Where is Thailand’s economy headed?

Thailand is booming economically, and Carl Berrisford (analyst for UBS CIO Wealth Management Research) thinks this is a sustainable boom (not a boom & bust).

The main reasons for his positive prediction for Thailand’s economy:

  • increased political stability
  • a major government infrastructure spending program
    • total around ~1.9 trillion baht, with the peak of the spending outlays occurring in 2016-17
    • mainly BKK mass transit system
    • 4 new high-speed rail routes
    • extending capacity of Suvarnabhumi airport
    • road & rail projects
    • – all this has led to housing boom in Bangkok
  • record levels of inbound tourism
    • mainly Chinese tourists and Asean nationalities (visa-free entry to Thailand)
  • opening of Myanmar 2012 also increases Bangkok’s importance as regional flight hub
  • Japan yen is cheap now, so Japan wants to extend its supply chain and raise export capacity in Asean markets
    • lots of Japanese investments into carmaking and electronics sectors
  • Thailand public debt-to-GDP ratio is 44%
  • household income is rising (partly due to minimum wage rises)

Read the full article here for more details.

Tsunami Warning for Thailand West-Coast

A tsunami warning has been issued for provinced along the west-coast of Thailand following a strong earth-quake (8.9 on Richter skala) in Aceh, Indonesia. Al Jazeera has set up a live-blog where you can follow updates.

And the fastest way to get news is of course Twitter (but at the same time lots of unconfirmed rumors and false info, so take it with a grain of salt). As of now, seems’s there no hash-tag yet, but just head over to Twitter and search for tsunami.

UN Human Rights Council asks Thailand about possibly distorted reports

The Thai government has published several reports on human rights issues in Thailand, including the problems in violent Southern Thailand.

These reports differ drastically from reports published by NGOs. These differences will be discussed at the UN’s Human Rights Council in Geneva on Wednesday.

Given the widespread inability among Thai officials to admit mistakes, and to take credit for imaginary accomplishments, this isn’t surprising, but it’s nice that someone shines the spotlight on it.

Read more about it:

Gold Prices Up Up Up

There’s a run on gold these days. So much so that police even enforced stricter security in the “gold store” Yaowarat area. According to Thipa Navawattanasap, the president of YLG Bullion and Futures, local gold prices may even hit 26,000 baht in the short term. Read more about it here.

Corruption in Thailand before, during and after Thaksin

Critics of Thaksin often blame him for corruption – and even among his supporters, there are very few that seriously believe he wasn’t corrupt. It’s nonetheless interesting to look at corruption ratings from Thailand before, during and after the Thaksin administration.

There’s no doubt Thaksin was corrupt and used his political power to pocket a lot of money. But more interesting is how much his wrongdoings have been publicized, compared with the relative lack of publication and exposure of the corruption that happened after the coup.

Thailand Used Clusterbombs (Illegally) When Fighting Cambodia?

War is never nice, but cluster bombs are particularly nasty. And in fact, many countries (although not including Thailand) have made a pact that they won’t use cluster bombs anymore.

Yet, apparently they did just that in the recent conflict with Cambodia.

Read more about it here: Thailand fires cluster bombs into Cambodia (by Patrick Winn for Global Post)

In the meantime, the Thai government and army of course denies that is has used cluster bombs. Although, not really. The Thai army seems to have a different definition of cluster bombs than… well, anyone else. The bombs they have used are cluster bombs, according to the understanding of other nations and NGOs. However, according to the Thai army and government, they are similar to cluster bombs, but not quite really cluster bombs.

What’s so nasty about cluster bombs? They often lie around dormant for years until some kid or some farmer stumbles across them a couple of days, weeks, months or even years after the original conflict. And then they kill or main innocent people. The bombs that the Thai army used do just that same thing. But apparently, they are not cluster bombs because, they differ from cluster bombs… um… in exactly which way do they differ from cluster bombs please, Mr. Sihasak Phuangketkeow, Thai ambassador to the UN in Geneva?

Thailand #1 Worldwide When It Comes To Women In Senior Management Positions

Another proof of the power of Thai women in business circles is demonstrated through 2011 Grant Thornton International Business Report (IBR) survey, which shows that Thailand boasts the greatest percentage of women in senior management titles (45 per cent) in privately held businesses.

Across the world, Thailand is followed by Georgia (40 per cent), Russia (36 per cent), Hong Kong and the Philippines (both 35 per cent). The countries with the lowest percentages are India, the United Arab Emirates and Japan where fewer than 10 per cent of senior management positions are held by women. Women currently hold 20 per cent of senior management positions globally, down from 24 per cent in 2009, and up just 1 per cent from 2004. The percentage of private businesses that have no women in their senior management has risen to 38 per cent compared to 35 per cent in 2009.

