Saturday, 2 June 2007

Thai politics - need a compass?

The Thai constitutional court has ruled at last. And the TRT party has lost, as expected. So where are the Thais headed?

Somewhat like Japan where the cushy bureaucrats and politicians would rather retain the status quo. Look at what happened to that young entrepreneur who tried to capitalize on the internet boom in Japan? He came up with something unconventional, and perhaps more in tune with current economic environment; yet the "old timers" can't seem to accept this young radical chap in changing, or perhaps reforming, the business landscape. Soon, it turned political, and a "sort of" witch hunt ensued. Obviously he was prosecuted.

Look at Thaksin, minus the alleged corrupt practises. He and his TRT party is the only one to have won a parliamentary majority in a land so used to coalition governments and coup d'etats. What he did to the poor northern peasants doesn't seem to ring the same bells with the "old boys" in Bangkok.

And then this sage about Singapore's Temasek Holdings who bought over Thaksin's telecommunications company, which also included control of a satellite. Suddenly the nation is gripped with nationalism and are being led to believe that Singapore can actually tap into their satellite communications detrimental to the security of Thailand. Common!

Like what the Indonesian Defense Minister said when he was lobbying his parliament to rectify the defense treaty signed between Singapore and Indonesia. Why should Indonesia feel threatened? It was reported in the press that he said words to the effect that Singapore has no offensive aspirations; and if Singapore were bombed, the island will sink. Which is true.

Singapore only has 4 million odd people while Indonesia has 200 million plus. Even if Sun Tzu were alive, he would have recommended that Singapore avoid direct confrontation and seek diplomatic means of resolving matters. Or if Singapore can, seek alliance with an immediate power who might counter balance the inferior numbers of Singapore viz-a-viz Indonesia. Or perhaps protect Singapore from further intimidation by her bigger neighbors. But who can this power be?

The USA is too far away and has her plates full with Iraq, North Korea and Iran. Australia isn't in a position to be that power for it need its neighbor Indonesia to ensure stability and to cooperate in anti-terrorism efforts. China? Well not for the next 30 years anyway for China is busy with its economic agenda and has to manage the deep economic divide between her rural poor and the urban rich. Furthermore, she also has to worry about the growing pro-independence drift in Taiwan.

Indonesia has become emboldened by Thailand's moves against Temasek Singapore. Suddenly, their own telcos like Indosat and Telkomsel are being accused of price fixing just because Temasek and its subsidiaries own the two companies. Is this the true spirit of a free market, or nationalist feelings at play, or is it part of a grander scheme orchestrated by some big Russian telco in cohort with corrupt Indonesian officials as reported in the Straits Times of Singapore and the Jakarta Post of Indonesia? Who knows.

One can never be certain in Asia. So many factors are in play. A young democracy in Indonesia, a junta in Thailand trying to appease their people and the international community, communist Vietnam trying to ride the wave and benefit from the allure of capitalism, a reforming Malaysia whose "somewhat militant" former premier handpicked a more reform minded premier to succeed him. Then there's China and India. The economic powerhouses of the new millennium!

But we mustn't forget the power the old kingdoms wield! Look at Iran. The slightest hint of nuclear armament is enough to throw the whole world into disarray. The USA, Japan, China, India and almost all economies in the world are dependent on oil to keep their economies growing. The more they need oil, the more petrodollars the Middle East will earn.

Perhaps a sort of holocaust will help to re-balance the whole equation. Perhaps. But the costs will be too heavy to mankind than mankind can handle.

No comments: