- Posted February 5, 2014 by
SUMMARY OF LUNCH WITH KORN BY MICHAEL YON
(This is quick an unedited, but accurate. Please excuse any typos as I need to get back to the action.)
Korn is a former Minister of Finance, and current 2nd in charge of the Democrat Party. His boss in charge of the Democrat Party is former Prime Minister Abhisit. Korn is a major figure in Thai politics, a graduate from Oxford. His English is as good as mine. Korn is popular in Thailand, widely respected, and taller than the Jolly Green Giant. In a different life, Korn must have been a basketball player.
I asked readers to help me pose questions, and I read those questions from my iPad. Korn answered all the questions for which there was time. When the words are in "quotes," they are his or my precise words. When not in quotes, the words are my summary.
We begin at a Chinese Restaurant:
Korn launched by introducing a common problem that we see around the world. A leader emerges on the scene of an emerging democracy, such as Thailand, Cambodia, Ukraine, Syria and Turkey, and that leader abuses the lack of maturity of the democracy, and uses a democracy to create a dictatorship. Individuals emerge with extreme influence and take advantage of the country, as Thaksin did here.
Korn said this does not occur in mature democracies, but here the check and balance system does not work, and so an individual can run away with the entire pie of power. They override democratic norms. And so Korn's question is what can be done to harden the democracy so that this cannot continue, to make the democracy resilient and not fragile.
Korn began talking about education reform. To make the democracy resilient, strong education is linchpin. The most important part of this area of conversation was that, despite all the popular sentiment that Thaksin is the bringer of all curses, the reality is that if the democracy were resilient to begin with, someone like Thaksin could not have exploited it to become a dictator. In other words, Thaksin is not the problem, but a symptom of the problem. The problem is that the democracy needs reform so that there will not be another Thaksin.
Education is key -- Korn believes that widespread educational reform can be achieved in twenty years. I politely argued this would take longer, but maybe he is right. Korn strongly believes it can be achieved in twenty years, and of course without that strong belief it cannot happen to begin with. Korn said that over the next seven years, half of the 400,000 teachers in Thailand would retire, so there will be new teachers, and in twenty years there will be a nearly complete turnover. He is confident that serious educational reform can occur in twenty years. Korn argued that South Korea and Japan did this in one generation, and Thailand can, too.
On the one tablet per child fiasco, Korn said what everyone now realizes: it was a fraud. He said the leaders now are all running scared, and it is all linked to the Chinese rice deal that has been cancelled. He then said "the so called Chinese rice deal". Korn said that he put this on his Facebook last night. (In Thai.) He has an English page called "Team Korn in English."
I asked if he will run for party leader, and Korn left the door open with "it depends on what happens," but he hopes it does not come to that because it is best to win the election with the current leader, his boss, Abhisit. He said the best case scenario is that Abhisit wins the elections and remains his boss.
Korn knows that the protestors are not out there for the Democrat Party, but for reform, and if the Democrats had run during this election, it could undermine the larger issue, which is basic reform. Suthep has been able to rally millions of people because he has been able to convince them that this has nothing to do with party politics, and for the Democrats to run, obviously would undermine the PDRC and allies.
Korn sees the movement growing. (As do I.) He said it grew beyond anyone's expectactions. He said the number of people we see at the rally sites is irrelevant, because the support is embedded across society with people who do not regularly turn out to rallies. (Obviously true.)
The government's ability to run the country erodes each day, Korn said. (Obviously true.) The government is losing support from the people, and the banks' refusal to participate in the rice scheme is an example. He said that would have been unimaginable just a few months ago, but today nobody is willing to stick their head out and risk their neck for this government.
He said KTB bank will not get involved with the rice scheme. He said the Government Savings Bank will have to absorb the pressure. KTB has the excuse that it has outside shareholders, whereas Government Savings Bank does not.
I asked, "Is there any way to pay the farmers." "Yes, sell the rice."
Regarding the Chinese deal that fell through yesterday, Korn said, "I don't believe that deal ever existed, and I've said so, since September. It was a scam. And they're now running scared. Like the tablet was a scam. They're running scared. The fact that these deals have been canceled has nothing to do with the Chinese government. It's with the Thais who were involved in this scheme, now being very worried that they won't be able to get away with it. They are both scams."
I asked about the rice pledge scheme, Korn answered, "Thaksin introduced the rice pledge scheme when he first came to government." We talked at length on this topic. When the Democrats were in government, he said, they did it a different way. The Democrats did not pledge, but used an income guarantee scheme, which he said they would go back to, but with some tinkering. He said the guarantee scheme could be improved but essentially had worked well. (I will meet with another rice expert tomorrow, so I will not say more on this until I have done proper homework -- this is complex.)
We talked about the rubber farm problems, and that fiasco, and then to the first car program, and the economic disaster that created. Korn said the biggest disaster was that the first car program encouraged people who were not ready for their first car, to accelerate a purchase.
It costs about 20,000 baht per month to own and operate a car, and a household with man and wife working will only have about 40-50,000 baht to begin with. Result: they defaulted on loans, which flooded the used car market, which badly damaged car manufacturing. The first car scheme damaged everyone: buyer, seller, banks, taxpayers, manufacturers, and clogged the roads. (Fiascos are rarely so perfect, but the rice scheme is an even more perfect fiasco.)
The entire economy is down and purchasing power is down.
I asked Korn about the "Cambodian mercenaries" I hear about every day. Korn said he believes there is truth to the rumors. I said that I am skeptical because nobody catches or kills any Cambodian mercenaries, but that I am still looking into it. There are so many rumors that there might be truth, but I have seen this same pattern in other places. Omnipresent rumors with no captured bodies. (To my knowledge.)
We discussed many other topics but I will save those for background. In summary, Korn answered all of my questions. He is confident that PDRC and associated groups are succeeding, and hopes that this will be over within three months.