The Thai elite is the envy of anti-Putin elements in Russia and for good reason. Vladimir Putin, one of the civilized world’s most despised strongmen, continues to make a mockery of the shrinking ranks of anti-government protesters while consolidating his power across all fronts.
There is even a joke that goes like this: A day will come that Gary Kasparov, the former world chess champion, will be the solitary figure in the anti-Putin protests.
Putin’s grip on power is a mystery to those steeped in democratic traditions. He rules using an iron hand, the economy has been based on the tenuous prices of oil and gas, his invocation of a Western threat and evil designs from the US are what make up his foreign policy. The much-vaunted economic might of the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China) is now seriously doubted. Yet, Putin has marginalized the protesters and is extra-busy consolidating his hold on power through the blending of xenophobia, authoritarianism and phony populism.
Protesting on whim
The Thai elite and middle class based in capital Bangkok and nearby urbanized areas, meanwhile, are the class of protesters at the other end of the spectrum. They have no trouble crippling the capital on a very short notice to demand the ouster of a democratically elected prime minister, this time Yingluck Shinawatra. . And she is not even ruling with an iron hand or raiding the treasury. The guardians of democratic practices have no beef against her. Her sin: She is Thaksin’s sister and a mere Thaksin proxy and therefore, she will do no good.
Over the past few days, and with no economic meltdown and grievous social problems to speak of, the Thai elite and the middle class, have been precisely doing that, a development that is about to dent the economic robustness of Thailand and destabilize a normally functioning government.
How can protesters cripple Bangkok based on whim and at the same time suggest an undemocratic way of changing the government leadership? Eat your heart out, Mr. Kasparov. Right now, there is no elite in the world that is as assertive as the Thai elite.
Yingluck, this is worth pointing out, is not even reviled in the international arena.
The woes of Yingluck, who some suggest would make a fine First Lady for PNoy, a bachelor only a few years older than Yingluck, inevitably gives rise to this question: Will the rage of Bangkok spill over to Manila?
Will PNoy be the next Yingluck?
The answer? No. Not right now. Not in the immediate future.
Here is the answer to the why. No one would initiate and fund a destabilization plot. The wealthy, from the rentiers to the industrialists, are having the best time of their lives under President Aquino. And there is no vibrant, functioning middle class to speak of. We have some sort of a middle class but millions of them are in overseas work sites. And they are too busy making a living that they do not bother about the most brazen acts of corruption- plus the most impossible acts of incompetence – back home.
When this middle class was asked to stage a “ no-remittance day” to protest the capers of Janet Napoles and her legislator-cohorts, how did the OFWs react: they just sent more money home.
Two UC Berkeley-based economists, the French duo of Pikkety and Saez , have made in-depth studies on the level of inequality in the US and this was their saddest finding . The income gains from 2009 to 2012 were gobbled up by the top 1 percent and very little went to the 99 percent. This is the same case here (or it could be worse) year after year but we don’t have the likes of Pikkety/Saez that track down the critical issue of income distribution and the great inequality.
And why would the Philippine rich and the super rich shake and upend this kind of income distribution?
The super rich rule
The largest investment plays in town are the PPP and if you look at how the individual project offerings are structured, they are only for the major players, for the companies owned by people in the list of the Top 40 wealthiest Filipinos . Some Triple AAA construction companies are even inadequate to participate in the bidding for the PPP projects, huge and capital intensive as they are.
The juiciest contracts designed by government have been designed for the super rich.
The most lucrative legal practice in town is now in the area of mergers and acquisitions (M&As) because the giants have been acquiring the weaker competitors to tighten their hold on the most strategic and lucrative economic sectors . The business pages of the newspapers don’t even bother to state the full name of the moguls in their stories and commentaries – they go by the first letter of their name, middle name and surname (all caps, of course ).
Even Jamie Dimon or the Koch brothers have not been elevated to that status by the US business writers .
The government ‘s regulatory regime is two-tiered. In the provinces, small enterprises cannot get business permits without being bled dry at the LGU level. Here, the regulatory framework has been tailored to suit the needs of the major players.
The tax drive may be a high-profile one but the targets are those at the level of Manny Pacquiao or ukay-ukay importers or pawnshop owners. The Top 40 wealthiest families are never bothered by the tax people.
Right now, no one would fire up the embers of government discontent . Those with the capacity and money to organize protests are too busy making their pile—at the expense of you and me, the forgotten 99 percent.