Thailand government to rebrand populism

Thailand government to rebrand populism
Thailand's PM Prayut Chan-o-cha.
PHOTO: The Nation/ANN

The Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha government has begun re-branding populist policies as pracha rat in the hope it will lead to sustained economic and social development.

Populist policies, called pracha niyom in Thai, are now politically incorrect, as they were launched by former premier Thaksin Shinawatra to get support from the poor.

While populism generally refers to pouring money into the rural grassroots, pracha rat refers to an integrated approach among the public, private and people sectors, Sontirat Sontijirawong, adviser to Industry Minister Atchaka Sibunruang and an economic team colleague of Deputy PM Somkid Jatusripitak, said.

There is no proper English translation for the term pracha rat. Many have suggested "civil state" while the government Spokesman's Office preferred "a state of the people".

"What has been done so far based on pracha rat is still slightly different from pracha niyom," said Somchai Jitsuchon, research director at the Thailand Development Research Institute, referring to the Thai word for populism, which is something distasteful to the current government.

"The concept of pracha rat will be approved once people are 'actively' engaged in the economic system."

While the poor are used to getting handouts from the state, the state under pracha rat would act as a facilitator, rather than a donor, said Sontirat, who is also a member of the National Reform Steering Assembly.

"Those owning most of the resources to market competency are the private and people sectors, not us the government," he said

The concept of pracha rat can be applied to a broad range of economic activities, from marketing local signature products to combating drought crises, he said.

"Farmers won't easily adjust their ways of planting, as they inherited them from generation to generation," he said, referring to one of farmers' obstacles when it comes to drought and climate change.

"But it will work if the government leases their land and hires them to grow alternate crops. This way, farmers will also have products to sell. Once the products are settled in the marketplace, farmers will be able to generate income on their own.

"This is how we are different from populism. We don't simply give money away, but we tend to utilise our budget to create a sustainable economic system," he said.

However, the government cannot understand every little bit of local people's nature and needs. That's why capacity from related players, such as the state-run Bank for Agriculture and Agricultural Cooperatives, is needed to do research and development on the most suitable scheme for the local context.

The government is reviving the fading Joint Government-Private Sector Committee to run the pracha rat policies at a national level. The government also expects to install provincial committees within two to three months.

"We aren't starting everything from zero. It's just impossible under the time limits," he said. "We'd rather revive and adjust what we originally have, to make them more aligned with the concept of pracha rat."

One example is the One Tambon One Product scheme to support the making and marketing of products of local districts. Though initiated in 2001 by then PM Thaksin, Prayut's government looks forward to "enhancing" it as a better, more locally responsive version.

"Let's say many districts produce fruit wines. Then the market will be flooded with wine," he said

"But with pracha rat development, the private sector will engage in market research and let local producers know what the market wants," he said.

The government is now working with its economic team, the joint committee and other agencies to create a final list of 100 projects based on pracha rat, he added.

Poldej Pinprateep, a member of the now-defunct National Reform Committee, is another key person working with Somkid's economic team on the concept of pracha rat.

One of the main outcomes expected from pracha rat policies is economic sustainability. Poldej, however, does not view it from only an economic perspective.

"We also need knowledge sustainability to truly sustain society," he said. "People have to be more educated to achieve this."

One project is organising public venues for knowledge exchanges at the local level, hosted by experts in local project management and administration.

Kicking off on October 28 in Udon Thani, the scheme aims to reinforce the awareness of local people.

"Once educated, people will be aware of what they can do and what they should do.

"They will no longer be just 'people', but they will turn into active citizens. They are 'change agents' - those eager to bring changes and developments to society," he said.

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