Time for new Thai Cabinet to show what it's made of

Time for new Thai Cabinet to show what it's made of

"Having or not having soldiers in the Cabinet is not the point. The point is what the country's problems are and how we are going to solve them," Prime Minister General Prayuth Chan-ocha said in defence of his choice of Cabinet members during his weekly television programme last Friday.

The PM's decision to appoint 12 soldiers to the 32-seat Cabinet, a few seats short of half, has come under criticism.

"Critics now are bugging us about having too many soldiers. I have given this deep thought. Not having soldiers is impossible because the country is struggling with a stability problem.

"Some people said I would pick senior colleagues from the same military clique. The point is not where these people are from but the fact is I cannot do without people whom I trust. Please, do not be too suspicious and pay too much attention to the individuals," Prayuth said, begging the public for understanding.

Some people may have gone along with Prayuth's logic and understood the circumstances and limitations the PM faced when it came to picking Cabinet members. His supporters, including people with no political affiliation, can accept his argument that who the ministers are may be secondary to what policies they come up with.

Surveys show most people believe having several military men in the Cabinet would not only help ensure peace and stability in the country but the Cabinet would also get things done efficiently. Important decisions can be made swiftly, since the PM can get them to work in the same direction without having to worry about losing political support, as elected politicians must do.

The PM has pointed out the strength of his administration. "I do not belong to any party. I represent the 'Move the Country Forward' party. There is neither an opposition nor a government camp."

Critics have not budged, claiming that Prayuth's choice of his trusted colleagues deprives some key ministries of skilled and experienced ministers.

But the PM has insisted he is held accountable for the Cabinet selection because he alone made that decision. Prayuth may be entitled to believe that his critics have jumped the gun to judge his Cabinet without allowing them to perform for a few months.

"Wait and see. If they are not good, I can change every position. A government can have many reshuffles. People who do not perform will be shown the door, and those who are corrupt must go to jail," Prayuth said as he assured the public that he would personally plug the loophole that people are concerned about - the lack of balance of power in his military-influenced Cabinet. When an organisation or state fails, it is the leadership that is the root cause: As the saying goes, a fish rots from the head down.

Judging the performance of the National Council for Peace and Order in running the country's security, economic and social sectors over the past three months, the junta has passed the test with flying colours. The public will have to give the Prayuth Cabinet the benefit of the doubt.

The country's journey through reform is expected to be a rocky one. Energy reform, for instance, has already shown signs of trouble from the beginning when nationalists and privatisation enthusiasts clashed over their ideologies.

The country's economic outlook, with expected growth this year of less than 2 per cent, does not sound encouraging to the Prayuth Cabinet.

Farmers' chances of getting state subsidies for the plummeting prices of their produce are dim. Economic stimulus is almost impossible when the state coffers will be drained by debts incurred from populist policies implemented by the previous government.

The Prayuth Cabinet must bear in mind that there is a thin line between love and hate. High job-approval ratings in the past three months do not necessarily translate into the same scenario in the next three or six months. Fast-changing world situations on social and economic fronts may complicate the domestic situation.

Prayuth's ability will be put to the test. We will soon see if he is a captain who can pilot this ship through a vast, volatile ocean.

History is in the making.

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