Thailand has an investment problem despite what the prime minister says

Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha, on Wednesday, implored the press and the private sector to not say that Thailand has a foreign investment problem, despite growing evidence to the contrary.

The premier said that “the facts” pointed to continued investment into the country and that people should refrain from “saying anything that will damage the country’s image and is inappropriate.”

According to Prayut, there has been continuous investment especially on infrastructure projects and the investment into the Eastern Economic Corridor, a special economic and industrial zone planned by the government to be an economic powerhouse that would increase growth rates and investments.

However, plans for the EEC have largely stagnated even before the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. The brainchild of former economic tsar Somkid Jatusripitak, the EEC did not see widespread foreign investment with infrastructure projects including housing and schools to support former workers remaining mostly empty.

The coronavirus pandemic has only made the situation worse with a government-mandated lockdown in April shaking investor confidence and postponing plans for many companies this year.

In the past two months, investor confidence had begun to recover according to a University of the Thai Chamber of Commerce study but those hard gains may be lost if the government does not quickly address the growing political crisis.

Student-led protests have gripped the country over the past two months with students calling for a rewrite of the military-drafted constitution and calling for a change of government.

A large rally is planned for this weekend with the student leaders saying that they will take more drastic steps if the government does not heed their demands. Saturday’s protest will also be the first time that the activists plan to camp overnight, drawing comparisons to previous protests by the pro-military demonstrators in 2014 and the red-shirt protesters in 2010 which gridlocked large parts of Bangkok with prolonged street protests.

The protests of the 2014 and 2010 stagnated the economy at the time and led to slowed growth and minor recessions. Analysts fear renewed political problems could exacerbate an economy already destroyed by the coronavirus pandemic with the country facing a best-case scenario of an 8 per cent contraction.

Paiboon Nalinthranngkurn, the chairman of the Federation of Thai Capital Market Organizations, said that investor sentiment, especially among foreign investors was very low. According to Paiboon, the biggest negative factor was the potential for prolonged political conflict.

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