[VIEWPOINT]Thaksin’s arrogance doomed him

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[VIEWPOINT]Thaksin’s arrogance doomed him

Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra of Thailand finally resigned. He could not subdue the people’s anger arising from the controversy over his morality, even with the considerable support he enjoyed as the owner of a conglomerate. After he established the Thai Rak Thai Party in 1998, Mr. Thaksin became the first leader in Thailand to come into power with overwhelming support, winning the general elections in January 2001 and in February 2005. So why did he end up being forced to resign?
On Jan. 23, the Thaksin family sold 49.6 percent of the shares of the holding company “Chin Corporation” to Temasek Holdings, Singapore’s state-owned investment company.
Thaksin pocketed about $1.88 billion in profits from the sale without paying the 30 percent income tax. At the time, Thaksin was already being criticized for plutocratic tendencies.
As the economy suddenly worsened in 2005, support for the government dropped sharply. In 2004, the Thai economy achieved a high economic growth rate of about 6.5 percent and the trade surplus reached $1.7 billion.
But in 2005, the economy recorded a deficit of $8.5 billion and the inflation rate climbed to the highest rate in seven years. The direct cause of the economic trouble was the sharp hike in the price of oil, but critics said Thaksin’s economic policies, called “thaksinomics,” had reached its limitations.
But even then, Mr. Thaksin could not abandon his self-righteous attitude. The public support he had maintained did not last.
The initiative to move the administration toward an entrepreneur-based mindset resulted in a self-righteous operation of state affairs that ignored the opinions of the opposition parties.
An ambitious village fundraising project to raise $2 billion to capture the hearts of the poor succeeded in consolidating initial support. Also, his policy of enhancing the national image of Thailand through clamping down on drugs and prostitution received a welcome response from the public.
But as the economy plunged and suspicions over corruption in his family continued, his supporters gradually left.
In August 2001, Mr. Thaksin was accused by the anti-corruption committee of having intentionally omitted his property in the disclosure of government officials’ property. And then his health minister, a close aide, was arrested on a charge of bribery in July 2005, rumors arose that his wife was evading income taxes and people believed bribery was involved in the introduction of explosive detection equipment to the checking counters at a new airport.
In addition, despite good intentions, he was accused of infringing on human rights when more than 2,000 people were executed over his crackdown on the drug problem, which previous administrations had not dared to handle.
Particularly, the opposition parties strongly protested that Mr. Thaksin was acting self-righteous and authoritarian as he carried out policies that totally ignored other’s opinions. But he turned blind eyes and deaf ears and suppressed the press to control most media outlets. That behavior triggered anger in not only the press and the people, but also the king.
Although the bloody incidents that had frequently occurred in the southern Muslim area since the early 2004 were sensitive issues that could not be resolved in the short term, he stirred up instability in the country by continuing his ultra hard-line measures.
Politics in Thailand depends on five pillars ― the king, the people, the media, the parliament and the military. Mr. Thaksin could not depend on even one of these pillars recently.
Mr. Thaksin’s resignation reveals the typical corruption and political distortion that follows when political power loses its track and the economy worsens.
The incident also showed that although the combination of politics and monetary power might temporarily be able to buy the people’s hearts, they were bound to fail when they lost the people’s trust. It also reminded us of the truth that one can deceive the people for a time, but not for a long time.

* The writer is a professor of international politics at the Department of Thai Language at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Lee Byung-do
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