Brown Bag Lecture Series

Thailand's Crisis: Who Cares About the Economy?

Thursday, 25 February 2010

Co-sponsor: WEAI as part of the “Global Financial Crisis” series

Duncan McCargo, Professor of Southeast Asian Politics, School of Politics and International Studies, University of Leeds gave his views about the economy and the tumultuous political situation in Thailand. Despite the global economic downturn, Thailand has been convulsed since mid-2008 with internal political problems which have culminated in dramatic and highly damaging events such as the November 2008 Bangkok airport occupation and the abandoned Pattaya ASEAN summit of April 2009. Protestors on both sides of the yellow/red, pro-Thaksin vs pro-monarchy divide have acted in complete disregard for business considerations such as the need to sustain tourism and the desire to maintain levels of international investment. Professor McCargo argued that recent developments in Thailand illustrate the limitations of economic arguments as explanations for political behaviour; the Thai elite and much of the country's populace have demonstrated a persistent preference for 'irrational' over 'rational' choices, acting contrary to their collective and individual economic interests because of an over-riding sense of intense political polarization.

The ongoing political turmoil in Thailand is the result of a deep rooted conflict within Thai society surrounding the legitimacy of the Thai state, Professor McCargo explained. Does the legitimacy of the Thai nation lay with the Thai people or the monarchy? As long as this conflict remains unsolved, the political situation in Thailand will remain volatile.