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Thailand is politically stable now, says PM Prayut

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"We have overcome many chronic problems in the country which have impeded our economic and social development," says Mr Prayut.

Bangkok

THAILAND now has political stability and has been able to overcome conflicts in the country, said the country's Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha at an event on Friday.

"We have overcome an important period, which is the organisation of general elections," he said at the Bloomberg Asean Business Summit in Bangkok. "We have overcome many chronic problems in the country which have impeded our economic and social development."

Lawmakers backed Mr Prayut to return as premier in a parliamentary vote held more than two months after a disputed election in March this year.

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The former army chief seized power in a coup in 2014 after a lengthy period of unrest, ushering in one of Thailand's longest spells under a junta until this year's vote.

He now leads a sprawling 19-party, pro-military coalition with only a slim majority in the elected lower house, leading to speculation his administration may struggle to complete its four-year term.

An opposition bloc that's fiercely critical of what it sees as the continuation of military rule controls almost half the lower house, raising the possibility of friction that could hamper policy making.

Mr Prayut was elected prime minister in a joint vote of the elected lower chamber and junta-appointed Senate.

His return marks a victory for the military and royalist elite in Bangkok, who have used the courts or coups to overturn election results for more than a decade to prevent exiled former premier Thaksin Shinawatra or his allies from retaining power.

The incoming administration faces the weakest economic growth since 2014 as exports, investment and tourism fizzle.

Mr Prayut has prioritised infrastructure and technological upgrades, as well as removing red tape, to bolster the outlook for South-east Asia's second-largest economy.

Some major projects were slowed by the delay in government formation after the March election. Mr Prayut's choice of Cabinet ministers still needs endorsement by King Maha Vajiralongkorn, and key government policies are expected to be unveiled by July.

Thailand is chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations this year and is hosting the 34th summit of the 10-nation bloc's leaders this weekend.

The government has said Thailand will use its position as Asean chair to push for the finalisation of the China-backed Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) trade pact before the end of 2019.

Beijing is seeking to shape the rules of free trade across the Asia-Pacific, as the US retreats from multilateral deals under President Donald Trump.

The RCEP includes all 10 Asean member states, and China, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand. Collectively, they cover half the world's population and around 40 per cent of its trade.

Squabbles with India over access to its giant consumer market - as well as Australia and New Zealand over the lack of "high-quality" labour and environmental standards - have undercut talks in recent months.

Analysts say these competing priorities mean signing the deal any time soon may be unlikely. But Asean is determined to hustle the pact through as tit-for-tat tariffs between the US and China tariff darken the outlook for global free trade.

"Thailand is trying to expedite the conclusion of the RCEP negotiations this year," said Mr Prayut. "This is the agreed intention of all leaders."

Seven of the 18 chapters within the deal have been "concluded", according to the Philippines' Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez.

"We have reached a point to really demand from different negotiating parties to be more realistic, pragmatic," he said, adding the US-China spat should prompt Asean to "fast-track" the RCEP. BLOOMBERG, AFP