Ex-JPMorgan Banker Korn Becomes Thai Finance Minister

BloomBurg

By Daniel Ten Kate and Anuchit Nguyen

Dec. 20 (Bloomberg) — Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva tapped Korn Chatikavanij as finance minister, a move that may reassure investors familiar with him as the ex-chairman of JPMorgan Chase & Co.’s Thailand unit.

“Korn’s experience within the Thai investment community is well regarded,” said Bill Anderson, a senior vice president for sales trading at UOB Kay Hian Securities (Thailand) Co. Korn’s appointment is “a good move,” he said.

Korn, 44, replaces Suchart Thadathomrongvej, who said Dec. 11 that the Thai economy may contract for the first time in a decade next quarter after protesters seized Bangkok’s airports and the global recession curbed exports. Tourism and overseas shipments make up more than 80 percent of Thailand’s gross domestic product.

Korn, the prime minister’s former classmate at Oxford University, becomes part of a cabinet lineup that reflects their Democrat Party’s links with violent demonstrators who seized the airports in a bid to oust the former ruling party. Abhisit, elected prime minister in a parliamentary vote on Dec. 15, gave about half the 36 cabinet seats to smaller coalition partners who account for 31 percent of seats in his five-party government.

It will be “extremely difficult” for the Democrat Party to disassociate from the People’s Alliance for Democracy, which led a 193-day campaign to oust the former government comprised of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s allies, said Chris Baker, a Bangkok-based political analyst.

Anti-Thaksin Struggle

“The People’s Alliance is given immunity to do many things,” he said. “They think they can run riot, and they will.”

Along with Abhisit, Korn visited protesters after they seized the prime minister’s office in August, referring to them as “heroes” in a local newspaper column. Calling himself “a PAD sympathizer,” Korn wrote that the demonstrators were “pure in their beliefs” and called their actions “the seed of true democracy.”

Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya, a former ambassador to the U.S., spoke on the People’s Alliance stage at Suvarnabhumi Airport during the eight-day seizure, and his wife provided food and medical supplies to protesters. He said the economic damage from the airport closure was “Thaksin’s and the government’s fault.”

“If Abhisit cannot deliver in a few months time we’ll be out of the government,” Kasit said Dec. 19. “Commodity prices and layoffs of factory workers are two very basic things we have to tackle immediately.”

Economy

Industry groups earlier expressed misgivings about Commerce Minister Pornthiwa Nakasai, who hails from a small coalition party. Another small coalition member put up a nurse for industry minister before criticism from business groups prompted it to nominate a more experienced politician.

“The current economic situation is not suitable for first- time drivers,” Pramon Sutivong, chairman of the Thai Chamber of Commerce, said last week. “We should have someone who has good knowledge in international trade.”

Abhisit appointed former army chief Pravit Wongsuwan, a member of the military-appointed legislature after the 2006 coup against Thaksin, as defense minister. He is the brother of former police chief Phatcharavat Wongsuwan, sacked last month by the former government after police failed to enforce an emergency order to clear protesters from the airports.

New Science Minister Kalyana Sophonpanich is related to the founder of Bangkok Bank, Thailand’s largest by assets.

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