Reshuffle ruffles some
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Reshuffle ruffles some

Analysts question the point of Srettha's cabinet rejig

The first cabinet reshuffle under the Srettha Thavisin government aims to enhance efficiency, particularly in advancing economic stimulus initiatives, as the government plans to introduce additional populist programmes to attract votes in the next election, academics say.

Somjai Phagaphasvivat, an independent political and economic analyst, told the Bangkok Post that he did not expect anything much from the new cabinet as it only represents a change in government management rather than a major shift in the government's policy direction.

Mr Somjai also pointed to the appointment of Pichai Chunhavajira as the new finance minister, the post which Prime Minister Srettha previously held, as well as deputy prime minister. Mr Pichai was a former chairman of the Stock Exchange of Thailand and adviser to the prime minister.

Easing PM's workload

"The finance minister has to deal with overall policy as well as technicalities. The reshuffle will help ease the prime minister's workload as he will no longer serve as finance minister concurrently.

"From now on, the new finance minister will be responsible for telling reporters about technical details such those regarding the government's digital-wallet scheme,'' Mr Somjai said.

Since the new finance minister will also serve as deputy prime minister concurrently, he will also oversee other ministries handling economic affairs, such as the Commerce Ministry, to ensure more efficiency in implementing the government's economic measures.

"This government plans to spend a substantial amount of money to help people reduce expenses, subsidise utility bills and cut taxes to help the real state sector.

"Coupled with the planned digital wallet handouts, this will impose financial burdens. So, three deputy ministers are needed at the Finance Ministry to handle key matters which involve technical details," Mr Somjai said.

Paopoom Rojanasakul, secretary to the finance minister, was named as a third deputy finance minister in the reshuffle. The other two incumbent deputy finance ministers are Krisada Chinavicharana and Julapun Amornviviat.

Commenting on Parnpree Bahiddha-Nukara's shock resignation as foreign affairs minister, Mr Somjai said Mr Srettha had outshone Mr Parnpree in the role of foreign affairs.

"There is no major shift in foreign policy [after the reshuffle]. The prime minister continues to act as a salesman courting foreign investment," Mr Somjai said.

He said the ruling Pheu Thai Party is planning to roll out a raft of measures as part of efforts to woo voters, such as the digital wallet handout and the minimum daily wage increase.

"Its target group will be happy. But these measures also pose risks to the country's financial standing,'' he said.

"This government has only attached importance to short-term measures because it wants to get voter support. These measures are not the answer to the country's problems. There are no clear measures that will truly help revitalise the economy,'' he said.

Somjai: Not expecting much

Pushing for the digital wallet

Thanaporn Sriyakul, director of the Political and Public Policy Analysis Institute, told the Bangkok Post that the appointments of the new finance minister and a new deputy finance minister are clearly intended to advance the digital wallet handout scheme.

"It is obvious. If Pheu Thai cannot deliver on its promise of the digital wallet, its political future will be in danger,'' Mr Thanaporn said.

"The argument that several deputy finance ministers are needed to expedite the disbursement of budget is only a pretext. Government officials can do this job. People need other economic measures rather than short-term stimulus ones," he said.

"The government should come up with measures to broaden the tax base to boost state coffers and allow small and medium enterprises more access to funding sources,'' Mr Thanaporn said.

He also noted that the latest reshuffle does not include a deputy agriculture minister from Pheu Thai, which he said deals a heavy political blow to the party.

"This means Pheu Thai has abandoned almost 19 million farmers nationwide. The stimulus measures implemented by the Finance Ministry offer little benefit to farmers,'' he said.

Chaiya Promma, who lost his job as deputy agriculture and cooperatives minister in the cabinet reshuffle, had warned that stripping him of the cabinet post could cost the ruling Pheu Thai Party its victory in the next poll.

Mr Chaiya is a Pheu Thai MP for Nong Bua Lam Phu and one of the party's veteran Isan politicians.

He predicted Pheu Thai may be in for an uphill battle to win House seats in the northeastern constituencies in the next general election.

