Up to 1,000 farmers and Red Shirt activists gathered outside the National Institute Development Administration (NIDA) on Tuesday to protest what they perceive as an assault on their livelihoods by 146 academics, who petitioned the Constitutional Court to terminate the Pheu Thai government’s rice-pledging program. Despite such threats of judicial interference, the government has just approved a total budget of 240 billion baht for 15 million tons of rice to be harvested this month, with prices at 15,000-20,000 baht per tonne, depending on quality.
The group of students and professors, led by NIDA academic Adis Isrankul na Ayutthaya, accuse the program of violating articles 43 and 84 of the military-backed Constitution of 2007, which stipulate that the government should promote “fair and free competition… and [an] equitable economy through market forces.” However, the Constitutional Court has rejected the petition, since it failed to identify the charter articles that would grant the court jurisdiction on the matter. A revised petition is almost certain to be issued shortly.
Nonetheless, over 87% of farmers want the government to continue with the program, according to a poll conducted by the University of the Thai Chambers of Commerce. A statement released by the Members of the Farmers Network argued that NIDA was acting in the interests of rice traders and had neglected to ask the farmers for their opinions on the program.
Farmers overwhelmingly support the program for the simple reason that it provides them with a good, stable price for their rice that allows them to develop their business and pay their debts. Villagers in the Northeastern region of Isaan have previously explained to TRS that their finances have improved under the Pheu Thai government vis-à-vis the Abhisit government, largely thanks to the rice-pledging program.
As one woman put it,
The difference between 5 baht [under Abhisit] and 12 baht [under Yingluck] per kilo is significant, even the Yellow Shirts in the village will agree. They may not like the government, but they certainly like this policy.