Restoring ailing economy is top priority for Thailand coup leaders

Restoring ailing economy is top priority for Thailand coup leaders
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Thailand’s new military rulers have announced they will move fast to tackle the country’s economic problems.

The political crisis has hurt business confidence and halted much government spending.

The economy is on the brink of recession after shrinking 2.1 percent in the early part of the year.

Former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra dissolved parliament in December and called an election for February. From that moment, her caretaker government was unable to initiate new policies, even as the economy foundered.

Not everyone is convinced the military can turn things around. In Bangkok, 60-year-old food vendor Puttinun Samanawiriya said: “I don’t really have much hope because, in the end, no coups in the past have succeeded in governing the country.”

A priority for the generals is paying arrears owed to hundreds of thousands of rice farmers – who have been big supporters of the government the military removed – which pleased them.

Farmers march

Thousands of farmers marched to an army base in Bangkok on Tuesday to express gratitude to the coup leaders for disbursing the long-delayed rice payments.

One of them, Sri-urai Jitpetchmee, said: “They’ve approved the money for the farmers. I was worried I might have to give up farming. Now with the money I’ll be able to carry on.”

The military government said the equivalent of two billion euros owed to farmers should be paid out in less than a month from state finances and bank loans.

The rice subsidy scheme was a key policy of the old government, and a big vote winner.

It bought the farmers’ crop at a generous price then hoped to recoup the money by manipulating the international market. But the scheme unravelled.

Millions of tonnes of rice was left unsold in warehouses.

The payments to farmers have been blocked by seven months of political turmoil that halted much government spending, hurt business confidence and scared away tourists.

Curfew blues

The Tourism Ministry said foreign visitor arrivals have plunged since the coup.

They were already down six percent between January and April after the political protests started to escalate last November.

Navy chief Narong Pipattanasai, a senior member of the military’s ruling council, said he wanted to let tourists know the situation was fine.

“You could even say it is more normal and peaceful than before,” he said.

Indeed tourists said they had experienced little impact from the coup, except that a curfew that comes into force at 10 o’clock in the evening means bars are having to close several hours earlier than normal, crimping nightlife activities.

However more than 40 countries have issued travel alerts, including the US and Hong Kong, which have advised citizens to avoid non-essential travel to Thailand.

Piyaman Tejapaibul, the president of the Tourist Council of Thailand, has asked the military to lift the nightly curfew at beach resorts including Phuket, Samui, Krabi and Pattaya.

Tourism accounts for about seven percent of Thailand’s economy and more than two million jobs.

with Reuters and AP

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