Unveiling of new Thai cabinet

Updated On: Aug 11, 2011

Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s new cabinet was officially instated as the new ministers were sworn in by King Bhumibol Adulyadej on Wednesday. 29 of the 35 cabinet members are members of Yingluck's Puea Thai Party, which won a landslide election victory on July 3. The remaining six members consist of two outsiders and four from coalition parties. No Red Shirt leaders were included in the cabinet, although former deputy House speaker Apiwan Wiriyachai, a Red Shirt core figure, was considered for the portfolio of Prime Minister's Office Minister. He eventually declined the offer. This omission of Red Shirt leaders from the cabinet is seen as a means to avoid confrontation with anti-Thaksin forces whilst Puea Thai consolidates its political position.

Report & Analysis: Thirachai named finance minister as Thai government unveiled [Reuters, 10 Aug 2011]
Report & Analysis: Thailand's new Cabinet not that ugly-duckling [Xinhua, 10 Aug 2011]

Prime Minister Yingluck’s decision to instate Thirachai Phuvanatnaranubala, 59, as the new Finance Minister was welcomed as a prudent choice. He was among the handful of non-party outsiders in the new cabinet.  He was previously with the Bank of Thailand and the Securities and Exchange Commission, and has close ties with the business and industrial sectors. He was also in the running for the job of central bank governor last year. The newly appointed Finance Minister played down the inflationary impact of the proposed 300-baht minimum wage increase and added that he would focus on improving the country’s productivity through means such as setting up a fund to assist small and medium enterprises. Mr. Thirachai said that “sustainability of the country's fiscal status” would be his primary concern. His experience and background is likely to allay concerns about Thailand’s economic outlook following Prime Minister Yingluck’s promises of minimum wage increases and other populist policies.

Report: Thirachai says he'll keep fiscal discipline tight [Bangkok Post, 11 Aug 2011]

General Yuthasak Sasiprapha was also welcomed as the new Defence Minister. He is a retired general who not only shares a close relationship with Thaksin, but is also on good terms with anti-Thaksin military figures. He is seen as a good fit for the position as the Defence Minister needs to be able to bridge the gap between the Puea Thai Party and the military forces responsible for ousting former premier Thaksin Shinawatra in 2006. General Yuthasak said that he is “ready to be a coordinator between the army and Puea Thai party”.

One surprise appointment was the selection of Puea Thai deputy leader Surapong Towijakchaikul as foreign minister. Though he has three degrees in engineering, he has no notable diplomatic or foreign policy credentials. He is related to the Shinawatra clan by marriage. Prime Minister Yingluck defended her choice of Mr. Surapong as foreign minister, commenting that he was well-versed in political affairs after serving on various House committees and being an MP for two terms. Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong has already invited Mr. Surapong to visit Cambodia and hopes to collaborate with him to improve relations between the two countries.

Report: Cambodian FM invites new Thai counterpart for visit to restore bilateral ties [China Daily, 10 Aug 2011]

The new cabinet received mix reactions. Federation of Thai Industries chairman Payungsak Chartsuthipol commented that many of the new ministers were “capable people…with a strong determination to work for the country”. The Red Shirt United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship co-leader Korkaew Pikulthong also considered the cabinet to be acceptable. Though there were no Red Shirt leaders selected in the cabinet, Korkaew sought the understanding from Red Shirt supporters and urged them to refrain from any overt moves.

On the other hand, Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva voiced concerns about the efficiency of the new cabinet, especially in terms of economic and foreign affairs policies. He also highlighted that the cabinet consisted of people who had defended Thaksin in previous lawsuits. Former Finance Minister Korn Chatikavanij also voiced similar concerns, highlighting that the new Deputy Prime Minister and Commerce Minister Kittirat Na-Ranong and new Finance Minister Mr. Thirachai had aided the Shinawatra family in Thaksin’s assets concealment case. The Yellow Shirt People’s Alliance for Democracy did not welcome the new cabinet and criticised it as being put in place for the benefit of fugitive former Prime Minister Thaksin. Rak Thailand Party leader Chuvit Kamolvisit was also critical of the new cabinet, especially of new Foreign Minister Mr. Surapong, whom Chuvit believed was only given the portfolio because he was a trusted ally of Thaksin. Political observers also speculate that some of the surprise appointments in the new cabinet reveal that Thaksin was unable to convince viable candidates to accept his political agenda and conditions.

Report: New cabinet gets mixed reaction [Bangkok Post, 10 Aug 2011] 
Report: King urges new govt to ensure peace [Bangkok Post, 11 Aug 2011]
Analysis: Top choices spurn Thaksin [Bangkok Post, 11 Aug 2011]

On the whole, the cabinet has been touted as a “do no harm” entity which balances the demands of junior coalition partners with expertise in core areas. The King of Thailand has urged the cabinet to keep its promises and work for the good of the nation. Prime Minister Yingluck has asked for a six month grace period for the new cabinet to prove its worth, but it remains to be seen if the Thai populace will be so accommodating.

Report: Thai PM Yingluck Shinawatra unveils new cabinet line-up [BBC News, 10 Aug 2011]

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