“Thailand’s working culture provides equal opportunity to both men and women to reach senior management levels. Companies committed to diversifying their leadership mostly ensure that women have equal shots at ‘stretch’ assignments such as serving on company-wide task forces, being part of a start-up or turnaround operations, and gaining international experience. Top women emphasise their love of their jobs, and the hard work it took to get there. They ask for the challenging assignment. They are totally committed,” said Achara Boonyahansa, Business Development director of Grant Thornton Thailand.

The data revealed that G7 countries lag behind the global average with only 16 per cent of women holding senior roles whilst, regionally, Asia Pacific (excl. Japan) scores highest with 27 per cent. Women have become most successful in increasing their share of senior management roles in Thailand, Hong Kong, Greece, Belgium and Botswana, where the percentage of women in these roles has risen by at least 7 per cent since 2009.

“Being single or getting married late could be causes for Thai women being able to climb up corporate ladders. They are more likely to put in extra hours at work. Moreover, for married ones, they own the ability to balance work with their personal lives, with support from extended family to take care of their children. Employers also play supporting role by including work-life programmes in organizations such as maternity and childbirth leave, flexible work schedules, job-sharing, part-time work, compressed work weeks, and reduced duties, all of which offer women the flexibility to manage home-work conflicts as best suits them, while maintaining productivity levels. In some cases, guarantees are offered to individuals to safeguard their position or level of seniority and the continuation of their health and other benefits. In addition, companies often offer programmes such as satellite workplace, which utilise new technologies to enable employees to work from home for at least some part of their working week,” Achara said.

Of the companies that employ women in senior managerial positions globally, 22 per cent employ them in financial positions (eg Chief Financial Officer/Finance Director). This is followed by Human Resource Director (20 per cent), Chief Marketing Officer and Sales Director (both 9 per cent).

Globally just 8 per cent of companies with women in senior managerial positions have a female Chief Executive Officer (CEO). However the story is different in Asian economies, Thailand leads the way with 30 per cent of companies employing female CEOs, followed by mainland China (19 per cent), Taiwan (18 per cent) and Vietnam (16 per cent).

Source: The Nation

Cambodian Soldiers in Preah Vihear

Remember what Cambodia’s Foreign Ministry said?

“There has never been and there will never be Cambodian soldiers at the temple of Preah Vihear. This has always been a place for worship and tourism”

Well, that might not have been the most accurate statement their FM has ever released.

Associated Press journalists who visited the temple Wednesday found hundreds of Cambodian soldiers deployed in and around the sprawling temple compound, which was fortified by sandbagged bunkers.

Source: Cambodia troops bunkered at cliff-top Khmer temple

International Anti-Corruption Conference Will Be Hosted In… uhm… yeah, Thailand

In November, Thailand will host the International Anti-Corruption Conference, where around 1500 experts from more than 100 countries will attend to reduce corruption in Thailand.

It is kind of ironic:

Dusit Nontanakorn, chairman of the Thai Chamber of Commerce, said the private sector is proceeding with cracking down on corruption among themselves, but the government should move in the same direction by ratifying the convention as soon as possible.

“It’s quite strange that we apply to be a member of the pact and we will be the host country of IACC but we have not yet ratified it,” he said.

Beautiful Country, Ugly Politics

Andrew Marshall has published an article titled “The curse of the blue diamond” on Reuters. The main story is of course the jewelry that has been stolen from Saudi Arabia and ended up somewhere in Thailand more than two decades ago. But even if you’re not interested in that story anymore, it’s an excellent analysis of how messed up and corrupted Thailand’s power networks are.

Secondly, the bumbling efforts of senior government officials and even Abhisit himself to talk their way out of the mounting crisis followed a familiar pattern. Abhisit and his senior ministers repeated the same mantra usually employed by Thai officials in such situations – everything was fine, there was nothing to worry about, it was all a misunderstanding because those who criticised the government were not fully informed about the situation, due partly to the unique complexities of Thailand and its laws, and once things were explained to them the whole problem would be resolved. The promised explanation rarely materialises.

Wait for the next time the Thai government is accused of wrongdoing and in danger of looking bad to the outside world – that’s exactly the strategy they employ pretty much every time.

