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Thai political feud may delay budget

Bangkok

THAILAND'S divided parliament began debating the annual budget Thursday amid concern the ruling coalition may struggle to pass the bill because of its slim majority.

The fiscal plan calls for 3.2 trillion baht (S$143 billion) of spending and a budget deficit of 469 billion baht. Outlays usually start on Oct 1 but were delayed to give the new parliament a chance to scrutinise them. The hold-up adds to the obstacles facing a slowing economy.

The three-month-old government of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-Ocha, former junta leader, has a slim, two-seat lower-house majority.

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An opposition bloc that controls almost half the chamber argues the spending plan is unclear in parts and questions the size of the outlay on defense.

The months-long budget debate involves a series of votes on the fiscal proposals, with the final one due in January.

The fiscal policy outlook will remain unclear until February 2020 at the earliest, Tim Leelahaphan, a Standard Chartered Bank economist in Bangkok, wrote in a note.

Punchada Sirivunnabood, an expert on Thai politics and a Fulbright scholar at Northern Illinois University, expects the administration to get the votes needed to pass the budget bill.

The consequences of the less likely outcome of the vote failing could be significant, she said.

"If the budget isn't approved, Prayuth may have to quit or dissolve the parliament, but the latter is unlikely because it would require a new election," Ms Punchada said.

Mr Prayuth returned as premier after March's general election at the helm of a pro-military coalition comprising over a dozen parties.

The disputed poll was the first since a coup in 2014 that Mr Prayuth led. Opponents see the current administration as a continuation of military rule. BLOOMBERG