Thai MPs give military a US$124m budget increase
THAILAND’S junta-appointed lawmakers have signed off on a nearly US$124 million budget hike for defence spending, while funds for education and infrastructure were pared back.
The army seized power from the civilian government in 2014, saying it was forced to act to end bloody street protests and rampant corruption.
The army, navy and air force will receive a 2 percent raise taking next year’s spending to 210.7 billion baht (nearly $6.1 billion), according to the budget endorsed by the hand-picked National Legislative Assembly.
The budget comes into effect next month and runs until September 2017. It is the third straight year of rises in state spending for defence since the coup.
Thailand’s royalist military has for decades been at the centre of politics, battering down the country’s democratic movements.
Each coup has broadly been followed by a handsome budget hike, while the civilian leaders who have governed intermittently have also lavished cash on the powerful military hoping to curry favour.
The budget for education was given a 4.7pc haircut to 493 billion baht ($14.1 billion) and transport was cut by two-thirds from 136 billion baht to 63.5 billion.
Experts say the budget follows a pattern that has seen defence spending creep up from around $5.7 billion a year before the coup.
“Perhaps the rise does not appear to be breathtaking but the amount of spending is remarkable – really more than ever before,” said Paul Chambers, a Thailand-based expert on the military, adding it was unclear how the spending had been justified.
After years of impressive growth, Thailand’s economy is faltering, mired in high household debt and stuttering exports.
The army’s influence in Thai politics has been embedded in a new constitution written by junta appointees.