Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha promised the press corps he will never be grumpy again. (File photo)
We have kicked off 2018 — with the hope that there will be changes ahead.
This year will be crucial for Thai people as the country is, based on the regime’s political timeline, supposed to move into democratic mode — with a plan for elections in November.
It will be a challenging year for the regime heavyweights over whether they can fulfil numerous promises they have made.
Soonruth Bunyamanee is deputy editor, Bangkok Post.
Remember the song composed by Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha which was aired on all state radio stations, shortly after he staged a coup and became premier in 2014? In the lyrics, Gen Prayut pleaded for public understanding, that rao cha tham tarm sanya (we will fulfil our promises) and kor vela eek mai naan (please give us a little more time).
Well, it has been three and a half years, and many of the promises remain unfulfilled, particularly those involving national reform, let alone the original pledge that the regime would “return happiness” to the people.
Happiness depends on each person’s expectations. Yet, a recent statement by Privy Council president Prem Tinsulanonda gave the impression that the military regime may not be able to meet its targets.
Gen Prem told Gen Prayut who, together with his cabinet ministers and top brass, sought New Year’s blessings from the senior statesman, that he must stick to his pledges. The 97-year-old statesman also warned that Gen Prayut has lost much of his support base, urging the premier to try harder.
Indeed, the prime minister has made several promises for this year. I would like to take this occasion to give the government an early reminder and hope they will not be forgotten as time passes by.
Holding an election
This is a crucial promise made by Gen Prayut.
Last October, Gen Prayut finally announced that general elections will be held in November this year. He made the announcement after a week of confusion following his return from a trip to Washington.
In early December, he assured a sceptical public that he would not renege and that the general election would take place in November.
Last week, the prime minister announced that this year would be a year of changes and the country would enter an era of democracy and good governance.
To help the prime minister remember his promises, the Bangkok Post is running an election countdown on its front page from the first of January until the last Sunday of November. In Thailand, general elections normally take place on a Sunday.
Though in my view an election is not the most important part of a democracy, the one this year will be one of the most important political events in decades as it will be a battle between liberals and conservatives.
Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak earlier declared there will be no poor people in Thailand this year.
Many people have ridiculed Mr Somkid for making such a statement; some have challenge him saying that his goal is simply not possible.
I also wonder how the deputy premier will keep his promise but I’m still giving him moral support.
However, a question remains over whether the definition of “poor people” mentioned by Mr Somkid is the same as that understood by the public.
Permanent secretary for finance Somchai Sujjapongse said earlier it is set to launch the second phase of the government’s welfare and subsidy scheme early this year.
The new phase will focus on about 5.3 million people whose incomes are below the poverty line.
These 5.3 million people are among 11.7 million low-income earners who have registered as poor people with the government and benefited from the first phase of the aid package worth 41.9 billion baht.
It’s likely Mr Somkid is targeting this group of people who live below the poverty line.
According to the office of the National Economic and Social Development Board (NESDB), the country’s poverty line stands at 2,667 baht a month, or 89 baht a day.
Currently, about 5.8 million people earn less than this (including those not registered). It’s good to hear the government aims to deal with those who deserve state assistance.
Still, I’m not sure helping these people will enable the government to claim it has succeeded in freeing people from poverty.
In fact, I’m not sure that the current poverty line is practical. Labour networks have suggested a minimum wage suitable to the current economic situation would be 600 to 700 baht a day. Many see the networks’ proposed minimum wage as unrealistic, but the fact is that the current wage is insufficient given the cost of living these days, particularly for those living in big cities.
The government may claim success if it manages to help those who earn 89 baht a day earn more. But it may not be in reality, especially when we know that even those with a 300-baht daily wage still find it difficult to make ends meet.
Stopping being ‘grumpy’
Gen Prayut also promised that he would stop being “grumpy”.
Simple as it may seem, this promise appears the most difficult for the premier who is known for his quick temper.
It appears Gen Prayut is a “multiple personality” man. Sometimes he is funny but often is easily irritated, particularly when handling the media. When angry, he shouts.
He once said he is a funny person. Shortly after his first tirade, he rather unconvincingly said he had just faked it.
Reporters attached to Government House on Friday presented Gen Prayut with a New Year greetings card with a pop-up Thai ogre character.
The reporters likened Gen Prayut to an ogre with several faces, which also means the prime minister, with several tasks in his hand, has to perform different roles.
It also reflects his quick temper. Despite being friendly with reporters most of the time, the premier can easily get agitated after just one or two questions. So it will be very interesting to see how long he can keep calm.
These are three key regime promises. Let’s see if they are kept. Until then, I wish our readers a Happy New Year.