Street rallies gone in Thailand but not economic woes

Street rallies gone in Thailand but not economic woes
Thailand's Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha gets in his car after the merit-making ceremony on the occasion of Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn's birthday at Sanam Luang in Bangkok April 2, 2015. Photo: Reuters

Street rallies gone in Thailand but not economic woes

BANGKOK — Three years since the May 2014 coup it seems, on the face of it, that the Prayuth Chan-o-cha government has successfully restored peace and order, with protesters staying clear of the streets. But when it comes to economic affairs, the military regime has failed to impress those in the middle and lower classes.

Many people at the grassroots level claim they have had to fight rising living costs, while wages and incomes remain stagnant.

The flagging economy has compounded antipathy towards the junta’s rule, with Thailand’s economic growth rate still languishing at around 3%, far below the 5% that was considered normal not so long ago.

Satisfied with the restoration of law and order after a long period of protest in 2014, Ms Chayada Jiemwiset, a vendor in Bang Rak district, remains disappointed with the government’s failure to revive the economy.

“If the military could manage the economic transition as well as previous civilian governments then I think Thai citizens would accept the military’s rule. But so far the trend hasn’t been positive for the military when it comes to solving economic issues,” she said.

As a business operator, she says she has witnessed people’s purchasing power decrease. Traders and businesses have been struggling because of a lack of effective policies.

“If (the military regime) wants to return happiness to the Thai people, it needs to employ some new measures to boost the purchasing power of those at grassroots levels because economic prosperity and income redistribution are as important as stability,” said Ms Chayada.

According to a recent poll of 1,200 people by the Wisdom Council on public sector effectiveness in the first quarter of this year, 68.27 per cent said they had access to public sector services; 66.42 per cent said they found the public sector responded well to people’s demands and quickly solves problems; and 64.77 per cent said it is effective in making sure state agencies work in line with their tasks.

In terms of public servants and institutions people had the most faith in, village headmen ranked first, followed by municipalities, community hospitals, local (tambon) administrative organisations and district offices.

The council also polled people’s opinions on the civic and private sectors.

Just over 73 per cent of respondents said they found civic organisations to be effective, with village health volunteers ranking the most popular; 71.16% believed the private sector was operating effectively.

Taxi driver Nakhon Nakwilai wasn’t among those who voted in favour of the public sector. He complained about how hard it has become to make ends meet to support his two small children, thanks to the government’s failure to curb ride-sharing services like Grab and Uber.

The taxi driver said the government hasn’t taken the issue of ride-sharing apps seriously enough and has been unsuccessful in cracking down on this business.

He’s been a taxi driver for almost a decade and used to make between 20,000 baht (S$807) and 30,000 baht a month. But once Uber took off, he can barely make 15,000 baht a month, he said.

Despite the legal grey area in which Uber and Grab operate, Mr Nakorn said he has seen many Uber cars in service day and night. He urged the government to quickly solve the problem. Uber operators should be clearly distinguished from ordinary taxis, with a proper sign on top of the roof of their cars, if the company wants to run a public transport service, he said.

Ms Jai Ngampit, a homeless person in Prawet district, said she thinks the government has done a very good job of restoring order, improving hygiene and opening up public spaces to pedestrians.

“Some street vendors may not like this policy as it has a direct effect on their business, but I like it because the pavements and footpaths should be exclusively for people on foot,” she said, referring to how the pavements have been largely cleared of cars, vendors and shop displays.

“I’m happy with the military government. Even though I have to work harder to survive on the street, I don’t mind,” she said.

Mr Preecha Immen, a farmer in Chai Nat province, said farmers have faced a number of problems since the 2014 coup. In addition to drought and floods, many are now plagued with long-term debt, he said.

He sold rice at 5,900 baht per tonne last season while others sold theirs at 5,200 to 5,300 baht -- the lowest prices in decades. Mr Preecha didn’t make any profit last season since he invested 120,000 baht and earned just 118,000 baht from his 20-tonne yield, he said.

Although the government has injected billions of baht into new loans and subsidies to help rice farmers, Mr Preecha said he did not believe many have benefited.

“Comparing the policy to support farmers of this government with the rice-mortgage scheme of the previous government, I have to say that our quality of life has turned from good to bad,” he said.

Mr Arupong Yooprachaya, a white-collar worker in Bangkok, said the country has changed for the better. The political turmoil and infighting have been greatly reduced. This has allowed Thailand to progress politically and economically, he said.

“Since the coup, even though the two political sides still don’t agree with each other, it’s like there’s a mediator who is forcing things along,” he said.

However, Mr Arupong admitted that in the long term having the junta in power may prove a challenge because so many countries have failed under military rule.

He said coup-based governments are riddled with problems but at this point in Thai history having the military regime in power is welcome because the country has been stuck in a rut for so long.

Mr Srithong Intachai, a worker in Chiang Mai, said the coup was a mistake that should not be repeated.

He said the government has promised reform, change and other welcome measures but that little if anything has changed for the better. In his eyes, things have only gone from bad to worse.

“If we try to voice our opinions, we get silenced,” he said.

“They say we have to follow the law and the rules they made, but they haven’t even followed them themselves. Instead, they abuse their power.” BANGKOK POST