New Thai premier pushes old populist policies

Feb 18, 2008, 5:11 GMT

Bangkok - Thailand's newly elected Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej on Monday pledged to re-introduce a host of populist policies associated with the previous Thaksin Shinawatra administration, including a controversial crackdown on drug dealers.

Samak, making his first policy statement to parliament, promised debt moratoriums for farmers and the poor, access to cheap health care, cheap housing and loans for small and medium sized businesses, repeating the populist polices first introduced by Thaksin and his Thai Rak Thai (TRT) party during his two-term rule from 2001 to 2006.

Thaksin was overthrown by a military coup on September 19, 2006, in what was seen as an effort by Thailand's old elite to reclaim power from the populist prime minister who had managed to monopolize the country's political system.

Thaksin has been living in self-exile since the coup but is expected to return soon now that Thailand has a democratically elected government that is openly supportive of the ousted forme premier.

Samak, the 72-year-old leader of the People Power Party (PPP) that won the most seats in the December 23 general election on a platform that it would bring back Thaksin's pro-poor programmes, also promised to pay more attention to the elderly during his four-year term in office.

'Next year we will introduce new programs to take care of the elderly,'

Like most Asian countries, Thailand faces a huge challenge with coping with a swiftly aging population. According to United Nations estimates, some 27 per cent of Thailand's population will be old, over the age of 60, by the year 2050. Besides re-introducing populist policies, Samak also promised to follow in Thaksin's footsteps in cracking down on drug trafficking, although he made no reference to the former prime minister by name.

'This government has the old way of thinking that the drug users are
sickpatients needing treatment while those who sell drugs must be punished
accordingto the justice system,' said Samak.

He stopped short, however, of calling for a renewed 'War on Drugs,' as Thaksin had.Under Thaksin's war of drugs in 2002, police were instructed to wipe out drug trafficking in methamphetamines and heroin, resulting in the extra-judicial slaying of more than 2,500 suspects, many of whom turned out to be innocent.

The campaign was strongly criticized by international human rights groups and various non-government organizations working with drug users such anti-HIV/AIDS groups.

Source: monsters and critics

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