Turkey, No Limit To How Far The Contagion Can Spread

The 'sudden stop' scenario has hit the Turkish economy, which threatens other countries around the world — and not just economically.

Turkish Lira's decline bodes-ill for more than one country
Turkish Lira's decline bodes-ill for more than one country
Jean-Marc Vittori

PARIS It may just be a matter of hours. If Turkey fails to stop the rapid decline of its currency, it may run out of air. Its economy would then be seriously damaged. Its population of 83 million would be condemned to suffer a painful drop in income.

Current balance deficit

The "sudden stop" is a well-known phenomenon. A flourishing country attracts foreign capital. With this new money, companies invest willingly. Often, consumers also borrow to spend more. The current account, which measures the gap between a country's inflows and outflows of money, increasingly spirals into deficit.

Until one day when an often minor event causes investors to review their choices. They suddenly stop bringing in funds, or even withdraw their assets. The national banks leave the scene. The country has no other choice but to brutally readjust its accounts. It therefore has to spend much less, which sets off a severe recession.

Contagion spreads

If the "sudden stop" is well known, it is because it has happened many times in recent decades. In Mexico in 1994, in Asia in 1997-98, in Greece then in Spain at the beginning of the 2010s. Unfortunately, this scenario seems to be happening again in Turkey. With growth of over 7%, the country attracted capital looking for a nice return on investment. The quarrel between Washington and Ankara over an American evangelical pastor rotting in a Turkish jail has served as a warning signal to market players. The Turkish lira is plummeting. Companies indebted in dollars must pay twice as many liras as a year ago to honor their commitments. This is unsustainable. Investors are starting to look at other financially vulnerable countries, such as Argentina and South Africa. Contagion looms.

There isn't much time left to prevent a destabilization from which everyone would suffer.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan calls it a conspiracy. But he actively contributed to the crisis. First, by loosening budgetary control. Then, he put himself in charge of the central bank. Finally, by assuming unprecedented powers in a great democracy. These decisions have naturally worried the country's creditors.

Avoid a worst-case scenario

There isn't much time left to prevent a destabilization from which everyone would suffer: Turkey, where both the population and the governments have much to lose; Europe, which has largely resolved its migration crisis through an agreement with Ankara; the emerging countries threatened by contagion; and even the United States, for whom Turkey is a precious ally. Erdogan may be the only one who still has the means to avoid a worst-case scenario. That fact alone is not necessarily reassuring.

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How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

Laura Valentina Cortés Sierra

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.

But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Juthatip Sirikan speaks in front of democracy monument.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

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