Ambitions derailed

Not all is well in Thailand. The Asian nation has been paralyzed by social unrest since the end of last year, and is now governed by a caretaker administration after results of last February’s general elections were boycotted by the opposition.

But there is one thing Thailand’s two main political parties have long agreed on: the need to shore up the country’s creaking infrastructure. Until mid-March, a whopping B2 trillion (€44 billion; $62 billion) spending plan on train lines, roads and ports was supposed to cut transport costs, even as it pursued the country’s ambition to become the keystone of South-East Asia.

The programme was also aimed at creating 500,000 jobs – more than the number of unemployed people in the country – as well as give a boost to the economy. This would be a welcome help at a time when the political crisis, scaring off tourists and investors alike, has already taken a noticeable toll on GDP growth.

Central to this plan was the construction of a high-speed railway network linking Thailand’s four main regions to Bangkok. The idea was to try and better connect rural Thailand with its major cities, boosting economic competitiveness and social integration in a country that remains one of the least urbanised in Asia. Two of the lines were also part of a project to link China’s Yunnan province with Singapore.

But while the plan’s rationale was accepted by all, the legislative engineering used to finance it – via emergency funding rather than normal budget procedures – was vehemently opposed by the opposition. Concerns about corruption around procurements also arose, and the Democratic Party challenged the ruling Pheu Thai-sponsored bill in the constitutional court.

The verdict, announced on 12 March, was uncompromising: the Court voted to void the bill by eight against zero. And Thailand’s plans to build itself out of the Crisis are now back to square one.