PHUKET: Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra dealt a major blow to the Democrat Party yesterday, announcing a multi-billion-baht plan to turn Phuket into the country’s biggest economic and tourism hub over the next five years. The premier has pledged that more than 100 billion baht would be invested in the development program over the next 5-6 years. The Thai Rak Thai Party is using sizeable development promises to sway the loyalty of southern voters from the opposition party. “Forty years ago, Phuket was on a par with Singapore; there was no difference. Today Singapore is further ahead. Phuket has developed, but there are still many poor people,” Thaksin said in an address to 3,000 local residents at the Phuket Arcadia hotel. But he offered few original ideas, most having been floated by the Democrats and other parties many years ago. The government will provide infrastructure and legal amendments to cater to software programmers in order to make Phuket an information-technology hub, Thaksin said. “These experts are expensive, so we want them to stay in Phuket, write software and export to other countries,” he said. Phuket would also become a duty-free city when the issue is finalized with the Customs Department and the details are agreed upon, he announced. Thaksin said the government would put an emphasis on health tourists. “We aim to bring in an additional 20 billion baht in foreign exchange within four years,” he said. Thaksin said he had approved 300 million baht in funding to construct two more water reservoirs for the province, and 29 million to build a six-lane road in Thalang district. The government will also allocate funds to build a convention center and aquarium, he said. Smaller details, such as burying electrical cables underground along all main roads, have also been taken into account, he said. The government also plans to ratify aviation rights to allow large aircraft like Boeing 747s to land at Phuket International Airport, he assured his audience, noting that this would entail lengthening the runway by 700 meters. As for his party’s future, the prime minister appeared confident. “We will serve a full four-year term and will govern for a further four years,’ he announced.
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