New Thai cabinet faces flak

Dec 19, 2008

 

BANGKOK – THAILAND’S top businessmen and political commentators criticised the proposed cabinet of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva on Friday, saying several ministers lacked experience or were likely to worsen political tensions.

Board of Trade chairman Pramon Sutivong, who represents the country’s manufacturing and trading sectors, told reporters after a meeting with Mr Abhisit that he was upset at names reported in the media as heads of key economic ministries.

‘People who will be handling economic ministries must be professionally accepted. They must not be rookies,’ Mr Pramon said, singling out Industry and Commerce as particular areas for concern.

The Oxford-educated Abhisit, who has pledged to revive a tourism and export-driven economy teetering on the brink of recession, promised to ‘look into’ the appointments, Mr Pramon said, but analysts believe he has little room to manoeuvre.

The proposed ministers have backgrounds in nursing and running cocktail lounges respectively, but come from the minor parties propping up his slender parliamentary majority.

Most analysts do not expect his coalition to hold together through 2009 as economic growth stutters to zero or worse.

Political rifts

Since his election by parliament on Monday, Mr Abhisit has met farmers, factory workers and business leaders as part of a public relations drive to counter criticism that he is too Westernised and Bangkok-focused to heal the political rifts that date back to before the 2006 coup against Thaksin Shinawatra.

However, his reported nomination for foreign minister, Kasit Piromya, has raised questions about his committment to reaching out to supporters of Thaksin, now convicted of corruption and living in exile but still popular among the rural masses.

Mr Kasit, a former ambassador to the United States, gave prominent support to the anti-Thaksin People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) street campaign that occupied Government House for three months and Bangkok’s main airports for over a week.

Columnist Supalak Ganjanakhundee in the openly pro-Democrat Nation newspaper said nobody with links to the PAD should become Thailand’s face to the outside world.

‘They would not be able to explain rationally to the international community the root causes of the political crisis,’ he wrote.

Mr Kasit defended his role in the PAD campaign, including its blockade of the airports, saying it was simply ‘part of the democratic process’.

‘The PAD is not an organisation of thugs. What we were doing was a democratic bid to oust the corrupt government,’ he told reporters after a seminar on Friday.

Diplomats in Bangkok issued a rare joint commuique this month, saying they were ‘seriously concerned’ at the ease with which the PAD, which had the support of figures at the top of the establishment, took over one of Asia’s biggest airports. — REUTERS

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