Sun, Jul 02, 2006 - Page 4 News List

Thaksin hits the airwaves

THAI ECONOMY The PM said the economy's prospects were gloomy, partly due to economic factors, but mostly because of the nation's evolving political crisis

AGENCIES , BANGKOK

Embattled Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra returned to the airwaves yesterday after a four-month pause, using a radio address to vaunt his populist agenda.

Thaksin, whose party risks dissolution as a long political crisis drags on, spent much of the broadcast reviewing progress in efforts to help the rural poor and fight illegal narcotics.

He had to suspend his weekly radio address in February after calling an April 2 general election in hopes of stifling a street campaign against him. The courts later declared the vote invalid.

Thaksin said drug problems had recurred in some towns and border provinces after he stepped aside amid big street protests following the April poll. His absence lasted almost two months.

"During the political uncertainty, drugs problems returned to some areas. But since my return, we have seen relatively good results from our renewed campaign to track down dealers. The problems have now eased substantially," he said.

Thaksin's popularity peaked at 77.5 percent after his Thai Rak Thai (Thais love Thais) party won 377 of the 500 lower house seats in 2005, and fell to 34.5 percent in February ahead of the snap election, according to an Assumption poll.

Assumption has carried out no new nationwide poll since then, but its latest survey of bangkok respondents released last Thursday showed only 41 percent wanted Thaksin as the next prime minister.

The invalidation of the April election, boycotted by main opposition parties which accused Thaksin of seizing control of supposedly independent public institutions, left Thailand with a caretaker government unable to make major policy decisions.

As he did in most of his previous radio talks, Thaksin also touched on populist programs that won his party huge support in the countryside, including decentralizing management of community development funds and giving the poor easier access to loans from state-run banks.

"Under a capitalist system, access to capital and knowledge is essential for people to build up wealth. Without this, it would be difficult. Turning non-bankable assets into capital is a chance for the poor to gain access to capital," he said, referring to a policy allowing the poor to apply for loans from state-run banks with minimal collateral.

Thaksin said the Thai economy's prospects were gloomy, partly due to rising oil prices, higher interest rates and inflation.

"The problem is about confidence of foreign investors in the current situation," Thaksin said.

Thaksin said yesterday that the 1.4 trillion baht (US$36 billion) budget for next fiscal year could not be approved due to the current lack of a parliament. If the crisis drags on, it could also affect national budgets in following years, he predicted.

Analysts said that with the prolonged political uncertainty, the economy would probably grow around 4 percent this year, down from about 5 percent projected six months ago and against 4.5 percent in 2005.

Opposition parties denounced the prime minister's use of the public airwaves as giving the government an unfair advantage ahead of an election re-run tentatively set for Oct. 15.

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