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Thai PM stresses populist agenda in policy package

February 19, 2008

Thai PM stresses populist agenda in policy package

Thailand's Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej presented his coalition government's policy package to parliament Monday, revealing as anticipated a statement similar to the populist policies of toppled prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

The premier announced his government's plan to revive the universal health care scheme for the poor, debt suspension for farmers, low-cost housing for the poor and the small-, medium-, and large-scale village fund reflected the populist policies adopted by the now-dissolved Thak-Rak-Thai party established by the deposed premier.

Delivering the policy statement before the Parliament, Mr. Samak predicted the government would face two major daunting problems in the near future, including both the impact of the sub-prime lending crisis in the United States and rising oil prices.

To ease the impact, he said, his government will attempt to build up the competitiveness of the country's production sector.

Mr. Samak pledged his government would make an all-out effort to build reconciliation and lay a strong social foundation in the future, boost the democracy, and eradicate the narcotics problem.

It would pursue the policies including the SML village project, OTOP (One Tambon [subdistrict] One Product) scheme, the People's Bank, debt suspension for the poor, and the Baan Ua-arthorn project (low-cost housing for those with low-incomes), he said.

The administration's policies were expected to win parliamentary approval after an anticipated three-day debate because his coalition government holds two-thirds of the seats in the 480-member lower house of Parliament, with the sole opposition voice coming from the Democrat Party, commanding only 164 seats.

Meanwhile, the opposition bloc has expressed no objection to the government's plan to restore the populist policies, but warned they must be adjusted with past lessons being applied to correct problems encountered in the past, such as preventing a widened burden of debt.

Jurin Laksanavisit, Democrat Party deputy leader, said the opposition will respond to all policy issues, particularly those of which the government would implement in its first year in office.

In addition, it would mention the public's hardship from higher prices, higher production costs and persistent violence in the far South.

Regarding the government's plan to resume the range of populist policies initiated by the Thaksin Shinawatra administration during its 5-6 years in office, he conceded that they seemed to satisfy the demand of a certain section of the public.

But populism had also caused adverse impacts, since the policy had encouraged the public to borrow for consumption, ending up with a rising debt burdens borne by households.

Should the government wish to reinstate the populist policies, it must clarify whether it had merely copied the policies from the Thaksin administration without amendment, or whether their shortcomings have been addressed.

"We mention the increasing debt burdens based on figures released by the National Economic and Social Development Board (NESDB) that the people's bank and village fund projects have fuelled the near doubling of debt burdens.

"But that does not mean we oppose the village fund project," he emphasised. "What we want to see is that the government has a clear direction in its policy."

Sangsit Piriyarangsan, chairman of the National Legislative Assembly's Fiscal Commitee, said the substance of the populist policy adopted by the current government reflects that of the Thai-Rak-Thai administration during its 5 to 6 years in office.

He conceded the Thaksin policies had impressed a large portion of the public, and that the mega-projects the government promised to pursue had satisfied a cross-section of the business sector's needs because they are confident the policies would help stimulate the economy.
Mr. Sangsit warned, however, that the government must attend to good governance within the policy management framework.
More importantly, the government must learn the lessons to be derived from previous Thaksin administration mistakes and to apply them before implementing the policy to prevent a repetition of the problem, he said.

Courtesy TNA

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