Narumon pick spurs dismay
Experts question her economic credentials
Eyebrows were raised when government spokeswoman Narumon Pinyosinwat's name came up to head the economic team of the ruling Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP), which picked a new leader and executive board at the weekend.
Following the changes, newly-appointed secretary-general Anucha Nakasai said the party's economic team would be led by Ms Narumon, who was appointed the party's treasurer at the general meeting on Saturday.
The PPRP leadership rejig signals the likely exit from cabinet of former PPRP leader and current Finance Minister Uttama Savanayana and ministers close to him.
Mr Anucha's announcement also gave rise to speculation Ms Narumon's new team could replace the government's economic lineup currently under the leadership of Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak.
The prospect of Ms Narumon, a former lecturer and vice-minister of finance under Apisak Tantivorawong in the previous Prayut Chan-o-cha government, taking charge of economic affairs in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic has left many dumbfounded.
Several observers said they expected a stronger hand who can nurse the ailing economy back to health.
Yuttaporn Issarachai, a political scientist from Sukhothai Thammathirat Open University, is sceptical that Ms Narumon, despite her experience as a vice minister, has the expertise required.
He said that before the Covid-19 outbreak economic problems were already massive, so the government should delay reshuffling the cabinet until it has the right team.
"But I don't think they will wait and Ms Narumon is likely to act as a coordinator and recommend outsiders for the job, rather taking charge," he said.
Anusorn Tamajai, an economist and former director of the Public Policy Development Office, agreed it might not be a good time to change the government's economic team, but added that it was for the PPRP to decide on who heads the party's economic team.
"The head of the government's team must also be outstandingly clean so that everybody respects them undoubtedly," he said, adding the person must deal with a lot of interest groups during budget allocation and all others must respect his or her decisions.
Mr Anucha was yesterday pressed into action to defend the choice, saying Ms Narumon's role as chief of the economic team is limited to the PPRP after his announcement triggered criticism.
"She has the calibre. She is a professor and she didn't get it [the job] simply because she's lucky," he said.
He also said well-known academics will be invited to join the party's economic team and the PPRP has set up teams to review policy platforms in other areas as well.
Ms Narumon denied she had been appointed to head the government's economic team, insisting her job was merely to head the party's team. "The rumour isn't true. You should listen to the party secretary-general's interview again," she said, adding she would address the issue when it is time.
A source in the government insisted Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha meant every word when he gave an interview last week in which he said he had not thought about changing the cabinet line-up.
Gen Prayut said any shake-up would have to wait until the budget bill for the 2021 fiscal year clears parliament because the cabinet ministers will have to answer questions that arise during the debate on the bill.
The budget bill for the 2021 fiscal year, which starts in October this year, is scheduled for its first reading in the House on July 1-3. Its second and third readings are expected in September.
Ms Narumon's introduction to the political arena came in early 2017 when she was accepted as an election candidate of the PPRP. After the March 24 general election last year, she became a party list MP before resigning to become the government spokeswoman.