BANGKOK: – Thai rubber farmers defied a law banning political gatherings Tuesday as the industry reels from record low prices and tests the junta’s resolve to end the kingdom’s subsidy culture.
Dozens of farmers gathered in the southern town of Surat Thani to call on Thailand’s new military rulers to do more to arrest tumbling prices that have left many facing financial ruin.
The protests are a significant test for the generals now running the world’s largest rubber producer who vowed an end to the country’s history of populist subsidy policies as part of their justification for seizing power in May.
Many rubber farmers live in the nation’s south, a region home to the ultra-royalists who backed the May coup that brought the military to power. As their profits shrivel, the farmers now want payback.
Organisers have vowed to ramp up their demonstrations if the government refuses to buy their product at significantly above market prices.
“If our demands are not met we will intensify our demonstrations,” protest leader Pairod Rerkdee told AFP by telephone.
Pairod said farmers were demanding 70 baht ($2.12) for a kilogram of latex rubber and 80 baht per kilo for rubber sheet.
In Surat Thani Tuesday, latex rubber was selling for 33 baht per kilo while the Rubber Research Center in Bangkok said sheet rubber Monday was at 51.65 baht a kilo, its lowest in five years.
Sheet rubber fetched as much as 120 baht in 2011 but prices have since tumbled, thanks partially to falling demand from China and the global tyre industry as well as harvest stockpiling.
Pairod said between 3-400 people turned up for Tuesday’s protest. Local police chief Major-General Apichart Boonsriroje told AFP the turnout was “less than 100”.
The gathering nonetheless defies the junta’s protest ban, which prohibits all demonstrations and political gatherings of more than five people.