Thirdly, and most worrying for those who hope Abhisit can lead Thailand towards reform and reconciliation, the latest chapter of the blue diamond saga demonstrates the degree to which he remains in thrall to corrupt but powerful vested interests. Whatever one thinks of Abhisit’s policies, he is no fool and he has a reputation for personal probity. But he holds on to power thanks to the support of highly questionable elements in the armed forces and police, as well as notorious politicians like Newin Chidchob whose party has been put in charge of three very lucrative ministries. For those wondering why Somkid was offered such a controversial promotion – even if it was in accordance with Thai regulations, which is open to question, it was clearly a move that the Saudis would see as hugely provocative – the fact that his his brother Somjate was a key member of the military and police faction that plotted the 2006 coup provides the likeliest answer.

What’s Wrong With The Emergency Decree?

There’s an interesting article from Human Rights Watch titled: “Thailand: Lift Emergency Decree – Draconian Law Allows Authorities to Violate Rights With Impunity”.

Following some points worth highlighting:

  • The Emergency Decree on Public Administration in Emergency Situation (“Emergency Decree”) allows Thai authorities to carry out extended detention of suspects without charge; deny information about those detained without charge; use unofficial detention facilities, where there are inadequate safeguards against possible abuse in custody; and impose widespread censorship.
  • While implementing the Emergency Decree, officials have effective immunity from prosecution
  • “If the Thai government has a legitimate reason to use the Emergency Decree, it should publicly justify it with hard facts,” – acting Asia director at Human Rights Watch.
  • The government has not put forward any justification for suspending certain human rights protections provided under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), ratified by Thailand, which requires an emergency that “threatens the life of the nation” and says that the measures imposed must be “strictly required by the exigencies of the situation.”
  • The government is systematically using the Emergency Decree to hold persons without charge for up to 30 days in unofficial places of detention. Human Rights Watch noted that the category of people subjected to questioning, arrest, and detention by the government’s Center for the Resolution of Emergency Situations (CRES) has apparently been expanded beyond leaders and members of the UDD who directly took part in the protests, and now includes those accused of sympathizing with or supporting the UDD.
  • The authorities deprive those arrested and detained under the Emergency Decree of their right to challenge a detention before a court (habeas corpus).
  • the Emergency Decree provides neither assurances of prompt access to legal counsel and family members nor effective judicial and administrative safeguards against the mistreatment of detainees, as required by international law.
  • the CRES has so far failed to provide information about the exact number of those detained and their current whereabouts to their families, parliamentary inquiry commissions, the National Human Rights Commission, and the newly appointed Independent Fact-Finding Commission for Reconciliation.
  • since April 7, the government has used the Emergency Decree to undermine media freedom and violate the right to free expression. The CRES has shut down more than 1,000 websites, a satellite television station, online television channels, newspapers, magazines, and community radio stations, most of which are considered closely aligned with the UDD.
  • “Thailand’s ongoing restrictions on free expression through emergency powers are nothing less than a national regime of censorship” – Richardson said.

The Sad State of Education in Southern Thailand – Students Between Troops & Terrorists

An interesting video by Bede Sheppard from the Children’s Rights Division at Human Rights Watch about the situation of education in Southern Thailand, and how the government and security forces are in some regards making things worse, rather than better.

Some (reworded) quotes from the video:

  • “the presence of troops in schools is not to protect the schools – it’s about easy accomodation to place troops in particular areas”
  • “the presence of security forces in schools causes immense distractions in students lifes & the ability to get a good education”
  • “as soon as troops set up in schools, there is an almost immediate exodus of students”
  • “by setting up inside these schools the government is arguably putting students in greater risk of attack”

Boot Camp for Thai Gang Leaders

It’s funny that in a country where the military is, according to many, the strongest force in the nation, pretty much every solution is solved with a bootcamp. Drug addict? A bootcamp run by the military is often an alternative to prison.

Thai gang wars are another growing problem, and the government has set up a bootcamp in Lopburi for the gang leaders.

Sixteen soldiers from the army’s First Psychology Unit mixed boot camp drills with icebreaking activities, including song-and-dance numbers in which officers and gang leaders swiveled their hips and sang crude songs.

One exercise, holding hands and bowing to each other, met some resistance.

Next came group meditation before a Buddhist altar. “Put your mind to rest,” a soothing voice said over loudspeakers, as the gang leaders lowered their gaze and sat cross-legged on the floor. “All the confusion and turbulence in your mind, put it away.”

The students wore matching white T-shirts printed with the slogan, “Reconciliation. Learn to Love. Unity.” Most didn’t fit the image of an inner-city thug. Fresh-faced with trim haircuts, they were polite and answered questions thoughtfully.

Few saw an end to the violence. In many cases, spotting a rival school’s badge on a belt buckle is enough to spark a fight.

“The problem is almost a tradition. It’s been passed down from generation to generation,” said Issara Kummin, 17, the student with scars on his scalp and forearm. He got them in June, he said, when 20 kids jumped him as he stepped off a bus.

