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[ 2015-04-03 ]

Businesses greet end of martial law

BUSINESS leaders have expressed optimism over the lifting of martial law and they believe the move will encourage a better business environment, especially in the tourism sector.

However, they have raised concerns about the enforcement of Article 44 of the interim charter and how the government will exercise its "absolute power". The lifting of martial law, which was imposed in May last year, is a positive development because its has hampered the confidence of tourists and incoming investors, Supant Mongkolsuthree, chairman of the Federation of Thai Industries said. The implementation of Article 44 is of no concern to the private sector since the article virtually exists with or without the martial law.

"If the prime minister can use Article 44 to improve the economic situation as a whole it would be beneficial because Article 44 means that executive approval and economic stimulation should be faster," he said.

"Article 44 should be used for economic means and to fix urgent economic problems that require immediate attention, such as falling crop prices and the problems within the airline industry," he added.

Isara Vongkusolkit, chairman of the Thai Chamber of Commerce (TCC), said martial law was designed to be used during times of war and the lifting of the law simply means that the war is over. Recent surveys by the TCC and foreign chambers have shown that there has been a positive response from the development.

"It depends on how Article 44 is used whether or not it will be beneficial. In general, the investment sentiment has already increased," he said.

Anon Vangvasu, president of the Thai General Insurance Association (TGIA), said Article 44 would not affect tourists or the general public as martial law has done. Foreign insurance companies do not offer travel protection to policyholders who travel to countries where martial law is in effect. Martial law implies that such countries are gripped in chaos and violence, causing countries to issue warnings.

But the situation in Thailand has not sparked violence, unlike other countries such as Yemen. Thailand has no need for martial law, he said, especially when it has Article 44, which gives unlimited power to the prime minister. The premier is expected to enforce the law in some cases and those cases will not involve the people.

Charoen Wangananont, newly elected president of the Association of Thai Travel Agents (ATTA), said the lifting of martial law would help rebuild the tourism sector and restore the confidence of foreign countries. The move is expected to draw international tourists and business travellers back to the Kingdom.

He said some Western countries had criticised martial law and asked their citizens to avoid travelling to Thailand. However, he believed Western tourists would return.

As for the Asian market, a lot of visitors should flock to the country during the Songkran Festival, which falls on April 13-15, he said.

"Overall, Thai tourism would have a positive impact from the lifting of martial law. I can say that the tourism sector for the rest of the year will return to high growth."

According to Charoen, more than 1 million international tourists used ATTA member agents during the first quarter of this year, which represented growth of 157 per cent compared to the same time last year.

Sumate Sudasna, president of Thailand Incentive and Convention Association (TICA), said business organisations, exhibitors and business travelers would start organising more events in Thailand now that martial law is lifted.

He said some big companies from overseas had returned and asked about the situation in Thailand as they plan to host events in Thailand in 2016-2017.

However, the overall MICE (meeting, incentive, convention and exhibition) business still not as good as it should be although some new events have been booked this year.

"This is a good sign from business groups. At the moment, the MICE business is almost back to normal," Sumate said.

Thanavath Phonvichai, advisor to the Thai Chamber of Commerce and director of the Economic and Business Forecasting Centre, said the private sector and particularly businesses in the tourism sector would be happier with the lifting of martial law. The SET index has increased, reflecting more confidence.

However, following the announcement that Article 44 would replace martial law, Thanavath said it remains to be seen how the power is deployed and whether the act will be efficient enough to manipulate the country and create peace in the long run.

He said other countries and the foreign media are not yet concerned about Article 44, but they will closely monitor how the Thai government exercises its power.

Banthoon Lamsam, chairman and chief executive officer of Kasikornbank, said Article 44 is more acceptable than martial law, which has had a negative impact on tourism. Tourism will benefit from the lifting of martial law, he said. Tourism is a kind of export and when the country lifts martial law, the number of European tourists will increase.

Article 44 will give the government more flexibility in running the economy, he said. Without security, the economy was unable to progress during the political unrest of last year.



Author: Patrick Lusted