Next Stop Camelot?
Not since the vaunted presidency of John F. Kennedy, nearly four and a half decades ago, has the hot seat in the White House garnered such worldwide attention. While many compared the term of Kennedy as a throwback to the mythical world of Camelot; no doubt Barack Obama must have woken up the day after his inauguration and, in something akin to lost drunken weekend, wondered just how he got himself into this "save the cheerleader, save the world" storyline. It's worse than a bad sitcom and, unlike even the worst hangover, this is going to last at least four long years.
Harking back to the 1960's, the world was indeed a chaotic place. Emerging democracies in far away places like Africa, Asia and South America were suffering growing pains and the 'red menace' of communism posed an ongoing threat; fueling paranoia, war and a true division between races and nations.
While this was the era of civil rights, the birth of a new generation of young political activists and flower power, it was also the start of a long march forward, through media and business, of a more consolidated and linked world. Financial markets were starting to realize that entire new markets existed beyond the intersection of Main Street and Wall Street.
Meanwhile, back in 2009, democracy remains a fragile concept at every corner of the planet. While communism, for the most part, has gone the way of the vinyl record; terrorism and cultural conflict, coupled with religious fervor, have taken their place at the top of the list of potential doomsday scenarios. Back this onto a financial downturn that blindsided nearly everyone, taking on the rich, poor and in-betweens without any bias, and we've got a witches brew of trouble brewing that just keeps on boiling over with flames now licking the night sky.
Which takes us back to Obama. Its easy to picture him lying in the White House in an unfamiliar bed, on the first day of a new job desperate to make an impression, and deciding if he really wants to get up and save the world. That die has already been rolled and, while a collective set of foreign eyes are focused on the leader of the free world, here in Thailand things seem to be moving at a very slow speed.
While the stabilization of the Abhisit government has been well received, and strife in the big mango has subsided, Thailand, which has stuck its head in the sand regarding domestic politics for nearly two years, is hardly making progress on economic reforms. In today's climate you are either going forward or backward; there is no middle ground. While the positive effects of the new government has pushed us forward a little, a much bigger swell has gathered and has thrown us back into a much larger maelstrom; something akin to the wave that struck the fishing boat in "The Perfect Storm."
Abhisit and Obama are indeed strange bedfellows, but not in completely different situations. The fate of their nations economies firmly rest upon their political willpower, vision and ability to get things done. In the past, Thailand was able to ride along comfortably in the wake of its more developed neighbors, Hong Kong and Singapore, and more recently the new tigers of China and India.
In today's market place it's every man for themselves and it requires a big effort to reach the surface just to get a breath of fresh air. The past 12 months have been costly and when you speak to international risk managers on the prospects of reversing the local economy; they consistently place this country in the lower echelons when making comparisons.
For real estate in Phuket we rely, and will continue to do so, on foreign investment. What's missing from government reforms are changes in ownership laws so foreigners can own property on a freehold basis, an absence of debt for overseas buyers and an inability for most developers to obtain bank gearing.
Tourist visas have gone backwards. Those who enter Thailand across land borders are given only 15 days on arrival, instead of thirty, making it more difficult for those wishing to spend money in the Kingdom to do so. Currently, the reactions from the institutional overseas investment market and foreign chambers of commerce have highlighted that the current agenda offers nothing significant in attempting to bring foreign money back after its rapid migration in the past few years.
The reality is that the current property market is like a barren desert, and, while there is some demand at the very top and bottom of the property markets, it's like ordering a cheeseburger and not getting the meat.
We all hope for the best for Abhisit and Obama and their respective challenges. Democracy at the end of the day is, in principal, a good thing. At the same time, the servicing of needs in a market such as Phuket, where tourism and property are such significant economic drivers of growth and prosperity, will hopefully fall under a greater national spotlight in the coming months. While it's nice to sleep in, it's high time to get up and out of bed.