🇹🇭 Is the Pheu Thai government heading towards 'embattled'?

Between the ancient rice, a sloppy cabinet reshuffle and the battle of BOT, it may well be

Hello friends!

Next week is a big one for our Mekong coverage with a look at the Funan Techo Canal AND an update on Myanmar. But, Thailand has been very busy recently and we can’t skip that. So a quick look in on Thailand today before the rest of the Mekong next month. 

It’s been a long few weeks of odd missteps from the governing Pheu Thai party. It’s very frustrating to see this opportunity of post-junta governance squandered in such silly ways, even with the Move Forward sidelining backdrop. I really hope this is just an unusually long teething pain period after such a destructive loss of government back in the 2010s. Though it does seem like we’re gearing up for a return of Yingluck Shinawatra, no? We’ll see! 

Let’s crack in,
Erin Cook

Disaster in Rayong

At least one person has been killed in a terrifying fire at the Mab Ta Phut Industrial Estate in Rayong province, AP reports. A fire erupted in a chemical storage tank on Thursday morning and took six hours to extinguish while hundreds of workers and nearby residents were evacuated. Four others have been injured. 

Reshuffling the cabinet, or the deckchairs?

Big brains across Thailand aren’t too impressed with the recent cabinet reshuffle, Apornrath Phoonphongphiphat reports for the Nikkei Asia. In the lead-up, word from the salons of Bangkok suggested the reshuffle would be aimed at reasserting the recently-sprung Thaksin Shinawatra’s place as patriarch of the Pheu Thai Party — nevermind the incessant chatter that his return has undermined the not-so-beloved prime minister, Srettha Thavisin. 

The sudden resignation of former foreign minister and deputy prime minister Parnpree Bahiddha-nukara after he lost the DPM title in the reshuffle shocked. It’s been followed with other resignations, including Vice Foreign Minister Sihasak Phuangketkeow and Deputy Finance Minister Krisada Chinavicharana this week, all of which are giving the impression of a government not exactly on the same page. For his part, Srettha is putting on a brave face in public.

“It was a very big mistake that caused a very big negative impact that backfired on the Pheu Thai Party,” Wanwichit Boonprong, a political scientist at Rangsit University, told Nikkei. It’s led to an internal split that will near certainly “cause major problems in the near future, particularly at a time that Pheu Thai's popularity among the people is deteriorating,” Yuthaporn Issarachai, a politics expert at Sukhothai Thammathirat University, told the outlet. 

Thai politics watchers do tend to be blunter than those we turn to elsewhere in the region, but the degree here has made me a) laugh and b) wonder how deep these fractures go. Polling quoted in the Nikkei piece shows 33% of respondents think it is “impossible” the party could win the next election. (Caveat being, of course, that they didn’t exactly win that last one.) 

Yum, yum

This rice in Ari looks fresh! Photo by Streets of Food on Unsplash

Srettha’s not exactly helping dispel the view that he’s a Shinawatra chair-warmer. This week he dug into a bowl of 10-year-old rice that had been sitting in the country’s stores since Yingluck Shinwatra’s administration. Yeah, that rice

It was ‘delicious,’ the PM allegedly said, who ate the rice with khai luk khoei. A source told the Bangkok Post that he gobbled it up but declined to answer how many times the rice had to be washed before it was fit. DPM and Commerce Minister Phumtham Wechayachai similarly enjoyed his feed. Democrat Party spokesman Rames Rattanachaweng isn’t convinced. He says the rice had to be washed 15 times before it was fit to eat, and the Minister hardly chowed down. 

What’s Pheu Thai banking on?

Srettha has been poking the monetary policy bear this year, seemingly goading the (independent) Bank of Thailand into a tiff about the true state of the economy. He’s found a new ally in the form of Pheu Thai party boss/nepo baby Paetongtarn Shinawatra. 

“The law that keeps the Bank of Thailand (BOT) independent from the government ... is a problem and a significant obstacle in fixing economic problems,” she told party members last week, in the strongest sign yet that we might be heading towards a dramatic — and ultimately, destructive — war between the governing party and the central bank. 

BOT Governor Sethaput Suthiwartnarueput isn’t worried, but economists are furious. “Politicians shouldn’t act to threaten or put pressure on the central bank independence in public. We ask those who are responsible for both fiscal and monetary policies to cooperate to maintain economic stability,” Nipon Poapongsakorn, head of a group of economists, said in a statement as reported by Bloomberg. Debate, sure, but independence is key, he added. 

Industry up in smoke

Snagged this one of a cannabis seller in Ekkamai a few years back

Government plans to rein in the frankly, shockingly permissive cannabis laws of the previous government may be harder than anticipated. “We’re all doing everything by the book but then suddenly the book is going to change. We’re gearing up to protest and preparing to file lawsuits in the event it happens,” Rattapon Sanrak, owner of Bangkok-based dispensary Highland Cafe, told Bloomberg.

The comments, and a planned protest, follow Srettha’s move to recriminalise cannabis this week. I’ve seen it all firsthand. I’m not convinced they can put this THC-infused toothpaste back in the tube, but the government is certainly set on trying. 

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