Former prime minister Anand Panyarachun yesterday suggested that the feuding sides in the political conflict start the process of settling their differences by focusing on the problem of poverty.
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Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva’s government has responded to the crisis with vigorous fiscal pump priming, including direct cash injections into the grass roots economy. With public debt at 23% of GDP, international reserves at US$110 billion, and 2008 balanced budget, the government arguably has plenty of fiscal room to maneuver.
In January the Cabinet approved a 117 billion baht supplementary budget, which included various measures aimed at buoying the economy, including cash 2,000 baht handouts to nine million civil servants and workers nationwide, job creation programs and community investment funds.
The same protest group occupied Government House for nearly three months beginning last August, effectively crippling the workings of two different Thaksin-affiliated governments. A modicum of stability has returned with the formation of Abhisit’s coalition government, which is believed to have military backing and has prioritized restoring foreign confidence.
Investor confidence has not yet fully recovered from the military appointed administration’s surprise move in December 2006 to impose and then retract capital controls on foreign equity, bond and currency transactions. A nationalistic motion the following year to amend the Foreign Business Act spooked Japanese investors, many of whom have their Thailand operations structured in a way legislators aimed to ban.
Indeed grass roots competition for government resources is intensifying. For instance the Farmers Rehabilitation and Development Fund is seeking 17.2 billion baht from the cabinet to buy back debts owned by over 62,000 farmers and rehabilitation and occupational training programs. During the 1997-98 financial crisis, a large number of unemployed factory and service sector workers returned to the rural countryside to eke out a subsistence living working in their relations’ fields. Agriculture currently accounts for 11% of GDP.