Crisis forces entrepreneurs’ democratic maturity

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The country’s political maelstrom has not only produced a new kind of urban protest culture, it has also inculcated in the business community a new sense of self-respect and political education.

Corrupt and self-serving politicians can no longer expect the new breed of entrepreneurs to be invariably subservient to their power – “grease our palms and just shut up” – like before.

IF it’s any consolation, I have found that not everything is gloomy, depressing and miserable in the current political pandemonium. At least one positive side effect of the political chaos is that the country’s private sector has become incredibly bolder in expressing its political views. Take a close look and you can probably detect that the new breed of business leaders, unlike their predecessors of a few generations past, are making it loud and clear that they won’t keep their political thinking to themselves anymore.

They have proved beyond doubt that they are even ready, when the situation warrants it, to tell the government: Get stuffed!

Not so long ago, most Thai businessmen would have been either keeping their mouths appropriately shut or making immediate appearances at the offices of the politicians poised to take power to offer their public congratulations, no matter how despicable their records or performances.

After having suffered one serious blow of political chaos after another, local business leaders have undergone a remarkable transformation. First, they came out in the open to oppose any coup attempt. Then, when Samak Sundaravej exercised his power as prime minister to declare a state of emergency, they promptly saw through his ploy to use the Army chief to crack down on the protestors. The business community leaders uncharacteristically issued a statement calling upon him to lift that order immediately.

Perhaps the most audacious decision of the executives of the Thai Chamber of Commerce and the Federation of Thai Industries was to issue a joint statement calling upon ex-premier Somchai Wongsawat to either step down or dissolve the House to call a new election, and to ask The People’s Alliance for Democracy to disperse.

For Thai businessmen to demonstrate such a degree of independence against the powers that be is clearly unprecedented. In fact, when a government spokesman angrily suggested in public that three major conglomerates – Bangkok Bank, the CP Group and Saha Group – were backing the PAD protestors, the denials were at best sombre and subdued. The tycoons simply said they remained “neutral” over the conflict.

For the country’s business leaders to not kow-tow to politicians and refuse to condemn the anti-government protestors must be considered a highly significant sign of democratic maturity indeed.

Now they have taken one step further. A few hours after the Constitution Court ruled on Tuesday to disband three political parties – People Power, Chat Thai and Machima Tipathai – and ban their 109 executives from politics for five years, the first list of possible candidates for the vacant premiership immediately caused great consternation around the country.

Even before the most vocal academics offered their usual reservations and scepticism, the joint business organisations went into an aggressive mode of action. Throwing political correctness and subtlety to the wind, the business chiefs declared that they would like to see the old power clique give up their grip and let the opposition Democrat Party form the core of the new government.

Had things been “business as usual”, you wouldn’t have expected to hear this line from the president of the Federation of Thai Industries, Santi Vilassakdanond, on the radio yesterday morning:

“The two past prime ministers – Samak Sundaravej and Somchai Wongsawat – of the ruling PPP have been given a chance to run the country and they have both failed to lift business and investment confidence. Therefore, we believe that it’s time for a switch in the political alliance to form the next government.”

When the radio host directly mentioned the names of two likely candidates for the premiership from the existing power group (or the “third-generation of Thaksin Shinawatra’s nominees”) – Chalerm Yoobamrung and Mingkwan Saengsuwan – the business tycoon just laughed, and, in a diplomatic but thinly-veiled answer to the none-too-subtle question, said:

“Do we need to mention names at all? I think a lot of people would just shake their heads upon hearing those names.”

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The country’s political maelstrom has not only produced a new kind of urban protest culture, it has also inculcated in the business community a new sense of self-respect and political education.

Corrupt and self-serving politicians can no longer expect the new breed of entrepreneurs to be invariably subservient to their power – “grease our palms and just shut up” – like before.

The “third-generation political nominees” will now have to pay proper respect to the “third-generation business entrepreneurs”. They expect equal treatment and a much higher degree of professional ethics, no less.

By: Yoon / Thai Talk

FURTHER READING

Industry heads call for new style govt

Southern Businessmen: PM Should Resign and Lift State of Emergency

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