PM urges middle class to save day

PM urges middle class to save day

Warns against populist appeals to the poor

The prime minister spoke to his top supporters - cabinet, National Legislative Assembly and bureaucrats - telling them that it is up to the middle class to swarm to the polls and defeat the poor who are just after government handouts. (Photo by Thanarak Khunton)
The prime minister spoke to his top supporters - cabinet, National Legislative Assembly and bureaucrats - telling them that it is up to the middle class to swarm to the polls and defeat the poor who are just after government handouts. (Photo by Thanarak Khunton)

Upper- and middle income people need to come out and vote if they want to stop parties pitching populist policies to the poor from regaining office, says Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha.

They should decide what they want at the polls or someone else would do that for them, particularly if political parties refuse to drop populism to woo votes, he said. 

"If they [political parties] use the same old campaign strategy, they will come [to power] with the votes of the poor who want more money to make their life better," he said.

"The people in the middle- and upper income ranges have to step in and cast their votes in national polls and the charter referendum too.

"If they say they don't vote because they don't like politicians and elections, the votes from those who want more money will win. Only some groups of people will come out and vote for their clans. We'll see the same old problems."

The call, similar to the pitch made by anti-government groups campaigning against the Pheu Thai-led government before the coup, was made as the prime minister led his cabinet to showcase the government's achievements over the past year at Government House.

The event was attended by representatives from the National Council for Peace and Order, the National Legislative Assembly, the National Reform Steering Assembly, the Constitution Drafting Committee and high-ranking officials from all ministries.

On the charter referendum, Gen Prayut said that, fail or pass, he would take responsibility but did not explain how.

He joked that those who failed to take part in the referendum would be taxed more.

"I was just kidding about the tax," he said. "I've got to point that out because journalists would say I'm abusing power or taking away human rights.

"I can hardly make jokes these days because they will be played up by the media."

Gen Prayut said the country has been through several phases of changes in the past 83 years and he wanted to see true reforms this time.

However, he said reforms could not be rushed and he could not stay longer than the time specified in the military junta's roadmap.

He promised to lay down a national reform strategy plan for the next 20 years during his remaining months in office.

"The 20-year reform strategy must be laid down for future governments to implement and carry on. But whether or not they will be is another story," Gen Prayut said.

He also called on political parties to say in their election campaign platforms if they support the 20-year reform plan and what they planned to do. 

Gen Prayut said parties should change their election campaign from focusing on populist policies to how they would implement the junta government's strategic plan and related economic and social development plans to take care of 70 million people, not just their constituents.

"If they promise to increase a minimum salary [for a university graduate] from 15,000 baht to 20,000 baht in an election campaign, people who need more money will vote for them.

"They should say how they will proceed with reforms, how they will spend state funds and how they will run the country in the next four years," he said.

After Gen Prayut finished his speech, his deputies took turns delivering statements on their own achievements.

Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai said the ministry's work to promote a better understanding about the political situation after the coup was "very satisfactory".

Mr Don said the Foreign Ministry always attached importance to reforms, not just democracy, when it explained the government's goals and objectives.

He also noted the ministry's challenge is to campaign for a non-permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council. The vote will take place in September next year at the 71st UN General Assembly.

The government's one-year performance report received mixed ratings from political parties.

Chaowalit Wichayasut, Pheu Thai's acting deputy secretary-general, defended the party's populism, saying it was a matter of perspective.

He said populist schemes were based on the party's belief that poverty is a big problem.

"This isn't vote-buying. It is intended to solve problems for low-income people. I think he has false information. Our policy takes care of everyone. Rich or middle income ranges, they all get the benefits," he said. 

However, he said he could not say what the Pheu Thai Party's policy would look like as the party would have to wait for the new rules under the new charter.

Pheu Thai's Surapong Tovichakchaikul poured scorn on Gen Prayut's achievements, saying his success consists of the songs he wrote after seizing power which should have been showcased at the presentation.

He was referring to Returning Happiness to Thailand which was released one month after the coup and the latest, Because You are Thailand, which was released on Tuesday, ahead of Wednesday's government performance presentation.

Democrat deputy leader Kiat Sitthiamorn said the government needed to do more on the economic front as growth was low compared with other Asean countries.

He also called for a review on fuel policy, saying local prices remained high despite the drop in global fuel prices.

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