On Monday 14th, the day of the General Election, Pheu Thai’s national executive will meet to select its primary nominee to be put before parliament for election as Thailand’s next Prime Minister. It is clear that 59-year-old Srettha Thavisin, a highly successful businessman who since 1995 has built up the Sansiri property group into an international conglomerate, sees himself in that role, as the head of a government seeking to boost the kingdom’s stagnant GDP and growth performance through expansionary economics.
Pheu Thai Party nominee for Prime Minister and former business tycoon Srettha Thavisin has come out to defend a new policy put forward by the party which will give every Thai national over 16 a ฿10,000 stipend in a digital wallet from January 1st 2024 for six months if the party comes to power after the May 14th General Election. The highly successful businessman also revealed that the party will make known on May 14th, election day, its lead candidate for the top job. Mr Srettha has made no secret, from the outset, that the goal of his foray into politics is to become the next Thai prime minister and not a cabinet role.
Srettha Thavisin one of three nominees for prime minister unveiled this week by the Pheu Thai Party, defended the party’s latest policy proposal to give ฿10,000 to all Thais over 16 years of age to spend over 6 months from the beginning of next year if the party returns to government after this May’s General Election.
Pheu Thai, last week unveiled its latest policy proposal along with candidates for 400 constituency and 100 party list seats as well as its prime ministerial nominees.
Latest plank of the party’s economic policy aiming to boost GDP unveiled this week along with its election lineup is sure to be another vote-getter
The party’s economic policy executives said the initiative was aimed at raising the income of Thai households with a target set of ฿20,000 per household to be achieved by any proposed Pheu Thai-led government alongside its signature policy, unveiled last December, of an eventual ฿600 per day minimum wage with a minimum monthly salary for bachelor degree holders of ฿25,000 per month.
Since that policy platform was unveiled in early December 2022, the party has surged ahead in the polls in a wave that has seen its ability to top the polls extend into southern provinces and Bangkok.
This latest move is sure to be another vote-getter.
Businessman who built up an empire with $22.75 billion in assets, talked about politics and the digital wallet spending plan this week with reporters
59-year-old Mr Srettha is a former multinational executive who set up his property development firm in 1995 which today has assets of $22.75 billion and operations across the globe.
He resigned from his roles in the business last week to focus on his new political career as Chairman of the Pheu Thai Family Advisory Board (PAD).
On Thursday, in an interview with the Thai publishing group Matichon, he said the proposed stimulus measure would initially be for six months.
It would involve a digital wallet issued to all registered citizens over 16 years of age which would help boost domestic spending and would be coordinated through the use of blockchain technology so that the money would have to be spent within a 4 km radius of each individual’s home.
This was designed to prevent the money from flowing into large department stores and to give a boost to local economies.
He pointed out to reporters, on Thursday, that the technology behind the planned new stimulus measure which the Pheu Thai Party sees as a replacement for welfare cards, would be flexible so that people living in areas with no shops or retail outlets would still practically be able to use the digital wallet.
Plan to cost ฿500 billion a year, 20% would come back in boosted tax yields but Mr Srettha appeared to rule out a cut to the defence budget at this time
He suggested that this could be done by pairing off all addresses with nearby retail outlets.
The businessman-turned-politician estimated that 50 million people would be eligible for the programme and that it would cost ฿500 billion per year.
The party has made it clear that this proposal is not a once-off stimulus but one which was planned to be regularly used by any newly elected Pheu Thai government.
Mr Srettha explained that with the increase in retail and profit taxes alone, the government would stand to recoup ฿100 billion and insisted that such a programme was necessary to boost economic growth in the kingdom which only registered 2.6% last year while countries competing with Thailand were managing to post gains per annum of 5%.
He suggested that the Prime Minister had access to a special budget in the order of ฿100 billion but normally reserved a portion of this for emergencies.
He particularly ruled out any cut to the military budget which he said may not be possible at this time but insisted that the focus of the government must be on boosting activity and output in the economy.
Profits from state enterprises and better management of budgets will allow the new government to fund the stimulus scheme says Pheu Thai policy chief
Prommin Lertsuridej, the Pheu Thai Party policy supremo, said that the key policy project would be paid for by a boost in taxes, profitable state enterprises and management of state budgets.
It has also been pointed out by party officials such as registrar Chakrapong Saengmanee that this new stimulus package would replace existing budgets underpinning social welfare cards in a simpler, across the board and more ambitious way, in line with the party’s motto for the election which is to ‘think big’.
The policies being put forward by the Pheu Thai Party are consistent with recommendations from the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) which have repeatedly called on the Thai government to address income and wealth inequality to boost domestic spending and push expansionary economics to improve the kingdom’s GDP performance and growth prospects.
This contrasts sharply with the approach pursued by the government of Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha which has emphasised more prudent management of the country’s finances even when challenged with necessary stimulus measures brought about by the pandemic emergency from 2020 to 2022.
The proposed Pheu Thai scheme will inevitably be compared with the latest social welfare initiative pioneered by Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha and his United Thai Nation (Ruam Thai Sang Chart) Party which was scheduled to begin on April 1st and targeted 14.5 million people in Thailand with an annual income of below ฿100,000 or $3,000 approx.
‘Think Big’ scheme will be compared to welfare cards proposed by Palang Pracharat and United Thai Nation (Ruam Thai Sang Chart) parties in government
That scheme, which was approved by the cabinet last year and for which millions registered in March, offers payouts of between ฿200 to ฿300 per month as well as providing easy-to-access loans.
In January, the Palang Pracharat Party under Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan also put forward a social welfare policy programme centred around the concept of a welfare card to be used by the less well-off.
Speaking to reporters hours after being unveiled as one of three nominees for prime minister being put forward by the Pheu Thai Party which is looking like it may well be in a position to form the next Thai government after the May 14th poll, Mr Srettha explained that all three nominees were in accord.
Pheu Thai to unveil what could be Thailand’s next prime minister on the same day as the May 14th election after a meeting of the party’s executive
He said that, on the day of the poll, the party’s executive would meet and choose its main nominee to be put forward in parliament when it convenes in the summer to elect the next Thai prime minister.
The business tycoon said all three nominees were happy with that arrangement and ready to serve if called upon.
Asked about why the party had not put forward its prime ministerial nominees in the party list so that they could see them elected as MPs, Mr Srettha was clear that he was, by training and aptitude, an executive and felt that his talents were best suited to the executive branch of government.
He said that there were two other branches, the legislature and the judiciary.
He noted that Pheu Thai had a large coterie of experienced parliamentarians and legislators more capable than him for the role of an MP.
He asked why he should deprive these people of their chance to serve when his experience and skills in this area were limited.
Srettha is in it to become Prime Minister
In early March, Mr Srettha however appeared to put his cards on the table when he suggested that he was primarily entering the political arena intending to occupy the Prime Minister’s chair after the General Election.
Srettha says he would refuse a cabinet role. His sights are set on the Prime Minister’s chair of office
‘As a Thai, we can also do something that benefits the country. But with the power of the prime minister’s seat we can achieve things we previously could only hope might happen,’ he told reporters at a Thai Chinese Chamber of Commerce dinner in Bangkok.
Mr Srettha also made it clear at the time that he was not interested in a cabinet role.