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16 Oct, 2020

Thailand in crisis: Applying draconian medical solutions to political problems risks killing the patient

Bangkok – For several years, the Thai Travel & Tourism industry has marketed “Health & Wellness” as a major competitive niche. Campaigns have highlighted grassroots preventive measures such as Thai massage and meditation alongside curative capabilities such as qualified medical practitioners and high-tech, well-managed hospitals.

Today, that holistic medical formula is entirely missing in the political realm as the country faces a “Health and Wellness” crisis at the national level. Long-simmering social, political and economic ailments are bubbling up to the surface. But the treatment being meted out seems to place viruses and protestors in the same boat — they must be suppressed and exterminated at any cost. While that may have worked in dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic, applying the same draconian solution politically is fraught with danger and risks killing the patient.


A year that began with a health crisis and then graduated to an economic crisis is now set to end with a political crisis of unprecedented triple-whammy magnitude.

In the past when the Thai body politic malfunctioned, a wise and learned doctor was on hand to ease the pain. This doctor sought to treat both the symptoms and gave guidance on how to heal the cause. The short-term fix was accepted gratefully by the Thai body politic, but the long-term cure was repeatedly ignored, thus guaranteeing a recurrence of the problem.

Today, sadly the doctor is no longer here. An aggressive “political virus” is on the rise. The medical community wants the patient to shut up and put up. It does not want to probe the underlying sicknesses. That will guarantee a viral re-emergence when the system cannot take the pain. If the response is to repeat the same course of “treatment”, the patient will simply die.

That is the natural outcome medically. It could also happen politically.

Even the first step towards seeking a medical treatment makes no sense. A doctor has to be first given a truthful and honest description of the symptoms, no matter how embarrassing. As the following images of global headlines clearly show, the problem is being better analysed abroad. While the Thai medical community has excelled at keeping out imported cases of the Covid-19 virus, keeping out the daily onslaught of foreign news and social media posts is impossible. It can, however, infect the Thai body politic equally badly.






This is now the image of Thailand abroad.

The once robustly healthy Thai Travel and Tourism industry first began to feel the impact of the medical restrictions, followed by the economic impact of the visitor inflow shutdown. Now comes a political crisis.

As I have resolutely maintained over the years, the Tourism Authority of Thailand is a marketing genius. It has helped dig the tourism industry out of many a previous hole. But only when the overall operating environment improved first. No way can it mount a decent marketing recovery campaign when the patient is still in ICU. Visitor confidence will be low, the risks too high. Airlines will be reluctant to restart flights. Countries will jump to take advantage of a major competitor in crisis and grab a bigger chunk of what little business is floating around.

Resolving this triple whammy will be a huge undertaking. Like any medical condition, the earlier it is caught, the better the chances of beating it. In Thailand’s case, merely discussing the problem is illegal. So what hope for a solution?

Having said that, I have seen the country muddle through many a past crises, all of which were seen to be insurmountable at the time. This one seems to be the Mother of All Crises. It will require the Thai system and body politic to marshall all its creativity and, I emphatically add, spirituality to change course and regain the Middle Path.

This beautiful philosophy of balance and harmony is an intrinsic element of Buddhist teachings, explained with great passion and pride to visiting tourists, but never ever actually practised at home. It explains why Thailand has regularly and repeatedly lurched from one crisis to another. The fact that it always bounced back simply made it complacent.

This time, however, it is different — very, very different.