02/26/2014, 00.00
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Bangkok's political crisis leads to economic crisis as imports and tourism drop

In January, imports plunged by 15.5 over 2013, the worst result in four years. Computers and parts were down 19 per cent from a year earlier. Exports are off 2 per cent. Thai Airways report losses in excess of US$ 360 million. Hotels confirm a drop in the number of visitors, a trend that is expected to continue.

Bangkok (AsiaNews/Agencies) - The political crisis that has affected Thailand for several months has had negative repercussions for the country's imports, with the biggest drop in more than four years in January.

The tourist sector was also hard hit as alarmed foreign visitors stayed clear of the country's increasing violent streets.

Against a backdrop of government paralysis and clashes between opposing political factions, a broad movement led by Buddhist activists and monks has appealed for peace and national harmony.

Phra Phaisal Visalia, a prominent Buddhist religious leader, said that the cycle of hatred and revenge cannot provide a "peaceful solution" to the conflict.

The venerable, whose is abbot at Wat Sukhato Temple, has urged the parties to the conflict to show their human face and avert an escalation of tension.

As a political solution to the crisis remains distant, Thailand's economy has taken a nosedive, with imports in January dropping by 15.5 per cent over 2013. Not since October 2009 had the economy taken such a tumble.

Imports of computers and parts were down 19 per cent from a year earlier, auto parts were off 31.8 per cent and consumer goods by 5.3 per cent. Exports also dropped 2 per cent.

For experts, the trend for businesses is to "postpone orders" as shoppers stay away from malls.

Thailand's political crisis has badly affected the tourist sector as well.  In 2013, Thai Airways International reported a loss of 12 billion baht (US$ 369 million).

In the past three months, the airliner reported the loss of another 5.65 billion baht, a trend that is expected to continue this year.

The Thai Hotel Association reported a 50 per cent occupancy against an 80 per cent average for this period.

In 2013, Thailand had a record 26 million visitors, but in the last two months of the year (which marks the start of the high season), the trend changed. Last month, the arrivals remained unchanged over last year.

Anti-government protests find strong support in the middle class, pro-monarchy circles and in the country's southern regions.

The latest demonstrations have been the worse the country has seen since those of 2010 when riots ended in bloodshed and the death of 90 civilians.

Since the current crisis began, at least 22 people have died with more than 700 injured, this according to hospital authorities in Bangkok.

The protest movement that began in November last year wants to see the ouster of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, who is accused of being a "puppet" in the hands of her brother Thaksin, a billionaire and former prime minister who is in exile to avoid a two-year prison sentence.

The latter is disliked by many people close to the monarchy, who fear he might seek to weaken the system, which is particularly fragile at a time when King Bhumibol Adulyadej, 86, is in poor health.

Parliamentary elections were held on 2 February. Boycotted by the opposition Democrat Party, they were inevitably won by Shinawatra's Pheu Thai Party. However, the electoral process was not completed because the vote could not be conducted in the south, a Democrat Party stronghold.

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