Regime woos South with billions of baht

Regime woos South with billions of baht

With the election now likely to take place in late February, the prime minister's up-country trips take on more importance. (Main photo Post Today)
With the election now likely to take place in late February, the prime minister's up-country trips take on more importance. (Main photo Post Today)

The government is expected to try to appease the southern region by approving a 200 billion baht budget during mobile cabinet meetings in Ranong and Chumphon province, according to a source.

Provinces likely to get windfalls are Phangnga, Phuket, Krabi, Trang and Satun, Nakhon Si Thammarat, Phatthalung, Surat Thani, Songkhla, Ranong and Chumphon provinces. One of the projects likely to receive a large share of the windfall is a Thailand Riviera initiative to upgrade coastal tourism, said a source who is familiar with the meeting preparation.

The two-day cabinet meeting starts Monday. The source told the Bangkok Post that this southern mobile cabinet had not originally been on Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha's agenda.

"Gen Prayut earlier did not plan to visit the South because he was confident he would gain huge support from people in this region if he decides to return to the premiership after a general election next year," he said.

However, Gen Prayut changed his mind because recent problems such as low rubber prices have undermined the military government's popularity in the southern region which has typically been supportive of the military government.

Analysts are keeping an eye on the two-day visit to see whether political groups affiliated with the government will poach Democrat politicians and take them under their wings in bid to support the return of Gen Prayut as a prime minister.

While the political mood remains unclear, the visit has already prompted preparations for a new economic drive in the southern region.

Local officials and businessmen drafted several proposals ranging from surveillance camera installation to large projects such as seaside roads for tourism and an idea to build more ports to connect the South with the much-heralded Eastern Economic Corridor.

One of the lists comes from Chumphon province which is planning to ask the government for 8 billion baht. Part of the spending will go to a project to build roads under the Thailand Riviera project, said Suphong Uea-ari, chairman of Chumphon Chamber of Commerce.

Thailand Riviera was heralded by this government in March. It is a rehash of the Royal Coast project, which was initiated in 2005 to upgrade tourism in provinces near and around Prachuap Khiri Khan's Hua Hin resort district, home to a royal residential retreat.

Phetchaburi, Prachuap Khiri Khan, Chumphon and Ranong are four provinces which are likely to benefit from the Thailand Riviera project.

Surat Thani governor Witchawut Chinto said his province planned to ask the cabinet to approve a 3-billion-baht budget for its development projects, including a plan to upgrade Surat Thani Hospital as a centre of excellence in medical care for the upper southern region.

Meanwhile, the Election Commission has set a poll date of Feb 24 next year. The announcement received lukewarm responses from political observers and politicians.

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