In perhaps the most troubling development yet, the Thai junta appears to be moving to take over state-owned firms. While the junta came into power originally to quell protests and stabilize the country, it increasingly looks like the junta could be digging in for the long haul. The most recent move by the strong-armed military has been to increase its influence over Thailand’s many state-owned and affiliated firms.
Junta has stopped directly seizing control of of the state-owned firms
So far, the junta has stopped short of moving to directly seize control of of the state-owned firms. Instead, military leaders have begun to pressure the heads of state-owned companies to resign and so far no company heads have put up much of a fight. The question is now whether the junta leaders are merely looking to clean house or are instead moving to entrench themselves.
Thai government firms are major players in telecommunications, air travel, banking, energy, and other vital sectors. So far, the heads of Krung Thai Bank, Airports of Thailand, the National Lottery Office and others have been forced to step down. With the junta increasing its power, more leaders will likely be forced from their position in the weeks to come.
Will Thai military give up power?
If the junta is looking to increase its grip over Thai society, rather than simply getting rid of the many political insiders who were appointed to head up state owned firms by Prime Minister Yingluck, it may be a sign that the Thai military isn’t looking to step down this time around. Thailand’s military regularly cleans house and has staged numerous coups in the country’s modern history. Usually, however, junta leaders move quickly to restore civilian rule.
It’s important to note, however, that the upper ranks of many companies are political insiders with connections to the now disposed Yingluck administration. If the junta is serious about removing the influence of her disgraced administration, it will have little choice but to shake up leadership within state-owned firms.
So far it appears that the Thai junta is aiming more to clean house. The junta has lifted the national curfew and is launching a campaign to unite the country. This is all part of a “happiness” campaign. If the junta doesn’t begin to curtail its own power in the months to come, however, there is a risk that the country could fall under permanent military control.
The junta has continued to ban protests, much to the ire of Western observers, but for a country looking to avoid widespread instability, such a move may be prudent, at least for now.
Thailand’s state-owned firms are huge
Many Asian countries have invested massive amounts of public money into setting up state-owned firms. In China, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, and elsewhere state-owned firms make up huge portions of the economy. The success of these firms varies from country-to-country, with many of Singapore’s firms being among the most efficient and profitable companies in the world. China’s record is more mixed, with some firms performing very well while others lag far behind.
Thailand’s state-owned firms aren’t leading the globe in terms of efficiency or performance, but they are massive entities controlling vast amounts of wealth. In 2005, Thailand’s state-enterprises, which currently number 56 strong, controlled roughly $150 billion dollars worth of assets. Over the last several years, however, this amount has grown rapidly. In 2013, it’s believed that state-owned firms controlled over $350 billion dollars worth of assets.
Revenue has also been growing in line with asset increases. In 2005, state-owned firms pulled in about $60 billion dollars. By 2013 this number had grown to roughly $150 billion dollars. It’s important to keep in mind that Thailand’s national GDP is only $386 billion dollars, so state-owned firms account for a massive portion of the economy.