6. The Supha: A Family That Uses Bureaucrats and Politicians
Not all locally-based business interests lost out, however. One example is construction companies. Starting with the “Friendship Highway,” that was built in the 1950s with assistance from the United States, Thailand entered into a remarkable road construction boom. Roughly speaking, the principal actors in the road construction changed over time, from the highway department of the central government to foreign companies, Bangkok-based companies and locally-based contractors, in that order. Road construction has drawn the keen attention of politicians and bureaucrats, and appropriations for road projects have grown steadily. In the process, some local subcontractors of big businesses that had cozy ties with political leaders and bureaucrats in the capital showed dramatic growth.
Chiangmai Construction Co., Ltd, which is run by the Supha family, is one of these contractors in northern Thailand. The founder Khanaen hailed from Thoen District in LampangProvince. After the death of his father, he came to Chiangmai, while still a young man, and established and expanded Chiangmai Construction. In addition to the close connections he managed to establish with bureaucrats, he used politicians to his advantage. One of his daughters is married to Newin Chitchop, a parliamentarian from BuriramProvince, far from Chiangmai. Newin has been an influential politician, frequently serving in the Cabinet. Since all major public works projects are undertaken by the central government, close connections with national politicians are important. In the 1980s, as parliamentary politics took firm root in Thailand, parliamentarians began to build thick pipes with the government and businesses.