Thailand’s king has endorsed a new 36-member cabinet. It is the country’s first elected government since a 2006 military coup. The new Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej leads a six-party coalition government, dominated by the People’s Power Party, which supports the ousted ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra, accused of corruption.
Thai PM Samak Sundaravej heads a six-party coalition
Even if he is in exile, Thaksin continues to dominate Thai politics. The new cabinet, endorsed by King Bhumibol Adulyadej, is full of his supporters. Led by Premier Samak Sundaravej, who openly admitted to be a proxy of the ousted Thaksin before the elections in December 2007, a coalition of six parties forms the new government.
But all the chief ministerial posts in the new cabinet have been appointed to politicians, who are either Thaksin’s close allies still or who once served his Thai Rak Thai party, which was banned by the military after the 2006 coup.
Thaksin’s personal lawyer, Noppodon Pattama, is the new foreign minister, while Surapong Suebwonglee, a former member of Thai Rak Thai, has got the finance ministry and Thaksin’s brother-in-law, Somchai Wongsawat, has become one of six deputy prime ministers.
Some critics say the new cabinet is a “puppet cabinet”. The premier himself has been quoted as saying his coalition government is “a bit ugly,” as he couldn’t get his own people into all the top posts.
Thitinan Pongsudhirak, a politics expert from Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University, doesn’t see the cabinet lasting in its current form: “The Thai people are divided,” he says. “Many people of course chose the People Power Party but people in Bangkok are generally dissatisfied with this cabinet.”
“Part of the problem is that more than a hundred leading politicians were banned when Thai Rak Thai was dissolved in 2007. So this put aside a whole generation of politicians. So Thaksin has to rely on them for the time being but later on I suspect we will see a lot of see reshuffling in the cabinet.”
Civilian head of defence
During the swearing-in ceremony at the royal palace in Bangkok, Prime Minister Samak declared that he would also take charge of the defence ministry. He said he wanted to facilitate better communication with the army to avoid another coup in the future. He is only the third civilian ever to hold the job in Thailand.
However, his past won’t simplify matters, thought Thitinan: “Samak is bringing some skeletons with him. When he was governor of Bangkok there was some irregular procurement involving fire trucks, for instance. These charges are still pending. It could lead to a conviction that would mean he could get a jail sentence, which means he would have to leave office.”
But for the moment, Samak is in power and with the economy not faring particularly well partly as a result of the political crises of the past two years, the new government’s challenge is to get Thailand back on track.
The coalition government has already announced an ambitious plan to spend around 36 billion US dollars on various projects over the next three or four years to give a much-needed boost to the country’s economy.