After cabinet’s induction, Thai PM Srettha says govt will be ‘people’s representative’

Nontarat Phaicharoen and Wilawan Watcharasakwej
After cabinet’s induction, Thai PM Srettha says govt will be ‘people’s representative’ Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin (center left) and cabinet members take the oath in front of King Maha Vajiralongkorn and Queen Suthida at Dusit Palace in Bangkok, Sept. 5, 2023.
Royal Household Bureau via AP

Srettha Thavisin, Thailand’s first civilian prime minister in nine years, promised to fix “many problems” as he and his cabinet that includes ministers with ties to the old junta took their oaths before the king and queen Tuesday.

After he and his 33 fellow cabinet members were sworn in at Dusit Palace in front of King Maha Vajiralongkorn and Queen Suthida, Srettha said he planned to present his government’s policies before Parliament early next week. 

“I affirm that this government is the people’s government. It is the people’s representative,” Srettha told a news conference at Government House in Bangkok.

“We are determined to fix the many problems. We will work tirelessly every single day and minute with a people-oriented agenda.”

Srettha, of the Pheu Thai party, and his ruling coalition came to power after the party struck a deal to ally itself with pro-military parties tied to juntas that overthrew two prime ministers from Pheu Thai through coups in 2006 and 2014. 

Pheu Thai placed second to the progressive Move Forward party in the May general election, but dumped Move Forward as a coalition partner in striking the power-sharing bargain with the pro-military parties.    

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Thai Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin talks to reporters during a press conference at Government House in Bangkok, after he and his cabinet took their oaths of office in front of the king and queen, Sept. 5, 2023. [Sakchai Lalit/AP]

On Tuesday, the king offered his support for Srettha and his cabinet members.

“I would like to seize this chance to bless you to be strong morally, physically and intellectually in order to successfully serve the public,” the monarch said, according to a statement from the Royal Household bureau.

“I trust you have good intentions and faith. May you have the will to perform your duty duly.” 

In the May 14 polls, Move Foward won the biggest share of parliamentary seats, but party leader Pita Limjaroenrat was twice blocked by pro-military house members and senators from being voted in as the new PM because many of them opposed his campaign call for reforming laws that shield the monarchy.

Move Forward and Pheu Thai had been looking to establish the next government together, but after Pita was blocked a second time in his bid to become the prime minister, he stepped aside to allow a Pheu Thai candidate for PM to take his place.  

Soon after, however, Pheu Thai cut ties with Move Forward and then struck its deal with pro-military and pro-royalist parties. 

In return for this, Srettha’s cabinet includes officials from the previous government such as Anutin Charnvirakul, who had served as public health minister, and Thammanat Prompao, who had served as deputy agriculture minister. 

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Thai Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin and his cabinet members pose for a group photo at Government House after a swearing-in ceremony before the king and queen, in Bangkok, Sept. 5, 2023. [Athit Perawongmetha/Reuters]

As health minister in the previous goverment, Anutin, the new interior minister, had partially decriminalized cannabis. Prompao, who has moved up to agriculture minister, had served eight months in an Australian prison on drug-related charges – although he denied being convicted of any drug offense.

In May 2014, the military, led by then-Army Gen. Prayuth Chan-o-cha, overthrew the government of Pheu Thai’s Yingluck Shinawatra. Her brother, Thaksin, who suffered a similar fate in 2006 and fled the country in 2008, returned to Bangkok on Aug. 22, only hours before Parliament voted in Srettha as prime minister.

Soon after returning home, Thaksin, who had been a fugitive from Thai law living in exile for 15 years, was taken into custody and imprisoned on corruption-related charges. On Sept. 1, the king granted the 74-year-old former prime minister clemency by slashing his prison sentence to one year from eight years.

Prayuth served as the junta chief from 2014 until he was elected prime minister in 2019. After a general election that year, 250 senators who were hand-picked by the junta joined house members in pushing him past the 376 votes needed to hold office.

This time around, many of those same senators voted for Srettha – who had the support of 482 MPs. 

Prior to Tuesday’s ceremony, Srettha, who is taking on the profilio of the finance ministry, and Defense Minister Sutin Klangsang, who is a civilian, met with armed forces leaders to get “acquainted” and “reduce gaps between the armed forces and the people.” Analysts have said Sutin received the defense portfolio to ensure that the military would not launch another coup.

“I’m new to the job and I want to hear what each commander does besides security matters,” Srettha said on Sunday. “The armed forces have done a lot of good things that benefitted the people. But for the past problems, they haven’t clarified them outright. I want to do them justice.”

He plans additional meetings to iron out details about how the government and the armed forces could work together.


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