Who's directing behind the scenes?
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Who's directing behind the scenes?

Paetongtarn Shinawatra, leader of the Pheu Thai Party, on May 3 gives a speech on the party's policy and criticises the Bank of Thailand for impeding Pheu Thai's efforts to solve economic problems. Pattarapong Chatpattarasill
Paetongtarn Shinawatra, leader of the Pheu Thai Party, on May 3 gives a speech on the party's policy and criticises the Bank of Thailand for impeding Pheu Thai's efforts to solve economic problems. Pattarapong Chatpattarasill

The speechwriter who wrote the speech delivered by Pheu Thai Party leader Paetongtarn Shinawatra at the party meeting on May 3 did a lousy job which consequently put her in hot water.

Had Ms Paetongtarn been an economist or had a genuine economist check the facts in the speech first, the childish logic of linking the interest rate to public debt, written in the speech, could have been detected and fixed.

The speech was read as if by a parrot, including the most controversial part about the central bank's independence posing an "obstacle" to economic growth.

Amid the criticism that followed, the Pheu Thai Party defended Ms Paetongtarn in unison, insisting she has the right to criticise the bank.

Such defensiveness is not unexpected for a party well-known for its obedience to the "Big Boss" Thaksin Shinawatra and other family members.

His youngest daughter is being groomed to be Thailand's next prime minister. Like an unripe durian whose exterior appearance may look fine and ready to eat, the stuff inside tastes bland and is still raw. If the durian orchard cuts it prematurely to make quick money, the consequences will be disastrous.

Doubtless, the central bank is not beyond criticism like any other national agency. However, the criticism must be based on logic and good reasoning. In this case, it is not.

The central bank has persistently resisted the government's call to cut its policy rate by 25 basis points to 2.25% on the ground the cut will not help much in stimulating the economy.

The bank also disagrees with the use of about 500 billion baht from state coffers and borrowing to fund the government's digital wallet scheme, suggesting the scheme should be downsized.

However, the government has simply ignored the suggestions as the scheme is the flagship policy of Pheu Thai.

It is encouraging that a group of economists is seeking support from their own number to save the central bank from political interference and particularly its governor, Sethaput Suthiwartnarueput.

For the campaign to be more effective, it should be open to other professional groups as well.

For now, the central bank issue appears to have taken the backseat. But the threat is not over yet so long as the party still believes the Bank of Thailand is an obstacle to the government's policy implementation.

The Pheu Thai Party, energised by the "Big Boss" who hopes to revive its sagging popularity, and whose shadow looms large over its affairs, ready to spring more tricks.

Out of the blue, the party decided to revive the shameful memory of the rice-pledging scheme implemented by the government of prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra about a decade ago. Many among us have forgotten or have little memory of it.

The key actor, this time, is Commerce Minister Phumtham Wechayachai, a long-time and trusted aide of Thaksin.

The minister led a group of officials and reporters to a warehouse storing the decade-old rice in Surin province and ate samples of the rice stored there to prove the grains were safe to eat. Others were also offered a plate of the cooked rice.

The rice-eating stunt is reminiscent of the fried chicken eating show orchestrated by Thaksin at Sanam Luang in February 2004 to prove Thai chicken was safe after his government covered up the widespread outbreak of bird flu in Thailand for months.

The coverup remained until the heat became too much after the reported death of the first confirmed victim from the virus.

The real motive behind this stunt is unclear. Mr Phumtham said the remaining rice from the warehouse will be exported as old rice to some impoverished African countries, which may bring in 200-400 million baht in revenue.

The amount is peanuts for the party and is at odds with the party's rebranded slogan of "Think Big, Act Smart for All Thais". Take, for example, the digital wallet scheme, which is set to cost taxpayers 500 billion baht.

The plan to sell decade-old rice will hurt the image of Thai's premium rice in the world market.

Which governments in their right mind would buy 10-year-old rice which is contaminated with toxic chemicals from over 50 fumigations in the course of 10 years?

Hopefully, common sense will find Mr Phumtham and make him change his mind about the export plan. Or is the whole rice-eating stunt just a smoke screen to cover up something more bizarre?

Out of the blue, Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin dropped a bombshell that struck right at the heart of Bhumjaithai Party leader and Interior Minister Anutin Charnvirakul's political hopes at a meeting on Wednesday to discuss drugs problems.

The prime minister instructed the Public Health Ministry to reclassify cannabis as a narcotic in the Category 5 drug list, which also includes kratom, opium and hemp.

The decriminalisation of cannabis is a flagship campaign policy of Bhumjaithai, and a related bill has already passed the first reading in the House. However, it was shelved in parliament due to opposition from the medical profession.

The big question is from whom Mr Srettha got the idea of turning the cannabis issue upside down, as he had never given a hint about it before. To be more precise, who gave him the instruction?

However, the most unsettling move seems to be the secret meetings between Thaksin and representatives of anti-Myanmar junta rebel groups in Chiang Mai in April, reportedly to mediate for peace in Myanmar.

The move has left the government dumbfounded and critics questioning in what capacity Thaksin was interfering in the internal affairs of Myanmar.

Thank God, Thaksin's foolhardy adventurism did not work. Ethnic armed rebels, such as the Karen National Union, or KNU, Karenni National Progressive Party and the Kachin National Organization, did not respond to Thaksin's lobbyists who asked them to sign a document to authorise Thaksin's lobby team to act as negotiator.

Thaksin is always on the move, it seems, which seems at odds with the stamina of someone who has recently recovered after months of illness in hospital. Let's wait and see how many more tricks are to be pulled from the sleeves of the "Big Boss".

Veera Prateepchaikul is former editor, Bangkok Post.

Veera Prateepchaikul

Former Editor

Former Bangkok Post Editor, political commentator and a regular columnist at Post Publishing.

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