The World: Insider's view - Thailand

Time will tell whether Thailand's military coup will bring benefits to the marketing communications industry, Tim Isaac writes.

It was perplexing to read the world's concern for us poor souls coping with Thailand's 18th coup in 72 years. "Military coup" hardly suggests democratic legitimacy or stability. But our latest coup on 19 September was bloodless, highly popular, in Bangkok at least, and seemed to provide yet another public holiday together with photo-ops for family outings and gaping tourists in front of the tanks, most of which were festooned with yellow ribbons and roses: the colour of the King. This coup probably did more to safeguard constitutional democratic rule than to undermine it.

So in the short term we are all in a much better position than the world seems to think - however much the Western press takes a simplistic and fundamentalist view on democracy. The baht continues to ride high against the dollar and the stock market experienced only the slightest of short-term hiccups.

In the longer term, however, a political hiatus of this kind doesn't do us much good. Who will be recognised to negotiate critical trade agreements with the US and Japan? Who will authorise major infrastructure projects? How much long-term damage is done to the confidence of foreign direct investors? And the political hiatus could last quite a while. The question for us is: How does the country return to any form of democratically elected civil government without that government being the same as the old deposed one - in other words, a return to Thai Rak Thai and Khun Thaksin?

So for the marketing communications industry, after several years of boom, we are in for a time of uncertainty and the usual holding back by clients inclined to keep purses closed until the future is clearer. And this caution comes on top of an economic situation that was already beginning to show signs of indigestion after years of excessively exuberant domestic spending.

But are there any plus sides in prospect? Well, we may get less of the Thaksin regime showboating on public issues. For instance, the regulations on alcohol advertising have become as restrictive as on tobacco, and mainly so that the old government could display their concern for the number of road fatalities. It's much easier to ban alcohol advertising than to attempt to get people to learn how to drive or to actually take driving tests.

And while the Thaksin government took many, much lauded initiatives in negotiating trade agreements within ASEAN, Asia Pacific and on the world stage, at the same time foreign involvement or influence within the Thai economy has been a target for criticism and discouraged, almost to the point of isolationism. So along with many other expats working in Thailand, I wait to see whether my presence is more, or less, welcome now that he is gone.

- Tim Isaac is the vice-chairman of Ogilvy in Asia-Pacific and is based in Bangkok.


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