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A Week in Review: December 11-17, 2010

In this week’s This is Thailand, we ask: When can a massive defeat be considered a victory? And whose earnings should be performance-related? Find out here…

Last Sunday was political barometer day in Thailand with 5 by-elections taking place in central and north-eastern provinces. Ahead of polling, Phuea Thai leader Chalerm Yubamrung claimed that his party would win 4 out of the 5 contested seats. Chalerm was spot on with the scores but way off with the result as Phuea Thai lost 4 of the 5 seats to different parties in the coalition government.

The biggest winner was the Bhum Jai Thai party with wins in Korat and Surin. Fellow coalition partner the Chart Thai Pattana Party took the Ayutthaya seat while the Democrats secured victory in Bangkok as expected.

The only seat that Phuea Thai did win was in the red shirt stronghold of Khon Kaen. But even here, the Democrats still managed to steal their thunder. Despite only winning approximately 36,000 votes compared to Phuea Thai’s 144,000, the Democrats claimed it as a huge success, pointing out that it was a large increase on the 7,000 votes they polled in the same constituency during the last general election.

According to Democrat secretary-general Suthep Thaugsuban, the increase in votes is evidence that the general public – even in the red shirt heartlands – is beginning to see the good work that they are doing and understands the government’s policies.

One of those policies is Pracha Wiwat (the People’s Agenda), which aims to help roughly 10 million of Thailand’s poor by promoting land ownership, reducing the cost of living, improving the welfare system, and fighting corruption.

Unsurprisingly in the lead up to a general election, Pracha Wiwat has already been criticised as nothing more than a populist policy aimed at winning votes. Populist it may be, but if it benefits Thailand’s poor, who cares? The real question is not whether it is populist, but whether it is transparent and sustainable.

In answer to that first question, the government claims that all spending under the Pracha Wiwat programme will be closely monitored through a completely transparent system. A lack of such transparency was one of the main criticisms of the populist policies launched during Thaksin Shinawatra’s administration.

In terms of its sustainability, the general consensus appears to be one of guarded optimism.

One vendor interviewed by the Bangkok Post gave her cautious approval but interestingly pointed out that the government hasn’t had enough time to focus on the needs of the poor because it has spent so much time fighting anti-government protestors.

The Bangkok Post also interviewed a taxi driver who inadvertently showed up the greatest need of Thailand’s poor. After expressing begrudging support for the policy while questioning whether it was a ploy to win votes (as opposed to directly giving people money for their vote), the taxi driver lamented that he currently had to go to loan sharks in order to support his family of 6. If ever proof were needed that the real key to escaping poverty is education, then here it is.  

Representing the business sector, Santi Vilassakdanont, honorary president of the Federation of Thai Industries (FTI), also expressed his support for Pracha Wiwat, saying that its benefits outweighed its investments.

His federation was less complimentary about the recent increase in the minimum wage, however. Various FTI members suggested that the increases of between 8 and 17 baht per day were excessive and that wages should be based on workers’ competency and each company’s ability to pay. FTI vice-president Taweekit Chatucharoenkun even warned that some companies would have to update their technology (shock and horror) and replace human labour with machinery.

The FTI’s stance does seem rather melodramatic. If companies can not pay such lowly wages to their staff, then one would suggest that they are being inefficiently run. Also, the minimum wages affect approximately 2 million Thai and 2 million foreign labourers. If machinery replaces human labour, then surely it should be the foreign rather than the Thai labourers who are forced to look elsewhere for employment.

In addition to putting billions of baht in the pockets of Thailand’s poorest, the rises are hoped to reduce worker turnover, thus improving their skills and productivity.

After approving such pitiful pay increases of around 6% for Thailand’s most needy, Thailand’s very un-needy MPs then voted to increase their own pay by nearly 15%. Perhaps the FTI’s suggestion about performance related pay would be better applied here, especially as several MPs are such infrequent visitors to parliament and such poor representatives of their constituents.

While the minimum wage is as low as 159 baht per day, MPs in Thailand currently ‘earn’ 62,000 baht each month in basic salary plus 42,330 baht in expenses – a tidy sum yet hardly enough to support the excessive lifestyles of many within their number.

While on the plus side, the 15% pay rise may reduce corruption within the civil service sector, it is far more likely that it will merely serve to exacerbate the grotesque class divide.

Perhaps a more important question this week would be: How much would it cost to educate people not to have 4 children when they can’t afford to look after them?

Paul Snowdon – December 18, 2010

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28 Nov 2015, 02:48
It is not a matter of stmapyhy for anyone, it s about deliver the right information, the complete information of how things are developed and why did developed the way it did,people have to obey laws, that is why the sistem works you like it or not, 120 people of a 5000 living in this island, going agaist the law, thinking that they can do whatever they want is a human right violation agaist the rest of us that want to live in peace, that s why we have a goverment, so dont give me that crap of "use of guns on a civilian population" because they are not a part of the civilian population in this place.get better informed in the first place
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