Former leader of anti-government street protest and Move Forward Party's Member of Parliament candidate Piyarat Chongthep poses for photos during a general election campaign in Bangkok, Thailand, 21 April 2023 (issued 07 May 2023). EFE-EPA/NARONG SANGNAK/FILE

Thai parties turn to populism in race for election votes

Bangkok, May 9 (EFE).- Giving away cryptocurrency to millions of people, freezing farmers’ debt or legalizing sex toys are examples of the long list of populist measures proposed by Thailand’s political parties ahead of Sunday’s general elections.

“These elections already have a winner: populism,” Thitinan Pongsudhirak, dean of Chulalongkorn University’s Faculty of Political Science, said last month at an event at the Bangkok Correspondents’ Club.

The expert said all parties running in the elections take “populist measures” to attract a handful of votes, a strategy criticized years ago by “the most conservative sectors” which they are also joining on this occasion.

Incumbent Thai Prime Minister and United Thai Nation Party’s prime ministerial candidate Prayut Chan-o-cha (C) greets supporters during a general election campaign at Phra Pradaeng Market in Samut Prakan province, Thailand, 05 May 2023. EFE-EPA/NARONG SANGNAK

With such a host of proposals, the National Anti-Corruption Commission said it expressed its “deep concern” Thursday and asked voters for “caution” in the face of some “unrealistic” populist measures that could fuel “corruption,” in an article published in their website.

With the minimum wage having risen only slightly since 2012 and at 353 baht a day ($10.3) in Bangkok – lower in other provinces – the platforms have launched into a race to promise abrupt increases, which, according to the expert, can put the economy structured around cheap labor at risk.

Pheu Thai, the favorite according to the polls, has among the strongest proposals, saying it would raise the minimum wage to 600 baht per day, while other parties, such as the reformist Move Forward, lowered their promises to 450 baht.

Pita Limjaroenrat, the Move Forward Party’s candidate for prime minister, speaks to supporters during a general election campaign in Bangkok, Thailand, 04 May 2023. EFE-EPA/NARONG SANGNAK

However, among all the string of disparate ideas, two stand out above the rest.

Pheu Thai itself, who amassed several populist proposals, said it promised to give a digital wallet with cryptocurrency worth 10,000 baht to everyone over 16.

This measure, for which the party was called before the Electoral Commission, aims to stimulate the local economy since the amount can only be spent in stores within a radius of 4 kilometers from a person’s home.

More daring has been the Democratic Party, the most veteran formation in Thailand that has fallen apart in recent years and now has also embraced with pleasure the legalization of dildos and other sex toys.

According to this conservative party, regularizing the sale of erotic toys will create a source of income via taxes and will allow control of this type of product, which, although illegal, can be easily found in street markets.

Pheu Thai Party’s prime ministerial candidate Paetongtarn Shinawatra gives a press conference following her son’s birth at a hospital in Bangkok, Thailand, 03 May 2023. EFE-EPA/RUNGROJ YONGRIT/FILE

The country’s huge household debt ratio – at 87.5 percent, the third highest in Asia – especially in impoverished rural areas dominated by farmers, is another of the workhorses.

Once again the Pheu Thai, branded as populist for years by the conservative side, proposes freezing farmers’ debt for 3 years and promoting measures – such as establishing an agreed purchase price for various agricultural products – to triple income for 2027.

Conservative party Palang Pracharat has proposed transferring 30,000 baht to up to 8 million farmers, which would skyrocket spending to almost $7 billion.

The aging of the population and the low birth rate is another of the targets to which the parties have launched their measures, with monthly allowances for children under 6, where conservatives and reformists coincide.

While more traditionalist parties, such as the United Thai Nation – led by current prime minister – and which have the most adults as one of their electoral bases, promote modest increases in allocations for people over 60. EFE