By Orathai Sriring
The military junta running Thailand has drawn up a list of emergency measures such as price caps on fuel and loan guarantees for small firms to kick-start an economy threatened by recession after months of political turmoil.
The plans, outlined by Air Chief Marshal Prajin Juntong late on Sunday after a meeting with officials at economic ministries, take in longer-term measures such as the development of special economic zones on the borders with Myanmar, Laos and Malaysia.
The military toppled the remnants of former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s administration on May 22 after months of protests that had forced government ministries to close, hurt business confidence and caused the economy to shrink.
The coup was the latest convulsion in a decade-long conflict that pits the Bangkok-based royalist establishment, dominated by the military, old-money families and the bureaucracy, against supporters of Yingluck’s elder brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, who is adored by the poor in the north and northeast.
Yingluck herself was ordered to step down two weeks before the coup when a court found her guilty of abuse of power.
Considered the power behind Yingluck’s government, former telecommunications tycoon Thaksin was ousted as prime minister in a coup in 2006 and has lived in self-imposed exile since fleeing a 2008 conviction for abuse of power.
Air Chief Marshal Prajin, who is overseeing economic matters for the junta, said 30 urgent proposals on the economy would be discussed with coup leader General Prayuth Chan-ocha on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Among them, Prajin mentioned a form of price insurance for rice farmers. This would replace a costly buying scheme run under Yingluck that collapsed when her caretaker government was unable to find funding, leaving hundreds of thousands of farmers unpaid for months.
The military rulers said they would also tackle the problem of loan sharks, made worse by the hardship suffered by farmers because of the rice fiasco, and are looking at low-cost home loans to be offered through the Government Housing Bank.
Prajin said he had told the Finance Ministry to look at a complete overhaul of the tax structure and report to him next week.
The Nation newspaper said state enterprises, including Thai Airways International Pcl and the State Railway of Thailand, would put investment plans to Prajin on Monday and these would also be discussed with Prayuth this week.
TMB Bank said the economy should pick up under the new government and it expected its loan book to grow 10 percent this year rather than 6 to 8 per cent. It used to be known as Thai Military Bank and the armed forces retain a small stake, with Prayuth sitting on its board.
Moody’s Investors Service affirmed Thailand’s Baa1 credit rating on Monday with a stable outlook, based on the country’s manageable debt profile, its fiscal controls, the strength of economic bodies such as the Bank of Thailand and a likely current account surplus this year.
In a commentary on May 26, it had expressed concern about the repeated political disruption in Thailand, saying it had held back economic development over the longer term.
Prayuth, in a televised address on Friday, said the military would need time to reconcile Thailand’s antagonistic political forces and push through reforms, indicating there would be no general election for about 15 months.
The United States, European Union countries and others have called for the military to restore democracy quickly, release political detainees and end censorship.
As well as working to revive the economy, the military council has moved to suppress criticism of the coup and nip protests in the bud.
Yingluck, as well as prominent supporters of the Shinawatras, have been briefly detained and warned against any anti-military activities.
On Sunday, the army council sent 5,700 troops and police into central Bangkok to stop anti-coup protests, which were mostly limited to small gatherings held around shopping malls.
The military has banned political gatherings of five or more people and protests that have taken place in Bangkok since the May 22 putsch have been small and brief.
On Saturday, as on the two previous days, the authorities closed normally busy roads around Victory Monument, which was becoming a focal point for opposition to the coup. The area was flooded with police and troops but no protesters turned up.