WHILE SEVERAL parties contesting Sunday’s election have pledged to review the junta’s flagship Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC) development scheme, experts said yesterday that most infrastructure projects will continue regardless of which political parties form the post-election government.
“All the parties are in favour of infrastructure development, so progress on the EEC is unlikely to be affected after the election,” said Burin Adulwattana, chief economist and strategist at Bangkok Bank. Burin made the comment at a Fitch Ratings (Thailand) seminar yesterday on the country’s post-election economic and development outlook.
The EEC scheme strenuously promoted by the junta-led government is focused on basing new-technology industries in Chon Buri, Chachoengsao and Rayong.
At least three major political parties – the Democrat, Pheu Thai and Future Forward – have vowed to study the details of the project and proposed investment to ensure the scheme is worth continuing. All three have agreed in principle, however, that the development policy itself is sound.
Chatchart Sittiphan of Pheu Thai has said the next government would have to be careful about the investment aspect since the EEC project is vast, involving a huge amount of money.
The junta-backed government aimed to raise Bt1.9 trillion in investments from both the public and private sectors between last year and 2022.
Among others, key projects include upgrading U-tapao Airport to international standards, a high-speed railway linking Suvarnabhumi, Don Mueang and U-tapao airports, and innovation-based “smart cities” that will attract tourists.
“Many key projects have already been approved through the EEC Act, so they can’t simply be overhauled by the next government,” Burin said.
“And the Constitution obliges the incoming government to adhere to the 20-year national strategy, which includes several flagship infrastructure projects launched by the current government.”
Not even a party that opposes existing development policies could change direction, he said. The EEC projects are unlikely to be scrapped.
Obboon Thirachit, director of Fitch Rating (Thailand), said the EEC Act “should provide comfort for investors” about the continuity of the projects.
“Furthermore, given that the main political parties include infrastructure development among their key policies, the EEC projects should not be disrupted by the next government.
“However, there could be delays in the approval of some projects that haven’t yet been approved, so investment in them could be slower than expected due to the process of forming a new government after the election,” he said.
A Fitch Ratings report on Thailand released in January cited the high possibility of a relatively weak coalition government emerging from the election, the result of current electoral regulations. That weakness could pose challenges for the next government when formulating policy, it said.
Obboon said the threat to investment inflow wasn’t political opposition to EEC development but rather the risk of political instability that could follow the election.
Burin added that foreign investors in the capital market had “expressed concern on this issue while also having a certain level of scepticism over the prospects for the EEC”.
“However, Thai firms bidding on EEC projects, as well as Chinese and Japanese investors in the manufacturing sector, do see the potential for growth in the EEC.”
Burin said development of the EEC in the next decade would reinvigorate private and public investment, which has been lacklustre in the past decade, and would help Thailand avoid the “middle-income trap”.
Meanwhile Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, the PM candidate nominated by the pro-junta Phalang Pracharat Party, was in Chachoengsao yesterday inspecting construction of the Automatic and Tyre Testing, Research and Innovation Centre.
Representing a Bt3.7-billion investment, the centre is envisioned as part of an EEC automotive cluster that will enhance Thailand’s global competitiveness, Prayut told reporters.
“I will push this project forward to the second phase to help rubber-related industries,” he said.