Thailand: Thaksin's First 100 Days


Dr Glen Lewis

Thaksin Shinawatra's new 'Thai-Rak-Thai' government has been in power for approximately 100 days. It came to office with the slogan 'Think New, Act New', but has it done either? The economy is still in the doldrums. The baht remains weak, the stock market is down, and gasoline prices are high. Thaksin's coalition includes former Prime Minister General Chavalit as Defence Minister, while Thaksin remains under investigation by the Constitutional Court for allegedly concealing his wealth in 1997.

A Bangkok University poll in early May found that the most popular Cabinet mMinister was Health Minister Sudarat Keyuraphan, while the most disapproved was Deputy Transport and Communication Minister Pracha Maleenont, followed by Deputy PM Chavalit. Sudarat, who stood unsuccessfully for the Governorship of Bangkok in 2000, is popular due to her personal style and because of the introduction in six provinces of a 30 baht health scheme payment. This has benefited low-income provincial Thais who formerly had been denied health benefits.

Chavalit's unpopularity reflects his difficulty in dealing with the border confrontation with Burma since February. He has been at odds with Army commander Lt-General Wattanchai, who called for a tough response to border incursions. In May the pro-Rangoon United Wa State Army captured a drug production plant adjacent to Chiang Mai's Fang district. The Thai Army re-took the location, but the Burmese have accused Thailand of invading their air space and escalating border tensions. Chavalit, who sees himself as a mediator with the Burmese generals, has denied an air strike really took place. Thaksin plans to visit Myanmar in June for a fence-mending visit, but there is now more tension between the two states than when he came to office.

The most unpopular Minister has been Pracha Maleenont. Pracha's family has owned the lucrative Channel 3 television licence since the 1950s. He has now aroused public anger because of his attempt to stack the management board of THAI airways with associates from Channel 3 while sidelining the airline's president Bhisit Kuslasayanon. In doing so, he has acted like most previous Thai ministers in treating the state enterprise he is responsible for as his personal fiefdom. THAI union members responded by wrecking Pracha's limousine.

Thaksin, who owns the biggest Thai telecommunications company, has now formed an unofficial alliance with other telco operators. He is seeking to acquire the financially troubled TT&T group, while the Senate has halted the selection process for the National Telecommunications Commission. The 1997 Constitution said this should be completed by October 2000. The delay, which has taken place because of in-fighting and corruption in the appointment process, leaves the telecom business meanwhile in Thaksin's hands.

WATCHPOINT: Will Thai-Rak-Thai implement genuine reforms, such as provincial decentralisation and the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commissions, or lapse back into traditional Thai ways?


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