Thai finance minister quits, blames his critics

AGENCIES, BANGKOK

Thursday, Mar 01, 2007,

Thai Finance Minister Pridiyathorn Devakula resigned abruptly
yesterday, blaming Cabinet infighting and media criticism of his
performance since he took the job after last September’s military coup.


Pridiyathorn
, a highly regarded central bank governor before he moved
to the ministry in October, had been blamed for a series of decisions,
including an embarrassing U-turn on capital controls that spooked
foreign investors and triggered a huge stock market sell-off in
December.

A government spokesman said Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont was
looking for a successor to Pridiyathorn, whose shock departure renewed
market uncertainty about the direction of economic policy in Thailand.

Former central bank governor Chatu Mongol Sonakul, once fired by ousted
prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, was among the favorites, analysts
said.

“I do not want to work in an atmosphere of hidden motives,”
Pridiyathorn told reporters after walking into the press room at
Government House to announce he was quitting.

“The expressions of some Cabinet ministers can be construed as actions
that put the government under the influence of some members of the
media,” he said without elaborating.

He also cited his refusal to work alongside former ministers ousted in
the bloodless coup that removed Thaksin.

He had not been consulted on Surayud’s appointment of former finance
minister Somkid Jatusripitak as an economic adviser earlier this month.


Somkid’s
appointment triggered a storm of protest by Thaksin critics
and he resigned after only six days on the job.


Pridiyathorn’s
departure was a major setback for a government that has
seen its popularity decline due to a series of policy flip-flops,
analysts said.

“The resignation of a key minister is bound to throw into question the
credibility of the existing government, as well as the desirability of
Thailand as a destination for investment and business,” economist
Vishnu Varathan of Forecast said.

But others said it may bring some stability to a Cabinet criticized for
its lack of action.

In other developments, the new leader of Thaksin’s Thai Rak Thai party
said he was curtailing his political activities after the junta
threatened to prosecute him.


Chaturon Chaisang
said yesterday that he had not violated the junta’s
ban on political activities. and urged the junta to clarify what type
of activities were allowed.

The junta said on Tuesday that Chaturon violated the ban by meeting
supporters in northern Thailand, a Thaksin stronghold.

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