February 13, 2014 00:00 By SAMUDCHA HOONSARA
THE EMBATTLED government of Yingluck Shinawatra is like a creature entangled in a fishing net. The more it tries to solve its problems, the more issues confront it, mostly stemming from the original problems.
As most other member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations prepare for the advent of the Asean Economic Community in 2015, Thailand remains mired in political conflict. Since the military coup in 2006, the years of conflict have not only failed to solve the problem; they have made things worse.
Mostly, both sides of the conflict are standing firm in their stances and refusing to compromise, despite repeated efforts by different groups to mediate for a solution. The conflicting parties often cite laws to support their claims.
Former prime minister Anand Panyarachun recently pointed to the threat of the government’s loss-making rice price-pledging scheme to the Thai economy. He also warned that the ongoing political conflict could lead to a series of problems that would bring about another round of economic crises within a few months. “Thailand needs a government that can function normally, fully and effectively.
We cannot afford to continue to live in limbo like this much longer,” the ex-premier said.
Vishanu Krua-ngam, a legal expert with good connections to both conflicting parties, has offered himself as a mediator in future talks between both sides aimed at ending the conflict.
Former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who is believed to be pulling strings behind the government, is highly confident. And he is known to rarely admit his mistakes or faults. When he does admit to them, it’s often long after they have led to more problems and worsened the situation.
Without a mediator who could directly connect with Thaksin, the prospects would be slim for talks between the government and its political rivals, including the People’s Democratic Reform Committee, which has held anti-government street protests for more than three months.
However, some politicians close to Thaksin have sent signals they are ready to talk with the ruling Pheu Thai Party’s political rivals. The reason could be because the government is now in such a difficult position, with mounting pressure over its controversial price-pledging scheme.
Even Pheu Thai’s supporters among the rice farmers have turned against it after the government repeatedly failed to repay them for their rice sold to the scheme at a subsidised price. Some Bt140 billion is still owed to millions of farmers all over the country.
Thaksin is mainly to blame for the failure of the project. He came up with the idea of turning Thailand into a major rice-trade hub capable of influencing global prices in the way the Organisation of Petroleum-Exporting Countries (Opec) does in the global oil market. However, overstocking of rice led to price declines, rather than increases. As a result, the government failed to sell most of the rice in its stock and could not get money to repay the farmers.
The caretaker government and the ruling party have blamed the protesting PDRC, the Election Commission, and the early dissolution of the House of Representatives for the failure to repay rice farmers. But they have yet to show any sign of taking responsibility for the problems that stem from their own policies.
In addition to the government’s lack of funds to repay the debts, the rice scheme has also been tainted with large-scale irregularities involving people linked to Pheu Thai. The government has failed to address this problem, also.