He considers himself lucky: One of his friends was shot and killed in February while getting off a bus.

“I want revenge,” he said, softly. “We’re seen as the bad guys. But people don’t know what we’re up against. If we don’t fight, we’ll be killed.”

A 16-year-old student at the Bangkapi School of Technology has been arrested for the killing of the boy on the bus. He allegedly fired the shots about 6:30 a.m. after an all-night booze binge. He reportedly told police his handgun cost 2,000 baht ($65).

“I’ve been here 20 years, I never thought I would see that,” said Somsak Karparyoon, a gym teacher at Bangkapi, which sits amid Bangkok’s northeastern industrial sprawl.

He walks the school grounds with a thin bamboo cane to whack students who arrive late, cut class or have their shirts untucked. Asked how often he uses it, he laughed and said, “Very often.”

Teachers at the school escort students to and from the nearby bus stop and search the surrounding streets for hidden weapons. Trade schools in the area have staggered hours, so students will be less likely to cross paths. Riding the bus remains the most dangerous part of the day.

“You can’t ever doze off on the bus. It’s too risky,” said Watcharin Khusuwan an 18-year-old junior studying auto mechanics at Bangkapi.

“I can’t remember how many times my bus has been attacked. So many times,” he said. He glanced at his watch and apologized. School had ended 15 minutes earlier, and he was wearing his school uniform. “I’m sorry. I have to leave. It’s getting risky to be outside.”

As Patrick Winn noted in his interesting related article Thailand: Tech school wars:

Violent tech school posses are called “gangs,” but they’re much more akin to the Westside Story’s Sharks and Jets, who battled over turf and bragging rights, than crime syndicates like the Bloods and Crips. These brawls are fought for adolescent glory and little else.

Energy Drinks in Thailand

Thailand is the country with the highest per capita consumption of energy drinks (about four times as high as the USA).

Thailand energy drink market: $500 million

more than 65% of that belongs to Osotspa, the Bangkok-based firm that produces M-150.

Red Bull is nearly 50 years old in Thailand, but has been introduced to the USA in 1997.

The founder of Red Bull is Thailand’s second richest man. (Or third, depending upon how you count).

Source: Thailand: Energy drink nation by @BKKApologist

Thai Central Bank Chief Calls For Political Reform

Not many people know that one of the most influential people in Thailand’s banking world is a woman. Tarisa Watanagase has been educated in the USA and in Japan. She joined the Central Bank in 1975, and has helped to oversee Thailand’s economy ever since.

Now, she’s about to let former Kasikorn Bank president Prasarn Trairatvorakul take over her position as Central Bank chief and go into a not yet clearly defined form of retirement, although she will still be involved.

I found it particularly interesting what she said about the state of politics in Thailand.

“If you look at the economic front, we have been through some major reforms and that is why right now we are resilient, but in terms of politics we haven’t yet seen major reforms,” she told AFP.

Tarisa is clearly disappointed that the economic progress the country has made has not been replicated in a political system prone to accusations of corruption, scandal and military interference.

“I would like to see that we can migrate from a developing country to a developed one and that does not require only economic progress,” she said.

In the AFP article, they go on to explain a bit about the current situation in Thailand with the red and yellow divide. And then they write this interesting statement:

Tarisa said dialogue, a more socially minded attitude and moves to address inequality — a key Red Shirt demand — were crucial for the country’s progress.

Addressing inequality would in fact probably be one of the most helpful things for Thailand right now. Specially if you consider that there are a lot of people who spend more money on a handbag than or a necklace than most citizen earn in a year. Which of course in and of itself is not a bad thing – but the fact that these people most often enjoy these privileges because of the families they are born into, or power networks they bought their way into, rather than because of individual achievements is saddening. Specially if you take into account the attitudes which they often display towards people of lower social status. And that they in fact are pretty much able to get away with whatever they do.

A friend of mine recently lost her job – she is contractually entitled to three months of compensation, of which she will never see a single baht. Why? Because her employer has so much money that any attempt to sue for her rightful compensation would be futile.

Abhisit The Election Man

Thailand’s Prime Minister Abhisit has urged voters to exercise their rights and participate in the Bangkok council elections. It’s not without some irony when a man who made the decision not to hold fresh elections, even at the cost of 90 human lives, and thousands that have been injured, and billions of baht in damage – now urges people to vote.

Of course, he also explained why a general election can not take place now or in the near future – unless a not really defined “normalcy” returns to the country. Interestingly, if “normalcy” is a necessary requirement for fresh elections, and the party that is currently in power is the one who decides when “normalcy” has returned, it would require a really saintly character to not use that as an instrument to shift things in one’s own power. The kind of saintly character that politicians all over the world for are so well-known for I suppose.

