Three former Prime Minister candidates from the 2019 election discussed their views on how to combat the coronavirus outbreak in Thailand during an interview with Workpoint News on Wednesday.
The former candidates were Sudarat Keyuraphan from the Pheu Thai Party, Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit from the now disbanded Future Forward Party, and Abhisit Vejjajiva from the Democrat Party.
The common theme of the interview was the criticism on the government’s initial approach and communication at the beginning of the outbreak, the compensation of the government, easing restrictive measures, and the Emergency Loan Decree.
Government measure and communication mismanagement
Sudarat stated that the government took too much time in implementing preventative measures. “We recommended the government to implement a state quarantine system since February that whoever comes into the country should have been tested and practicing self-isolation for 14 days in order to see their condition, along with a 21-day containment policy that would minimize the number of infections by testing as many people as we can.”
Thanathorn added that “there are three measures that need to be in unison, which are social distancing, government aid and public health measures. We have seen these three measures being decided at different points in time, which makes the implementation of them much harder because by not deciding on the three measures together, you don’t have a policy that works in the same direction.”
Abhisit and Thanathorn stated that the initial communication methods made by the government was inadequate and problematic but praises them for letting the public health officials be the main source of information. “What the government has done is listen to the experts (doctors) to lead and directly talk to the people,” said Thanathorn.
Government aid and easing the lockdown
Abhisit commented that the government aid program is very problematic because it does not reflect the reality of how things actually are. “Whether you screen the people using AI or not, the problem lies in the way the government benefits work. People who are registered as being in agriculture are registered as a household, while those who register for social security are individuals. Problems arise when people who do not work in agriculture but register in another for government benefits do not pass the screening process as being in need because they are registered as agriculture workers.”
Thanathorn spoke on a similar line. “The government benefits should be accessible to everyone. People have complied and stayed home for their country, the question now is what has the country done for them? This is because getting access to government aid is becoming very difficult that people are now resorting to writing [on social media] about how poor they are and degrading themselves to show how much they are struggling in order to have access to handouts. This is so no one dies from starvation or from the virus.”
He further stated that, “if [the Prime Minister] wants to understand the struggles of the people, you do not need to talk to the 20 richest people in Thailand (jao sua), but you should go to the crowded communities and talk to them. Don’t bring your bodyguards, I’ll take you to talk to them.”
When asked about easing the lockdown, Sudarat said “if you think going into [lockdown] is hard, trying to re-open businesses is much harder. This is because if you are going to re-open businesses, there will need to be precautionary measures in place such as lowering the number of seats in restaurants from 40 people to 20 with social distancing measures. If these measures are announced too soon, businesses will suffer.”
Abhisit said, “I believe the loans that the government is asking for should be used in two parts. Firstly, it should be allocated to the use for medical personnel and the second part we should be using it for those who are economically affected by the virus.”
Sudarat pointed out that the loans could be much lower if the government made budget cuts to the current and next fiscal budget. “It is much better if the government made budget cuts because you will have money on hand in order to combat the socio-economic effects of the virus, instead of waiting for the loans. You also loan less as well.”
She continued, “It is much better to have an Emergency Decree for budget cuts because it does not have to go through parliament instead of making loans. The government did it the other way around and now budget cuts will have to go through parliament, which each ministry will quickly make contracts in order to sustain their funds, making it harder to make budget cuts.”
Thanathorn points out that “you do not have a better opportunity of having almost two trillion baht. The opportunity now is how to manage that money so that it reaches people in need to create new jobs and opportunities, instead using it to benefit big businesses.”