Thai Junta Leader Names Military Men to Key Cabinet Posts

Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-Ocha named a cabinet line-up that puts military men in charge of almost every key ministry, consolidating the power of the army three months after he staged a coup.

The army chief placed 11 military officers in the 32-member cabinet, including as defense minister, foreign minister, interior minister, commerce minister, education minister and justice minister, according to a statement yesterday in the Royal Gazette. The new finance minister is a civilian, Sommai Phasee, who was part of the government installed following Thailand’s last coup in 2006.

The appointments, which include two former army chiefs from Prayuth’s faction of the military, indicate that Prayuth will continue to rely on those close to his junta as he works to revive an economy that contracted in the first half of the year, keep opposition to his rule at bay and allow upcoming reforms to take root before a return to elections.

Even those not from the military are “at least people who are devoted to one side of the political divide and see themselves as more righteous leaders,” said Andrew Stotz, chief executive officer of A. Stotz Investment Research in Bangkok. “These people may see a rebalancing of power as a higher priority” than a rush to elections, he said.

The benchmark SET Index of stocks climbed to a 15-month high after the announcement, gaining 0.5 percent to 1,570.11 in Bangkok. The gauge has risen 12 percent since the May 22 coup. The baht has strengthened 1.9 percent against the dollar over the same period, the best performance in Asia.

Political Reform

Prayuth took the post of prime minister last week after he was appointed by his hand-picked legislature, more than half of them from the military. Prayuth has said elections will be held no earlier than late 2015, after his junta and its appointed bodies write a new constitution and enact unspecified measures to “reform” Thai politics and society.

The May coup, Thailand’s 12th since 1932 and the second in eight years, ousted the government of Yingluck Shinawatra, whose brother Thaksin Shinawatra was toppled by the army in 2006.

Supporters of the Shinawatra family accuse the military of working with the nation’s traditional elite to subvert democracy because they are threatened by the power of politicians. Their opponents accuse them of corruption and using populist policies to buy the support of voters.

2006 Coup

Several members of Prayuth’s new cabinet were also members of the government appointed after the 2006 coup. Pridiyathorn Devakula, a former Bank of Thailand governor who will serve as Prayuth’s deputy premier for the economy, was finance minister after that coup. Sommai, the new finance minister, served as Pridiyathorn’s deputy before resigning in 2007 after a court convicted him of abuse of power over suspension of state agency official three years earlier.

“Recently, Sommai Phasee has said he would focus on tax reforms and boosting the economy,” said Tim Leelahaphan, an economist at Maybank Kim Eng. “We believe it is hard to see exciting policies from him or this interim cabinet that focuses on economic reforms rather than populist policies.”

From the military, Prawit Wongsuwan, a former army chief and defense minister, will be a deputy prime minister and defense minister, Thanasak Patimaprakorn, the supreme commander of the armed forces, will be a deputy prime minister and foreign minister and Anupong Paochinda, a former army chief, will be interior minister.

Prajin Juntong, the air force chief who has overseen the economy for the junta since the coup, will be transport minister, Chatchai Sarikulya, the assistant army chief, will be commerce minister, Paibool Khumchaya, the army assistant commander-in-chief, will be justice minster, and Narong Pipathanasai, the head of the navy, will be education minister.

The new cabinet has only two female members, Tourism and Sports Minister Kobkarn Wattanavrangkul and Deputy Commerce Minister Apiradi Tantraporn.

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