BANGKOK – Thailand’s military government announced subsidies worth $1.3 billion Tuesday to appease disgruntled farmers who have threatened protests as commodity prices and exports hit record lows, according to reports.
The junta, which in 2014 vowed to abolish populist policies used by Thailand’s deposed leader Yingluck Shinawatra, said it would release about $365 million to aid rubber plantations and about $1 billion to rice farmers.
Yingluck’s government subsided rice farming by paying an inflated price for the crop, the junta’s scheme paid farmers a direct cash handout of 1000 baht per 0.4 of an acre.
The move is being seen as a complete reversal of policy by the military government, which had pledged to wean farmers off expensive subsidies in the coup, after the previous government’s handout programs became associated with rampant corruption and charges of vote-buying.
Yingluck is being threatened with having her assets seized to compensate for the alleged failures of almost the exact same policy – a move that has been initiated entirely outside the legal system.
Prime Minister and NCPO Chief’s invoked Section 44 of the interim constitution to protect government officials in the management of the rice stocks from the rice pledging scheme
Gothom Arya, an advisor to the Institute of Human Rights and Peace Studies at Bangkok’s Mahidol University, told Reuters.”Though the junta’s action is exactly the same as previous governments, they claim that this time money will not leak.”
The military government’s economic policies have stirred widespread dissent in rural areas, as incomes have collapsed and politically powerful farmers have threatened to rally in defiance of a ban on political gatherings.
While the aid is part of a raft of measures introduced by the 17-month old government, including soft loans to boost the rural economy, farmers remain critical of the government as it has not yet guaranteed minimum crop prices.
“Rubber prices drop. We make less money. I would rather see the government help raise rubber prices,” rubber farmer Samai Sriban said.
In other Junta related news Thai PBS reports, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha today (Tuesday) urged the media to stop criticizing out of proportion his recent remark that he might close down the country to the outside world if it descends into widespread violence.
As a human being, the prime minister admitted that he might have erred for making such a remark. He said he didn’t mean what he said and asked whether his critics really wanted the country to be closed down.
The prime minister went on saying that before the May 22 coup last year the country appeared as if it was closed to the outside world – tourists turned away from Thailand, budget could not be disbursed and the government was paralyzed.
“Why should I close down the country?” he asked. He also complained that he didn’t understand why there were people who were against him on everything and would pick up him on every issue.
He denied that his controversial remark had resulted to shares plunge last week, arguing that shares had been on the decline several days in advance.
The prime minister maintained what he had done so far since the May 22 coup last year was to open the country to the outside world. “The country was closed before because of mutual hatred, corruption and lack of transparency.” He said.
The prime minister announced that he had cleared the air about his controversial remark and if shares plunge again it would not be his responsibility.