THE LEGATUM PROSPERITY INDEX™ 2016

Bringing Prosperity to Life

Thailand

Ranked 62nd of 149

At a glance

Ranks

62 nd on the Legatum
Prosperity Index™

22nd
64th
99th
59th
30th
86th
121st
28th
79th

SUB-INDEX RANKINGS

In the Prosperity Sub-Index rankings, Thailand performs best on Economic Quality and Social Capital and scores lowest on the Personal Freedom sub-index.

Visit our Rankings table to see how Thailand compares to other countries.

Prosperity Gap

The ‘Prosperity Gap’ takes a country's GDP and uses it as the yardstick to measure a nation's expected Prosperity Index ranking.

With sizeable under-delivery in the Governance and Personal Freedom sub-indices, Thailand has turned a small prosperity surplus into a prosperity deficit over the past decade. Thailand the least efficient among ASEAN countries in delivering prosperity with its wealth.

Note:
In the chart above, each dot represents a country. The curve shows the general tendency with which prosperity increases as GDP per capita increases. If a country falls below the curve, then we can say that compared to all other countries, it is under-delivering prosperity for its citizens. Likewise, if a country rises above the curve, then we can say that it is over-delivering prosperity for its citizens. Learn more about the Prosperity Gap here.

Alternatively, have a look at the Prosperity Gap view on our Rankings table for a full list of countries and to see how each of them are performing on the various sub-indices.

Commentary

For most Thais, the period between 2006 and 2016 has been somewhat tumultuous. Starting with a bloodless coup that toppled the populist yet corruption-stricken Thaksin government to be followed just a year later by the sweeping electoral victory of a party controlled by him, this decade seemed designed to test the endurance of a country’s stability in the face of extreme political changes. Adding to this prolonged power struggle was the Premiership of Thaksin’s sister, Yingluck Shinawatra. She was ousted by the military and subject to criminal charges launched against her. Amid incessant protests and persistent tensions between Thaksin supporters, dubbed as the “red-shirts”, and their yellow-shirt wearing opponents, the military took the bitter situation under control by suppression and a tightened grip over the media. The junta’s latest success, and potentially a decisive one, was the referendum result in August 2016. It approved a newly drafted constitution that is likely to consolidate the position of the country’s military-led government.

The direct consequences of this disruptive politics, as reflected in the Prosperity Index, have been falling prosperity and a lessened ability to turn wealth into better lives for citizens. Thailand has turned a very narrow prosperity surplus into a prosperity deficit over the past decade, reflecteing the fact that rising wealth has not brought greater prosperity. It is unsurprising that this lost prosperity has predominantly come from the damage inflicted on the country’s democratic system and its citizens’ political rights.

Governance in Thailand and ASEAN countries since 2007
Political volatility has drastically damaged Thailand’s Governance performance.

Two military coups in a decade, violent or not, is doubtlessly a severe blow to the credibility of Thailand’s commitments to democratic rules and an interruption to effective governance. It is no coincidence that the country has seen a 44 rank fall in the Governance sub-index since 2012. Both coups caused Thailand an abrupt downgrading of its democratic rating, aggravated by an erosion of the rule of law and relentless executive intervention in the judicial system following the interim military regime’s harsh measures. Neither the Thaksin-Yingluck administrations nor the junta has proved politically clean and accountable. Indeed, despite frequent changes in the colour of shirts and politics, one constant in Thailand’s political system is the inextricable roots of patronage networks. People are beginning to grow weary. Less than 40 percent of registered voters took part in the last general election held in 2014, a clear signal of the public’s distaste for national politics.

The political upheaval endured by the Thais has not been made easier by the restrictive measures imposed by the junta. Even among the encouraging trends that more Thais believe the country a good place for immigrants and LGBT groups, up by 13% and 10% respectively, the country has still fallen five places in the Personal Freedom sub-index since 2012. The abuse of the criminal code criminalising defamatory and insulting discourse towards the king, queen or heir-apparent is widely cited a major cause for the suppression of freedom of speech and press freedom. Since the military coup in 2014, the number of people detained under such law has more than doubled. Press freedom in Thailand is now among the 25 worst in the world.

Not everything is so gloomy. Thailand has seen its ranking rise in both the Safety & Security and Economic Quality sub-indices. Among the few positive legacies left by the Shinawatra governments is the dramatic reduction in poverty and improvement in rural residents’ living conditions. Less than five percent of Thais had trouble in getting access to adequate food or shelter in 2015. Thanks to large giveaways to rural populations, Thailand has almost eliminated absolute poverty. Only 0.6% of Thais live on under $1.90 per day in 2015, a tremendous achievement for a developing country. After years of tough efforts, the government has also succeeded in scaling back the proportion of people living under national poverty line to 10.5% in 2014, nearly halving the level of 2007. The dynamic manufacturing industry and expanding tourism sector have helped to diversify the economy and keep unemployment low, sustaining economic growth even during political instability.

Looking to the future, hopes for rising prosperity hinge on the junta’s decisions. Fortunately, early signals and measures suggest good news. Besides restoring stability and clamping down on corruption, the military government has issued signals for a more business-friendly approach in the country, which could usher in a long awaited boost to the country’s business environment. However, all this will hinge on the willingness of the junta to tame invested interests. Much also now hinges on whether the succession to the recently deceased King Bhumibol Adulyadej can be completed smoothly.


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Data

How to read this graph:
When comparing multiple countries on a spider chart, data points that appear
further away from the center represent a better performance to the points that are closer to the center.