Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak and three ministers working for him have resigned from the cabinet, paving the way for the reshuffle of the government's economic ministerial team.
The three ministers are Finance Minister Uttama Savanayana, Energy Minister Sontirat Sontijirawong and Minister of Higher Education, Science, Research and Innovation Suvit Maesincee.
Kobsak Pootrakul, deputy secretary-general of the prime minister and also in Mr Somkid's team, also resigned.
All four have been part of the economic team led by Mr Somkid and recently resigned from the ruling Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP).
A source in the government said Mr Somkid informed Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha of his resignation on Wednesday, citing his health problems. "A press conference will be called on Thursday on the resignations," Mr Uttama said on Wednesday. One of the most immediate issues is how soon a new team will replace them.
Mr Somkid on Wednesday went to Chumphon, where he is due to address village fund operators in the southern province this morning.
The resignations came after Preedee Daochai, chairman of the Thai Bankers' Association, reportedly played golf recently with Distat Hotrakitya, the PM's Secretary-General.
Mr Preedee was reportedly made an offer to join the government as the head of its new economic team, having previously rejected the offer.
Mr Somkid and his team were told by several political factions in the PPRP to resign as their colleagues wanted their ministerial seats to be shared.
Those factions recently installed Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon as the new party leader in place of Mr Uttama.
It was also reported recently that Mr Somkid and his team planned to set up a new political party or group.
Reports of Mr Somkid's resignation sparked immediate concern in business circles over the shape of the government's next economic team against the backdrop of an economy badly damaged by the Covid-19 pandemic.
"The government cannot afford any delays in replacing the economic team as the private sector is worried about the future of economic stimulus projects initiated by the Somkid team," said Kalin Sarasin, chairman of the Thai Chamber of Commerce.
All these projects required sharp decisions and sophistication in implementation, said Mr Kalin -- qualities possessed by Mr Somkid, a pillar of the government's economic team.
Mr Kalin said all eyes were now on the prospective leader and members of the new team, meaning there was no room for the government to disappoint the public with names that were any less respected or trusted.
The new economic team must impress from the outset, to gain trust and confidence among not only the people and businesses in the country, but also foreign business people and investors alike, he said.
Kriangkrai Tiannukul, vice chairman of the Federation of Thai Industries (FTI) said the FTI agreed with the ministers' resignations because the path was now clear to resolve political conflicts and create a positive mood in the nation.
The FTI believed the manner of the ministers' departure would put an end to the negative image of Thailand being a country beset by political rifts and this would create renewed confidence among investors.
However, the FTI does have a concern the new economic team will not continue the economic policies put in place by those who have departed.
Mr Kriangkrai said Thailand needed the best people and economic policies that would drive the economy forward despite the pandemic.
"If the premier [hopes to] choose a new economic team that is also accepted by Thai people, it should be made up of economic experts," he said.
Thongyoo Kongkhan, adviser chairman of the Land Transport Federation of Thailand, also felt the ministers' resignations would be beneficial because Thailand needed new teams to push the economy forward.
Preeyanart Soontornwata, president of B.Grimm Power Plc, said she had no fears about the energy minister's resignation because plans for natural gas have been in place for several years.