Letter from Vongthip Chumpani 7/1/10
Tiger, tiger, burning bright!
The Year of the Fiery Tiger has arrived and promised to be no less ferocious than the Year of the Mad
Bull that has just left! Those who did not believe in astrology, seemed to be hoping and praying that 2010
would be the beginning of a better decade than the “Noughties”. Although the much feared global
depression did not materialize in 09, world’s economists have been debating whether the recovery would
be a W or a U shape. Thailand has certainly done well to benefit from the global turn-around but we could
have done much better, had it not been for the self-inflicted political crisis that has been haunting us in the
last three years. The majority of the people have become totally fed up with the power-hungry politicians
and greedy bureaucrats. All they wanted was to be left in peace to get on with their lives, without having
to look over their shoulders all the time, fearing another violent political break-out.
With the cool weather in the first half of 12/09, the country was able to celebrate HM the King’s recovery
and his 82nd birthday with great joy and happiness. Most people vowed to do what they could to bring
back peace and national unity, for the sake of HM’s happiness and Thailand’s survival as a peaceful and
united nation. It was anyone’s guess, how this could be done while Thaksin & Co. were raising even
louder war cries for their fight “to restore democracy and justice” in 2010. The longer-than-normal New
Year holiday went by peacefully enough, with 7% less yoy road accidents. Thousands went abroad, tens
of thousand opted to go upcountry to pray or to celebrate with their families and friends. Thousands of
those who chose to remain in the city felt comfortable enough to turn up for the countdown at various city
locations. After what they have gone through politically and economically in 09, most people felt they
deserved to take time out for a good celebration.
Except for a report-card presentation on 23/12/09, PM Abhisit did not celebrate his first year in the office.
On 9/12/09, he welcomed Malaysian PM Najib Razak to Thailand and took him on a day tour of the Deep
South to see how the two countries could cooperate to bring peace to the area. In the new spirit of
ASEAN cooperation, Malaysia repatriated 210 Thai Muslims back to the South, and Thailand repatriated
4,500 Hmongs back to Laos. On 17/12/09, PM Abhisit attended the opening ceremony of SEA Games in
Laos (where Thailand won some 80 gold medals) before attending the COP 15 Climate Change Meeting
in Copenhagen, in his capacity as chairman of Asean. In mid 12/09, Thailand made the international
headlines when our airport security police arrested 5 aircrew members and impounded their chartered jet
plane, carrying deadly big-ticket war weapons from North Korea to unknown destination(s). On 30/12/09,
the Supreme Court ruled to annul the Thai-Cambodia joint communiqué, supporting Cambodia bid to list
Phra Viharn Temple as UN World Heritage site, issued by the Samak/Somchai government.
With the economy improving by the day and unemployment figure down to 400,000, the cabinet revised
and approved the extension of the economic relief package for another 3 months, until end of 3/10.
Minimum daily wages for workers in 71 provinces were increased from THB 1-8. On 30/12/09 THB 8
billion was transferred to the Village Funds all over the country. In spite of the initial cynicism, fear and
hesitation, altogether 433,784 small borrowers in the unorganized market registered for debt restructuring
with government banks. Except for THB 20 billion, disbursement of the Thai Khem Khaeng projects has
been stalled or delayed due to questionable procurement contracts. In spite of verbal assurances, the
Abhisit government has yet to come up with more specific and concrete measures to assist the farmers
and the private sector to cope with the impacts of AFTA that became effective on 1/1/10. On 29/12/09 the
cabinet approved the revised ministerial rules (for industrial projects’ environmental and health impact
assessment, as proposed by the 4 parties working committee) and gave the green light for 19 (out of the
65 suspended) Mabthaphut projects to lodge their appeal with the Supreme Administrative Court.
