Somkid an unlikely ally for Surayud in bid to discredit ex-PM
Thaksin Shinawatra has been kicked out of office. His Thai Rak Thai Party is about to be dissolved.
His political allies, from Somsak Thepsuthin, Pinij Charusombat to Suwat Liptapanlop, are breaking away to form new alliances. The next goal of Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont is to dismantle the legacy of Thaksinomics once and for all.
And nobody is in a better position to poison Thaksinomics than Somkid Jatusripitak, once one of Thaksin's most trusted aides and his heir apparent.
Surayud's naming of Somkid as the chairman of the International Economic Coordination Committee came as a big surprise. In this fresh role, Somkid will become an official spokesman of the Surayud government in charge of propagating the sufficiency theory to the international community. He is also expected to mount road shows to explain the merits of the sufficiency theory to foreign governments, agencies and investors.
His Majesty the King has prescribed the sufficiency theory along the lines of a philosophical concept, which, similar to Buddhist doctrine, advocates a middle path. The sufficiency theory calls for Thais to adopt moderation and self-immunity from external forces as a way of life. It does not reject globalisation or the modern economy, but in a way it reflects risk management. To be sufficient is to have enough - not to have less, or not to have more than is within one's reach.
His Majesty also advocates Dharma virtue, which emphasises a higher standard than that set by western-style good governance. According to the principles of good governance, you must simply adopt transparency and the best practices in your dealings, while others must be able to check your actions. Still, you may get away with misdeeds even if you operate according to the strict guidelines of good governance. However, practising according to Dharma virtue means that you act according to your conscience to do things well, without prejudice or greed. As such, your actions can withstand any test, moral or related to good governance.
Somkid suggested in his speech delivered at the Sasin School of Business yesterday that sufficiency economics should become an integral part of Thailand's economic development.
Is he making a U-turn? Indeed, he is making a sharp U-turn for his own future.
Somkid was one of the architects of Thai Rak Thai's political marketing and populist policies, which led to the party's landslide election victories in 2001 and 2005. He served as finance minister and deputy prime minister in charge of economic affairs during the six-year reign of Thaksin. The village fund, the Bt30 healthcare programme, the debt moratorium programme for farmers comprised the policy bedrock and accounted for the political successes of the Thai Rak Thai Party.
Later on Thai Rak Thai added housing for the poor, cheaper loans such as those offered through the SML (Small, Medium, Large) programmes and other populist initiatives that grabbed votes. Somkid was also responsible for most of the tourism marketing programmes, which met with little success, such as the Bangkok Fashion City, Elite Card and Kitchen of the World projects.
Somkid was also a hardcore capitalist, advocating free-trade agreements, stock market promotion, unheeded privatisation, and targeting top-level export and GDP growth. Somkid and the Thai Rak Thai Party held to a two-pronged strategy: populist policies for the poor and full-fledged liberalisation and privatisation for the rich.
Relations between Somkid and Thaksin were far from smooth. As finance minister, he made several policy decisions and appointments of key people to the capital market, state enterprises and financial institutions that irked the CEO. As a result, he was sidelined as deputy prime minister. Still, at one point, people saw him as a candidate to succeed Thaksin if something went wrong with the CEO. But it was clear that Thaksin would not tolerate any heir apparent. Purachai Piumsombun was the first to be snubbed.
During the political crisis, Somkid kept a low profile. You never knew what was on his mind. On several occasions he wanted to break away from the dark shadow of the CEO, yet every time he could not bring himself to do so. Without Thaksin, he never could have had all of his political power and would have still been an ordinary academic.
For all the corruption scandals of the Thaksin regime, Somkid kept his mouth shut about the Shin Corp deal although he did come out to support Pojaman Shinawatra in her bid for the Financial Institution Development Fund's plot of land.
Since the coup he has rarely been in the news. Somsak Thepsuthin is trying to form a new party, the Machima Party (the Party that Walks the Middle Path), and he would like to have Somkid as its head. Somkid's image somehow is still good. Recent political talks have centred around whether Somkid really wants to become his own political master or whether he will ever escape from the shadow of Thaksin. By agreeing to join Surayud, Somkid has sent a signal that it is time for him to stand on his own two feet.In the eyes of the local and international communities, the Surayud government's image has been rather poor.
After a series of policy mishaps that hurt its credibility, from the introduction of capital controls to the draft amendment of the Foreign Business Act, Surayud has found it necessary to try to boost confidence in his leadership.
Most important of all, the propaganda war between his government and Thaksin, who is now living in exile, is not over. Thaksin has been giving interviews to the foreign media as well as hiring foreign lobbyists and Edelman, the international public relations firm, to attack the military leadership and the Surayud government, depicting them as causing both political and economic harm to Thailand.
Thaksin's implicit message is that the sufficiency theory, unlike his free-for-all Thaksinomics, is the root of the current fatigue engulfing the country. The foreign media have taken a big bite by supporting his claim that Thaksinomics embraces globalisation and economic liberalisation, while the sufficiency theory, which advocates moderation and self-immunity, is trying to turn the clock back on Thailand.
It will be interesting to watch how Somkid will fight the propaganda war with his former political master. Thaksin must be damn mad by now.