Could Military Rule Work? Thai Junta & Phuket

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in ,, at 8/12/2014 01:30:00 AM
Cleaning up paradise.
As a pragmatist, I am not wedded to ideas that "democracy" and "free markets" are necessarily the best solutions in all places at all times. If you want simplistic, crusader-grade pontification, there are many other places for you to visit. For a case in point, consider what was happening to Thailand's famous beach resorts during the years when the Thaksinite red shirts were in power: wiseguys were abusing the system, making private what was public for their own gain. With the ouster of sister Yingluck Shinawatra's regime through a military coup, Westerners were ostensibly aghast at this violation of civil rights. A military coup? How barbaric! Me, I prefer to dwell on outcomes rather than processes, so here it goes.

The truth is that the restoration of order has done much to help shore Thailand's tourism industry after the tumult of the pro-Thaksinite era. Consider is the world-famous beach destination of Phuket. The military junta--there is no point calling it something else--has cracked down on abuses in the resort that made it resemble an overcommercialized tourust trap overcrowded with vendors and others encroaching on the beachfront that is supposed ot be public space:
Raddled by allegations of corruption and mismanagement by inept authorities, the Thai holiday island of Phuket looked destined within a few years to have its once-beautiful beaches destroyed by the side-effects of mass tourism. Since the 2004 tsunami made Phuket even more of a household name around the world, tourism boosters have catered to sharply increasing numbers of visitors, with the island's overwhelmed infrastructure deteriorating rapidly...

Along the foreshores at many beaches, illegal businesses sprang up and grew. Beach clubs predominated, but a visitor could spend hours in a beauty salon on the sand or even buy a time-share property. A constant stream of vendors left tourists little time to snooze. Paradise was evaporating, if it hadn't already.
The military has begun putting these slackers in their place:
Today, all that is changing, due to the arrival of khaki and camouflage-clad soldiers. They tromped Patong, Phuket's main west coast beach, enforcing the message that the hedonistic days of lazing on sunbeds were at an end, along with the vendors' privateering ways. Sand was making a comeback.

Though many Western countries have condemned Thailand's latest coup, it may just have saved Phuket from further decay -- also producing some useful social outcomes for similarly troubled holiday destinations in other parts of the country. All beaches in Thailand are public space by law. The prohibition of private business operations on these public beaches is without exception, but has been ignored on Phuket and some other tourism destinations.
Locals are beginning to understand these guys mean business:
Phuket locals interpreted the concept of public beaches as meaning anyone could use them, so first they added sunbeds, then built thatch and bamboo bars on the shore fronts. Over the years, entrepreneurs joined in, expanding the venues into large restaurants and beachclubs. Some businesses grew to the water's edge. There was no enforcement by authorities to force them off the beach.

Once the army took charge, though, local mayor Ma-Ann Samran, of Cherng Talay, says he began receiving daily visits from officers in civilian clothes. He had no hesitation in admitting he eventually acted to save the beaches in his district out of fear. ''I was genuinely scared,'' Ma-Ann said. ''The Army let me know I had to act.''

After decades of local ''law'' being applied, the Army transformation came at great speed, within days of the May 22 coup.  Graders toppled beach clubs and restaurants, while the sunbeds and umbrellas were carted off in pickup trucks, banned forever. Tourists on all Phuket beaches now sit on towels.
To be fair, it is true that the military junta has been more successful at restoring peace and order than generating economic growth. That said, providing a semblance of order is more likely a prerequisite for economic growth than chaos. So we'll see what happens, but tidying up the beaches is undoubtedly a step in the right direction.