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Parties hit out at junta govt’s populist handouts

Nov 21. 2018
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By THE NATION

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ABHISIT SAYS MEASURE IS NO DIFFERENT FROM SIMILAR POLICIES OF THE PAST; MEASURE SEEN |AS ‘SHORT-TERM’ REMEDY AND UNSUSTAINABLE

POLITICIANS FROM major parties yesterday slammed the junta over its populist package for the poor, saying the handouts were politically motivated.

Abhisit Vejjajiva, the Democrat Party leader, said the welfare scheme was no different from previous populist policies. It was baseless and emerged merely out of economic and political factors, he said.

“We expect this welfare card to be systemic, not something the government can just [use] to do whatever it wants,” Abhisit said. “These measures are not systemic. It is uncertain whether we will see the same packages next year.”

The former PM declined to speculate whether the assistance package was an attempt to gain an upper hand over other political parties ahead of the election. But he said he believed the people were aware what was going on, and the government would not win the support it hoped for by launching the aid packages.

His reaction came after a Cabinet decision on Tuesday to provide assistance by handing out extra cash of Bt500 to Bt1,000 to people via the state welfare cards held by 14.5 million low-income earners. 

The whole scheme costs more than Bt38 billion. The Bt500 cash handout, framed by the government as a New Year’s gift to the people, alone costs Bt7.25 billion.

Abhisit said he agreed that the government should help those in need. But the assistance must be based on a reliable system and should be as convenient as possible, he added.

Right now the financial help comes through transfer of credit to the card, which can be used for purchases only in a limited number of Pracharat stores. Only the Bt500 “New Year gift” and Bt1,000 travel expense for the elderly visiting hospitals are in the form of cash. But these will be given out only once – in December.

Thai Raksa Chart Party spokesman Pongkasem Satayaprasert yesterday asked if the junta was exploiting the state budget to woo voters and if the move had a hidden political agenda.

He pointed to four Cabinet members, who have joined the pro-junta Palang Pracharat Party, as being connected directly to the scheme. They could be considered as having an advantage over other parties, he said.

The other parties, Pongkasem said, had their hands bound and could not even conduct political activities freely because of restrictions imposed after the 2014 coup. 

In response to an argument that the assistance would at least inject money into the grassroots economy, the politician said it would only be a short-term solution. 

He added that it was not sustainable and would place a burden on the future state budget.

“If the National Council for Peace and Order is sincere about tackling poverty, it can find other sustainable measures to stimulate the economy,” he said. “Not something that clearly has a political agenda like this.”

Pongkasem also called on the junta to lift the ban on political activities so other parties could also get ready for the election. Also, he urged that the four Cabinet members involved with a political party resign to ensure a fair playing field for other parties, and that they stop using the state budget to woo voters.

Government Spokesman Puttipong Punnakanta yesterday stood his ground, saying the package was not a decision that the government had made overnight.

It had gone through a long process of deliberations before it was finalised, he said, adding the criticism that they had done it for their own popularity did not do the government justice.

“Don’t say that these packages will benefit some particular party. They benefit the people,” he said.

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