Thai PM plans new team to boost economic growth

Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha will be revamping his economic team as part of a Cabinet reshuffle to tackle the kingdom's dimming outlook.

A list of changes is pending approval by King Bhumibol Adulyadej, but General Prayut revealed yesterday that his new economic team will be led by Dr Somkid Jatusripitak, a former finance minister and currently an adviser to the junta. Dr Somkid will take over the portfolio from Deputy Prime Minister Pridiyathorn Devakula.

Sources say that Finance Minister Sommai Phasee will be replaced by Mr Apisak Tantivorawong, a former president of the state-owned Krung Thai Bank.

A slew of other movements is expected in the transport, foreign and transport ministries, but the junta leaders are expected to, by and large, keep their positions in the military- dominated Cabinet. They include Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan, who is also Defence Minister, as well as Interior Minister Anupong Paochinda and Justice Minister Paiboon Kumchaya.

The reshuffle comes just one year after the Cabinet was formed, as the weakening economy wears down the military government's legitimacy. Apart from slowing exports, there has been declining buying sentiment as farmers grapple with the withdrawal of generous agricultural subsidies offered by the ousted government.

Last month, the Finance Ministry cut its full-year growth forecast for the third time this year, to 3 per cent.

Thailand's military seized power in May last year from a caretaker government paralysed by protests and a series of court decisions. The ousted Puea Thai party was seen as the political machinery of former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a 2006 coup.

While he has been accused of massive corruption, Puea Thai's supporters see the coup as the elite's way of riding roughshod over the electorate.

Gen Prayut has maintained that elections will be held once a draft Constitution being debated passes the scrutiny of a reform council as well as a referendum. But this could take a year or more.

Dr Somkid, 62, was finance minister in Thaksin's government. He is seen as the brains behind the so-called populist economic policies that pushed for rural development and the engagement of small and medium-sized enterprises.

Siam Intelligence Unit analyst Kan Yuenyong believes he will move in a similar direction in the military government. "Dr Somkid believes more in government intervention."

Eurasia Group analyst Ambika Ahuja thinks the reshuffle has "the potential to modestly improve the policymaking environment because it will be aimed at consolidating power among economic working groups, a move that could facilitate public spending projects and fiscal spending programmes".

Yet, it has to be "managed in the broader context of the annual military and police reshuffles", she told The Straits Times.

"The broader goal is to maintain political stability for this government so the military will distribute power carefully across factions."

This article was first published on Aug 20, 2015.
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