Political turmoil blamed for GDP losses

Political turmoil blamed for GDP losses

Suthep 'Kamnan' Thaugsuban harangues a crowd during Bangkok Shutdown just before the 2014 coup. Economists claim 20 years of unbroken political division have cost the country 0.4% growth every year. (File photo)
Suthep 'Kamnan' Thaugsuban harangues a crowd during Bangkok Shutdown just before the 2014 coup. Economists claim 20 years of unbroken political division have cost the country 0.4% growth every year. (File photo)

Thailand's political uncertainty over the past 20 years took a toll on the country's economic growth, shaving off 0.4 percentage points per year on average and depressing growth below its potential, according to a joint survey by the Bank of Thailand's Puey Ungphakorn Institute for Economic Research's (Pier).

Even though Thailand has been peaceful after the May 2014 coup by the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), uncertainties concerning political reform and a new general election have remained and are increasing, said Pongsak Luangaram, assistant professor in economics at Chulalongkorn University.

The survey used articles in five local newspapers -- Thairath, Daily News, Matichon, Khaosod, and Kom Chad Luek -- between the second quarter of 1997 and the fourth quarter of 2017. Over the course of 20 years, there were three political milestones, the first in 2006 when exiled former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra was ousted by military coup; the second erupted in 2010 when red-shirt supporters of Mr Thaksin staged a bloody rally to topple ex-Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva; and lastly in 2014 when the NCPO ousted former exiled Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, who is also Mr Thaksin's sister, to end a political impasse.

The survey was conducted by Pier, Chulalongkorn University's economics faculty, and the development economics school at National Institute of Development Administration (Nida).

The data collected five keywords -- political rally and conflict, the government's measures to control political violence, parliament dissolution and new general elections, revolution and coup, constitution amendment and political reform.

"The articles about political reform represented around 50% of total political instability articles from the late of 2016, and have has contributed to higher political uncertainty. We can conclude that election does not confirm political stability," Mr Pongsak said.

Yutthana Sethapramote, professor at Nida's School of Development Economics, said the economic impact of 0.4 percentage points per year on the country's economic expansion over the past 20 years stemmed from political uncertainties beginning from political rallies, dissolution of parliament, new general elections and political reform.

Over the past two decades, political instability delivered the hardest blow to private investment by taking 1.5 percentage points per year on average away from the country's private investment growth.

"Thailand's economy has the potential to grow at 4% and private investment growth should be at least 6%. Economic growth is above 4%, but private investment growth is still below GDP growth. Political uncertainties due mainly to political reform could be the key negative factor that dampens private investment," he said.

These negative factors largely dent investment demand for four industries -- hotels, construction, real estate, and transport, said Mr Yutthana.

Political conflict hurts the economy but recovery is quick, while political reform requires longer time in terms of both impact and rebound. The impact from political uncertainties on the capital market is faster than uncertainty from political reform, he said.

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