Thaksin Isan love affair in full bloom

Thaksin Isan love affair in full bloom

There has been much speculation that Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra might dissolve the parliament and call for a snap election later in the year. A wide variety of reasons have been given for why this could happen. But snap or not, as even the opposition Democrat Party has admitted, Pheu Thai would still win.

There are a variety of reasons that can be cited for this as well, but there's that is the most credible. One only has to read Paul Carsten and Pairat Temphairojana's report in the Bangkok Post's midyear economic review to understand it. Traditionally the country's poorest region, Isan today is rocking, rolling in the money. It's an economic success. Who should be credited for this success? Well, that depends on who you ask.

Thaksin Shinawatra supporters would see it as the result of various incarnations of his political machine _ Thai Rak Thai, the People Power Party and the current Pheu Thai Party - truly enriching their lives and bringing prosperity to the Isan region.

Anti-Thaksin groups would see it as mere luck, the gift of a world economic climate that has been favouring Thailand, and argue that the Isan success story as written by Thaksin is a mere opportunistic fairytale.

Perhaps the truth is a mixture of both, but the numbers tell a most convincing story. According to the report, economic growth in Isan climbed 40% from 2007 to 2011, against 23% for the country and just 17% for greater Bangkok.

Monthly household income also rose 40% between 2007 and 2011, which is the biggest leap of any Thai region. Meanwhile the number of private investment projects rose 49% in 2012 from the previous year, with the total amount invested more than doubling to $2.3 billion baht.

Isan is the fastest growing region in Thailand. And it's worth remembering that in the same period examined in the report the region also enjoyed benefits from populist policies, including virtually free health care and low-interest loans for the rural poor (from Thai Rak Thai), as well as Pheu Thai's 300 baht minimum wage increase, which produced a 35% wage rise in some Isan provinces.

Isan also holds more seats in parliament than any other region, 126, followed by the Central Region at 82. In the 2011 election, Pheu Thai took 104 seats and the Democrats took four from Isan, the rest going to smaller parties. That's not a landslide - it's an avalanche.

There are many factors in the Isan success story. Not least we should credit the people themselves, although we can safely assume that the majority of Isan people credit Thaksin.

So, if tens of thousands of Isan red shirts descended on Bangkok to fight on behalf of Thaksin in 2010, it was to be expected. If the majority of Isan voters go to the booth and mark the Pheu Thai box, it should be to no one's surprise.

Set aside for a moment the "politics" of it all. The murderers and the terrorists, the ammart and the prai, the colours and the masks, the corruption. Set all that aside for a moment and focus on cold hard facts: 40% regional economic growth and 40% household income growth. This is a fact even if Thaksin, Pheu Thai and the United Front For Democracy against Dictatorship were guilty of all the crimes anti-Thaksin groups have charged them with, including the despicable policy of withholding budgets from regions that did not vote for the Thaksin political machine. Even if all that were true, how are you going to beat 40% growth?

Even if there may be evidence that said prosperity is due to many factors other than Thaksin, it still cannot be denied that he was the first prime minister with a policy aimed at ensuring the Isan region was better off, and as such he was the one who opened the doors for the growth.

Most importantly, it's what the people believe that counts, and they believe in Thaksin. Economic numbers and heartfelt beliefs are what matters.

There are undemocratic ways and means to bring down the Thaksin political machine, as has happened before and shouldn't happen again. I'm not a legal expert, but there might even be a couple of democratic ways and means to bring down the Thaksin political machine.

However the most legitimate way is at the voting booth. The scenario presented above, however, makes the chances of this happening slim. It will require the Thaksin-Isan love affair to sour somehow, and a seemingly shining white knight to swoop in and woo away Lady Isan. But, see, Thaksin and Isan are about to give birth.

According to the report, the planned AEC East-West corridor, a motorway and trade route, will make Khon Kaen province the centre of a link between Southeast Asia and China. Needless to say, Isan people want that two trillion baht infrastructure bill passed, so all the projects can get rolling. If this happens, needless to say, Isan will be rocking and rolling in even more money.

If the bill is passed, the love affair will be cemented even further, like a couple having twins. If it's not passed, they will blame the Democrats and anti-Thaksin groups for kidnapping their babies.

Let that be a lesson in democracy. Thaksin, whatever crimes he may be guilty of, did what no other Thai politician ever did. Despite his many failings, he had foresight, and today he is reaping the benefits.

The other political parties have no one to blame but themselves. The anti-Thaksin groups will have to keep those masks on for a while. Barring a huge economic meltdown, or some "shocking" events, Pheu Thai is here to stay for the foreseeable future.

Where Isan goes, so goes Thailand - Bangkok's arrogant face has been hit by humble pie.

Don't blame Isan, congratulate her. This is the consequence of decades of bad governance and mismanagement in which these provinces have been run, not as parts of a democratic nation, but as subjects of the Bangkok regime.

Thaksin simply made the Isan people a better offer.


Contact Voranai Vanijaka via email at voranaiv@bangkokpost.co.th.

Voranai Vanijaka

Bangkok Post columnist

Voranai Vanijaka is a columnist, Bangkok Post.

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