First of all, my best wishes for the New Year. I hope you all had a good time and are keen to get back to work, full of renewed energy. Personally, I’m really thankful Christmas and New Year are behind us as, apart from Songkran (the Thai New Year), it’s one of the times of the year I appreciate the least. In this column I’ll briefly look back on 2007 before making some predictions for the year that lies ahead.
I spent the final days of 2007 on Ko Chang (Elephant Island) in the Gulf of Thailand. Although I have been quite a regular visitor there over the past years, I have decided that I won’t return anymore. Without going into too much detail or being too critical, let’s just say that the place has lost most of its charm to me and that the development going on there is – in my humble opinion – not sustainable and will just turn the island into another ugly and overpriced tourist trap. Despite the advertisements claiming the opposite, Ko Chang is not a world-class destination; nor is Suwannapoom in Bangkok the best airport in the world. Come to think of it, I’d be reluctant to recommend a holiday in Thailand to friends or family nowadays.
So what happened in 2007? The main international stories of 2007 that I remember are the worldwide awakening to the fact that global warming might actually be a real threat after all, the short-lived but fierce uprising by Burmese monks and ordinary citizens fed up with their military dictators, the ongoing tragedy in Darfur, the turmoil in the financial markets leading to a global credit crunch and the first run on a bank in modern history and the tragic death of Benazir Bhutto, brutally assassinated shortly after her return to her home country. Education-wise, the collapse of Nova, the biggest English language school in Japan, deserves a mention.
Also, let’s not forget the new batch of world leaders coming to the fore in 2007 (Brown, Sarkozy, Rudd, Fukuda), Al Gore receiving a Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts, and the continuing plight of Aung San Suu Kyi, the Burmese pro-democracy icon who remains under house arrest. I suppose the war in Iraq should get a mention with its relentless suicide bombers still wreaking havoc and the rising disgruntlement of US citizens with George’s disastrous adventure, but it is clear that global interest in this seemingly endless conflict has been waning.
Although many Thais seem to think that 2007 was a bad year for their country, to me it was just business as usual. The main stories I remember were the public referendum for the new constitution (approved by 60% of the population), the run-up to the December elections and the resurrection of the defunct That Rak Thai Party under the name of the People Power Party, and the elections themselves with the aforementioned PPP as the clear winner.
There was also the ongoing slaughter in the restive South, where rebels keep killing and beheading innocent people for no apparent reason (do they really want independence?), the numerous stories about the struggling economy (although 2007 was a top year for Thai exports), the fact that schools nationwide received the authorisation to increase classroom sizes as an ill-conceived panacea for the lack of classrooms and teachers (classes can now have up to 50 students if I remember correctly, but that’s irrelevant as 30+ students in a class is already too high to get a quality education). Finally, the Jatukarn Ramathep amulet craze and the King’s brief hospitalisation kept Thais spellbound in 2007.
Many Thais had the impression that, economically, 2007 was a bad year. Although Thailand lagged behind most other ASEAN countries in terms of growth, the country’s economy still grew by about 4 per cent. I suspect the people’s unfavourable impression was especially fuelled by rising oil prices and the realisation that the government wouldn’t keep bailing out its gas-guzzling citizens and industries any longer. Thais should start waking up to the fact that global oil prices affect everyone and that the only remedy is to start economising fuel. State subsidies will not accomplish this as they are seen by most as a get-out-of-jail-free card and rather lead to an increase instead of a decrease in fuel consumption.
So far for 2007, now what about 2008? Internationally, the US presidential elections will dominate the world headlines, with a predictable win for Hillary Clinton as the first female president in US history. Other topics that will dominate international news are Pakistan and global warming.
Although global warming will continue to attract the attention it deserves, I still feel that equal efforts ought to be made to combat pollution in general and the depletion of the Earth’s natural resources if mankind is to survive the 21st century. As for Pakistan, it’s anyone’s guess what the outcome of its precarious situation will be.
For Thailand, one can only hope that the newly elected politicians will be able to form a fair and democratic government, taking into consideration the delicate situation the whole country is facing. Reconciliation between the pro- and anti-Thaksin groups will be vital, as well as bridging the gap between the wealthy and the poor with sustainable policies instead of populist hand-outs. Other priorities of the next government should include finding a solution for the unrest in the Deep South, weeding out corruption at all levels and improving and reforming education, just to name a few. I predict that few of these wishes will come true though.
For myself, I predict that I’ll stay just another year in the Land of Smiles. It seems that the longer you stay in Thailand, the more it grows on you but at the same time the more it gets to you.