Dissecting Prayut’s speech on his new economic strategy

On July 8th, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha released a video on his Facebook page entitled “A Three-Pronged Strategy to Build the Future.” The prime minister, tieless and standing at an angle, looked more relaxed than in his usual speeches. Given that he last posted a video on his page one year ago, this content certainly felt out of the ordinary.

It was, perhaps, an attempt to win back some media space after the government has in recent times been swamped by the formidable public relations machine of Bangkok governor Chadchart Sittipunt. Whether or not he succeeded is debatable; speaking for 17 minutes straight, the speech was not exactly going to be a hit with social media fans. It received relatively little public attention and the video has garnered less than 40,000 views at the time of writing.

Prayut announced three core parts of his economic strategy that will “build an opportunity to create economic prosperity for millions of people.” The first part is the construction of the “biggest and most integrated” infrastructure projects in the history of Thailand. The focus, Prayut said, must be on railway, roads, airports and sea ports: “infrastructure that is designed to increase everybody’s wealth.” 

The second part of the strategy is to make Thailand a global hub for the production of electric vehicles. The prime minister noted that the automotive industry has been one of Thailand’s most important economic drivers in the past thirty years, but today faces great risk of disruption as the world transitions to the use of EVs. Hence, he has “done everything I can to make Thailand one of the world’s most important EV hubs.” 

The final component that Prayut mentioned is ensuring greater access to banking services and credit. “We have over 30 million Thais who cannot access loans, and many who do not even have a bank account,” he remarked. The prime minister declared that banks must use technology to help more ordinary people access their services. 

A couple of things stand out from this speech. 

Notably, all of the items that Prayut mentioned are priorities that the government has been focusing on recently: the goverment has for some time made clear that it cares deeply about the electric vehicles industry, while the use of online platforms for payments was pioneered effectively during the Covid-19 lockdowns. 

But it is also worth paying attention to what didn’t make it into Prayut’s three-pronged economic strategy. There was no mention of the government’s earlier signature initiatives. The Eastern Economic Corridor, which formed the first Prayut government’s flagship policy, went entirely ignored. Also left out was any discussion of any policies to support domestic innovation. Indeed, it is clear that Prayut remains focused on Thailand as a manufacturing hub rather than as an innovator in itself, which raises questions about whether the government is taking necessary economic restructuring seriously.

There are also several points that are noteworthy from a political perspective.

Firstly, Prayut declared that this economic strategy will bear fruit in no longer than two years. This figure immediately raised eyebrows from observers. Is Prayut implying that he will also need two more years to see this economic strategy through? And of course, given that Prayut’s term is ending early next year at the latest, does that confirm that the prime minister wishes to stand again in the next election?

Indeed, it would be interesting in and of itself that a premier with less than a year left in his term is making announcements on long-term economic strategies, unless he also sees himself staying in the long term as well. 

Secondly, if Prayut does intend to run again, this speech was a good preview of his messaging in the upcoming election. The prime minister most importantly sought to draw a contrast between what he terms as “big” and “sustainable” economic plans, where previous short-lived governments only pursued short-term policies that only focuses on “handouts.” 

Prayut also drove home the point that infrastructure projects take time to build, but that “many are nearing completion.” Infrastructure has always been one of his government’s biggest selling points, with social media pages supporting Prayut consistently highlighting the completion of new roads and highways. 

However, this speech in itself encapsulated the prime minister’s continuing messaging weaknesses. The name of this speech — the “three-pronged strategy” — is hardly catchy or memorable. Indeed, it calls to mind other oft-used Prayut-era slogans like “Thailand 4.0” and “the BCG economy”: substantive, to be sure, but hard to comprehend and unlikely to resonate with ordinary voters. 

Prayut also took time to make the point that he is “not good at expressing or presenting,” but that he “knows how to make big things happen.” Some things he says, Prayut noted, “may sound funny, but please know that I am sincere.” 

It is a line that brings to mind former Bangkok governor Aswin Kwanmuang’s repeated insistence that he is more a doer than a talker, that despite his poor communication skills his ability to deliver is unparalleled in the field of candidates. Voters did not buy this argument, and Aswin came in sixth place; in a democracy, communication still counts. Whether Prayut can use this message with greater effectiveness remains an open question. 

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