A new Prime Minister, a new era of stability for Thailand’s tourism?


BANGKOK, Thailand (eTN) – It was an exceptional result for Thailand’s opposition party Pheu Thai on July 3. By winning an overwhelming majority of the vote – almost 53% of all votes and 262 of the 536 seats in the parliament, this election might finally put in brackets 5 years of political turmoil in the kingdom. The ousting of ex-prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra through a military coup in September 2006 opened the doors to turbulences: 2 governments from Mr. Shinawatra collapsed while Bangkok airports were seized by a group of extreme conservative individuals called “Yellow Shirts” in December 2008.

Despite conciliatory efforts by outgoing Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva to solve social tensions and unite the country, the political crisis reached its peak with the occupation of Bangkok’s business district by the so-called “Red Shirts” during 6 weeks in April/May 2010. Thasin Shinawatra built up its political success through populist measures aimed to help Thailand’s farmers and urban poors. But at the same time, Mr. Shinawatra alienated Thailand’s military and business elites who felt threatened by his own ambitions.

The election hopefully opens then a new era for Thailand. It shows first that despite all political maneuvers to distort democratic results, the majority of people still felt unfazed and confirmed once more their previous political choice. Second, big change is the likely choice of Yingluck Shinawatra, Thaksin’s sister, as Thailand’s Prime Minister. It will be the first time that a woman will hold this function in the kingdom, a sign of an opening society. And if military and other factions in the society play fair with the rules of the democratic game, it could also herald a new era of stability and prosperity. The big majority won by the Pheu Thai party could, in fact, help the future administration to be less prone to permanent compromises among various parties forming the governing coalition.

It could then be just a blessing for tourism, which was the sector suffering the most of turmoil over the recent years. Despite a remarkable resilience and quick recovery following all political crises, the kingdom’s instable image probably alienated some travelers – especially first-time visitors. As the Tourism Authority of Thailand recently announced its ambitious target to welcome 19 million foreign travelers by 2012 – up from 16 million last year – peace and stability in the kingdom and a clear long-term vision on tourism development are welcomed.

Another positive issue is the changes which will likely take place at the top of the Ministry of Tourism and the Ministry of Transports. The two outgoing Ministers in Mr. Vejjajiva’s administration were disastrous at best. Chumpon Silpa-Archa, Minister of Tourism, a retired teacher and chairman of Chart Thai Pattana Party, had tourism competences close to zero and did not even speak proper English. This showed, in fact, little interest for his function. Transport Minister Sophon Zarum, from the Bumjaithai Party, showed mostly his corruption skills, notably at purchasing city busses for Bangkok and in Thai Tiger Airways’case. Hopefully, Yingluck Shinawatra might this time choose people with real skills and some passion for their job. Let’s wish to Thailand and the new government good luck then.