With him axed from the cabinet, he said no one else could represent Pheu Thai's northeastern voters as well as himself.


Mr Thanaporn said that removing former Pheu Thai leader Cholnan Srikaew as public health minister is also another major drawback for Pheu Thai considering that he has been so loyal to the party for a long time.

Somsak Thepsutin, of Pheu Thai, has replaced Dr Cholnan as public health minister.

With Dr Cholnan losing his cabinet post, Pheu Thai will find it hard to win House seats in the upper North and it may lose further ground to the Move Forward Party.

"This is because supporters there are unhappy that the party has failed to keep Dr Cholnan who is fully devoted to the party,'' Mr Thanaporn said.

He also said the government cannot explain the need to appoint three PM's Office Ministers -- Pichit Chuenban, Pheu Thai deputy leader Jiraporn Sindhuprai and Jakkapong Sangmanee who was shifted from the post of deputy foreign affairs minister.

Mr Pichit is tipped to oversee the Council of State, which is the government's legal arm, while Ms Jiraporn is expected to be in charge of the government's media arm, such as the Department of Public Relations and Mcot Plc. Mr Jakkapong is tipped to oversee the Budget Bureau.

However, Mr Thanaporn said the previous Prayut Chan-o-cha government amended laws to bring those agencies under the supervision of deputy prime ministers.

"The newly-appointed PM's Office ministers have no real power to steer the government's work,'' he said.

Another worry is that Mr Parnpree quit, with immediate effect, in protest after he lost the deputy premier post, which he held concurrently with the foreign affairs minister portfolio, Mr Thanaporn said.

Thanaporn: PT must deliver handout

The appointment of Pichit Chuenban -- an adviser to Prime Minister Srettha who also served as ex-prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra's former lawyer -- as the PM's Office Minister also raises questions about his eligibility to serve as a cabinet minister.

This is because he served time in jail for contempt of court over an attempted bribery case when he represented Thaksin in a controversial land case back in 2008.

On June 25, 2008, the Supreme Court sentenced Mr Pichit and two of his colleagues to six months in prison after they tried to bribe Supreme Court officials by handing them a paper bag containing two million baht in cash a fortnight earlier.

All three represented Thaksin and his ex-wife, Khunying Potjaman na Pombejra, in the Ratchadaphisek land case, for which Thaksin was sentenced to two years in prison in 2008.

A group of activists recently petitioned the Election Commission to look into Mr Pichit's qualifications to serve as a cabinet minister then forward the matter to the Constitutional Court.

The activists led by Pichit Chaimongkol, leader of the Network of Students and People Reforming Thailand, said Mr Pichit is unfit to serve as a cabinet minister under Section 160 of the constitution because he was sentenced to jail in the past. The section covers the moral and ethical standards of a cabinet minister.

Return of favour

Phichai Ratnatilaka Na Bhuket, an academic at the National Institute of Development Administration (Nida), told the Bangkok Post the reason why Mr Somsak replaced Dr Cholnan as public health minister, and Transport Minister Suriya Jungrungreangkit was given a concurrent post of deputy prime minister is because the pair do a good job of looking after more than 20 MPs in their faction within Pheu Thai.

"This helps ease the burden of Pheu Thai's big boss, so the pair got the cabinet posts as a return of favour," Mr Phichai said.

He was referring to Thaksin, who has long been seen as the de facto leader of Pheu Thai, which cobbled together a coalition government that is now led by his youngest daughter, Paetongtarn.

Mr Phichai also said Capt Thamanat Prompow, the secretary-general of the coalition partner Palang Pracharath party (PPRP), still retains the post of Agriculture and Cooperatives Minister while Atthakorn Sirilatthayakorn, a PPRP MP for Chachoengsao, was appointed his deputy.

With Mr Chaiya of Pheu Thai and Anucha Nakasai of the United Thai Nation Party losing their posts of deputy agriculture minister, Capt Thamanat will now assume total control at the Agriculture and Cooperatives Ministry, Mr Phichai, adding: "This shows Capt Thamanat still has close ties to the de facto leader."

Phichai: Thamanat has close ties to Thaksin

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