TITLE

Wrong Man

AUTHOR(S)
Kurlantzick, Joshua
PUB. DATE
February 2004
SOURCE
New Republic;2/23/2004, Vol. 230 Issue 6, p15
SOURCE TYPE
Periodical
DOC. TYPE
Article
ABSTRACT
This article looks at the rise of Thaksin Shinawatra. Thaksin now dominates the airwaves, from financial shows featuring his investment theories to sports stories about his plans to buy European soccer clubs. Indeed, it would be difficult to exaggerate the level of celebrity that Thaksin, a telecommunications tycoon before entering office, has attained in Thailand. Billboards throughout Bangkok carry his likeness, pop stars warble odes to him, and business books he recommends are featured at the city's leading bookstores.The reasons for Thaksin's extraordinary popularity, explains James Klein, Bangkok representative for the Asia Foundation, are that he has presided over solid economic growth, taken tough stands against Thailand's social ills, and demonstrated a combination of outsized public persona and can-do attitude--think an Asian Ross Perot without the wackiness. Thaksin has become so popular, in fact, that he is poised to assume the mantle of leadership of Southeast Asia from Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamed, who recently retired from office. The charismatic Thaksin (he once led an aerobics session for 47,000 Thais) used his money to launch a U.S.-style media campaign, plastering the airwaves with populist promises--to provide each Thai village with nearly free health care, for example--designed to distinguish Thai Rak Thai from the neoliberal Democrats, who had opened the economy and reduced links between top businesses and the government. Meanwhile, deficit spending has created spiraling public debt, and government pressure on banks to lend to certain companies has resulted in bad loans--Standard and Poor's has estimated that they comprise 30 percent of the assets in Thailand's financial system.
ACCESSION #
12257117

 

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