The American Interest
Analysis by Walter Russell Mead & Staff
Ex-Thailand PM Takes Telecommuting to New Heights

If you doubt the power of telecommuting, look to Thailand. The New York Times reports:

For the past year and a half, by the [ruling] party’s own admission, the most important political decisions in this country of 65 million people have been made from abroad, by a former prime minister who has been in self-imposed exile since 2008 to escape corruption charges.

The country’s most famous fugitive, Thaksin Shinawatra, circles the globe in his private jet, chatting with ministers over his dozen cellphones, texting over various social media platforms and reading government documents e-mailed to him from civil servants, party officials say.

It might be described as rule by Skype. Or governance by instant messenger, a way for Mr. Thaksin to help run the country without having to face the warrant for his arrest in a case that many believe is politically motivated.

Officially, Thaksin’s sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, governs Thailand. She was nominated by her brother in 2011 and elected in a landslide. Thai politics is complex, with an electorate sharply divided rural farmers and middle class urban residents, and a vestigial monarchy that still wields some political power. Thaksin Shinawatra’s rule in absentia further roils the waters.

But Thitinan Pongsudhirak, one of the country’s top thinkers, prefers to see the positive in the current situation: “There are two ways you can look at this: you can make it into a farce, a ridiculous situation and the butt of a lot of jokes. The brother is pressing the buttons and the sister is a puppet. . . . But I’m beginning to take a slightly different view. This may be the best way to run Thailand.” The Shinawatras seem to have refined their tag-team approach to politics. The arrangement, though odd, seems stable for now.

A stable Thailand is extremely important to America’s strategic and economic aims in Asia. Unrest there could bring U.S. and Chinese interests into conflict.

And on a related note, telecommuting is already transforming traditional employment. Why shouldn’t it shake up governance as well?

Published on January 31, 2013 3:20 pm