The partisan rhetoric and criticism of the government were heightened and ratcheted up further this week with reports from social media suggesting former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra had remarked on Clubhouse that he could end the virus crisis and the country’s economic woes in 6 months if he was back in the hot seat. ‘Let him come back and do it,’ retorted a nettled General Prayut while speaking to reporters on Tuesday.
The government’s 2022 budget sailed through parliament on Wednesday but it was a bruising few days for the coalition which clearly showed signs of division as the country still grapples with a difficult economic and financial situation as well as the ongoing virus crisis. A cut of ฿4 billion in the budget for the public health ministry led one coalition MP to call on the Bhumjaithai Party to walk out of government while the opposition criticised the delivery of three expensive Chinese tanks to the Royal Thai Navy at this time.
The Thai parliament on Wednesday passed the government’s budget bill for the 2022 year after three days of debate and amid signs of growing tension within the coalition led by Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha.
The vote was 269 in favour with 201 against with 2 abstentions.
Speaking to the media in the last 24 hours, the Prime Minister said that relationships within the coalition government were ‘still tight’ after on Tuesday walking away when reporters asked if there remained unity within his political administration which comprises three key parties in addition to a range of smaller ones giving it a working majority in the House of Representatives.
Uthai Thani Bhumjaithai Party MP calls for party leader to walk out of government if he is not satisfied
The tension that now exists within the parties was plain to see in parliament when an MP with the Bhumjaithai Party, during the budget debate, Ms Chada Thaised, encouraged her parliamentary leader, Anutin Charnvirakul, the Minister of Public Health, to walk away from the coalition government after what appeared to be a cut in funding for his ministry.
‘I want to tell the boss, that if he doesn’t like it, let’s go home,’ the Uthai Thani province MP declared in the chamber after Bhumjaithai Party list MP Korrawee Prissananantakul criticised ฿4 billion in cuts proposed for the ministry in the budget bill.
Spokesman described proposed cut in public health funding as a ‘misunderstanding’ dealt with at cabinet
This was later explained by government spokesman Anucha Burapachaisri who told reporters that the Minister of Public Health Mr Anutin had addressed the matter at Tuesday’s cabinet meeting and categorised it as a ‘misunderstanding’.
The government official pointed out that two separate funds of ฿292 billion and ฿311 billion had been set aside for the pandemic.
3 amphibious Chinese tanks for ฿398 million
The government appeared vulnerable after suffering a blow during the debate when it was revealed the Royal Thai Navy in Chonburi had recently taken delivery of three Chinese made amphibious tanks which had cost the country ฿398 million.
The ministry was pummeled on social media over this revelation.
Opposition MPs and activists criticised the purchase of the military hardware in the context of delays in importing sufficient vaccines to quickly inoculate the population with the latest reports to the end of May showing Thailand still lagging with only 3.6% of the public having received a vaccine jab.
Navy admiral defends the procurement as the light tanks were handed over to the marine corps
A statement by Admiral Chettha Chaipiam of the Royal Thai Navy explained the three tanks had been ordered as part of the budget for 2020 so the kingdom was committed to completing the procurement.
It was later reported the VN16 amphibious light tanks manufactured by China Ordnance Industries Group Corp Ltd were the subject of a final order placed in June 2020.
They are to be assigned to the marine corps at the Royal Thai Navy at its Sattahip base.
Public not happy with the government’s response to the crisis, over 53% dissatisfied at the end of May
A Nida opinion poll with 1,312 responders taken in mid-May and at the end of May was published last Sunday.
It showed 53.05% of Thais were either dissatisfied or totally dissatisfied with the government’s handling of the crisis so far.
This has been attributed to the fact that both the second and third waves of the disease have been linked to corrupt practices at an official level while Thais are also frustrated at the slow and sometimes shambolic approach to the vaccine rollout.
Good news from Pathum Thani where Thailand’s home-produced vaccines shipped from this week
On this front, there was some encouraging news for the PM with the AstraZeneca manufacturing facility in Pathum Thani reporting that shipment of vaccine doses, the long-awaited rollout of locally produced vaccines, had commenced.
This will be the mainstay of the country’s plan to make available 10 million doses per month over the seven months before the end of 2021, something outlined to parliament by Prime Minister Prayut as he spoke on the ฿3.1 trillion budget provision before the house on its first reading.
Ex-PM Thaksin says he can right the ship within 6 months, comments appeared to irk General Prayut
The political partisanship that the budget debate generated led to reports questioning the prime minister’s performance after a social media communication from former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra emerged in which Mr Thaksin had told an audience on the popular Clubhouse app, where he features under the pseudonym of Tony Woodsame, that he could solve the country’s pandemic crisis and economic problems in 6 months if he was prime minister.
Supporters of the former PM who divides and polarises public opinion in Thailand down the middle, are also claiming that the new approach to vaccine procurement by widening the array of jabs being imported and more delegation, is an approach first proposed by Thaksin but now being adopted and packaged by the current government.
PM upbraids reporter for contact with Thaksin
A clearly prickled PM on Tuesday told reporters that he did not have to respond to such claims. ‘Why do I have to answer him?’ he retorted. ‘Let him come back and do it.’
The PM then walked off but turned around and pointed to a reporter who he claimed was in contact with the exiled former government leader in Dubai who is facing a jail sentence in Thailand after being convicted on corruption charges after he skipped bail in 2008.
‘She talks about it often. I heard that she was in contact with him.’
฿500 billion decree must next be approved by parliament as financial challenges loom for 2022
The next hurdle the government faces is to pass the executive decree in parliament authorising a further loan facility of ฿500 billion which is due next week.
This was agreed at a secretive cabinet meeting on May 18th without advance notice of the significant measure.
In the meantime, the current budget already faces challenges. It is based on a projected growth rate of 2.5% to 3.5% this year.
This growth figure has already been paired back by the National Economic and Social Development Council (NESDC) which advises the government that it will be 1.5% to 2.5%.
The budget already provides for a 5.7% reduction in expenditure for the coming year commencing on the 1st of October 2021.
The government is determined however to fire up economic growth this year by reopening the kingdom to foreign tourism to boost income prospects and the inward flow of capital and currency.
Thailand’s GDP surprisingly gained 0.2% in the first quarter when many had predicted another contraction
Experts are already predicting exports to grow between 5% and 7% this year while the domestic economy has been battered by the third virus wave during the second quarter with the second wave having impeded it during the first quarter of the year.
The period ended with a 0.2% overall GDP growth figure against expert predictions as most economic forecasters had, in fact, projected a GDP contraction in spite of export gains.
The Prime Minister is to chair a meeting of the Centre for Economic Situation Administration (CEAS) on Friday where the planned reopening of regions and hotspots to foreign tourism will be reviewed including Phuket from July 1st and nine other regions including Bangkok and Pattaya from October 1st.