BANGKOK — Thailand’s new Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin vowed to act quickly to relieve the country’s economic problems in his inaugural speech to Parliament on Monday, following four months of political uncertainty while parliamentarians were unable to agree on a government.
Srettha entered politics after a career as a major real estate develope r, and his government is facing high expectations and pressing demands to address a range of economic, political, social and environmental problems in its four-year term.
Thailand’s economy has slumped after the COVID-19 pandemic all but crippled its lucrative tourism industry. Public debt rose to more than 60% of GDP in 2023, while household debt spiked to over 90% of the GDP this year, he said.
Thailand’s post-pandemic economy is like “a sick person,” with a sluggish recovery that puts the nation “at risk of entering a recession,” Srettha said.
He vowed to quickly take measures to relieve debt problems, mitigate rising energy costs and boost tourism, without going into detail.
He also said the government would work immediately to implement a campaign promise — a 10,000-baht ($280) handout for all Thais 16 and older to stimulate the economy by boosting short-term spending. Details were not given, though he’s previously said it would cost up to 560 billion baht ($15.8 billion) and will be ready to deliver by the first quarter of next year.
The promise drew major interest in the election campaign, but critics have questioned whether it would have a sustainable effect.
Long-term goals cited by Srettha include boosting international trade, supporting start-up businesses, investing more in transport infrastructure, improving agricultural production, empowering local government and increasing access to land ownership. The government would also seek to amend the current military-installed constitution through a process that allows public participation.
These steps would allow the economy to grow and its people to be able to “live with dignity,” he said.
The results of Thailand’s elections in May revealed a strong mandate for change after nearly a decade under military control.
But Parliament failed to endorse a coalition formed by the progressive Move Forward party, which won the most seats in the May polls, because members in the appointed and conservative Senate were alienated by its calls for minor reforms to the monarchy.
Srettha’s Pheu Thai party, which ran a close second in the election, then formed a broader coalition without Move Forward and was able to win Senate support. But it succeeded only by including pro-military parties and several parties that were part of the previous government, reneging on a campaign pledge not to do so. The deal raised skepticism over Pheu Thai’s ability to fulfill its election campaign promises while having to accommodate its allies that come from all along the political spectrum.
Reforms to the military — a powerful political player that has staged two coups since 2006 — were part of the platforms of both Move Forward and Pheu Thai, Srettha addressed the point diplomatically in his speech, promising “co-development” with the military to end mandatory conscription, reduce the excessive number of generals and ensure transparency in defense ministry procurement procedures. The ministry is headed by Pheu Thai’s Sutin Klangsang, one of the few civilians to hold the portfolio, usually controlled by veteran senior military officers.