Thai Ruler Gives Top Cabinet Posts to Junta Inner Circle
By Apornrath Phoonphongphiphat 1 September 2014
BANGKOK — Military ruler General Prayuth Chan-ocha has named an interim cabinet dominated by members of the security forces to govern Thailand through at least a year of political reforms before he permits an election.
Prayuth was widely expected to hand the top portfolios to the military as he chooses a government from the small circle that formed the junta that has ruled since a coup on May 22.
Thailand’s army chief has kept an iron grip on power as he extends the government, hand-picking an interim parliament that subsequently nominated him prime minister. The parliament, like the cabinet, is dominated by members of the military.
The Thai king gave royal approval to the interim cabinet on Sunday. The cabinet will have an audience with the monarch in coming days, the last formality before it can begin governing.
The portfolios of transport, defense, commerce and interior ministries will go to members of the armed forces. Economics and finance go to civilians.
The interior and defense ministers are two army generals that a Reuters report last year showed secretly backed the protests that undermined the government of Yingluck Shinawatra and paved the way for the coup.
The interior ministry goes to General Anupong Paochinda, who was army chief from 2007 to 2010. General Prawit Wongsuwan returns to the defense ministry, and will also be the deputy prime minister.
The two are towering figures in Thailand’s military establishment, have close ties to Prayuth and are staunch monarchists who played a role in the previous coup in Thailand in 2006. That coup ousted Yingluck’s brother, Thaksin Shinawatra.
Prayuth, Anupong and Prawit are the military brass leading a royalist establishment that includes Bankgok’s elite bureaucrats and big business and that aims to expunge the pervasive influence of populist former premier Thaksin Shinawatra from Thai politics.
Thaksin and his allies have won every election held in Thailand since 2001 with their rural and working class backing. The victories have eroded the power base of the royalist establishment.
‘Don’t Worry Too Much’
Before the cabinet list was made public, Prayuth said on Friday in his weekly televised address that Thais need not be concerned about the number of military men in his cabinet. They would all be held accountable, he said.
“I need to have some people that I can trust to work with in this tough situation,” he said. “If they perform poorly, I could reshuffle the cabinet anyway. So, don’t worry too much.”
Some of the civilians in the cabinet were also members of the transition team after the previous coup in 2006.
Pridiyathorn Devakula, a 67-year-old economist, was appointed as deputy prime minister to oversee the economy. Pridiyathon is a former governor of the Bank of Thailand (BOT) and bungled the introduction of capital controls as a finance minister after the 2006 coup. The measures were swiftly reversed after causing the stock market to tank.
Sommai Phasee was appointed finance minister. He was the deputy at finance in the interim government after the 2006 coup.
Air Chief Marshall Prachin Chantong, who has overseen economic affairs for the junta, becomes transport minister and will oversee development of some of the big-ticket infrastructure projects that Prayuth hopes will help strengthen Thailand’s faltering economy.
Prachin’s junta deputy, General Chatchai Sirikalya, will become commerce minister.