Thai jobless out softselling politics

May 7, 1999

The Thai government is hiring 20,000 jobless graduates and diploma holders to teach communities about a new national constitution designed to combat political corruption.

The 687 million baht (Pounds 11.5 million) scheme starting in June is part of a policy package to ameliorate unemployment caused by the stinging economic crisis. The jobless total among the higher educated grew nearly two and a half times in 1998.

Volunteers, who will earn between 5,000 and 8,000 baht a month, will be posted to towns and villages for five months. They are charged with promoting awareness of Thailand's first ever charter, adopted by a popular mandate and approved by parliament in 1997.

Election commissioner Gothom Arya said local interest in politics was low and illicit investment in vote-buying to win parliamentary seats, estimated at Pounds 12.5 billion for the last election in 1996, very problematic.

"Our constitution is new, but if nobody discusses the content it will be useless, no matter how beautiful the principles behind it," he said. "We need to talk about problems like vote buying with the voters themselves."

Mr Gothom said the main objective was to promote political understanding in Thailand and enhance the contribution of young graduates to Thai society - not just to provide jobs. "Otherwise, why not just pay them to stay at home?" he joked.

The government is hoping to create up to 80,000 short-term jobs in 1999, putting university graduates and holders of diplomas from vocational colleges to work on rural welfare and conservation projects, and even as liaison officers at police stations.

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