Thai junta-picked lawmakers give military $124M budget hike

BANGKOK, Thailand – Thailand's junta-appointed lawmakers on Thursday, September 8, signed off on a nearly $124-million budget hike for defense 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% 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 3rd straight year of rises in state spending for defense since the coup.

Thailand's royalist military has for decades been at the center of politics, battering down the country's nascent 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 favor. 

The budget for education was given a 4.7% haircut to 493 billion baht ($14.1 billion) and transport was cut by two-thirds from $136 billion baht to $63.5 billion.

"This budget will be spent based on laws and rules to maintain the country's fiscal discipline," Wisanu Krea-Ngam, deputy prime Minister, said in televised comments at the end of the vote, promising the budget allocation had been carefully considered.

Experts say the budget follows a pattern that has seen defense 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, stuttering exports, and low consumer confidence.

The army's influence in Thai politics has been embedded in a new constitution written by junta appointees. –