Pressure from people in Thailand will mean the ruling military junta will stick to its promise of holding an election in February 2019, predicts Anuthin Charnvirakul, the leader of the country’s third-biggest party Bhumjai Thai.
You believe the Thai general election will go ahead in February 2019...
Anuthin Charnvirakul: This junta regime has conducted Thailand’s administration for five years, and psychologically, regardless of how the government came in, everyone should recognise that there is a four-year term. So any government that’s exceeded four years would have to go forward with an election.
The road-map the junta has placed out to the public – with all the promises that the leader has made, not only to Thai people but also to foreign dignitaries – has become more promising.
How do you think the new elections will differ from the previous ones?
Thailand’s most dangerous issue in the public sector is corruption. Corruption has become part of the process. But thanks to new technology, people can communicate electronically and report any misconduct. Rather than in the past, when all the wrongdoings had to be proven by investigation. This really makes public figures with an aim to take advantage of the country become more cautious.
Since the time the National Council for Peace and Order [the ruling junta] seized power by ousting the elected government in 2014, I believe Thai people have become fully aware that no regime can be better than the democratic regime they used to have. The pressure from people is building up; they want a general election. Regardless of the result, at least they can exercise their voice.
The current constitution will make smaller parties become more vital. The dominating party in the house will come under some limitations. I won’t say it benefits smaller parties or mid-size parties, but it gives more competitive advantage for those parties to campaign.
“What would Thailand gain from the Belt and Road? We would be only the passing city when right now we are the centre of everything, and we distribute to neighbouring countries.”
— Anuthin Charnvirakul
What is your view on Thailand’s infrastructure needs?
People have stopped spending. People don’t dare to invest because they don’t know if policies will be altered if the normal government comes back. They’d rather sit and wait until an elected government comes in to power.
You have Article 44, which means the junta leader could exercise [power] on every matter. He already exercised it once on an Australian mining company, and took away the concession. And now the company is filing arbitration against the Thai government. But the problem is, who will go to Thailand now? Especially foreign investors.
In order to attract foreign and local investors, we need to improve on logistics, big time.
Thailand only has Bangkok as the financial district and the hub of everything. The rest of the big cities mainly are growth centres or tourist attractions. We don’t need high-speed trains. We need wider roads. We need shortening of travel time – expressway, motorways, more access between each origin and destination. The agricultural industry cannot sustain high-speed train costs when you can carry a maximum 50kg of your product.
High-speed trains will only connect point to point. We don’t have web system or network where in London or Hong Kong you have inter-connecting lines. The cost of high-speed trains will far exceed the affordability for local businesspeople.
People think Thailand needs to connect to China. We’ve never had any problem up until now, we’ve never been short of any fruit from China. As far as I am concerned, I never heard that we’ve been short of any importation.
We have been in chaos for almost 15 years now. There are still lots of other things we should do to strengthen the country and improve the livelihood of our people.
Do you think Thailand should sign up for the Belt and Road Initiative?
What would Thailand gain from the Belt and Road? We would be only the passing city when right now we are the centre of everything, and we distribute to neighbouring countries. Now we are trying to say, let’s make our neighbour countries be the first entry port. We’ll be in the middle and won’t have control over entry and exit ports. What will we be left with? We will be squeezed to death.
So we have to make Thai people not follow the trend of the world. We have to see where we stand and what is best for Thailand.
What is your view of New Zealand?
New Zealand is an example of a self-sustaining country. It is not a world financial centre or a world manufacturing base. But it has always been self-sustaining, even though it went through all economic turmoil in the past.
I came here for the first time 27 years ago. At the time, I think New Zealand was at rock-bottom. I came to buy all the cranes and construction equipment to bring back to Thailand. I’m still using them now. People say at that time, New Zealand was flat. And a few years after that, New Zealand come up stronger than before.
So I am interested in seeing how you accommodate people. Tourism is one of New Zealand’s major incomes. As well as agricultural products. We make rice, you are making milk.
These are part of the things I am interested in. Democracy, parliamentary system. Professionalism.
Anutin Charnvirakul is the leader of Bhumjai Thai, Thailand’s third-largest political party. He is also chairman of steel company STP & I Public Company Limited. He spoke to the Asia Media Centre in March 2018 during a visit to New Zealand supported by New Zealand's Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade to help increase understanding of New Zealand among “key influencers” in Thailand.
– Asia Media Centre