In my last article I wrote that Singapore’s biggest challenge was to select the 4th generation team to run the country, after Lee Hsien Loong’s departure. What about Thailand? Who will lead the country following the next general election?
The largest difference between Thailand’s and Singapore’s governments is that the latter is politically stable. Since Singapore’s founding in 1965, the country has been governed by the People’s Action Party (PAP). Lee Kuan Yew held the PM position for 31 years; Goh Chok Tong served for 13 years; the incumbent Lee Hsien Loong has been serving for 17 years. That is an average of 20.3 years for each PM. Moreover, PAP has won all seats or a supermajority in every election. Government stability therefore is one of the secret sauces of Singapore, aiding their long-term planning and strategies.
Let’s look at Thailand. We have had 29 PMs since the establishment of constitutional monarchy in 1932. Divide 89 years by 29 PMs, each PM served on average three years. To be sure, this average doesn’t do justice to the reality where more than 10 PMs are military leaders. And where coups are staged more often than the release of new Marvel Universe films. The longest PM was General Prem Tinsulanonda – eight years, followed by the incumbent General Prayuth at seven years. The longest PM who won through election was Thaksin Shinawatre, serving over five years.
What does all this mean? It furnishes my view that Thailand’s government throughout history has been fractious, weak, and unstable. The possibility of a coup was always around the corner like the next seasonal flu. Unstable government meant not much work got done. Half of the time was spent fighting off corruption charges and scandals, typical of second-world politics. This invariably meant the private sector did the heavy lifting in expanding the economy and creating overall wealth.
My thought is that the next government must be led by a civilian leader whom the military approve and won’t hold back by staging a coup. He/she must have the people’s consensus via election. Moreover, this leader should not be a military or a bureaucrat for the reason that they are clearly not competent enough to manage this fast-paced metaverse-matrix-digital currency world we inhabit. This is a big ask, I know. This person must be worldly and educated overseas. Why? Because Thai education cannot and will never produce regional-class, let alone world-class, leaders from its current educational model of obedience and unfree thinking. (Remember my article on commonsense?) The leader needs to be fluent in English, or even better, fluent in English and Mandarin. You speak these two languages – you engage the whole world like the Singaporeans.
I confess I don’t know who the next PM will be just as I don’t know how sausages are really made. For, there are too many variables in selecting the PM and I don’t have access to the supercomputer IBM Watson. That said, one candidate I want to pitch is Vikrom Kromadit – the 68-year-old founder of Amata industrial estates. He fits the above criteria. Graduated in Taiwan, a self-made man, worldly, and importantly he is accepted in most political and business circles. His strength would be to bolster Thailand’s economy, bringing in foreign companies and investors for collaboration. In the past he was offered the PM position on several occasions, which he declined.
I had the pleasure of inviting him for a live audience QA session last week. When asked if he was interested in entering politics, he succinctly stated “politics is business.” That soon he would reach 70 and would want to focus on his Amata Foundation.
Another audience member asked if he could help with the malnourished elephants in Chon Buri, effectively putting him on the spot. Without missing a beat, he replied that he preferred to teach people to fish than give them fish. Since Thais don’t value elephants as much as the tourists, when Covid-19 hit it destroyed local tourism, wiping off income to feed those elephants. Consequently, he suggested that she bring those elephants to his natural land reserves until tourism picks up. This, to me, was smart-thinking. The long-term solution for the malnourished elephants was to reignite tourism. You deal with the tourism problem to solve the elephant problem.
On gambling, he said he didn’t condone it. That it was better to invest in real skills to increase productivity rather than playing with luck. (Agreed.)
On drug dealing and corruption, there was only one solution as far as he was concerned: Tough punishment. No get-out-of-jail card regardless of your last name. Tough and fair laws will give a chance for Thailand to develop whereas ‘quasi-Buddhism-forgiveness style’ will give us the status-quo.
I also believe the country’s leader will need to take a firm position on regional politics. Smiling, hoping Myanmar civil-war will go away is irresponsible and wishful thinking. As witnessed by the number of refugees fleeing across the border, their problem has become ours much like the Mexican drug war has become US’s problem. (To be sure, most of the demand for drugs comes from the US.)
Whether Vikom will change his mind is up to him. And whether Thai voters across the spectrum will accept him also remains to be seen.
Here is my parting philosophy for today’s millionaires and billionaires. If you are worth $10 million, spend it on any way you want. You deserve it. But once your net worth is over $100 million, you have responsibility to the society by giving back in the form of education, jobs, and R&D. Society has given you fertile soil to grow your tree. It is only logical for you to grow the next tree for future generations.
Decent billionaires give back; nasty billionaires monopolise. Let’s hope more Thai billionaires will choose the former over the latter.