The Big Interview: Pita Limjaroenrat joins us to talk Move Forward, Covid-19 and coalition governments

For this week’s Big Interview, we caught up with Move Forward Party Leader Pita Limjaroenrat to talk about the issues facing the country and his party.

The following interview has been edited for clarity.

On the need for a parliamentary meeting and the concerns the opposition have

Pita: Because parliament is currently in recess, there is no weekly meeting to address the crisis and the problems of the people of Thailand. Two weeks ago was our first attempt at having an ad hoc meeting among the opposition.

We want to meet in parliament to discuss the welfare of the Thai people, issues of public health and the economy. A lot has happened in the last 100 days and our public health officials have done fairly well to contain the disease. But the welfare of the Thai people, as well as the economy, is definitely something we want to discuss.

In terms of the economy, we want to address the reallocation of the budget, the 1.9 trillion baht emergency loan and next year’s national budget. These are all things that must be discussed [in parliament].

There is no clear vision and strategy from the government of what we are going to do, what is the recovery strategy of the government for next year. We also need transparency because the 1.9 trillion baht loan deal is the largest in the government’s history and the government has so far not responded to our requests.

Parliament can be a resource for this issue and we can help the government secure the money faster in a transparent manner to be used faster. Whether it will be one week faster, or two weeks faster.

On why the government’s loans and aid must be quickly disbursed.

You can see now that the society is extremely unequal.

Seven days for you and me might be fine but not for everyone. I don’t want to hear any more news about people committing suicide because they don’t have enough food for them or [their families]. That is why we need to get aid out as quickly as possible.

On the government’s response to the crisis so far

We have to break it down into parts where the government has done well and where they haven’t.

Where they have done well is on the public health side. We have managed to contain the disease. We have brought down the number of infected month by month. Our doctors and nurses deserve all the praise and I sincerely appreciate everything they’re doing to get our country out of this madness.

As for the economy, we do not know how the government is doing because that is more of a long-term thing.

But the welfare and the well-being of the Thai citizens, I think that more than half the country has been left behind.

The reason why half of the Thai population is left behind is because there are around 40 million people in the workforce and the government estimated that number to be 3 million, then moved it to 9 million, and then finally to 14 million. We have been saying 14 million since [March] because we estimated that the number of people who don’t have social security or are working outside the system is around 14.5 million.

On the need to rise above politics in a time of crisis

It’s time for unity. It’s time for people to come together from different backgrounds. We should work together in a certain manner. But it doesn’t mean that it would not have to go through checks and balances. I hope nobody would use this time to secure power or do it for political gains. That would be inhumane. But what we are doing is checks and balances and sometimes we have constructive criticism or constructive suggestion on how we can help the people as fast as possible.

On responding to critics who accuse Move Forward of playing politics

I understand the sentiment of the people. No one wants this to happen, it’s unprecedented. I understand and hear the people, but it’s not the time for people to not do anything about the issue. I was hired by their money by their taxes to represent them. If I see something wrong and without criticizing or without giving suggestions and alternatives, I would not be doing my job. So, I need to do my job in a constructive manner where I give hope to the people.

For example, the exit strategy of this crisis is vaccination research and development. Many countries are investing in research for the vaccine. The United Kingdom granted UK£42 million so that people can have access to it.

Our budget is 43 million baht. That probably costs less than someone’s car or watch.

In the next budget, that is down to 27 million baht. That is still not enough. When every other country is researching for a vaccine, they are first going to use it for their own citizens and Thailand would get it later.

Has the government asked help or advice from the opposition?

It has not happened yet. The location of dialogue is usually in parliament. We are wide open to giving our ideas and strategies. Even if they haven’t reached out yet, we can still speak to them through the media like when we pointed out their estimation of 3 million informal workers were too low.

They haven’t spoken to us directly; we are speaking to them directly.

On the legacy of Future Forward

We cannot be indecisive and change our ideology or change the policies that were promised by FFP. We will consult our MPs, see what their background is, and delegate them roles which are suited for them. It’s my job as party leader to produce more leaders.

To give out more opportunities for people to speak to the public. I’m not going to consolidate all the communication and thinking.  You might not hear me speak as often as other political leaders because I will let those who have the expertise on certain issues speak. If we combine our teamwork and effort, FFP’s legacy will be secured.

On keeping Future Forward’s momentum

It’s hard for every party because parliament is in recess.

We have fewer MPs now down to 54 from 80. The quantity might drop but the quality is not going to drop.

[MPs] will still be vocal about the issues.

On the northern forest fires and smog issues

For the [forest fire] issue, it is a very local situation where we don’t have enough local resources. Simply put, we are outweighed by nature.

We also need a more diverse range of equipment to tackle the problem. We also lack local cooperation by a system that prohibits the indigenous people from going in to help and put it out.

If I could summarize we need the resources, technology, and decentralization in tackling the problem.

On joining the coalition or national government

I think our stance is pretty clear in our criteria of joining any government. It has to be fully democratic meaning it is not a continuation of dictatorship. It means people in the government must be elected, not appointed.

If the political parties who agree with these criteria and with the understanding of the future of Thailand, and they understand democracy in a full spectrum then we will join.

Obviously, this government does not fit any of the criteria mentioned.

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