Rice farmers join protests against Thai government

The rice-pledging scheme initiated by the government has failed to pay rice farmers for several months, resulting in another wave of demonstrations in Thai capital.

Rice farmers join protests against Thai government

World Bulletin / News Desk

Pressure is piling up on the Thai government as hundreds of rice-farmers from western and central provinces of the country are occupying the compound of the Commerce Ministry in Bangkok to claim the money that the government owes them under a rice-subsidies program.

Tractors and farmers trucks were parked within the compound of the Commerce ministry and rice-farmers were camping in the parking lot of the building, under banners saying “Who is going to take the responsibility for the failure of the rice pledging scheme?”

This opens a new frontline for an embattled government already facing massive demonstrations by middle-class Bangkok people who want to overthrow prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra.

“Yingluck has lied to us. When she speaks, it looks all good, but she is actually deceiving us. There is no result,” says Boonket Noipracha a rice-farmer from Nakhon Pathom province. He says, showing some documents to prove his claim, that he has not been paid for the last crops and that the government owes him 98,000 bahts (about 5,000 euros).

The rice-pledging scheme was initiated soon after the Puea Thai party (For the Thais) of Yingluck Shinawatra won the elections in July 2011. Under the scheme, the government is buying rice directly from the farmers at a price which is 50 percent higher than the market price. At first, the program was popular with farmers, but ran quickly into hundreds of billions of bahts of financial losses (billions of euros). It was also heavily criticized for opening the door to corruption.

“At the beginning we were paid for our rice about ten days after we brought it to the rice-mills. But now, I have not been paid for over eight months”, says Langsan Kampacha, a rice-farmer from Ratchaburi province who spent the night under a tent at the Commerce ministry.

For the anti-government demonstrators – a movement formally called the People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) - who are accusing Yingluck Shinawatra of corruption and abuse of power, the coming of the farmers into the fray is a golden opportunity, especially as these very farmers had largely contributed to elect Yingluck in 2011.

“You can see how bad this government is, they have been playing with the life of the farmers for the last three years”, says Sompong Srisakaew, a member of the PDRC who came to the Commerce ministry to bring food supplies to the farmers. All day, anti-government activists, most of them Bangkok middle-class, have brought food and drinks to the hundreds of farmers who are camping at the ministry.

Five days after disrupted national elections, the government is facing multiple challenges as the anti-government campaign in the Bangkok streets shows no signs of abating.

Only 89 percent of the voters could go to the ballots as the PDRC’s activists blocked the distribution of ballot boxes, occupied polling stations and intimidated voters. By-elections have been called for February 23, for the roughly two million voters who could not cast their ballots during the advance voting, but no solution has been announced yet by the electoral Commission for 28 constituencies where no vote took place.

Yingluck Shinawatra’s government is also facing legal challenges as the opposition has asked the Constitution court to nullify the February 2 elections and to dissolve the government for “abuse of administrative power” in the organization of the elections. The National anti-corruption commission, a constitution sanctioned independent agency, is also conducting an investigation on Yingluck Shinawatra for negligence in the rice-pledging scheme, which could lead to her impeachment.

Thailand’s political crisis started in November when the government pushed through an amnesty which would have lifted a conviction against the prime minister’s brother, Thaksin – a deeply-divisive figure who led the country from 2001 to 2006 before being found guilty of abuse of power.

Thaksin, who is said to still exert strong influence on the government, fled before the judgment and has been living in exile, mostly in Dubai.

Confronted by protests, the government withdrew the bill, but the dissatisfied has alleged massive corruption by the government and Shinawatra family.

Shinawatra last month dissolved parliament, and called the new elections.

A state of emergency has been declared in Bangkok and three surrounding provinces with the country lurching from crisis to crisis, with shootings, demonstrations, bomb blasts and death.

Last Mod: 07 Şubat 2014, 16:01
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