Abhisit alert on Thai populist policies

Abhisit alert on Thai populist policies
Former prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva.

Thai opposition leader and former prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has warned that populist policies in Thailand could jeopardise the country's economic and political prospects.

Though speaking to a predominantly international audience in Singapore on Monday at an International Institute for Strategic Studies event, he clearly had a home audience on his mind. The leader of the opposition Democrat Party spent much of an hour-long speech and dialogue criticising recent moves by the Thai government.

While noting that the Thai economy had been able to grow in recent years despite political turmoil, he said such resilience cannot be taken for granted.

He highlighted two policies he considered particularly problematic: a rice pledging scheme where the Thai government propped up farmers' income by buying rice at above-market prices, and a 2 trillion baht (S$79.6 billion) loan Bill to develop transport infrastructure.

"I cited these two examples not just because they are high on the priority of the government or because of their specific impact on the economy but because, if continued, they are shifting the role of the government in Thailand towards more interventions and distortions of the market, and threaten the kind of fiscal discipline adhered to in the past," he said.

Mr Abhisit said the rice scheme was meant to also push up the world market price for rice but the government has discovered it does not have the market power to succeed. Instead, it has caused Thailand to fall behind India and Vietnam in terms of rice exports.

As for the loan Bill, he said that while he supports transport development, he urged investments as well in areas like education, health and water.

The policies were but two in a litany of criticisms he had for the Thai government.

His comments come even as he faces murder charges over a military crackdown on anti-government protesters that left many dead while he was premier three years ago.

For all the problems he listed, Mr Abhisit said he still has faith in his country."Despite some steps backwards, I am confident that the wisdom and integrity of our people will win through..."

jeremyau@sph.com.sg


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