EC to investigate cash handout spree
Pheu Thai takes aim at regime over freebies
The Election Commission (EC) will look into whether the government is trying to canvass for votes ahead of the general election through its 86.9-billion-baht splurge on low-income earners, the elderly and retirees.
EC chairman Ittiporn Boonpracong said Thursday that investigators will look into whether the government's massive cash handout is an act of vote-canvassing ahead of the poll tentatively scheduled for Feb 24.
Election campaigns are still prohibited by an order issued by the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) itself and campaigns cannot take place until after the EC officially announces an official election date.
The investigators will gather evidence and if it finds there are grounds to the allegations of vote-canvassing by the government, the office will submit the case to the EC for consideration, Mr Ittiporn said.
He pointed out that the EC has the authority to investigate the case without having to receive complaints first.
Critics have lashed out against the massive handout, calling it populism -- something that the regime had criticised politicians for doing and had pledged to stamp out.
Some noted that the cash handout packages would give the pro-regime political camp an advantage over other political parties in the coming general election.
Some ministers in the government are already at the helm of the pro-regime Palang Pracharath Party.
The package includes a 500-baht cash handout that will be given as a New Year's gift to almost 15 million people for a total amount of 7.25 billion baht.
The Pheu Thai Party issued a statement criticising the government's massive cash handout.
It is surprising that the government has just rolled out measures to help the poor after four years of running the country. The measures come only three months ahead of the tentatively scheduled election, according to the statement.
The former ruling party questioned whether such measures are politically motivated as taxpayers' money will be spent for election campaigns ahead of the poll, putting other political parties at a disadvantage.
Pheu Thai also questioned whether four ministers who are now executives of a political party took part in a cabinet meeting that approved the budgets. If they did, this could be seen as a conflict of interest, according to the Pheu Thai statement.
Industry Minister Uttama Savanayana was elected Palang Pracharath leader. Science and Technology Minister Suvit Maesincee is elected the party deputy leader. Commerce Minister Sontirat Sontijirawong is elected the party's secretary-general while PM's Office Minister Kobsak Pootrakool is elected the party's spokesman.
Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, leader of the Future Forward Party, spoke out Thursday against the government for splurging out on the massive budgets ahead of the election.
He saw it as a move by the government to score political gains and to help the regime to prolong its hold on power.
However, Anucha Nakhasai, an executive of Palang Pracharath, leapt to the defence of the government's cash handout schemes.
Mr Anucha, a former MP of the defunct Thai Rak Thai Party, praised the government for sympathising with the poor and the elderly and finding ways to help them.
He challenged parties which were critical of the packages to announce that they will scrap these measures if they take power after the poll.
"And let's wait and see if the 14.5 million people who stand to benefit from the measures will vote for you on Feb 24," Mr Anucha said.
Meanwhile, a Pheu Thai source said that a group of former Pheu Thai MPs for Kamphaeng Phet led by former PM's Office Minister Varathep Rattanakorn have confirmed they will join Palang Pracharath and will run as poll candidates under its banner in the next poll.
According to the Fiscal Policy Office, the cash handout packages, which were approved by the cabinet on Tuesday, could help boost economic growth by 0.07%.
The measures will be added to existing welfare measures for the 14.5 million low-income people in 8.2 million households who hold state welfare cards.
Electricity bills up to 230 baht will be waived per household each month for cardholders. Monthly water bills up to 100 baht will also be waived. The measure will run from this December to next September.
Also, a one-time payout of 500 baht will be ushered in from next month and cardholders can use the money to buy goods through their cards, or cash it in. About 7.25 billion baht is expected to be used in this part of the scheme.
The government will cover up to 1,000 baht of travel expenses next month for people aged 65 and older who are in need of medical treatment.