Thailand Believes Western Business Will Support its Junta Rule

By David Allen - 09 Oct '15 11:24AM

Thailand's military government has announced a policy to try to exploit its political control rather than work to rapidly end it as many countries demand.

The chief economic minister for the coup administration of General Prayut Chan-o-cha announced it will aggressively court western businesses by sending out "roadshows" to promote the country as a safe and stable investment choice - because of the military control, not despite it.

Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak, appointed a month ago as economic czar under General Prayut, said in an interview published in Bangkok the touring roadshows would build confidence of potential western businesses.

The military has recently announced a so-called political "roadmap" where it will return to a democratic system around the middle of 2017. An earlier roadmap that promised elections in 2015 was jettisoned in August.

The government under Prayut, who is also prime minister as well as head of the junta regime, believes that a recent trip to the United Nations and a speech to the General Assembly by Prayut has boosted the image of Thailand as a stable country.

"I have instructed other ministers to team up with the private sector for a roadshow, and act as if relations are back to normal," said Somkid in the interview.

Somkid, considered something of a marketing genius and a political survivor in Thailand, was on the other side of the political fence 15 years ago when he became the economic czar of Thaksin Shinawatra. Thaksin was overthrown in a 2006 coup, convicted of using personal influence for profit, and lives in exile in Dubai. But Somkid has prospered and now gets a second chance to mold the country's economy.

It is unclear how this will be received among western business leaders, but human rights groups and most governments are on record as opposing the May 22, 2014, military coup and demanding a swift return to democracy for Thailand.

Authorities in Thailand, which has spent a majority of the past 50 years under military dictators, believe they can fend off foreign demands for civilian rule, while promoting business. This has worked in the past, since business value stable policies far more than the political system.

Thailand's economy under the military has sunk deeply into the doldrums. The World Bank this week called it the "worst performing economy in Asean," the group comprising Thailand and nine geographical neighbours. Ten years ago, it was the best performer.

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