Time for Thai PM to consider other options for his Cabinet

Time for Thai PM to consider other options for his Cabinet

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has no choice but to take a decisive step and shake up his Cabinet - but don't expect the country to have a "national unity government" any time soon.

In response to the mounting pressure over the past few weeks, Prayut finally said on Friday that he was considering reshuffling the Cabinet so his government's policies can be better delivered. He said that this time around, he would consider the line-up based on performance.

Some people might wonder why a man who has never hesitated to exercise absolute power under the interim charter's Article 44 is suddenly getting stage fright when it comes to a relatively mundane task such as a Cabinet reshuffle.

After lifting martial law in April, Prayut invoked Article 44 as his government's most powerful weapon and promised to use it constructively. The premier had no qualms using this weapon to sack allegedly corrupt officials, to fix aviation woes, to tackle street racing, to ban the sale of alcohol near educational institutions and to shut down illegal night spots.

Yet, Prayut seems to be quite unwilling when it comes to removing some ministers in charge of the economy for poor performance. Since clearly the country's economic situation is worsening, the prime minister should realise that he is in his right to tackle ministries in charge of the economy.

Prayut appeared to be upset with having to tackle economic problems that should have been sorted out by others. At a Cabinet meeting earlier this month, he complained to Deputy Prime Minister MR Pridiyathorn Devakula, saying that the budget-disbursement measures were too slow and that this was affecting economic growth.

The premier's dissatisfaction was echoed by the private sector, which called on him to reshuffle the economic team so the country's growth can get a boost. Some even pushed for Somkid Jatusripitak, the PM's chief economic adviser, to be made leader of the government's economic team.

Somkid has been mentioned in several media articles as a candidate for finance minister - maybe even as a replacement of Pridiyathorn, who is a schoolmate of Deputy PM Prawit Wongsuwan.

Bringing Somkid in could actually be possible now that the interim charter has been amended to allow previously banned politicians to take up Cabinet posts.

Many believe that if Prayut does decide to shake up his Cabinet line-up this time, not only would Pridiyathorn be replaced, but also his other civilian allies such as Finance Minister Sommai Phasee, Energy Minister Narongchai Akrasanee and Industry Minister Chakramon Phasukavanich.

However, it is expected that his classmate General Chatchai Sarikalya, who is commerce minister, and Transport Minister ACM Prajin Juntong would stay.

Apart from economic ministries, some other ministers such as Public Health, Education and Foreign Affairs could also be targeted in the reshuffle.

However, some observers believe that the imminent Cabinet shake-up might not solve all problems, because the economic downturn has already gone beyond control. Yet, the reshuffle could have a psychological impact.

Initially, Prayut was slammed for only giving ministerial portfolios those familiar to him or his close friends. Since this is going to be his first large-scale Cabinet reshuffle, perhaps he could use this as an opportunity to bring in more professional people, without having to consider their relationship with himself or with the National Council for Peace and Order.

The thought of the country getting an all-inclusive "national unity government" has been in people's minds since the amendments about ministerial qualifications were made. And Prayut, in a speech during Somkid's son's wedding, did make it sound as if it was within reach.

He said: "I want the conflict to end. We should not fight against each other…we should hold hands and forget dissension for the sake of the country. I want to beg politicians who are here [at the party] to think of the next generation. We can't drag our feet, but need rules to move the country forward."

If Prayut does adopt this philosophy, then he would have a bigger and better choice of people to help boost the economy and promote reconciliation. As the saying goes, he could be "killing two birds with one stone".

Sadly though, Prayut has brushed aside this idea. After all, he did say yesterday that it was not the right time to bring politicians to his Cabinet.

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