As firm as marshmallow | 25.02.05

Late last year, Trirong Suwankhiri — deputy leader of the Democrat party, former deputy prime minister, and a PhD in economics — wrote an article titled “Firm on Principles” (bottom half of page) in the Bangkok Post Economic Review.

Bangkok Post: “Firm on Principles: Democrat Party says it will opt for the high road, instead of competing though populist one-upmanship”

Now, you may not care for Thai politics, or any politics for that matter (so you’re here for cute stamps, huh?) But please bear with me here for this is a classic.

Khun Trirong’s opening:

Consider the Chinese proverb: “Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.

Over the past four years, the government has only handed out fish, while neglecting to teach. Thai Rak Thai’s policies present a grave danger for Thailand in the long-term.
The risk of populist policies can be best seen in Latin America. Brazil, Mexico, Chile, Argentina, Peru — all suffered as a result of populist policies.

Under populism, where the state gives handouts to the people, of course the people are happy. But what is the result? You create a mentality where the people think they don’t have to work, and all they need to do is ask for what they want from the state.

[Link added later]

Now six paragraphs later in the very same article:

Public policy rarely can be split into black and white. Many policies undertaken by Thai Rak Thai over the past several years, whether the village investment funds or the 30-baht health care programme, are extensions of initiatives first put in place by the Democrat Party when we led the government.

We will continue and expand the existing policies that are worthwhile. Our policy platform has been crafted based on what is needed by the country, what is feasible and what represents a prudent consideration of possible risks.

Our policy platform is centred around five separate initiatives:

  • Free education up to Matthayom 6;
  • Address the debt problems faced by rural communities with work programmes;
  • Guarantee jobs for new graduates;
  • Offer added financial security for the underprivileged elderly with payments of 1,000 baht per month;
  • Offer free, quality health care for all citizens.

In education, we will ensure that the government, not parents, takes responsibility for providing for not just school tuition, but also uniforms, books, computers and English lessons. We will expand educational grants and loans, ensure free milk for all students up to Matthayom 3 and free lunches for the poorest students.

The question is: when the Bangkok Post editor blurbed this article “Democrat Party says it will opt for the high road, instead of competing through populist one-upmanship,” was he being tongue-in-cheek or deadpan? The Thai media being what it is, the answer is far from obvious.

Update See my definitive post: “Populism and nationalism in Thailand”.

15:42 ▪ politics

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