Thailand passes record stimulus package to combat virus impact

Thailand's parliament approved on Sunday a near US$60 billion stimulus package, the kingdom's biggest-ever cash injection.

Thailand's parliament approved on Sunday a near-$60 billion stimulus package, the kingdom's biggest-ever cash injection, to revive an economy that has been hammered by the coronavirus.

The 1.9 trillion baht ($59.7 billion) package would be a much-needed boost for Southeast Asia's second biggest economy, expected to contract by 6-7 percent in 2020.

About $17.3 billion of the package will be given as aid to farmers and informal workers such as street vendors and those employed in massage parlours and bars who have seen their work dry up.

The stimulus will also provide for a fund to stabilise markets and boost purchasing power, as well as $1.4 billion for "healthcare readiness", the government said, without providing further details on how the money would be spent.

The ruling coalition -- led by premier Prayut Chan-O-Cha's Phalang Pracharat party -- holds a slim majority in the lower house, and members of the opposition largely abstained from voting.

Opposition MPs criticised the lack of transparency in how the money will be allocated.

"I am afraid that... what should be used to stimulate the economy will turn out to be for projects that lead to corruption," said parliamentarian Pijan Chaopattanapong of the Move Forward Party.

"Instead of using money to benefit the people, it will become a benefit for specific groups."

But Prayut said there would be a "step-by-step screening" of how the stimulus package will be doled out.

The virus' toll has slowed in recent weeks in Thailand, which on Sunday saw four new cases -- all imported from overseas. So far, the kingdom has reported just over 3,000 cases and 57 deaths.

But its tourism-reliant economy, choked by the halt in international travel, has taken a battering, and more than 20 million have already registered for a government cash handout of 5,000 baht (US$150).

The kingdom's economy was struggling even before the pandemic, which laid bare deep cleavages of inequality between the haves and have-nots of Thai society.

Many in politically turbulent Thailand are unhappy with the ex-generals, who seized power in six years ago and still run the government. 

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