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Thailand may have spent the Cold War on the free market side of the Bamboo Curtain but rice socialism still reigns. Price shocks have politicians scrambling to raise rice productivity through irrigation projects, while consumers are now facing new purchasing limits on rice at markets.
Consumers are limited to buying just three bags of rice at the markets. It’s a form of demand side price control made necessary by the supply side price controls exercised by the government. Rice is only allowed to be sold to consumers within certain price bans, which would lead to shortages if market processes were allowed to work themselves out. To avoid market created shortages, the government has decided to preemptively create its own shortages by limiting purchases by consumers.
The next move may be for the Commerce Ministry to release its Strategic Rice Reserves. No really. The government hordes rice in case of shortages here, the way the US government hordes oil. But this possibility may actually lead to further shortages in the long run, as rice farmers may plant fewer crops for fear of downward price pressure from government reserves being released.
All of this is feeding into rumors of a possible military coup. Some say that Thaksin Shinawatra, the populist politician who was ousted in the last coup, may be preparing to come back the same way he was forced out: through a military backed overthrow of the government. He’s popular with the monks and the have-nots of Thailand, and has been spending time in temples across the country. Supposedly this temple tour is to atone–or make merit–for past sins. Thaksin insists that it only looks very much like a political campaign.
The rumors of a Thaksin coup have sparked rumors that his opponents could stage a pre-emptive coup to establish their own version of military rule before Thaksin can build his. No one expects Thailand to become another Burma, but talk of competing coups has many saying it is only a question of who does it first.
– John Carney, who is vacationing in South East Asia, has never stage a coup, military or otherwise.