Having returned a couple of days ago I thought I would put down a few thoughts on the current situation in Thailand. I have visited Thailand several times over the last few years and my views are also informed by the conversations and experiences with admittedly a very small number of Thais. I also read the Bangkok Post and The Nation every day in Thailand and attempt to keep up with life in Thailand via their web sites. My comments cover three areas - Tourism, The Economy and Politics.
The hotel we stayed in was as busy as I have ever seen it which would indicate that things are going ok. However, out and about on Koh Samui I would say there were less tourists around. Nathon and various sites such as Big Buddha were a bit quieter but most noticeable was the much lower number of tourists in Chaweng the islands main nightlife spot.
There was no indication that anyone was worried about the bombs in Bangkok although we were not staying in Bangkok. The other surprise was the complete lack of armed police or military at Bangkok airport even on 3rd January immediately following the bombs.
If the rate of new building is anything to go by then the economy is doing well. In fact as far as Koh Samui is concerned I would say they are in danger of killing off the tourist trade by over development if they do not slow the madcap pace of development.
On a national level it is clear that some of the early pronouncements by the military appointed government have not helped. The stock market has suffered and there were clear indications in the newspapers that investors from other Asian countries were having clear second thoughts about making investments in Thailand if there is no clear guarantee that they will have control of their investment and be able to get money out when they want to.
The government seems to be following a protectionist and inward looking economic policy partly as a result of the kings announcements about Thailand needing to be more self sufficient.
The net result is likely to be a slow down in the economic growth rates which Thailand has experienced in recent years. Once people realise this it will add to the problems which are staking up for the government.
This is where the issues, dilemmas and potential future problems lies for Thailand. When the tanks rolled onto the streets of Bangkok in September there were some well wishers to greet them. Of course not everyone felt the same. Thaksin Shinawatra and his allies were certainly not happy and neither were the mostly rural poor who had supported his government and the policies which benefited them. Everyone waited to see what would happen. The king gave his tacit support to the coup and the leader General Sonthi Boonyaratglin said the armed forces would restore stability, establish a new constitution and hold elections by October 2007. They also promised to adopt a different approach to the political violence in the south.
However, since that time little has gone right for the military junta. International condemnation, an ex Prime Minister who has continued his world tour and continues to meet with governments and put his case to the international media, poor economic decisions, a falling stock market, bombs in Bangkok and continuing violence in the south.
The government now has a drafting assembly in place for the new constitution which is due in about six months' time. But even this process is causing problems with rows about the make up of the committee and concerns over how much influence the military junta will have over the new constitution.
Thaksin Shinawatra is a real thorn in the side of the new government and I expect this to continue. He will continue to travel and will continue to speak to the media. The new government has certainly given him plenty to talk about. This in turn is creating further problems for the new government in its relationships with other countries and its appearance on the world stage as it starts to crack down on the Thai media when it attempt to report Thaksins comments.
The new government has attempted to tackle the violence in the south but the bombings and drive by shootings continue on and almost daily basis. Then the bombers struck on new years eve in Bangkok. It might have been Muslim insurgents from the south but the general consensus seems be that they would not have attacked in such a way in Bangkok. The current government has made much play of elements that want to destabilise the situation. A taxi driver I talked to was convinced that Thaksin Shinawatra had paid 1.5 billion baht to supportive elements within Thailand to organise the bombings.
So what does the future hold. There are rumours of further coups which is perhaps not surprising in a country which although relatively stable in recent years has had 17 years coups in the last 60 years. Not all of these rumours centre around Thaksin Shinawatra.
It is entirely possible that the coup will be launched by the existing Council for National Security (who initiated the initial coup) or by another faction from within the armed forces. In either case the government will change again and then I expect there to be a much stronger crack down on the media and what they are allowed to report.
There is an outside possibility that a coup could be led by elements within the military that are supportive of Thaksin Shinawatra and that he could return (although he has stated that he wants to give up politics).
The final potential fly in the ointment may be Thailands King Bhumibol Adulyadej who has been on the throne for 60 years. He is now 79 years old and any decline in his health might lead to further problems. It was probable that his tacit support for the military coup prevented blood shed on the streets of Bangkok back in September