In 11/09, consumer confidence index rose to 69. Private investment was positive. Commercial car sales
were up 15.8% and cement 16.7%. Manufacturing production index shot up 8.9%. Industrial capacity
utilization was 65.4%. Export totaled THB 13.7 billion, down 17.3% yoy. Import THB 12,6 billion, down
0.3% yoy. Trade balance, current account and balance of payments were all in the black at THB 1,106
million, THB 1,338 million and THB 2.341 million respectively. Official foreign reserves totaled THB
139.8 billion. Core inflation was +0.1% and CPI +1.9%. Repo and bank interest rates remained
unchanged. The THB ended the year at THB 33.34/USD. Profit taking brought gold prices down to USD
1,094. Oil prices continued strong at nearly USD 80, due to severe winter temperatures. The SET ended
the year at 734.54, a hefty 63.25% gain for the whole year, with an attractive PE ratio of 10.84.
Meanwhile, the Abhisit government was rocked by another corruption scandal which resulted in an
unexpected departure of the Health Minister (Democrat) for negligence. However, his Deputy Minister
(Bhumjai Thai) has refused to budge, notwithstanding personal implication in the scandal! An ancient
case, a THB 258 million corporate contribution to the Democrat Party, was revived for the Election
Committee to consider filing for Democrat Party dissolution! The Finance Minister (Democrat) too came
under fire for upgrading his family members’ air tickets with their TG mileage Gold Cards!? To prevent
further implications, PM Abhisit moved boldly to make sure all sensitive issues and controversial cases
(e.g. the THB 120 billion Thai Khem Khaeng projects, the 65 Mabtaphut projects, the 2-digits electronic
lottery contract, security in the South) were clearly accounted for and made transparent well before the
no-confidence debate began. A mini cabinet reshuffle to replace the Health Minister was also done.
Red Shirts’ last Putsch?
Incensed by Thaksin’s phone-ins, DTV’s propaganda-like programs and new heavy-weight members
(former PM and retired military generals) of their Phuea Thai Party, the Red Shirts have become
dangerously reckless and aggressive in their threats and attacks, not only against PM Abhisit but also
against key members of HM the King’s Privy Council. During the first week of 12/09, the public was
treated to an unbelievable Cambodian spy soap opera, co-produced and directed by our esteemed
neighbor and his honorable advisor. The Red Shirts’ Constitution Day rally on 10/12/09 failed to produce
the anticipated scenario and effects. When his hope for a conditional truce (to be mediated by former PM
Surayud) was unceremoniously dashed, defiant Thaksin called for another all-out war around the time
that the Supreme Court was expected to rule on his THB 76 billion frozen fund. Voters, however, seemed
to have had enough of Thaksin’s unsavory fights to regain power at an cost. Instead of a landslide victory,
Phuea Thai won, by just 1,000 votes against Bhumjai Thai, in the last by-election in Mahasarakarm!
A snap election?
With renewed and increasingly more blatant attacks by Thaksin & Co. to coincide with the no-confidence
debate scheduled for the last week of 1/10, the now well-endowed coalition parties have started to clamor
again for an immediate constitutional amendment (2 instead of 6 articles and without any referendum).
They impatiently told the Democrats to stop stalling or they might simply switch side (and vote with the
Opposition to bring back the 2540 Constitution!?). In the meantime, PM Abhisit had the monumental task
of trying to maintain and apply his “9 Codes of Conduct” to non-Democrat cabinet members when they
were implicated in corruption scandals. It remained to be seen whether the Opposition would take the
coalition parties to task during the no-confidence debate or simply focus only on the Democrats. True to
the saying, Thai politicians have neither true friends nor permanent foes!
Ready for change
Fear of Thaksin’s return, with or without the eventual support of the Blue Shirts, continued to persist
among the Yellow Shirts. They were critical of PM Abhisit’s soft approach towards the Red Shirts and
his reluctance to fight harder against corruption among his cabinet members. They believed Phuea Thai
has been able to win more voters, as seen in the last 3 by-elections. The PAD too have been gearing up
for the “7 days do-or-die uprising by a million Red Shirts” in 1/10. Alarmed political pundits warned that
Thailand could be heading for a civil war and/or another military coup this year. The “silent majority”
have been urged to stand up and demand for political change. To bring about national peace and unity,
better welfare and more opportunities would have to be given to the weak and the poor members of the
society. Corruption would have to be eradicated rather than allowed to flourish as a way of life for Thai
politicians and bureaucrats. A change has become a necessity, not an option any longer for this country!