With 3 updates: Sufficiency economy and democracy at the UN

27 09 2009

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva’s speech to the U.N. on 26 September 2009, received no international press coverage – PPT looked around and can only find a Xinhua report, but we are not sure if this is related to his speech. However, several newspapers in Thailand have reported the speech, even though there seems no transcript available at the PM’s Office website [Update: now available here]. There are stories at that site about the talk and other events, including the premier’s videolink to reporters assembled at Government House prior to the speech. The UN summary of Abhisit’s speech is available.

As should be clear from this, a speech at the U.N. carries more domestic political reasons. Perhaps this is why Abhisit led with a demonstration of his royalist credentials by trumpeting the king and sufficiency economy (SE). Based on the UN summary, Abhisit’s speech included more than this – climate change, ASEAN, Burma, financial crisis, global co-operation, Millennium Development Goals, international peace-keeping – but such weighty issues pale before the domestic significance of the  remarks on sufficiency economy and “Abhisit-style democracy.”

The Bangkok Post (27 September 2009: “PM promotes sufficiency economy”) leads with a story that focuses almost entirely on the statements made about the sufficiency economy idea noting Abhisit’s claim that the SE “concept is a key for global development which needs a balance between economic growth and sustainability…”. Apparently Abhisit “urged other countries to seriously take into account the policy championed by His Majesty the King to help prevent future crises,” and, in the U.N. summary claims that SE was already “being emulated in many parts of the world.”

PPT wonders where. We know that Tanzania tried some rain-making, and that failed dismally, but that isn’t SE being implemented. If any reader knows, please let us know. [Update: We found some also in Laos and, one reader tells us, Cambodia. The Lao project is essentially funded by Thailand as part of its small bilateral aide program. For some of the associated propaganda, see here. An earlier dam building project, proposed by the Thai king and supported by Sirindhorn, was rejected by a foreign donor as too damaging to the environment and to local people.]

Abhisit pleads that the king’s concept “should not be misinterpreted as an inward-looking approach.” Here he is responding to the negative press the SE concept received internationally when it was used by the military-appointed government, led by Privy Councilor General Surayud Chulanont, as a political device and as a nationalist call.

The UN version says that Abhisit claimed that “Excessive greed had caused the economic crisis,” and he said that “moderation” was the key to making  a country ” resilient and protected from both external and internal shocks.” The Post states that “Abhisit said the concept was not political rhetoric and its success could be seen through several royal projects and Thailand’s ability to cope with the recent global financial crisis.”

Leaving royal projects aside for they receive so much state attention and money to be an unlikely measure of SE success, PPT is not quite sure which economic figures Abhisit is reading to assess Thailand’s alleged resiliency in the current crisis. It can’t be these and others at Thailand Crisis.

He seems to focus only on the fact that no Thai bank has collapsed. Abhisit claims that “Thailand’s financial institutions escaped the direct impact of this crisis, thanks to a more conservative style of investment.” True, but they were cleaned out in 1997-98, when the Democrat Party government and then the Thai Rak Thai government sold, nationalized, arranged takeovers and supported most of them.

And Abhisit claims that Thai entrepreneurs “managed to weather the [financial] storm through prudent decision-making and careful risk management, two of the key principles which His Majesty’s philosophy suggests…”. It seems Abhisit believes that SE now imbues all “entrepreneurs’ in the country. He also claims that the government does this: “The government’s policy also adhered to the King’s principle by concentrating not only on spending but also on improving education, healthcare and welfare services.” Maybe Thaksin Shinawatra can also claim the SE crown?

Actually, Abhisit’s claims to SE are pretty weak. His government has a couple of projects – one of them mired in corruption allegations (but that “investigation” has gone very quiet) – but not much else that can be seen as definitively SE. Like Surayud, Abhisit seems to use SE more as an ideological and political device that is about “loyalty.”

In the U.N. summary, Abhisit also talked about democracy, human rights and freedoms. In what is now his mantra, Abhisit claimed that “Democracy entailed ensuring the rights of minorities in addition to majority rule.”

That’s fine in theory and would be good in practice, but Abhisit’s government, Surayud’s government, the royalists around the palace and the military had made sure that the majority’s will is not allowed to rule.In addition, these governments and their supporters have presided over the repeated use of draconian laws such as lese majeste (with lengthening sentences), computer crimes laws and the Internal Security Act. They have also revived Cold War security organizations and orders that are repressive and reduce freedoms. All of this is for political advantage.

In addition, PPT notes that few Thai government’s, including Abhisit’s, have ever done much for Thailand’s minorities.

Hollow words indeed.

Update: After reading Abhisit’s speech, PPT doesn’t see the need to update anything in the above post. All we’d note is that the speech as delivered is replete with contradictions in addition to the contradictions between his words and his government’s actions. That may be the nature of government in Thailand or it may reflect a more generalized intellectual fuzziness on the speaker’s part. One of the most notable contradictions for us has to do with sufficiency economy. PPT is not about to defend the idea as articulated in palace propaganda where “moderation” is sprouted from the mouths of the fabulously wealthy who control huge industrial and financial conglomerates.

It is apparent that an economic liberal like Abhisit is uncomfortable with this essentially autarkic concept. Hence he refers to the “fruits of globalisation,” the efforts his government is making to “jumpstart” the economy and efforts to improve the long-term “competitiveness” of agriculture, education, healthcare and tourism. This sounds almost Thaksin-like and he was accused of being a closet neo-liberal. PPT is sure that neo-liberal economic policies sit most comfortably with the Democrat Party and its Oxford-educated economist premier. So to deal with SE the Democrats endlessly redefine it to fit their own economic themes. Of course, they can’t ditch it because it is so politically and ideologically useful for them.



2 responses

30 09 2009
New: Abhisit’s fantasy land « Political Prisoners in Thailand

[…] we outlined in a PPT post a couple of days ago, we also agree with many of Thitinan’s criticisms of Abhisit.  At the same time, we think he […]

5 12 2010
Loyalty or blindness? | Political Prisoners in Thailand

[…] Economy Community Projects (see here also) that Abhisit promoted for a moment? Abhisit has genuflected to sufficiency economy […]

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