Thai farmers add to government woes with rice scheme protests

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Some Thai rice farmers have threatened to switch sides and join protesters trying to topple the government if they do not get paid for their crop, a worrying development for Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra whose support is based on the rural vote.
Anti-government protests, now in their third month, have closed off parts of the capital in the latest installment of Thailand’s eight-year political conflict that has seen sporadic outbreaks of violence.
The rural vote brought Yingluck’s Puea Thai Party to power in 2011 with a sweeping populist platform.
But the rice program that formed part of it meant that Thailand, once the world’s biggest rice exporter, was priced out of the global market. It left the country with a mountain of unsold grain and the government’s intervention scheme running into funding problems.
A scheme under which farmers are guaranteed an above-market price for their rice has been a centerpiece of the government’s program but, as financing strains mount, some are complaining they have been waiting three or four months to be paid.
Prom Boonmachoey, leader of a farmers’ group in central Suphan Buri province, said a delegation would visit lawyers on Tuesday. If there was no way to get compensation, thousands more would join the anti-government protests, he said.
“The Thai Lawyers Council is our consultant and it will help us file a lawsuit against the government,” Prom told Reuters. If they cannot get payment, the farmers want their rice back so they can resell it, no matter how low the price, he said.
The protests in Bangkok pit the middle class and royalist establishment against the mainly poorer supporters of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and her brother, ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra, who was toppled by the military in 2006.