THAI MILITARY GOVT CONFIDENT, POPULAR

Thailand's new leader talks tough in first policy statement

Takahashi Toru, Nikkei Asian Reiew, September 13, 2014

BANGKOK -- Thai Interim Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha used his first policy statement Friday to focus mainly on reforming politics and fighting corruption in an attempt to win over supporters of the previous government.

Prayuth, the army chief, appeared confident in his military-dominated government. He said he will not pander to popular sentiment, since his government is not made up of politicians. This was undoubtedly a jab at the Thaksins, whose generous handouts had won them solid rural support.

About a third of the interim government consists of active-duty or retired military officers. Prayuth himself heads the National Council for Peace and Order, the junta that now controls Thailand's executive, legislative and judicial branches.

Prayuth plans to retire from his military post at the end of September. But he will keep his successor, deputy army chief Udomdej Sitabutr, close in the new cabinet as vice minister of defense.

The increasingly authoritarian government has been received favorably for the most part. According to a poll taken by Bangkok University early this month, 86% of the population trusts Prayuth.

The military hopes to curb the pro-Thaksin forces by the general election next year. The Election Commission, considered strongly anti-Thaksin, is said to have proposed such reforms as increasing the number of appointed, unelected members in the upper house and banning members from serving three consecutive terms in the lower house.

But an approach based solely on squelching opponents would simply exacerbate the nation's political divide.

Prayuth hopes to win over the pro-Thaksin faction by taking a hard line against corruption. He has announced he will bust interest groups in the taxi industry and lottery sales, as well as increase the transparency of state-owned enterprises. He is also considering a property tax to ease economic disparities.

He also proposed investing 2.4 trillion baht ($74.4 billion) in infrastructure, topping the previous government's plans by 10%. Large public investments could make up for sluggish domestic demand, which has suffered from the recent political chaos, and boost Thailand's long-term international competitiveness.

But Prayuth has yet to devise an effective policy to support farmers, a strong base of the Thaksins, as prices of rice, rubber and other agricultural products continue to drop. Tourism, a major industry here, has also suffered from the nationwide martial law imposed right before the May coup. The number of foreign tourists fell on the year for a seventh straight month in August.

With another year until Thailand is back in civilian hands, it remains to be seen whether Prayuth and his military junta can keep the economy greased and the people happy.

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卍心の智

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