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Thailand box of Pandora

Thailand box of Pandora

Ekaterina Koldunova

Associate Professor of the Department of Oriental Studies, MGIMO (U), Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, doctor of political science. N.

Ekaterina Koldunova, Associate Professor, Department of Oriental Studies, MGIMO-University (U), Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia, candidate of political sciences. :

Thailand is no stranger to living in crisis. The reality of the split of the country into opponents and supporters of the Pkhya Tkhai party - another reincarnation of the political structure that supports the protégés of ex-Prime Minister Thaksin Chinnawatra - is not new. T. Chinnawatra himself was removed from his post as a result of the 2006 coup and fled Thailand. These events led to a series of internal political crises, each of which further exacerbated the division of the country. However, the government’s attempt in November 2013 to pass an amnesty law through parliament that would open up the possibility of T. Chinnawatra’s return to politics, questioned the future of Thailand’s entire political system.

The rise and fall of Thai democracy

Thailand, which was never colonized, has perhaps the oldest experience of democratic governance in South-East Asia. In 1932, the constitutional monarchy replaced the absolute monarchy. But then followed more than five decades of authoritarianism and almost two dozen military coups. Thailand, in fact, lived in a so-called despotic paternalism, combining elements of traditional political culture and military rule.

Attempts to restore the democratic system were made in 1973 – 1976, but the final democratization occurred only at the beginning of the 1990-s. After the coup of 1991, the military tried to retain power, but by that time a wide opposition front had formed in Thai society that brought together representatives of various social groups who were in favor of real democratization. At the end of the 1990s, fundamental changes took place in the country's political system. In 1997, a new constitution was adopted that was truly democratic in nature and provided the conditions for real citizen participation in the political process.

In January of the year 2001, the party "Thay Rak Thai" (TRT), led by a large businessman Thaksin Chinnavat, won the election to parliament. Not having an absolute majority of votes, TRT representatives formed a coalition government. At the next elections in February 2005, TRT won more than 70% of seats and for the first time was able to form a one-party government. T. Chinnavat took the Prime Minister's seat for the second time. However, already in September 2006, a political crisis broke out in the country. The prime minister was accused of insulting the person of the king, corruption, the use of political power in the interests of his business and dismissed as a result of a military coup.

“Taxinization” of the whole country and its opponents

The reasons for the current split in Thai society lie in T. Chinnavat's populist politics. Mass support to it was provided by broad sections of the population, representing the agrarian regions of the country, especially the northeast, where the politician himself comes from.

T. Chinnavat's program, focused on providing preferential loans to farmers, cheap medical care and support for industrial production under the "one-tambon-one-product" scheme, found a lively response in a country where the income gap between the richest and the poorest reached frightening proportions. By the Gini coefficient (an indicator of income inequality), Thailand was ahead of many of its neighbors in the region. According to the UN, in 2000-2010 years. The Gini coefficient for Thailand was 40. For comparison: Indonesia - 34, Vietnam - 35,6, Cambodia - 37,9, Laos - 36,7, Philippines - 43, Malaysia - 46,2.

At the end of the 1980 - the beginning of the 1990-ies, as a result of a fairly successful economic development, Thailand's poverty level declined, and it fell into the group of middle-income countries. But many of those who today can be considered middle class are "yesterday's poor", which the country, which has been trapped in the middle level of development for two decades, did not leave much hope for a serious increase in well-being in the foreseeable future. Given the existing social disproportions, T. Chinnavat's populist slogans fell on fertile soil.

However, it is also true that T. Chinnavat did not forget about his own financial interests. Many of his foreign policy initiatives against neighboring Myanmar and Cambodia, in fact, covered the promotion of the interests of his company, Shin Corporation. Thaksin was supported also by representatives of large capital. As noted by the Thai researchers T. Chayvat and P. Phongpaychit, T. Chinnavat tried to break the established patron-client relations of politicians, bureaucrats and big business and replace them with a system of network relations tied to the personality of the prime minister himself.

Paradoxically, T. Chinnavat's massive social programs intensified internal territorial imbalances. In particular, due to the fact that the Democratic Party, the oldest political party in Thailand, was on the periphery of the political process, the channels of representation of the southern provinces, which traditionally voted for the democrats, were violated. In addition, the southern provinces (three of them - Narathiwat, Yala and Pattani - mostly populated by Muslims) were not seriously affected by the government's economic programs. As a result, in the south, the problem of separatism, which seemed at the beginning of the 1990-ies, was again exacerbated.

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