Inflation bites as Thai election looms

Inflation bites as Thai election looms

Numerous unemployed Thais wait in line with homeless people at Bangkok’s Grand Palace in the rain as living costs rise due to 14-year high inflation, creating problems for the government as a general election is about to take place.

Eight years ago, Prayut Chan-O-Cha, who had promised to provide calm after protracted protests had begun to hurt the kingdom’s economy, took the helm of the government.

However, it found it difficult to follow through on its commitments, and the pandemic’s harm to the travel industry has been exacerbated by a global inflationary crisis that has driven costs up beyond the means of many people.

The government recently increased the price of instant noodles for the first time in more than ten years in response to manufacturers’ demands, a move that is considered as emblematic of the gravity of the crisis but is sure to cause more suffering for consumers.

The consequences are already painfully obvious to those who are waiting in the rain.

Somchai, who only revealed his first name and is unemployed, said, “Food is too expensive anymore. A few years ago, I could afford to buy my own food.”

The 42-year-old added, “I couldn’t stomach the pricing so I had to come out and locate food donation like this,” after receiving his dinner.

The coalition administration led by the military-friendly Palang Pracharat Party (PPRP) has only until March to call for a general election, leaving little time for change.

False promises

Prayut’s suspension from power last month while the Constitutional Court determines whether he has exceeded his term limit as prime minister has only made matters worse for the PPRP.

After previously agreeing to extend a fuel tax break, the government has now approved a proposal to boost the daily minimum wage to between 328 and 354 baht ($8.83 and $9.53) in an effort to alleviate the suffering of Thais in need.

Although the measures were implemented “for winning votes,” political expert Napisa Waitoolkiat of Naresuan University told AFP she doubted they would persuade many voters to change their minds.

The harm is irreparable, she declared. ‘You cannot survive’

Voters won’t forget the PPRP’s promises to boost the economy, according to Napisa, who predicted that it will likely play a significant role in the election.

But once in power, she continued, “they are unable to fulfil the promise.”

And while the increase in the minimum wage is a step in the right direction, Pavida Pananond, an international business professor at Thammasat University, said more was required.

She noted that in order to help Thai lower-income households cope with the burden of rising living expenses, more focused policy measures need to be considered.

Despite the return of foreign tourists following the pandemic shutdowns, growth remained sluggish in the second quarter, coming in at just 2.5% and being weighed down by high inflation.

Even Thailand’s GDP growth rate is the slowest in the region, as Pavida predicted.

Pavida also cautioned that price increases for products like instant noodles might be a sign of future price increases for other goods.

“Lower-income people would be significantly more affected by this,” she said, “whose bulk of income is spent on food or energy.”

In the middle of Bangkok, Veerayuth Sae-ung admitted that his “style of eating has changed a lot.”

The 34-year-old claimed, “I used to come down here and get lunch like this every day, but lately I just couldn’t afford to buy from vendors every day longer.”

Co-founder Greg Lange of the Bangkok Community Help Foundation, which provides 500 meals every day, forewarned that they were assisting an increasing number of people.

There are instances when the queue extends two or three blocks, he continued, “even while it is raining.”

His co-founder Friso Poldervaart remarked, “I think it was already quite hard for the elderly to make ends meet.

Many of the elderly people they assisted, according to Poldervaart, had lost touch with their relatives and couldn’t make ends meet on the 600–1,000 baht per month provided by the government.

“You can’t live off of it. That’s just how things are, “said he.

So, even if it was already difficult, it will only get more difficult for everyone to get by as costs rise.