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'The economy must take priority'

Country is on the edge of recession and Asean competition intensifying: Business people and diplomats warn

ECONOMIC ACHIEVEMENT and integration into the Asean community are the great challenges for the Prime Minister-elect General Prayuth Chan-ocha, as the country is on the edge of recession while the door to regional integration has already been opened, diplomatic and business figures have said.

They said economic matters must be the priority for Prayuth's government since the economy had slowed since late last year when anti-government groups started the protests that ended with the coup on May 22.

"I think one of the priorities will be to manage the economy. With a stable Thai economy, the regional economy will also perform better," an Asean diplomat told The Nation when asked for a reaction after the National Legislative Assembly yesterday voted for Prayuth to become prime minister.

"Hopefully the new government will continue to think about Thailand's integration into Asean, and also about the larger regional strategic picture," said the diplomat, on condition of anonymity.

Lyn Kok, president and chief executive of Standard Chartered Bank (Thai), said that Prayuth's priority must be to restore the confidence of foreign investors. She said one way to do that was by pushing infrastructure projects that could attract foreign investment.

The prime minister-elect should also try to boost Thai competitiveness as it was facing more challenges from more competitors being driven by integration of the Asean Economic Community at the end of next year.

Kok said neighbouring countries were enhancing their competitiveness to deal with the AEC, so Thailand had to do the same.

Darren Buckley, president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Thailand, said foreign investors' confidence in Thailand would not hurt by Prayuth becoming prime minister.

"The mix of the new Cabinet will be interesting since it is less obvious on what the set up is going to be, such as what is going to be the ratio of military personnel, and will there be a mixture of different political views within it," he said.

Prayuth has not revealed his plan for the make up of the Cabinet. But it was reported that most ministers would come from the inner circle of the junta.

His deputies are tipped to become deputy prime ministers and ministers, taking care of key ministries.

Junta adviser Pridiyathorn Devakula is tipped to become a deputy prime minister overseeing economic matters while deputy junta chief Thanasak Patimaprakorn, a four-star general, could become foreign minister.

Stanley Kang, chair of the Joint Foreign Chambers of Commerce in Thailand (JFCCT), said foreign investors would be keeping an eye on the setting up of the new Cabinet and how it functioned.

Kang said everything seemed to be functional due to the respect that Prayuth had from the permanent secretaries and other government agencies. He was confident things would continue to run smoothly.

The JFCCT is due to meet with Prayuth in upcoming weeks to give its economic outlook for the next three to five years.

Sombat Kitjalaksana, managing director of Bangkok Metro Plc, said the junta had handled many challenges.

"I expect the rail system development, which is one of the biggest challenges facing the Prayuth government, will also be successful someday," he said.

"Over the next 10 years, the country's rail system will not be the same as it was in the past ten years. The rail system will be more systematic in terms of both the regulatory and business sphere."




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