By KAS CHANWANPEN,
PRIME MINISTER Prayut Chan-o-cha staunchly defended his 20-year national strategy plan yesterday and warned that people should not allow politicians to scrap it, even as scholars expressed their fears it could be used to sabotage future governments.
“Today, many parties are saying that when they become the government, they’ll axe the national strategy,” Prayut said. “[That is] axing your own country. Will you people yield to that? You can’t. This is the avenue you must pursue if you want prosperity.”
The junta leader made the remark in a speech “National Strategy: Thai Future Our Future” that he gave to the opening of the National Economic and Social Development Board’s annual meeting at Impact Arena Muang Thong Thani. The event was attended by more than 2,500 people from various sectors.
Prayut said such grand schemes were present in many countries all over the world. All governments needed to follow them and not deviate from them, he said.
“Whoever becomes the PM must chair the National Strategy Committee and follow it,” Prayut said. “Now, some people just want to be the PM but don’t want to carry out the strategy because it has already framed what the PM has to do.”
The 20-year national strategy has been drafted and passed by entities under the coup-installed regime and is highlighted in the Constitution that obliges future government to adhere to the plans laid out in it. Cabinet members could be impeached if they refuse to comply with it.
Political parties and critics have lamented that the strategy, written with limited public participation, would overrule future elected governments and in part force them to carry out the junta’s legacy.
Prayut, however, has reiterated that the contentious strategy is vital to the country’s future. When he said recently that he was interested in political work, Prayut also brought up the strategy and reforms, saying he wanted the junta’s initiatives to be respected and implemented even after the new government is in place.
According to a Thammasat University political scientist, Attasit Pankaew, the emphasis Prayut is trying to put on the national strategy can be viewed as an approach to assert himself in politics.
“It could be a ploy to maintain his relevance in [post-junta] politics,” he said. “If we see that he’s preparing to become a politician when he said he’s interested in politics, the stress over the national strategy could be his way of campaigning to win voters. Because some people will surely think that [because] Prayut has pushed it forward, he’s the best person to carry it out.”
Attasit was not certain, however, if the national strategy was appealing to the public.
People might be aware of its existence and that it would be the master plan for the country’s development over the next 20 years, but he believed that few people understood its central substance or where exactly it was likely to take the country.
Meanwhile, an economist also said yesterday that he feared the 20-year national strategy being used as a political tool to overthrown future elected governments.
Pipat Luengnaruemitchai, assistant managing director at Phatra Securities, expressed his concern over the national strategy formulated by the junta-backed government.
“Generally, it is all right if we have a long-term plan with no punishment for governments that do not follow the strategy, but the 20-year national strategy has imposed a penalty which could lead to an impeachment of the next election governments,” said Pipat.
Therefore, he warned, the national strategy was rigid and prone to be used as a political tool to overthrow future elected governments. The plan also risked becoming obsolete when conditions changed in the future, he pointed out.
For instance, the current government wants to implement the Eastern Economic Corridor and special economic zones along Thailand’s borders but these projects might prove to be irrelevant in the future, he noted.
Prayut yesterday tried to allay people’s fears, denying that the 20-year plan was rigid and saying that it could be changed. Pipat, however, said the procedure involved in attempting to change the plan was very difficult.
The PM also expressed his optimism that Thailand could get out of its middle-income trap faster than 20 years and he called for people’s co-operation to make that |happen.
For his part, Pipat said it could be done if the country were able to raise its productivity and achieve an annual economic growth rate of 5 per cent, which he believed would pose a serious challenge.