Charter stokes downturn

Charter stokes downturn

The government can blame its trouble in dealing with the economic slowdown and its recent defeat in a Lower House vote on one thing -- the 2017 constitution.

Designed to achieve specific political goals, the charter has given birth to a weaker, more fractious coalition government led by the Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP).

The PPRP's lack of control over economic ministerial portfolios has made it more difficult for the government to address the sluggish economy. The downturn in the third quarter resulted in a cut of this year's growth projection to 2.6% from an earlier forecast of 3.2%.

Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak admitted that currently the economy is only being driven by one engine, instead of the four engines it would normally use. The engine which has performed well is the Finance Ministry and its various mechanisms, but, he said, the economy also needs to be driven by exports, farm products and spending on infrastructure projects.

Mr Somkid did not name the under-performing engines, but it is understood he was referring to the Commerce and Agriculture ministries under control of the Democrat Party and the Transport Ministry under the Bhumjathai Party. Unlike in the previous government, he reiterated he is no longer the head of the government's economic ministerial team.

A fractured coalition also resulted in defeat for the government camp in the Lower House's vote last week on a motion to set up a panel to study the impact of the use of Section 44 under the interim charter. The opposition edged the ruling coalition camp by four votes on the motion. This has prompted concern over both the stability and unity of the government.

The defeat was said to be caused by a rebellion of six Democrat MPs in retaliation for the PPRP's refusal to back former Democrat leader Abhisit Vejjajiva to head a House committee to study constitutional amendments.

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has called on coalition parties to honour the "gentlemen's agreement" they gave when the government was formed. He warned coalition parties not to create conflict as it will only chip away at public confidence.

But their gentlemen's agreement may not help much without key amendments to the 2017 constitution. Sponsored by Gen Prayut's former military regime, the charter introduced a new electoral system to increase MP seats won by small and medium-sized parties to benefit the military-backed PPRP. At the same time, it reduced seats available to large parties, apparently targeting the Pheu Thai Party, preventing them from winning a majority of seats in the House.

Under these rules, no parties gained overall control of parliament. The PPRP ended up forming this administration with 19 coalition parties. As part of that deal, it also had to share economic portfolios with the Democrats and Bhumjaithai, causing a lack of unity in the economic cabinet. Its razor-thin majority is a cause of political instability, as highlighted by last week's defeat.

Poor economic management and political instability are the crucial factors that have hindered Thailand from becoming a prime destination for investment by international companies which are seeking to shift their production bases from China to elsewhere, in the wake of the Sino-US trade war. Vietnam has become a more favourable choice than Thailand due to its brighter economic performance, cheaper labour costs and political stability.

It is time to fix the charter to bring about political stability and the better economic performance that goes with it.


Bangkok Post editorial column

These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.

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