January 18, 2014 00:00
By Samudcha Hoonsara
Rice farmers may protest over payments
Farmers who had joined the rice-pledging scheme issued an ultimatum that they would stage a massive protest if the authorities failed to pay them soon after January 15 as promised.
Indeed, farmers in several provinces, notably in the North and Northeast – regions considered to be strongholds of the ruling Pheu Thai Party – have already held protests.
The government is obliged to inject more than Bt130 billion into the scheme and has instructed the Bank for Agriculture and Agricultural Cooperatives to reserve Bt55 billion in cash to pay them. However, it remains unclear whether the bank has enough money to pay the farmers.
Meanwhile, the farmers say that if they don’t get paid in time, they will not hesitate to put more pressure on the government.
The rice-pledging scheme was one of the key policies that the Pheu Thai-led government implemented to win support from farmers.
Meanwhile, farmers who grow other kinds of crops such as maize and cassava are also queuing up to demand government subsidies for their produce.
Many experts, including prominent economist and former government adviser Virabongsa Ramangkura, had warned earlier that the rice-pledging scheme would create problems for the government both economically and politically.
As of now, it is still unclear how the government will handle the pressure from farmers, who are its strongest supporters. Meanwhile, it is still struggling with the problems being created by the People’s Democratic Reform Commission (PDRC) as it tries to shut down the capital.
Key members of the government continue insisting that the February 2 election will go ahead as scheduled, even though many agencies including the Election Commission continue advising the government against it.
They say that if the election does go ahead as scheduled, it could lead to many more problems including clashes. So far, it looks as though the government has no clear plans on what to do should such a problem occur.
PDRC leader Suthep Thaugsuban, meanwhile, has clearly said that his group is not ready to make any compromises with the government.
However, perhaps Suthep’s approach is as risky for himself as it is for the government. On the one hand, he offers the government no negotiable choices, while on the other hand he has no clear road map on achieving such a high ambition. What happens if the protesters demand that he reach a compromise?
Besides, both sides are betting on the patience of Bangkok residents.
How long will they tolerate being inconvenienced? Though some might enjoy the festival-like atmosphere at the protest sites, will the local residents find the rallies acceptable if they continue for months and slowly destroy the economy?
At this point, it is still difficult to predict what will happen if the battle continues.