(Bloomberg) — One of Thailand’s most high-profile critics said the government was facing a “perfect storm” of protests and economic distress caused by the coronavirus pandemic, predicting it would not last the full term after losing the trust of its people.
Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, the former leader of opposition Future Forward Party, was banned from politics for 10 years after a court ordered the group’s dissolution for breaching financing rules in February. He has repeatedly denied the charges.
“In time of political, economic and health crises, if you can’t command trust of the people, how can you run the country?” Thanathorn said in an interview in the capital, Bangkok, on Monday. “You can’t even find a finance minister. It means no one has confidence in you.” The previous minister quit due to health reasons on Sept. 2 after less than a month into the job and has yet to be replaced.
Photographer: Brent Lewin/Bloomberg
The break up of Thanathorn’s party, which won the third largest share of seats in last year’s election, started a wave of anti-government protests that have expanded in recent months, with 50,000 people attending the biggest rally earlier this month.
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Protesters are demanding changes that include scrapping the military-appointed Senate — which played a key role in the return of coup leader Prayuth Chan-Ocha as prime minister after the election last year — and reining in the power of King Maha Vajiralongkorn.
The administration should not “underestimate the anger of the people,” said Thanathorn, who’s now running the Progressive Movement, a group of former Future Forward executives supporting candidates running in local elections which are expected to be held in December. “I don’t think Prayuth’s government will last full term. His government has lost all the trust of the people.”
Government spokesman Anucha Burapachaisri said under Prayuth’s leadership the country’s response to the pandemic had earned the praise of the World Health Organization. “The government will roll out various economic measures to restore confidence, and boost investment and consumption,” Anucha said. “It’s also preparing to allow foreign visitors to travel to Thailand with strict control measures.”
On Tuesday, the cabinet approved 51 billion baht worth of economic stimulus measures to bolster consumption, which the Finance Ministry said should help minimize the hit to the economy. It also cleared 1.47 trillion baht government borrowing in the fiscal year starting Oct. 1 to fund fiscal stimulus and the budget deficit.
The escalating protests add to the challenges facing Prayuth’s government, which is trying to revive an economy on track for a record contraction this year after the pandemic disrupted international trade and travel, the country’s two most important sectors.
Prayuth said on Monday he expected to announce the new finance minister next week, noting he needed time to find “the best person” who’s ready and whose family is ready. He previously said the resignation of the minister would not derail government policies. Prayuth again appealed to protesters “to reduce pressure” and avoid creating more conflict and division in the country.
Demonstrators want the constitution rewritten. It was developed under the leadership of Prayuth’s junta and is widely seen as one of the tools that helped his military-backed regime maintain its power in last year’s vote. The prime minister has said he is open to making unspecified changes to the constitution, however the parliament last week decided to delay the promised vote on proposals to amend the charter, angering protesters.
Protesters have called for more demonstrations and a general strike on Oct. 14. Political analysts expected the movement will continue to grow in the coming months, with more people including opposition parties joining the protests started by students and youths.
Thanathorn, who’s been at several demonstrations over the past months, said the country was weathering an unprecedented series of challenges. “It’s basically a perfect storm.”
(Updates with details of cabinet approval for spending, borrowing in eighth paragraph.)
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