Economy comes first, says Prayut.

Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha has given a speech on nationwide TV discouraging people from joining protests in order to prevent the spread of Covid-19 and worsening the economy. In one week, the Thai government has launched several economic relief measures.

On 17 September, the Prime Minister of Thailand, in a message carried by the TV pool, said that he heard what the protesters say, but combating Covid-19 and reviving the economy should come first.

His speech came two days before the upcoming protest on 19-20 September at Thammasat University, Tha Pra Chan Campus, where it is expected that 50,000-100,000 people will join to call for constitutional amendments, freedom of expression, and monarchy reform.

“I would like to tell everyone who wants to come out and protest clearly that I hear what you say. I acknowledge your frustration with politics and dissatisfaction with the constitution,” said Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha. “I respect your opinions and your feelings. But today, Thailand is facing immediate pain which we need to address first, that is, alleviating the economic damage which the Covid-19 has caused all over the world. We should not make the situation worse.”

“Protests will delay the economic recovery because they will destroy business confidence and create uncertainty among tourists who will come to Thailand,” he said. “When we come to the time when we are ready to receive foreign tourists again, the protests will create turmoil in the country and undermine the government’s focus on its work in managing Covid-19 and the economic problems, the mouths and stomachs of the people. So I want to ask us to defeat Covid-19 and get through this global crisis together first. After that, we can gradually return to politics.”

Recently, the Thai government has announced several economic measures. On 10 September, the Centre for COVID-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) agreed to issue visas for up to 270 days to tourists with high-purchasing power to boost the economy. Tourists with this special visa have to undergo a 14-day quarantine period before they can travel in Thailand and even then, they cannot travel farther than 1 km from their residence.  

In August, the government launched the Centre for Economic Situation Administration (CESA), an economic team with a similar structure to the CCSA. Yesterday (17 September), it approved 21 billion baht in additional relief for 14 million people who will receive an additional 500 baht per month from October to December. Those with an income of less than 30,000 baht per year will receive 800 baht per month (up from 300 baht) and those with more than 30,000 baht income will receive 700 baht per month (up from 200 baht). The money will not be paid in cash, but stored in state welfare cards which can be used for payment in participating stores.

CESA has also approved a co-pay programme which will provide 3000 baht to 10 million people. Registration will on 16 October at 6.00-23.00 and continue after that until registration reaches 10 million. People who register successfully will be notified via SMS in two days. They will receive money via an application which can be used for payment in 100,000 participating stores. The government will pay half of the price of purchases up to 100 baht per day. People who register for the co-pay programme will not be eligible for other relief programmes and vice versa.

Gen Prayut’s speech echoes earlier statements by other ministers. On 13 September, the Bangkok Post reported Deputy Prime Minister Anutin Charnvirakul saying that the protesters should wear masks to prevent Covid-19 infections. On 14 September, Labour Minister Suchart Chomklin said that even though it is the beauty of democracy that people have diverse opinions, millions of people still struggle to find jobs and incomes. He asked who will be held responsible if protesters come out to worsen the economy as in Hong Kong.

Suchart’s speech came after he announced Job Expo Thailand 2020 from 26-28 September at BITEC in Bang Na. 1 million jobs will reportedly be available at the expo. Earlier the government also announced subsidies for businesses to hire 260,000 graduates. They will help pay half the salary up to 7,500 baht per month.  The government measures are responses to a report by the Department of Employment in July that new 500,000 graduates are at risk of being permanently unemployed.

Gen Prayut also said in his TV pool message that in other countries, governments have taken decisive actions against protesters to prevent the spread of Covid-19. For example, in Germany, 38,000 people gathered to protest against Covid-19 regulations and 300 protesters were arrested. “However, what I have ordered is a request to officials to treat the protesters with gentleness,” said Prayut,  “because I still believe that the people who will come out to protest will have awareness about the things which they should be careful about and stay within the boundaries.”