Thai parliament passes $ 93 billion annual budget as prospects darken


Thailand’s parliament has approved the country’s annual budget which aims to increase spending to tackle the Covid-19 epidemic while cutting spending on defense and education as government revenues come under pressure from a deterioration of growth prospects.

The 3.1 trillion baht ($ 93 billion) spending plan for the fiscal year beginning October 1 has received support from 257 lawmakers. A total of 189 voted against and four abstained after a four-day debate, according to the results of a parliamentary vote on Sunday. Budget expenditure is 5.8 percent lower than 3.29 trillion baht for this year and sets the budget deficit at 700 billion baht.

The budget’s passage came amid mounting criticism and public protests over the government’s handling of the pandemic, which saw the number of cases surpass one million on Friday with nearly 9,000 deaths. Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-Ocha and five other ministers are expected to face no-confidence votes early next month, with opposition parties pushing for censorship debates to highlight the government’s failure.

Spending by various ministries, including defense, education and finance, has been cut to set aside more money to contain the epidemic and accelerate economic recovery. The governor of Thailand’s central bank this week called for an additional 1,000 billion baht in public spending to counter the blow to the economy from the pandemic.

Contagious delta

A relentless wave of infections fueled by the more contagious variant of the Delta has forced the government to extend strict restrictions to areas that are home to more than 40% of Thailand’s population and make up more than three-quarters of its economy. Earlier this week, the country’s main economic planning body cut this year’s growth forecast to a range of 0.7% to 1.2%, from 1.5% to 2.5% expected in May.

Thailand reported 19,014 new cases on Sunday, the lowest number of daily infections since August 3, while the death toll was 233. The cumulative total of infections fell to 1.05 million. The country has administered around 25.8 million doses of the vaccine, enough to cover around 18.5% of the population, according to the Bloomberg Covid-19 Vaccine Tracker.

The virus situation has been fairly stable over the past week, Opas Karnkawinpong, director general of the Department of Disease Control, said on Saturday. The government has approved a plan to purchase 120 million vaccines next year to cover children and in the form of boosters. To that end, the nation is in talks to import at least 50 million doses each of Pfizer and AstraZeneca, which would be second generation if successfully developed on time.

Anti-government protesters have returned to the streets in almost daily rallies in Bangkok in recent weeks to demand Prayuth’s resignation. They accuse the government of mismanaging containment efforts and the rollout of vaccination, which has seen less than 8% of the population fully vaccinated.

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