For people who don’t observe the situation too closely, Abhisit’s reasoning makes perfect sense.

“I had repeatedly said that the government will hold a general election only when the country has peace and order.

“If I dissolves the lower House, holds an election and violent political confrontation reoccurs, there is a risk that the situation will escalate to unrest”, he said.

There were examples in many countries that the election holding had brought about social division and violence instead of democracy. This had led to a failure in holding an election, said Mr Abhisit.

While PM Abhisit obviously likes to make it look as if general elections are not being held in the interest of the country, some observers might believe that general elections are not being held in the interest of those who are in power now – the Democrat Party, who stands to lose the most in a general election.

Ongoing Killings In The South

It kind of turns into “the Jerusalem effect”. Pretty much every day, there are reports of someone being killed in the three troubled provinces of Southern Thailand, and if something happens every day, it seems a lot less “newsworthy”.

Most of the time, it’s one person, or two or three that got killed by Muslim separatist insurgents.

Nonetheless, it’s important to keep in mind what’s going on – it still is a very serious problem that urgently needs to be resolved, but so far it doesn’t really look as if we are getting closer to a solution.

Aljazeera: Thai media trying to twist story

A blog on the Aljazeera website accuses the media of trying to twist the story behind Aljazeera’s video footage of a man in a red bandanna brandishing a gun on April 28. Thai media has been trying to lead viewers to believe that this man in the video may have something to do with the soldier who died that day. It’s been 6 days and the government has yet to conclude the investigation into the death of this soldier.

“Despite the best efforts of various organisations who are trying to twist the story, we did not in any way suggest that the man we filmed with the gun had anything to do with the death of the soldier. We filmed him about an hour before we saw the body of the soldier being carried out.”

Aljazeera mentions their suspicion about a possible staging of this incident when these men intentionally went pass the news crew. It’s interesting that this man with the gun decided to wear a red bandanna even though the red shirts were instructed to drop their colors in order to confuse the security forces. It’s also questionable that this man in the red bandanna just happens to be accompanied by some men in black which fit the government’s descriptions of the  terrorists spotted during the April 10th crackdown.

“He was right in front of us and the three people in our team all saw it with our own eyes. We only saw one man carrying a gun. But he was slinking around the place with several other men. One of whom was dressed completely in black, which immediately raised my suspicion after so many mysterious men in black were spotted during the April 10 violence.”

The blog also criticizes Thai security forces for using average citizens to create a traffic jam to block the protesters. When the security forces started shooting at the red shirts, these citizens were also in the line of fire.

The police and soldiers had more than enough warning that the red shirts were coming down the highway. They were travelling en masse and were easily identifiable. They should have diverted all the other traffic.

Instead, innocent people were sandwiched between the riot police and the red shirts. Many remained in their cars, expecting to be let through the road block eventually. But when the security forces started firing their guns, people were trapped, lying down in their vehicles, trying to avoid being shot while others ran to the relative safety of the side of the road.

This should never have been allowed to happen. They could easily have cleared those people out before the reds arrived.”

Chavalit’s Approach to the Palace

Chavalit Yongchaiyudh, former PM, chair of the Phuea Thai party and veteran of many events and excursions, has outlined his explanation for seeking assistance from HM the King and, unusually, a summary (with some details) has been printed in The Nation. The argument is that HM the King is not ‘above politics’ in the way that is usually argued in public discourse because:

“Under the principles of international law, a monarch represents the country’s sovereignty. In Thailand, the monarchy is the oldest and most powerful pillar of society, while the King exercises his discretion for royal initiatives and royal rulings in accordance with royal traditions.

– During the period of modernisation, Kings Rama IV, V, VI and VII safeguarded the country’s independence in the face of colonisation. The monarchy nearly succeeded in introducing democracy but was interrupted by the 1932 revolution, resulting in an incomplete transformation into genuine democracy.

– Under Article 3 of the Constitution, the King exercises sovereign power via the Parliament, Government and Judiciary. In theory and reality, the dispensation of power is within the realm of politics. Therefore the monarchy is not above and beyond politics as understood.”

There are several other points but it always seems a bit pointless to me just copy-pasting an article the reader can find elsewhere.

What is important, irrespective of the degree to which this is an accurate summary or whether one does or does not agree, is that this argument has appeared in the right wing press, which generally suppresses any such discussion. As I mentioned elsewhere, Chavalit and Somchai’s appeal to the Palace is unlikely to be answered and, if so, it will be interesting to observe how that will be reported in the international media.