Shaky economy greets Thailand’s reappointed PM

Thailand’s newly reappointed prime minister, Prayut Chan-ocha (pictured), has said little about being selected to head a supposedly civilian administration. 

The former general issued a brief statement thanking the parliamentarians who had voted for him, including many of the 250 unelected senators, who were selected by the military. 

Asean’s second-largest economy grew 2.8 per cent in the first quarter from Q1 2018, the weakest growth since 2014, as public investment, exports and tourism slowed amid Donald Trump’s trade dispute and domestic political risks. 

Private sector uncertainty had dampened prospects for public spending so far in 2019, said Sarun Sunansathaporn of Thailand’s Bank of Ayudhya, who cut the GDP growth forecast to 3.8 per cent from 3.2 per cent for this year.

Thailand’s planning agency also said the 2020 budget would be delayed by up to four months, adding to the problems of already slow state spending and dampening private investment.

The junta’s vast US$45-billion Eastern Economic Corridor project along the Gulf coast aims to draw investment into the industrial heartland east of Bangkok. But it could be delayed if the coalition is unable to agree on its budget. 

Prayut has tried to shed his conservative image, breaking into song with self-written saccharine ballads addressing the nation.

He tried to court the youth vote on the campaign trail with an awkward photo shoot at Government House with an all-girl pop band.

“Uncle Tu’s” position as prime minister is consolidated by the 2017 military-drafted constitution that assigns special privileges to the military, especially if national security or stability are seen as under threat. Police and military chiefs are automatically appointed to the senate.

But he will now be held accountable by an embittered opposition in the lower house rather than the supine national assembly – that he appointed after the May 2014 coup – which rubber-stamped his decisions. Prayut now leads a precarious 19-party coalition with only a four-seat majority in the lower house. 

“He is in a kind of a strongman mould, but now he has to be accountable, more scrutinised, so we can expect him to lose some temper. We can expect him to be flustered, frustrated. But the big question is whether the coalition government will hold,” said Thitinan Pongsudhirak, a political scientist at Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University.

Prayut’s defining characteristic over his premiership has been his temper, which is most evident during press conferences when asked anything challenging. 

He once threatened reporters with execution in an apparent joke.

At another press conference, Prayut erected a cardboard cutout of himself and told journalists, “If anyone wants to ask any questions on politics or conflicts, ask this guy. Bye, bye.”


The general has now ditched his uniform. Picture credit: Wikimedia