Thailand’s ruling junta is reverting to familiar political tactics

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It says much for the current junta’s ability to govern Thailand that they have chosen to exploit the very same idea, or one very near to it, which last year led them to depose their sworn enemy—former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra. Or at least that was the feeling after Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak unveiled on October 16th a ‘swoosh’ styled, long-term program to kick-start the country’s lagging economy that featured front-and-center a… rice subsidy scheme.

Smoked was nevertheless quick to point out that this new version is far better than that which Yingluck’s government introduced (cue raising of eyebrows.) While Yingluck’s government subsided rice farming by paying an inflated price for the crop, the junta’s scheme paid farmers a direct cash handout last year of 1000 baht per 0.4 of an acre. Yes, there are additional inclusions to the junta’s 35 billion baht plans to boost Thailand’s agricultural structure, such as in diversification of crops, but in essence there is little difference between these plans and those that Yingluck’s government sought to implement. Which tells us one thing: the junta is, to be perfectly blunt, entirely out of ideas.

Implementing a policy of this nature in the same week that Yingluck was 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 – is a perfect example of Thailand’s cognitive dissonance. Smoked might be making the right kind of noises about encouraging the Thai people to generate their own wealth and attracting foreign investment (a ridiculous proposition given the current political climate), but the answer so far still seems to revolve around throwing money at the problem and hoping it goes away. As a result of the 2014 coup, the economy is in crisis and no amount of back-pedaling can change that fact. GDP growth was halved compared to the rate expected last year, while exports are set to contract by a worse-than-anticipated 5 percent year on year.

Blast from the past

When Yingluck Shinawatra introduced what became known as the ‘Rice Scheme,’ she continued her brother Thaksin’s policy of currying grassroots support in the poorer agricultural areas of the north and north-east in order to foster a power base there that could rival that in Bangkok. With over a third of Thailand’s entire population involved in rice farming in some form or other and a purchase price guaranteed that was 50 percent higher than was the usual, Yingluck needed to do little else to secure the support of a now enthusiastic electorate. A significant improvement on her older brother’s earlier attempts to empower the northern electorate through cheap mobile phone deals, Yingluck nonetheless became the second Shinawatra to fall foul of Bangkok’s powerful military.

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