Thailand: The Political Games Of A CEO

2002

Chintana Sandilands

For Thais, the month of October means something more than we can say. Two infamous political events in Thai history – '14 October 1973' and '6 October 1976' occurred in this month. Both of these incidents reflected a dual use of power and violence against Thai people; both resulted in the loss of life for a democratic ideal. They are concrete evidence of the close relationship between power and violence in Thai history inherited from the Ayudhya period.

This October has again been a month of note. The current Prime Minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, has applied a program of reform to the Thai bureaucracy. In so doing, the Thaksin administration has used a different kind of 'violence' against the Thai people. ‘Violence’ can come about through the use of weapons and armed force – yet it can also be applied through application of spiritual or emotional weaponry. If power is used to control the people, and there are no choices provided, then it can be an act of violence. There is a phrase used by Thai people, that reflects the manner in which the political system is viewed. We say politicians len (play) politics - the term used is not ‘work’ but ‘play’; thus, we speak of politics as a game. The central weakness of Thaksin’s game is his inability to gain the hearts of the Thai people. Traditionally, Thais revere the public service, yet many are beginning to actively seek to leave the service. The view of Thai bureaucrats towards the current reforms is not positive. For the majority of public servants, the bureaucratic reforms have resulted in insecurity and confusion. Dedication to work and willingness to serve the people have lessened, as public servants become increasingly uncertain about their own futures.

New graduates view the public service as an uncertain, insecure and increasingly unattractive employment option. For those already in the service, stress levels are rising. The reforms being implemented have not come from public servants and they do not believe in them. Thaksin has used his power to attract supporters with the knowledge that their support is contingent - if they do not receive anything in return for their support, then they will ‘play’ elsewhere. The reform program sits within this tradition of Thai political 'games' and the recent appointment of new ministers (on 3 October) is the latest development in the political game requiring a leader to look after his close supporters.

Yet, if we look at the reaction of the Thai people to these events, there has been very little response. The tradition of fighting against the use of violence and power, shown in the events of October in years gone by, has not re-surfaced this October. The violence against Thai people remains, though the nature of the weapons may be different. In the past such weapons resulted in an instant death. Today, it may be that they result in a living death. As people's actions are controlled and the emotions of Thais alienated, the Thai spirit and the spirit of October 14 and October 6 may be slowly dying – the people can speak, but there is no one listening.

WATCHPOINT: How will the new cabinet perform in its given task of implementing these major bureaucratic reforms designed to completely overhaul Thailand's state sector - reforms which some say may result in the transfer of power from civil servants to politicians?

 

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AFG Venture Group is an Asia and Australia based corporate advisory and consulting firm with over 20 years experience in creating alliances, relationships and transactions in Australia, South East Asia and India; including a 15 year history of corporate and equities advisory in Australia, undertaking merger, acquisition, divestment, fund raising and consulting for private and public companies.

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