Thailand’s Politicians: Pluto- or Kleptocrats?

Partyforumseasia: In the case of Thaksin Shinawatra there has been little doubt that he made his billions with the help of political connections. And comparative research on party financing in Southeast Asia has shown that political entrepreneurship is one of the most lucrative business lines.1) The region, more or less independent of the political system, is full of “unusually rich” politicians. Corruption 4The Thai situation is being discussed in an article by Tan Hui Yee, Thailand correspondent of Singapore’s Straits Times (25.2.2014, p. A22). With a Gini coefficient of .484, higher than that of the US, Thailand is one of the most unequal societies in Asia. The regional imbalance has opened the flood gates for populist policies and the landslide victories of Thaksin’s political parties. According to Chulalongkorn University’s economy professor Pasuk Phongpaichit the minimal taxes on land are not being adjusted because most politicians are big land owners.  As protest leader Suthep Thaungsuban, himself confronted by graft allegations, tries to hurt the business empire of the Shinawatra clan, it is evident for the Thai citizens that too many politicians are millionaires in a too conspicuous way, and there seems to be no difference between the competing parties. Frustration and cynicism are growing with the number of scandals, the duration of the stand-off and the negative impact on the economy.
Money politics is all too entrenched in Thailand and Southeast Asia to be eradicated by well-intentioned reforms. Only rich enough candidates can win an election, and few will sacrifice part of their assets to get elected. That simply means that millions invested into an election campaign have to be recouped one way or the other.

1) See: Sachsenröder, Wolfgang, Party Finances and Money Politics in Southeast Asia in the reference archive.

Politics and Religion in Southeast Asia

Partyforumseasia: Groups and organizations as well as political entities like nation states need similar mechanisms to keep their members together and loyal. They have to be different from others and hostile others are especially useful to strengthen the cohesion. Religious groups cannot avoid these mechanisms either. If they don’t need enemies they have to feel at least better than others, more pious or closer to God. One of the charming internal Vatican jokes goes like this: ChurchSaint Peters shows around a newcomer and explains the different groups on the clouds sailing by. These are the Hindus, these are the Buddhists, etc. When a big cloud comes closer, the newcomer asks in a sort of excited tone: Saint Peter, so many, who are these? Peters answer with a finger over his lips: Ssh, not so loud, these are the Catholics. Don’t disturb them, they think they are the only ones in heaven…

See the full article at:

If religious harmony is traditionally a delicate issue in multi-ethnic and multi-religious Southeast Asia (but becoming more and more delicate in Europe as well by massive immigration) the responsibility of the political leadership in handling latent or violent tensions is growing considerably. In this light, the Allah-privilege debate in Malaysia looks like being underestimated by its proponents. Middle Eastern Muslims don’t have too much to laugh about Malaysia, but denying Christians as people of the book the use of God’s name in Arabic makes even the Muslim Brotherhood frown in surprise.

Mega – Strategy – Pro Jokowi?

MegaThe coincidence of parliamentary and presidential elections in April makes the next months exciting for Indonesian voters and outside observers alike. Journalists and political analysts are rolling the Jokowicrystal ball back and forth, but getting reliable information about the strategic debates inside the political parties and their inner circles is more difficult than ever. With outgoing President Yudhoyono the popularity of his Democratic Party being in free fall, opposition PDI-P leader and former President Megawati Sukarnoputri (67) might be tempted to run again herself. But for many the high poll results for Joko Widodo (52, also known as Jokowi), the most popular governor of Jakarta, seem to make his candidacy a much better bet. Megawati, who still commands high respect and loyalty in the party, would probably squander the party’s chance to victory. 17.2.14
At least a growing part of the membership see it this way and try to urge an early nomination with a group called “PDI-P Pro-Jokowi”. A decision against Megawati may remain unthinkable, but intense debates within the PDI-P leadership and among the rank and file members are completely normal. There is no need to dramatize a supposed split in the party. Keeping media, voters and political competitors in the dark and guessing can be a cheap campaign tool in a country with exponentially increasing campaign costs for the parties.
Source of poll results: 17.2.2104

The Southeast Asian Miracle: Thailand’s Re-Unification sealed!!

15 February 2064: The Southeast Asian Miracle: Thailand’s Re-Unification sealed!!

After the recent breakthrough in prolonged negotiations between the two sides and efficient diplomatic support from ASEAN, the heads of state of the Kingdom of Tightland (formerly known as South Thailand) and the Kingdom of Thaksimania (formerly known as North Thailand) have signed a comprehensive re-unification treaty. The signing ceremony took place in the UN Headquarters in Beijing in the presence of unification advisers from Germany and Korea.
After the former Thailand split in 2015, the founding father of Thaksimania, business-politician Thaksim Shinawatra was soon elected King of Thaksimania. The people loved him because he could fund the government out of his own pocket and reduce the tax burden to a symbolic 5%. This led to a massive migration of the business community from Bangkok and the South to Thaksimania, where they were warmly welcomed by his Majesty on the condition of participating in the funding of his government.
The impact on former South Thailand was more than difficult. The Royal Finance Ministry witnessed a rapidly dwindling inflow of taxes which could not be balanced by the most investment friendly policies worldwide. So the impoverished country succumbed to pressure from Thaksimania to drop the aggressive use of the outdated name of Thailand. To secure a sufficient flow of development aid from the rival in the North, the King agreed to change the official name of the state into Tightland. Starting around 2035 already, many countries in Asia were able to reduce or abolish taxes and military spending because the regional security was no longer threatened by the US but guaranteed by China. This ended the decades of saber rattling and aggressive symbolic politics between Tightland and Thaksimania which made the re-unification possible at the end. It remains to be seen how the population of the two nations will adapt to the changes and the big difference in affluence. 😉

Vietnam: “Tet Offensive” Towards More Democracy?

Partyforumseasia: It has not been a secret that Vietnam ‘s recent economic performance was dismal and much below her potential – largely due to red tape and mismanagement by the ruling Communist Party. Understanding that the Vietnamese people understand that very well and that resentment against the party is growing rapidly, Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung Dungmay be trying to change course and make himself the savior of party and country at the same time. Vietnamese researcher Huong Le Thu from the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore sees a number of announcements in Dung’s new year address which might open up party, economy and civil society for a more dynamic development in the next few years.

Huong: “Indeed, Dung has sensed the desire of the nation well — he knows that at the current atmosphere whoever carries the ‘democracy flag’ will have the people’s support.”                                See her assessment in the EastAsiaForum here: LINK