Thai party led by ex-banker pushes economic ills as key poll issues

Thai Politician Korn Chatikavanij’s Kla Party

With less than a year to go for the Thai general elections, a new political party led by a former investment banker is pushing the high cost of living and other ills plaguing the economy as key poll issues in its bid to emerge as a political force.

Korn Chatikavanij, a former chairman of JPMorgan Chase & Co’s Thai unit and finance minister, is positioning his two-year old Kla Party as better equipped than coup maker-turned-premier Prayut Chan-o-cha’s coalition and other mainstream parties to tackle economic issues.

“From the start, we made it clear that we’ll focus on economic issues and the cost of living,” Korn, 58, said in an interview.

“We don’t see many parties with the economic ideas, or with an economic team that the public is identifying with.”

With Prayut’s government struggling to tackle the highest inflation in almost 14 years amid growing public frustration about rising fuel prices, Korn hit headlines recently with a proposal for a windfall tax on profit of refiners to bankroll an energy subsidy programme.

He has also called for an urgent rate hike to stem a decline in the baht that is threatening to further fuel inflation.

That has helped Korn, who was the finance minister between 2008 and 2011, to be ranked as a prime ministerial choice above deputy prime ministers Jurin Laksanawisit and Anutin Charnvirakul, who also head bigger parties.

Korn, who also founded the Thai Fintech Association and a start-up focused on helping tackle household debt, is pitching for measures to boost new sources of income and return the country to a current account surplus.

He wants gambling legalized to tax the industry and attract foreign investment and spending.

Although the Kla Party is focused on the right “pocketbook issues”, it will be an uphill battle to compete with other Thai parties with greater brand recognition and well-established provincial networks, said Jay Harriman, a senior director at strategic adviser consultancy BowerGroupAsia.

“For sure voters are going to be concerned about the economy, but they might want to go for parties that they think have a fair chance of winning, leaving Kla’s smart policies on the drawing board,” he added.

Korn is targeting 25 members in the 500-member house of representatives by putting up 100 candidates in areas where he deemed vote-buying by political parties will have the least sway.

Korn said electoral rules are stacked in favor of larger parties and that may prompt smaller and medium-sized parties to potentially merge.

“We’re confident that we’ll be able to win enough votes to be a part of the next Parliament,” Korn said.



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