BANGKOK — Defending the military government’s handing out of 500-baht cash stipends to welfare card recipients, one of its ministers – who also helps lead a pro-junta political party – said Thursday that Thailand’s poorest are in dire need of help.
Suvit Maesincee, minister of science and technology and deputy leader of the Palang Pracharat Party, said the poor are starving to death and should benefit from continued support for programs introduced by his government, such as its controversial welfare card program.
“This is not a handout to the poor as alleged because these people do not earn enough, so we need to fill up for the people. We want to create a pracharat society,” Suvit said, using the slogan his party is named after, which the government uses to promote its policies as a form of public-state cooperation. Palang Pracharat wants junta leader Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha to become prime minister after the election.
“People are starving – near death. How can you not help them? We must help and expand on it. Right now there are 11.4 million holders and we must look into it to see if it’s comprehensive or not,” said Suvit, referring to the welfare program that provides eligible, registered Thais with monthly credits for things like groceries and transportation.
Last week, they also received a one-time 500 baht stipend described as a New Year’s gift by the regime. The rush to obtain the money, especially on a holiday from limited numbers of ATM machines, caused some pandemonium.
The program led to debate over whether it was sound policy or a thinly veiled attempt to buy votes while #500baht became a topic on social media. One commentator defended the scheme as no different from the 30 baht medicare program introduced over a decade ago by former PM Thaksin Shinawatra while others said it was different because medical care is a welfare right while the cash handout was a one-off disbursement.
“I thought they said they hated populism and vote-buying policies? Oh I forgot, the person doing it is not Thaksin or Yingluck,” @Shyguythailand tweeted Wednesday.
“What can help the poor is not 500 baht but easy and equal access to education,” @Kaekissed tweeted.
Suvit, who has yet to resign as minister despite his growing obligations as a political player, said salarymen will also benefit from a forthcoming policy proposal to pay pensions to those working in the private sector.
“There are changes facing all professions,” he said.