Coronavirus News Asia

Thailand’s ‘five families’ poised to profit on the plague


BANGKOK – On a Covid-19 darkened alley, a 7-Eleven convenience store burns brightly in the night.

Thailand’s coronavirus lockdown has shuttered all variety of businesses, but 7-Eleven, Family Mart and other modern franchised stores controlled and operated by major Thai conglomerates were allowed to keep the lights on as essential services, significantly while many traditional small entrepreneur-run shops were forced to go dark.

7-Eleven in Thailand is owned by the Charoen Pokphand (CP) Group, the nation’s leading conglomerate founded by the Chearavanont family, the kingdom’s wealthiest business clan. Family Mart is run by Thai retail giant the Central Group. Both, by all accounts, did brisk business while others were forcibly locked down for health reasons.  

As Thailand loosens its lockdown, it’s not clear how many of its small and medium enterprises (SMEs) will ever re-emerge from the viral devastation. Thailand’s top “five family” conglomerates, on the other hand, are cashed up to seek opportunities in crisis across the nation’s now cash-starved and indebted corporate landscape, analysts say.

Those “five family” firms, namely the CP Group, ThaiBev, Central Group, King Power Group and Boonrawd, among others backed ex-coup maker, now elected Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha’s 2019 election campaign, support seen as payback for regulatory favors and concessions granted during his 2014-19 coup regime.

Prayut has won certain plaudits for his containment of the kingdom’s viral outbreak, which has been comparatively mild with just 2,989 cases and 55 deaths. The verdict on his pandemic management, however, will be largely decided on how he steers recovery in what is expected to be one of Asia’s worst pandemic-hit economies.

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha is flanked by CP Group chairman Dhanin Chearavanont (2nd R) and ThaiBev founder billionaire Charoen Sirivadhanabhakdi (L) at Government House in a file photo. Photo: AFP Forum/Chanat Katanyu

Enter the “five families” into the picture. In a leaked letter, Prayut called on Thailand’s 20 richest billionaire tycoons for proposals and plans to revive the economy and help the needy amid reports at least 7 million Thais have already become unemployed. “I want all of you to do more,” the former army commander wrote.

Critics have argued his government should do more as Thailand’s Covid-19 relief measures already appear to be missing the mark, with as many as 27 million desperate Thais applying for “Nobody Left Behind” branded cash handouts, a program policy-makers initially designed for only four million or so of the kingdom’s lowest earners.



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