More Thaksinism

26 01 2016

Following the appointment of former Thaksin Shinawatra and Thai Rak Thai Party minister Somkid Jatusripitak by the military junta, economic policy seems reasonably familiar. Appointed by the junta as deputy prime minister, Somkid has responsibilities for getting the sluggish economy moving.

The reason his economic measures seem so familiar is that most of them are throwbacks to the period of 2001 to 2005. The policies have involved “innovations” such as rural subsidies that can’t possibly be populist, buying up rubber as if it were rice (yes, Thaksin had a rice price support program) and a revised one tambon, one product (OTOP) scheme. Somkid has defended these policies as measures aimed at strengthening the “grassroots economy.”

Clearly, Thaksin’s economic policies worked in the circumstances at the beginning of the century. They generated growth based on consumption and produced considerable political popularity. For all of its criticism of “populism,” the junta obviously wants a bit of both stimulus and political popularity. After all, it has an unpopular constitution to try to get approved and then, come hell or high water, apparently an election in 2017, where it wants a pro-military, royalist party to do well (read as anything but Puea Thai Party).

The Dictator, General Prayuth Chan-ocha has engaged in a rebranding of Thaksinism. Last year, he declared: “Our national anthem clearly states that Thailand is a nation state (Pra Cha Rat) not populist (Pra Cha Ni Yom)…”.

Under this brand, according to a report at the Bangkok Post, the military dictatorship is to pump “an additional 35 billion baht into rural areas to stimulate investment and consumption…”. It declared this a Pracha Rat “initiative.”

Helpfully, the Post explains that “Pracha Rat stresses a people-state partnership in which the people, the government and businesses work closely together to pursue sustainable development and help farmers, workers and communities secure their livelihoods.”

For the initiative, Somkid said the government (the military dictatorship) would ask for cabinet (the military junta) for “approval to inject 500,000 baht into each village to help stimulate the economy.” He said that “the measure would be proposed to the cabinet today and cover 70,000 villages” and declared that the money “would be aimed at increasing investment in villages through projects such as agriculture processing and value-added farm products while developing water resources in villages to increase efficiency in farm systems.”

Back on 26 February 2001, when Thaksin presented his government’s policy to the National Assembly, he described as one of his government’s “urgent policies,” this: “Establishment of the Village and Urban Revolving Fund, funded with one million baht each as a loan facility available for individuals and households of each community to borrow for local investment and supplementary vocations.”

Somkid and the dictators may be half-hearted and will probably be far more directive in the use of the funds than the TRT government was (because, for the royalist elite, villagers are uneducated and can’t be trusted), but the reversion to Thaksinism or what came to be known as “Thaksinomics” is clear. The political motivations are just as clear.

It remains to be seen if rural Thais will buy the junta’s half-hearted conversion to populism.