Populist vs. populists

30 05 2018

In recent days there have been a couple of news accounts of “populism” in Thailand. One is in the Bangkok Post and another was in the South China Morning Post.

The SCMP reckons the military junta is stealing policies from Thaksin Shinawatra – something we at PPT have long pointed to. Indeed, the role of Somkid Jatusripitak cannot be discounted in accounting for policy congruence in areas the media delights in calling “populism.”

Taking quite a different approach to origins, the Bangkok Post believes the military dictatorship’s Thai Niyom Yangyuen (sustainable Thai-ness) campaign draws “inspiration” from “the Chinese Communist Party’s grassroots development campaigns…”. Given Somkid’s ethnicity and personal ties, that could also be true. We doubt many in the military are followers of Chinese Communist Party rural efforts, but they certainly like that regime’s strong authoritarian control, so perhaps its political models they draw on. But as an economist, Somkid also draws inspiration from Japanese models of development and innovation, and he did this successfully under Thaksin.

Puea Thai Party politicians are right, too, to point to “double standards as the government has been quite outspoken in the past in vilifying such attempts at populism.”

The Dictator is likely to get even more jumpy and agitated in his campaigning as the Shinawatra clan is again in the news. It seems Yingluck Shinawatra has been given a 10-year visa by the British government.

Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha looks silly because he keeps talking about extradition but does precious little. He is probably happier to have her outside the country as he campaigns for his own continued premiership, But he gets grumpy when the Shinawatras get media time.

But back to populism. One of the biggest “subsidies” going into an election some time in the future is that from the State Oil Fund. Gen Prayuth reckons he can maintain fuel prices at the current level until the election.

He insisted that “the State Oil Fund proves a vital tool for stabilising oil prices and limiting the effects on the economy.” It is also a means of preventing voter disenchantment with the junta’s devil parties. He says the Fund currently has “about 31 billion baht in its coffers” but don’t be surprised if that is added to if an election is called. There is also pressure on PTT to support lower prices.

For the junta, it is all hands and lots of cash on deck for an election.


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