Sompong Maythapak wants the change. "I also did it myself. I know that sometimes it's good to ventilate." Until before the pandemic, the family owned a language school. "I learned a lot from my students. But then it was time to start something completely different." No sooner said than done: Now Sompong sells the Pad Thai in his restaurant Chim Chum for 80 baht (2.16 euros). Sompong is also hoping for a breath of fresh air from this Sunday's election. He is not allowed to comment on the king. "But politically, we need a fresh start. I choose the boys," he says. Although they are not yet able to compete against the giants, "they are preparing. Maybe it will work out in four years."

Christoph Hein

Business correspondent for South Asia/Pacific, based in Singapore.

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Some in Bangkok speak of an "economic choice". Nothing is more wrong than this: because the election has a single economic aspect: the parties outdo each other in paying baht for votes. Some offer 80 baht to the over-5000s. Others want to raise the minimum wage from 350 to 600 baht a day. Still others want to transfer 10,000 baht to a digital account – yet to be set up.

The political landscape is extremely fragmented, but three blocs are emerging. On the one hand, there is former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra's political family business with the Phue Thai party. After himself (deposed by the military in 2006) and his sister Yingluck (deposed before the military coup in 2014), his daughter Paethongtarn Shinawatra is running a successful election campaign this year. The 36-year-old figurehead has a good chance, because the poor and the farmers have not forgotten the billionaires that they gave them nonsensical price guarantees for their rice, even if they led Thailand to the brink of the economic abyss. The fact that the hotel manager wants to turn the kingdom into the "financial centre of Southeast Asia" hasn't even raised an eyebrow in the financial centre of Singapore. The "expansion of economic relations with Myanmar", the rogue state of the other generals on the other side of the border, is likely to slow down the hoped-for free trade with the EU.

"At that time, a genie escaped from the bottle"

The self-confident Paethongtarn is contrasted by a fragile front of the self-proclaimed elite around the royal family, the military and very old money – including the prime minister and whitewashed General Prayut Chan-ocha with his new party United Thai Nation or the junta generals of his former party Palang Pracharath.

Sompong dreams of a "breath of fresh air", but hopes for the "oranges", the young party Move Forward. It is grouped around the 42-year-old Harvard graduate Pita Limjaroenrat, who sometimes appears in an orange Hermès tie. He has become the guiding star of those who shake their rusty shackles: After the mass protests in 2020 against the eternally yesterdays around Prayut, young people refused to continue to have their hair cut for school. For a long time now, not everyone in the cinema has risen to their feet when the anthem of the kingdom is played. "At that time, a genie escaped from the bottle that no one will be able to capture," says a Western observer in Bangkok. But will Bangkok's powerful accept an opposition victory? "Major post-election protests, as in previous years, could disrupt economic activity," says Chua Han Teng of DBS Bank.

The timing would be bitter. Because the parties and the country already lack a viable plan for the future, a vision. The stars could hardly be more favorable for Southeast Asia's second-largest economy: Tourists are returning, but for the time being only a few wealthy Chinese. In the first quarter, 6.15 million people again traveled to Bangkok, Pattaya or Phuket. At the same time, supply chains are being reorganized.

Consumption could help

The neighboring country of Vietnam, which is far worse off than the kingdom in terms of human rights, is headed for all those companies that seek a balance with China within Asia. Vietnam is taking advantage of free trade with Europe and America – Thailand is now starting its first trade talks with Brussels. With its poor level of education, comparatively high wages and a noticeable lack of interest in foreign countries, the kingdom misses its opportunities and falls further and further short of its potential. New major investments from Germany? Not at all – at best, suppliers such as Conti or Schaeffler are expanding their production. China and Japan, on the other hand, both of which also have a strategic interest in the heartland of Southeast Asia, are pumping funds into the production of electric cars or infrastructure.

These approaches do not offer a way out of the "middle income trap" into which emerging markets are falling. In purchasing power parity (PPP), Thailand's economic output per capita fell behind that of China in 2017. At $22,600, it is still ahead of Vietnam ($14,500) or Indonesia ($15,900), but far behind that of Malaysia ($36,800). Analysts expect the holiday paradise to have grown by only 2.3 percent year-on-year during the first quarter. The official figures will be published on Monday. For the year as a whole, the rate should accelerate significantly to 3.6 percent, the Bank of Thailand hopes.

Consumption could help, as the inflation rate has melted from 7.9 percent in August to just 2.7 percent. The Thais can make good use of the rain of money that is promised to them for their electoral vote: one in three is massively over-indebted. In Asia, only Hong Kong and South Korea have higher debt-to-GDP ratios. Sompong also stands for his new restaurant in the chalk – but with his family.