Freedom Schmeedom: Martial Law Boosts Thai Tourism

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in at 12/16/2014 01:30:00 AM
Democracy shmemocracy--Thai tourism prefers martial law over democracy's anarchy.
Even by Southeast Asian standards, Thai politics are, how do I put it, rambunctious. If you want me to explain Thai politics, it's very simple: a Shinawatra family member or one of its toadies wins popular elections by offering populist programs that are financially unsustainable. Eventually, the old-guard of royalists and the Bangkok elite kick out the Shinawatra-ites through either legal maneuvers or military coups. Both have been used already. All the while, the Thai economy suffers as protests by both sides paralyze transportation in and around the capital.

As most readers should know, tourism is one of the largest industries in Thailand, accounting for about 10% of GDP. Unfortunately, the run-up to and the coup earlier this year dissuaded many would-be visitors from going to Thailand. If we were to follow the conventional Western narrative, things ought not to have improved with the ascent of an unaccountable military junta to state leadership. After all, what incentives does it have to improve the tourism situation when it knows the consequences of doing nothing are next to, well, nothing?

As it turns out, however, the generals are actually improving on the situation which preceded them. As an article boldly declares, martial law remains--and the travel and tourism industry loves it:
Thailand remains under Martial Law - and the travel and tourism industry loves it. It appears the country is orderly and safe - this is mirroring also to the tourism industry. Visitors feel at ease. Less fraud, less thefts, the country is functioning. If you visit or work in Thailand, you would not think the government all over the kingdom had put drastic restrictions in place.
This despite various complaints about the junta allegedly reneging on vows to pave the way for elections and the "normalization" of politics. IMHO, if more elections mean Thailand reverts to the old pattern of Thaksin-aligned candidates winning and eventually being removed by legal maneuvers of military coup, then the present situation is preferable:
Human Rights Watch however said in a statement this week that Thailand “had fallen into an apparently bottomless pit.” To make it worse for Human Rights Watch Thailand’s defense minister says a general election originally promised for next year will be delayed until 2016 as the martial law imposed all over the country in May remains in place.

Prawit Wongsuwan said Thursday that the general election will not be held next year, citing certain groups’ opposition to the ruling junta as one of the reasons behind the delay. Prawit, who is also a deputy prime minister, said that the vote would be delayed as more time was also needed to draft a new constitution. Prime Minister and junta leader Prayuth Chan-ocha, who seized power in a military coup in May, had earlier promised elections for late 2015.
How worrying is the indefinite extension of martial law in Thailand? I am quite frankly more concerned with creating an environment of stability in which the old pattern of Thaksinite--purge--Thaksinite--purge repeats itself over and over. It has not done Thailand any good in terms of establishing a predictability and stability that allows investors to establish a law-and-order situation that can remove political risks that have surrounded the country since Thaksin was first ousted from office.

Bottom line: Save the freedom 'n' democracy schtick for the white people; out here in the rest of the world people have larger things to worry about. The say you can't argue with results, and the numbers don't lie: tourism is improving under the junta after the 22 May coup. See for yourselves:

                          Oct.   Sept.    Aug.    July    June     May   April
                          2014    2014    2014    2014    2014    2014    2014
Total Arrivals (’000)    2,181   1,856   2,076   1,915   1,559   1,737   2,022
 YoY%                     6.1%   -7.0%  -11.9%  -10.9%  -24.4%  -10.7%   -1.7%

Occupancy Rate           58.6%   51.0%   55.0%   49.3%   40.8%   46.4%   54.8%

What's more, other sectors also seem to be recovering after the anarchy that pervaded Thai politics for such a long time:
All while a junta steers the economy. “It’s so far, so good,” says Mark Mobius, executive chairman of San Mateo, California–based Templeton Emerging Markets Group. Mobius, who oversees about $45 billion from his offices in Hong Kong and Singapore, is so bullish on Thailand that he has made the nation of 68 million the largest geographical component of his $13.2 billion Templeton Asian Growth Fund, ahead of China and India.

Apart from strengths in manufacturing, agriculture and tourism, Mobius is also impressed by Thailand’s resilience in the face of previous political and economic shocks. “I think they will pull through, like they have in the past,” he says. Medical tourism is doing its part. A gauge of 15 Thai hospital stocks, boosted by medical tourism, leapt 54 percent in 2014 as of Nov. 18. Among the prime beneficiaries of these soaring valuations are three of Thailand’s billionaire dynasties. 
So there you are. Developmental authoritarianism is not an oxymoron; nor has it gone out of fashion since history has apparently not ended.