Thailand Analytical Update: New Government Delivers Policy Statement Before Parliament, Highlighting Coalition Parties’ Key Policy Priorities

Thailand Analytical Update | July 29, 2019
Authors: Riley Smith, Ella Duangkaew, Sarina Divan

New Government Delivers Policy Statement Before Parliament, Highlighting Coalition Parties’ Key Policy Priorities

On July 25 and 26, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha delivered his Government’s policy statement to Parliament, which was required in order for the Government to begin official duties. This policy statement, which was submitted to Parliament on July 19 and released to the public on July 21, discussed policy areas ranging from infrastructure and the tax system to public health and education (for the full text of the policy statement, please click here). In particular, the statement outlined the Government’s twelve main policies and twelve urgent policies; the main policies highlight the broader goals of the Government, such as elevating Thailand’s role on the global stage and improving the country’s competitiveness, while the urgent policies included more actionable items, such as reforming the tax system and promoting innovation in agriculture (to see the complete list of main and urgent policies, please click here).

The Government’s policy statement demonstrated a continuation of many of the policies of the previous administration, which was to be expected under the same Prime Minister and several of the same Cabinet members. It was largely consistent with the 20 Year National Strategy that went into effect in 2018, which outlines Thailand’s vision for stability, prosperity, and sustainability and emphasizes its goal of becoming a developed country. (For a summary of the 20 Year National Strategy in English, click here. For the full text in Thai, click here. For more information on the 20 Year National Strategy, see the Council’s previous Thailand Legislative Update here). Many of the priorities from the 20 Year National Strategy were included in the policy statement, such as boosting digital infrastructure, developing human capital, increasing agricultural productivity, promoting diverse tourism, and ensuring sustainable growth across all sectors. Additionally, the new Government will continue developing Smart Cities across Thailand and advancing the Eastern Economic Corridor through key infrastructure projects, two of the main priorities of the previous administration. With regards to trade, the statement also emphasized the importance of e-commerce and improving management of imports and exports. Prime Minister Prayut also noted that the Government would push to complete the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), though this was not explicitly written in the policy statement. Completion of the RCEP agreement is also a top priority for Thailand’s 2019 ASEAN Chairmanship (the full list of priorities for the Chairmanship can be found here), and it is encouraging to see this priority reflected in the Government’s statement.

As predicted, the policy statement merged the platforms of the key parties in Prayut’s coalition. Crafting a comprehensive policy statement that satisfied the demands of the 19 parties in the pro-Prayut coalition was one of the main challenges facing the new coalition Government. The Palang Pracharath Party’s push to expand welfare programs is reflected in the second urgent policy listed in the statement, which outlines efforts to bolster the welfare system, such as by improving the state welfare card system and allowances. However, Palang Pracharath’s promise to increase the minimum wage was not mentioned, despite the Labor Ministry’s recent movement on this issue (for more information, see our recent Thailand Update here). Additionally, one of the primary policy priorities of the Bhumjaithai Party, the third-largest party in the coalition, was the legalization of marijuana. One of the goals mentioned in the Government’s statement is to help farmers develop innovations, which includes accelerating “the study and technological development of marijuana, hemp, and other medicinal herbs” for the medical industry. This is in line with newly appointed Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Public Health Anutin Charnvirakul (leader of the Bhumjaithai Party)’s recent announcement that he would seek to add marijuana to the country's national essential drugs list. Finally, another priority discussed in the policy statement was the studying and gathering of public opinion on Constitutional amendments; this is in line with the Democrat Party’s key election promise to amend the Constitution.

The delivery of this policy statement provided a crucial opportunity for the opposition to debate the new Government’s agenda. Over the course of the two-day session, the opposition was given approximately 14 hours to question the Prime Minister and his Cabinet on their proposed policies. Members of the opposition parties, most notably the Pheu Thai Party and Future Forward Party, expressed disapproval of the Government’s policy statement, arguing that many campaign promises were missing and that the policies included in the statement were vague and lacked methodology. In particular, they criticized the ambiguity of the Government’s economic policies and questioned how the Government would fund its proposed projects.

This debate signifies a key difference between the operation of the new Government and the previous administration. As the leader of the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) for the past five years, Prime Minister Prayut had sweeping powers to instantly enact policies, most notably thorough the powerful Section 44, that allowed his administration to overcome political and bureaucratic obstacles in the policymaking process. However, with the dissolution of the NCPO and end of Section 44, as well as the recent House of Representatives election that has resulted in a slim majority for the pro-Prayut coalition (only eight seats), Prime Minister Prayut and his Government must now navigate a contentious political environment to gain support for new policies. The debate surrounding the new Government’s policy statement was just the first example of this. While the reintroduction of democratic procedures in Thai politics may slow the policymaking process, the presence of greater checks and balances on the new Government’s power that may result in more carefully crafted, transparent and effective policies.