Supachai's Asian history lessons
In a wide-ranging interview, Supachai Panitchpakdi, Thailand's deputy prime minister and director-general-elect of the WTO, talks about the successes and failures of government strategy in bringing Thailand out of the 1997-98 Asian crisis and assesses the prospects for a successful continuation of the work of the WTO
His majesty Bhumibol Adulyadej, the King of Thailand, demonstrated that he keeps a close finger on his country's political pulse - perhaps a more effective one than his ministers - when he delivered his birthday message in December, just a month before general elections. Supachai Panitchpakdi, Thailand's outgoing deputy prime minister and economic supremo, recalls: "His Majesty talked of the WTO [World Trade Organization] and the need for more communication with the public, so that they can understand how free trade can serve the interests of the people and how they can avoid being exploited by other countries. I have taken this [message] to my heart."
The warning was timely, but came too late for the government, which was unceremoniously defeated and dumped at the January elections. The aptly named Thai Rak Thai (Thais love Thais) Party, founded less than two years ago by former police colonel and telecommunications billionaire Thaksin Shinawatra, won a majority of the seats on a populist platform.