Thailand’s new cabinet likely to include familiar faces

Nontarat Phaicharoen
Thailand’s new cabinet likely to include familiar faces Thai Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin observes fishing industry workers at a pier in Samut Songkram, southwest of Bangkok, Sept. 1, 2023.
Nava Sangthong/BenarNews

New Thai Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin on Friday submitted a list for royal approval of his cabinet, which is expected to include members of pro-military parties with whom his party’s leader had sworn never to share power.  

Cholnan Srikaew, the leader of Srettha’s Pheu Thai party, earlier this week announced he was resigning from his post in protest against the power-sharing deal with parties headed by former leaders of a junta that seized power from Pheu Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra in a coup nine years ago. However, he is expected to be given a ministerial post in Srettha’s cabinet.  

Srettha has not revealed the names of his cabinet appointees but he referred the names of 36 candidates to King Maha Vajiralongkorn (Rama X) for his endorsement, according to Thai media. The king can sign the list at any time.

Focusing on the economy, Srettha on Friday traveled with his expected agriculture minister, Thammanat Prompao, to observe the fishing industry in Samut Songkham, southwest of Bangkok.

“It is normal for me to jointly work with ministers. I want you to see the government as the multi-party, one-for-all and not Pheu Thai’s government,” Srettha told reporters as he visited a fishing pier crowded with migrant workers. 

“I believe the much-mentioned would-be ministers have concerns about the people’s and the country’s economy,” said the 61-year-old former property tycoon who entered politics less than a year ago and was not serving as an MP.

Thammanat held a similar post in the government of Prayuth Chan-o-cha, the outgoing prime minister and former junta chief, despite reports that he had spent eight months in an Australian prison on drug-related charges. He has denied being convicted of any drug offense.

Finishing second in the mid-May general election, the Pheu Thai party abandoned the top vote-getting and progressive party, Move Forward, and joined former rivals Palang Pracharath and United Thai Nation Party (UTNP) after Move Forward’s leader Pita Limjaroenrat was twice rebuffed by pro-military MPs in his effort to be elected prime minister. 

Then-Thai Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan (left) and then-Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha attend a parliament session in Bangkok, July 25, 2019. [Sakchai Lalit/AP]

Prayuth, who led UTNP before leaving politics, and his former deputy prime minister, Prawit Wongsuwan, who led Palang Pracharath, were in charge of the 2014 coup that overthrew the government of Yingluck. Another new ally, the Bhumjaithai party, had not been friendly with Pheu Thai either.    

An analyst likened the “Srettha 1” cabinet as the “old wine in a new bottle.”

“In comparison to the outgoing government, there is not much difference. There are a lot of ministers from the previous ruling parties,” Thannapat Jarernpanit, a professor at Pibulsongkram Rajabhat University, told BenarNews. “It is the heritage from the previous oligarchy regardless of their qualifications. It was an obvious effort to fairly share the cake.” 

Who gets what

Pheu Thai is to take key economic portfolios in the unconfirmed cabinet list – finance for Srettha, commerce for Poomtham Vejjayachai, transportation for Suriya Juangroongruangkit, and foreign affairs for Panpree Pahitanukorn. 

Notably, Pheu Thai member Sutin Klangsang, is expected to take the defense portfolio to ensure that the military could not launch a coup like the ones that forced Yingluck out in 2014 and her older brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, eight years earlier. 

Sutin apparently was selected over retired Gen. Nattapol Nakpanich, who served on the National Security Council under Prayuth in reaction to resistance from red shirts – a pro-Shinawatra fan base – against the former junta. 

“It is bizarre for Sutin to oversee the security-related ministry which normally belongs to veteran politicians or former officers,” said Thannapat, the analyst. “It looks like a deal was cut with Prayuth that his men were promoted, but let Pheu Thai take care of them.”

Before his term ended Prayuth appointed new military chiefs, including the supreme commander of the Armed Forces, commander-in-chief of the Royal Thai Army and commander-in-chief of the Air Force.

Meanwhile, Bhumjaithai leader Anutin Charnvirakul is expected to serve as interior minister, where he will oversee nearly 80 provincial governors nationwide. 

The United Thai Nation is to oversee energy and industry ministries.    

Prawit – who served as deputy prime minister under Prayuth – apparently secured a portfolio for his younger brother, retired police Gen. Patcharawat Wongsuwan, to serve as minister of natural resources. 

No deal ‘with Uncle Pom’

Days after Srettha was voted in as prime minister, Cholnan announced that he was stepping down as the chief of Pheu Thai. 

“I, Cholnan Srikaew, would like to honor my promise that I would resign as the party leader if I ever shake hands and deal with Uncle Pom,” Cholnan told a press conference on Wednesday, referring to the Prawit. “I declare I am quitting now.”

Ahead of the May election, Cholnan promised that Pheu Thai would not partner with Gen. Prawit and anticipated his party’s victory in a landslide. 

Then-Pheu Thai party leader Cholnan Srikaew (left) gestures with the leader of Move Forward Party, Pita Limjaroenrat, in Bangkok, May 17, 2023. [Sakchai Lalit/AP]

For Pheu Thai supporters, popularly known as the “red shirts” for the color of their uniforms, Srettha’s decision to align with pro-military parties is “beyond betrayal,” the former party leader said. 

Despite his pronouncements, Cholnan is expected to take the public health portfolio.

It has a challenging mission to recover its popularity in the economic prowess to make up for loss of base if it ever wants to win the next election, observers said. 

The former red shirts leader, Jatuporn Prompan, said he expected the new government to fall in the foreseeable future over allegations that Srettha had cheated in property deals and other irregularities when he served as CEO of Sansiri, one of Thailand’s leading property companies. 

“Political experts know that it’s hard to get away with ethical issues,” said Jatuporn, who led the defunct United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship. 

“Samak Sundaravej lasted only seven months and Somchai Wongsawat lasted only two months,” he told BenarNews.    

Jatuporn was referring to two cases where the Constitutional Court disqualified two prime ministers under the People’s Power Party – the precursor of Pheu Thai. 

In 2008, the court, viewed by pro-democracy activists as the establishment’s tool to eradicate Thaksin, disqualified Samak for hosting a cooking show and Somchai for vote purchasing. 


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