Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Asian Crisis and Change A New Thai Lexicon Reflects Fresh Thinking

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Asian Crisis and Change A New Thai Lexicon Reflects Fresh Thinking

Article excerpt

A year ago the first tremor of Asia's financial crisis began in Thailand. Since July 2, 1997, Thailand's currency (the baht) has declined in value by 60 percent and the stock market is lower now than it was 10 years ago. A country that averaged more than 8 percent economic growth for the past 20 years will see its economy shrink by 6 percent in 1998.

The Asian financial crisis, however, has gone beyond the economics of the situation. This crisis has many political dimensions to it; two of which are governance and transparency.

Language serves as a useful reflection of the Thai culture and the dramatic change that has taken place in the past year.

Before the crisis there were no Thai words for governance and transparency. In January 1998, Thirayuth Boonmee, a former student activist who 25 years ago helped topple Thailand's then military dictatorship, coined the word for good governance: "dhammarat." In launching the dhammarat drive for all of Thai society, Mr. Thirayuth sidestepped political norms and proposed a national commission staffed with credible and qualified outsiders working alongside politicians to implement a good governance program.

Former Prime Minister Anand Panyarachun, viewed by many as the most capable prime minister in Thai history, is very supportive of Thirayuth's program. Mr. Anand has gone one step further by inventing the Thai word for transparency - "prongsai." He is leading the march to make dhammarat and prongsai household words.

But after decades of bad politics, corrupt bureaucratic systems, and the lack of public participation in political, economic, and social matters, the Thai people will need to change the way they think and behave.

Dhammarat and prongsai are terms that have been embraced by Thailand's middle class. However, these words will mean little to the average Thai citizen as long as the country's grassroots remain weak. …

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