TOM PLATE WRITES — Watch Thailand carefully. It may be that the only major element in the country that truly understands one-person, one-vote democracy is the Pheu Thai Party and its former elected Prime Ministers Thaksin (2001-2006) and younger sister Yingluck Shinawatra (2011-2014).
Their political formula is simplicity itself: get money and aid to people who need it most urgently and fuel the economy from the ground up. Thaksin-omics is based on programs to reduce poverty, expand infrastructure, promote small and medium-sized enterprises, and offer affordable universal healthcare coverage.
It is true that Thaksin will always remain controversial, and Yingluck will always be his younger sister. But as the astute journalist, author and commentator Richard Bernstein once wrote pithily, all the poor people of Thailand know about Thaksin is that before him they were not doing well and with him they did much better. Democratic appeal is a relatively simple proposition: figure out various ways to help as many of your people as you can.
Former President Bill Clinton once said to Thaksin when he was still prime minister that the reason for his landslide popularity was simple: “Thaksin – Your people know you care about them.” (See the 2011 book ‘Conversations with Thaksin: From Exile to Deliverance – Thailand’s Populist Tycoon Tells His Story. Giants of Asia Series, Marshall Cavendish.)
To put my cards on the table, I was the author of that book, which some thought too sympathetic to the controversial Thaksin. Who knows? History will evaluate this in the fullness of time. All I know with the limited certainty permitted those who as the routine part of opinion journalism have to make contemporary judgments is that his younger sister was a very good prime minister. Even my oft-snippy Singapore sources, always so hyper-critical of other political leaders in their region of Southeast Asia, tell me that she was a good PM. Yes, Lady Yingluck made some mistakes – what leader doesn’t? But she brought a classy and coherent level of sense and sensibility to Bangkok’s endless political bedlam that is sorely missing from that scrambled scene today. Here is my honest and direct view: More people of Thailand will be better off if Pheu Thai and its allies regain legitimate power via the next election, said to be scheduled by the governing junta for early next year. Perhaps.
2015:Thaksin visits the staff of Asia Media Magazine and talks politics and philosophy with these wonderful undergraduate students.