Divided cabinet faces tough tests
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Divided cabinet faces tough tests

Most pundits say prime minister had little input in the new line-up

Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin visits a market in Bangkok on Aug 31. (Photo: Nutthawat Wicheanbut)
Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin visits a market in Bangkok on Aug 31. (Photo: Nutthawat Wicheanbut)

Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin has completed his first task of putting together a cabinet which received royal endorsement on Saturday but questions remain as to whether he is putting the right people in the right jobs.

Given the scale of challenges ahead, the public expects the cabinet to be filled with experienced ministers and experts in their fields. But with 11 political parties in the bloc, it is not easy to set up a team that meets expectations.

The royally-endorsed list is almost identical to the tentative list circulated among the media albeit with one highly controversial figure dropped. Additionally, that the ruling party does not have complete control of economic affairs suggests the make-up of the cabinet was not really the Pheu Thai Party's call.

The Bangkok Post asked academics, politicians in the opposition camp and civil society leaders to weigh in on the new cabinet and give their views on whether it represents the will of the people and bodes well for the government's attempts to tackle the nation's problems. They were also asked to predict how long the government with 314 House seats will last.

Olarn: Ministers lack expertise

'Lack of expertise'

Wanwichit Boonprong, a political science lecturer at Rangsit University, said the cabinet picks reflect the fact that Pheu Thai Party does not have much negotiating power, nor care about criticism that it is not in the driving seat.

He said while the overall picture of the Srettha cabinet is not ugly, it suggests that certain political groups are still acting in their immediate interests.

He also doubted the ability of some ministers to drive policies, because they lack the correct educational background, work experience and track record for their tasks.

Among them are Pol Gen Permpoon Chidchob of the Bhumjaithai Party who is education minister, Pheu Thai's Prasert Chantararuangthong who is digital economy and society minister and Pheu Thai's Phumtham Wechayachai who serves as commerce minister.

"It's not putting the right man in the right job. It's about coalition-making and it's highly likely the coalition partners will clash in the future. It's not a strategy for long-term results," Mr Wanwichit said.

Although Pheu Thai Party will take the helm at the Finance Ministry with Mr Srettha doubling as finance minister and putting the party in a strategic position to implement policies to revitalise the economy, a number of key economic ministries have slipped through its fingers, he said.

Yutthaporn: Has low expectations

The energy ministry, a top-tier economic portfolio, and the agriculture and cooperatives ministry, which deals with the rural economy, are with the United Thai Nation Party (UTN) and the Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP) respectively, so Pheu Thai is not fully in charge of ministries handling economic affairs.

Moreover, much of the work will be carried out by Mr Srettha's deputies, especially former finance permanent secretary Krisada Chinavicharana who resigned from the public sector to take the post, he said.

PPRP secretary-general Capt Thamanat Prompow, who assumes the agriculture and cooperatives minister post, and Pol Gen Permpoon are deemed weak links in the cabinet and will be closely monitored, he said.

Capt Thamanat is widely perceived as an influential figure while Pol Gen Permpoon, brother of Bhumjaithai strongman Newin Chidchob, is seen as lacking the credentials to supervise the education ministry.

Natthawut: MFP is on lookout

Olarn Thinbangtieo, a political science lecturer at Burapha University, said the cabinet has been crafted purely for political reasons, not for the people, as several ministers do not possess the expertise to do their jobs.

He questioned the criteria used to determine who gets the post, pointing out that Thailand has earned international recognition for its handling of the Covid-19 pandemic but Anutin Charnvirakul becomes the interior minister instead of retaining his old post as public health minister.

Tourism is a key driver of the economy, but the new tourism and sports minister has no work experience in the field, continued Mr Olarn.

Nimitr: Eyes on govt policies

"The interior ministry is known to be a much-sought ministry but Pheu Thai gives it to the Bhumjaithai Party which has no policy platform about local administration. I think Pheu Thai wants to avoid decentralisation of power through direct elections of provincial governors."

As opposed to former prime minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha, Mr Srettha appears to have had no say in the cabinet picks and he is unlikely to have any control over his cabinet, he said.

Mr Olarn said Pheu Thai cannot succeed in forming the government without support from the pro-military parties, so the party has to make concessions. However, a cabinet reshuffle can be expected sooner than later.

"Pheu Thai is close to achieving its strategy. It has brought Thaksin Shinawatra back. An amnesty is now done. We are likely to see a cabinet shake-up.

"And if Thaksin is released from jail, he can help drive economic policy and transfer power back to the prime minister for a reshuffle," he said.

Yutthaporn Issarachai, a political science lecturer at Sukhothai Thammathirat Open University, said he does not expect much from the new government because the cabinet has been chosen to appease coalition partners.

Sathit: Roster not promising

No honeymoon time

Democrat heavyweight Sathit Wongnongtoey is worried the appointments do not look promising if the Pheu Thai Party is to fulfil its pledge to tackle economic problems and speed up economic recovery.

All the economic portfolios are not in the party's hands and it is strange that Parnpree Bahiddha-Nukara, who was tipped to lead the economic team, will assume the foreign minister post, he said.

Hard work is awaiting Mr Srettha, who will have to combine different policy platforms under coalition partners and turn them into unified government policies, said Mr Sathit.

The Move Forward Party (MFP), which was kicked from the coalition, will keep an eye on the government, so the ruling party and its partners will have no honeymoon time, he said.

Mr Sathit said the Pheu Thai-led government is a fractious coalition and its partners have high negotiating power.

"Relying on support from coalition partners in the House is risky. Some negotiations may fail and lead to changes in which way the House votes," he said.

Mr Sathit said the education ministry is likely to face close scrutiny because the Bhumjaithai Party has virtually no education policy and it remains to be seen if the minister will be embraced.

MFP list-MP Natthawut Buaprathum said although some ministers have questionable backgrounds or image problems, the MFP is waiting for the government policy statement including its military reforms after Pheu Thai veteran Sutin Klungsang emerged as defence minister.

He said Mr Srettha doubling as the finance minister reflects the fact the economic recovery is Pheu Thai's top priority, but he urged the prime minister to gather input from the "small people" too after Mr Srettha was seen meeting business leaders following his endorsement.

"I think the government has political stability but it remains to be seen if the policies can be delivered. I focus more on government policy than parties or individual ministers.

"With the number of seats it has, it is stable but how long it will last depends on whether it can deliver," he said.

Adul: Power is with the people

Cabinet shake-up

Adul Keowboriboon, a representative of Black May victims' families, likened the new cabinet to a damaged ship undergoing repairs for short-term use and said several appointments are nothing but rewards to those loyal to the party's "owner".

He expected a reshuffle in three to four months. "Incompetent people will be replaced with veterans to help the government prepare for the next elections," he said.

However, Mr Adul said members of the public will be closely monitoring the cabinet performance as he urged Mr Srettha not to underestimate the power of the people.

Nimitr Tian-udom, coordinator of the Welfare Watch Network, said he does not expect drastic changes because one-third of the cabinet ministers have served in the Prayut government and it is more like a rotation of positions.

"Now that the allocation of cabinet seats is done, the civil sector and public independent agencies must keep an eye on government policies and how they are carried out," he said.

"While the seat allocation is done, it is a coalition government whose partners have similar policies with different details. So we must wait and see whether these policies are truly in the public interest."

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