in Thailand
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
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
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