Preah Vihear, baht top concerns
The Preah Vihear Temple case will be problematic for Thailand while the strong baht and the government's spending habits are among the top concerns this year, a seminar heard."Preah Vihear will cause a lot of trouble no matter what the decision [by the International Court of Justice] because it will be politicised by any group that wants to stir up trouble," veteran journalist Kavi Chongkittavorn said at a public forum on Thailand's outlook this year, organised by the Institute of Security and International Studies at Chulalongkorn University.
Kavi, who believes that Thailand actually has no foreign policy at the moment, said all sides, especially the government, should be careful in speaking on the issue.
Thailand's foreign policies have revolved around fugitive former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, who has already regained his Thai passport from this government.
Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra should take a bold step and revitalise the country's foreign policies. One suggestion is that it can be the facilitator or bridge between Asean and the superpowers.
Thailand can assume a constructive role in Asean. For example, it should use its good and long relationship with China to mend rows between China and some Asean members, he added.
Jaran Ditapichai, a red-shirt leader and adviser to Foreign Minister Surapong Towichukchaikul, also said the Preah Vihear case would be in focus, but nationalism was not expected to flare up very easily.
"There will be no big rally. There will be no coup," he said, citing the close ties between Yingluck and the Army.
The red shirts would still pressure the government for a constitutional amendment and the release of political prisoners.
"Those who want to use these issues to attack or oust the government will not succeed because the Pheu Thai Party and the government are using delaying tactics," he said.
Thus year will be very similar to last year as the Yingluck government would continue to implement the policies it had promised during the election campaign, he said.
Former finance minister Korn Chatikavanij, a deputy Democrat Party leader, said he also believes the Yingluck government would complete its term if it is careful in handling sensitive issues.
He said he was very optimistic about the country's economy in the next 10-20 years. However, the government should pay more attention to fiscal discipline and Thailand should enhance the role of the private sector to make the most of coming opportunities. It should tackle the problems of corruption and lack of transparency.
Among Korn's suggestions was that the Constitution or budget law should be amended to require budgets for populist policies to be funded by government revenue, not debt, as the government has taken out huge loans.
Supavud Saicheua, executive director of Phatra Securities, said Thailand could enjoy the momentum from populist policies in the first half of the year. Afterwards, it would need support from a recovery of exports, which did not meet the target last year, and investment in infrastructure projects.
Such projects would have to overcome the challenges of environmental impact assessments and non-acceptance by local people, labour shortages and corruption, he said.
He also raised concerns about the country's monetary and fiscal policies.
"Can we, a small open economy, be independent, be able to independently set monetary policies?"
Besides the country's debt level, Supavud was also worried about the impact from the government's spending on populist policies especially the rice-pledging scheme. Thailand's overproduction of rice would only cause rice prices to fall. Pushing agricultural product prices up would push prices of land in the provinces up and create bubbles.