Oct 28, 2012

Thailand - Thai PM defies Thaksin on new line-up

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If the names mentioned in speculation ahead of the Thai Cabinet reshuffle are an indication, Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra seems to have had a considerable say in the make-up of her new Cabinet.

But whether the new line-up will benefit is another matter entirely. First of all, the likely line-up serves to confirm the widespread opinion that the Pheu Thai Party's quota of Cabinet seats is rotated between its core members. It appears that reshuffles are not aimed at increasing Cabinet performance at all.

Among new faces in the Yingluck 3 Cabinet will be core members of the now defunct Thai Rai Thai Party - members of the so-called House Address 111 - who have just completed their five-year ban from politics.

They include Pongsak Raktapongpaisal, who is set to become the energy minister in place of Arak Chonlatanon, an outsider in the Yingluck 2 Cabinet under the Pheu Thai quota.

Pongthep Thepkanchana, another former Thai Rak Thai executive, is set for the post of deputy prime minister along with the position of education minister, replacing Suchart Tadathamrongvej, who has had conflicts with Pheu Thai MPs.

Warathep Ratanakorn, another House 111 member, should also win a Cabinet seat under the quota of Yaowapha Wongsawat, Yingluck's elder sister.

Another interesting new face in the new Cabinet will likely be Government Spokeswoman Sansanee Nakpong. She is expected to become a PM's Office minister. This has led many to question why Sansanee would be given a minister's post when she has been performing well as a spokeswoman and coordinating with Yingluck and PM's Secretary-General Suranan Vejjajiva efficiently. And who would replace Sansanee in the sensitive job of government spokesperson? Will she hold the two positions concurrently?

The rest of the reshuffled posts are widely seen as changes for the sake of political harmony. For example, Transport Minister Charupong Ruangsuwan, who is tipped to be next Pheu Thai leader, is expected to become the interior minister, replacing former Pheu Thai leader Yongyuth Wichaidit.

The much-speculated list contains no changes to key economic ministries. Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Kittiratt Na-Ranong will almost certainly keep his positions despite rumours that former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra has been disappointed with his performance. It is said that Thaksin ordered his sister to remove Kittiratt, who is very close to Yingluck, from the Cabinet, or at least take away one of his posts.

Yingluck, however, refused to comply. This seems to indicate that Yingluck has gained in confidence as a leader and is willing to defy her brother's wishes and take decisions on her own.

Yingluck yesterday confirmed she had sent her new Cabinet list for Royal sanction and boasted that her brother had had nothing to do with the reshuffle.

Another indication that there will be no changes in economic leadership comes from strong speculation that Boonsong Teriyapirom will retain his position as commerce minister. Boonsong is close to the influential Yaowapha and is in charge of the controversial rice-pledging scheme.

Boonsong's continuing presence in the Cabinet would indicate that Yingluck is not worried that the rice-pledging scheme will become a critical weak point during the no-confidence showdown with the opposition. On the contrary, it would indicate that the government is ready to go ahead with the scheme.

If the speculation is correct, Pongthep will become the third education minister in the Yingluck government, following Woravat Auapinyakul and Suchart.

Another interesting new face is likely to be Dr Pradit Sinthawanarong, an expert in Thai traditional medicine and a member of the National Health Insurance Board. Pradit, the managing director of J&W Development, is set to become the public health minister. J&W Development is known to be a business ally of the firm Saensiri led by managing director Settha Thawesin, who is very close to Yingluck.

More evidence that Yingluck now has a considerable say in big decisions is that red-shirt leader Jatuporn Promphan will be left out of the new Cabinet.

It has been reported that Yingluck resisted an order from her brother to appoint Jatuporn to the Cabinet for fear that his presence would affect the government's image. Yingluck decided to defy red-shirt opinion and exclude Jatuporn. The news was confirmed by Jatuporn on Wednesday night, during an appearance on his TV show.

The cases of Kittiratt, Pradit and Jatuporn seem to show that Yingluck is daring to defy interference from beyond government and should serve to quell criticism that she is merely a puppet of her brother. Nevertheless, the reshuffle seems unlikely to increase the working efficiency of the government.

Senior business figures yesterday called on Cabinet members to work harder and contribute more to the economy.

Charoen Wangananont, chief adviser of the Thai Travel Agents Association, said that though he did not know who would be promoted, he did not think the reshuffle would have any impact on the tourism industry overall. What he wanted to see from the new Cabinet was a commitment to work more efficiently towards the progress of the country.

Buntoon Wongseelashote, a Board of Trade member and chairman of the committee monitoring trade issues, said the reshuffle would have no impact on private-sector confidence because its only aim was to serve political ambitions.

"The government needs to draw clearer policies to promote economic growth, as well as appointing more professionals to work for the country. In the past, the government has appointed some ministers in 'trainee' capacities. As soon as they learned how to do the job, the Cabinet was reshuffled, so their tasks were not achieved," he said.

Buntoon said the government needed to recruit experts or people with professional experience as key economic ministers in order to promote the economy's growth and efficiency.

Somroutai Sapsomboon 

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