By THE NATION
AFTER A GRAND reception to show their support for Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha, the people of ฺBhum Jai Thai party’s stronghold in Buri Ram and other three lower northeastern provinces had their project proposals seen by the Cabinet yesterday.
While Prayut’s field trip to the region has widely been seen as a political move, the premier said local authorities and politicians who proposed the projects would not get everything they wanted.
Among those considered yesterday included 40 projects, worth a total of Bt1 billion, on irrigation to solve flooding and drought issues. They accounted for almost half of all proposed agricultural and water resources development projects, with a total worth of Bt3.4 billion.
The projects were proposed by the private sector in Buri Ram, Nakhon Ratchasima, Chaiyaphum and Surin for Prayut’s Cabinet to consider during their mobile meeting in Buri Ram.
The Cabinet meeting was part of the junta premier’s two-day field trip, one among many held recently. The PM spent time talking with people, meeting local politicians and looking over local development project papers.
Prayut, who has taken frequent rural field trips for more than a year, is regarded as having gathered popularity in the provinces by keeping in touch with local authorities and politicians ahead of the election, in which the general is highly expected to seek a way to maintain power.
At yesterday’s meeting, the Cabinet looked into infrastructure, trade and investment projects, border trade, tourism and life-quality enhancement.
While most of the projects are still under assessment, they are estimated to be worth as much as Bt21 billion.
The Transport Ministry was assigned to undertake an environmental study to reconstruct Buri Ram Airport following a proposal for a new two-storey terminal building and the expansion of the current 2,100-metre runway to 3,000 metres.
“With this enhancement, the airport would have the capacity to hold a big event such as an international car race,” said Transport Minister Arkhom Termpittayapaisith.
Other proposals examined included a Bt70-million study for a dual-rail logistics system, Bt40 million to study the possibility of constructing a commercial airport in Surin and Bt100 million in additional budget to promote elephant tourism.
Buri Ram, a border province with a low per-capita income, has been developing as a sports hub in the past decade under the auspices of the province’s key man, Newin Chidchob.
With a long history as a “kingmaker”, backing at least three prime ministers, Newin joined 30,000 other locals who filled Chang Arena to greet Prayut on his arrival in the province.
The Cabinet’s support for a sports and development agenda is in line with the desires of Newin’s bloc and this might manifest in more political support for the PM - but both Prayut and Newin refuted the suggestion that the visit had any political agenda.
“This travel is not at all for political purposes. The government only tries to move forward with every provincial cluster,” Prayut said. “We can’t approve all the requests but we have to consider everything and decrease some budgets.
“You can’t ask for a trillion or 10 billion baht and have it all delivered,” the premier continued. This was possibly a reference to Newin’s remark to the cheering masses on Monday that the premier would give the nod to multi-billion-baht projects
Meanwhile, a Pheu Thai Party politician has claimed that Prayut’s visit to lower northeastern provinces would not alter the party’s stronghold in the region.
“He [Prayut] might not want to pull politicians from the Bhum Jai Thai party,” ex-MP Prayuth Siripanit, referring to an influential party in Buri Ram, “but it is likely that he would much want the party to support him. The scene, to me, is staged and not surprising.”
Democrat Party deputy leader Kalaya Sophonpanich also urged Prayut to distribute budgets to all northeastern provinces equally. “They might not have 30,000 people cheering you but they also need support,” she said.