Thai parliament passes budget bill in wake of turmoil

Bangkok, May 28 (DPA) The Thai parliament passed the first reading of next year’s budget, which calls for a 22-percent jump in spending in the wake of political turmoil in Bangkok in recent weeks, government sources said Friday.

The bill, passed in a 250-172 vote late Thursday, was hailed as a step toward political stability after unrest surrounding a two-month anti-government protest in Bangkok left at least 88 people dead and caused about $6 billion in damage and lost income.

‘The speed and manner in which the budget bill was passed shows how quickly Thailand is rebounding from the political turmoil and that institutions within the kingdom have proven to be stable and mature enough to continue conducting the country’s business,’ Finance Minister Korn Chatikavanij said of the two-day budget debate.

The bill calls for a 2.07-trillion-baht ($64.7-billion) budget for the next fiscal year, which begins Oct 1. The amount represents a 22-percent increase from the previous budget.

Education would receive the largest allocation of 388 billion baht, or 18.7 percent of the budget, an 11.9-percent increase over this year as the Education Ministry implements a newly introduced policy guaranteeing 15 years of cost-free education.

Defence was allocated 170 billion baht, 8.2 percent of the total, and double the allocation of the Ministry of Agriculture.

The Puea Thai opposition party criticised the defence budget as favouring the military over impoverished farmers.

Although, the defence budget was about the same as last year’s, the military has seen a large increase in spending on often questionable purchases since a 2006 coup ousted former premier Thaksin Shinawatra.

Thaksin, living in self-imposed exile since 2008 to avoid a two-year jail sentence of an abuse-of-power conviction, has been accused of being the ringleader and financier of the anti-government protests in Bangkok from March 12 to May 19.

The army dispersed the protestors from their main rally site in the heart of Bangkok’s commercial district May 19, prompting hardcore demonstrators to go on a looting and arson rampage in the city that destroyed 29 buildings.

According to government figures, 88 people died in protest-related violence over the past two months, including 77 civilians and 11 security personnel.

The damage done in terms of property and lost income was estimated at 150 billion to 200 billion baht.