Thai premier unveils cabinet

September 24, 2008 12:00 am

, BANGKOK, September 24 – Thailand’s new Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat on Wednesday unveiled his cabinet, looking to heal rifts within his own party and restore stability as anti-government protests drag on.

After days of intense horse trading within the ruling People Power Party and its five coalition partners, Somchai revealed a 36-member cabinet made of veteran politicians, academics and a few controversial faces from the past.

Royalist protesters besieging the main government compound will be watching closely for signs of the influence of ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra, as they continue their campaign to bring down any government with links to him.

Somchai implored Thais to give his cabinet a chance to solve the turmoil in the kingdom, as the protesters dug in for the second month of their occupation of Bangkok’s main government compound.

"Please let my cabinet work to prove themselves," Somchai told reporters Wednesday. "I am confident that they will work with good intention as the cabinet is comprised of both politicians and non-politicians."

The list was released Wednesday after Thailand’s King Bhumibol Adulyadej endorsed the cabinet, and they will be formally sworn in Thursday at the king’s Klaikangwon Palace in the southern resort town of Hua Hin.

The finance minister post goes to economist Suchart Thada-Thamrongvech, while former Thaksin advisor Sompong Amornviwat gets the foreign ministry job.

Former police chief Kowit Wattana will retain his position as interior minister.

Chavalit Youngchaiyudh, Thai premier from 1996 to 1997 and a prominent political figure in Thailand, will be one of five deputy prime ministers.

Somchai has taken the defence portfolio himself, becoming only the fourth civilian in the post in a nation where the military has historically played a prominent role in politics.

Parliament last week elected Somchai as Thailand’s 26th prime minister after his tough-talking predecessor Samak Sundaravej was forced from the job when a court ruled he had taken illegal payments for a TV cooking show.

Factions within the PPP refused to back Samak’s return to office, and the election of Somchai came after fierce debate within the party over his ties to Thaksin. Somchai is married to Thaksin’s politically powerful sister Yaowapa.

The new premier’s choice of ministers from the coalition partners and PPP factions signals an attempt at fence-building, but the inclusion of a few controversial faces may not please protest groups.

Foreign Minister Sompong served as an advisor to Thaksin from 2001 to 2005 and was justice minister under Samak.

Outspoken former interior minister Charlerm Yoobumrung also returns to government as health minister.

The toughest task facing the new cabinet will be to try and end the siege of Government House by the so-called People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD), which claim that any PPP-led government is merely a puppet for Thaksin.

Somchai said he was ready to negotiate with protesters, but added: "It must be a reasonable discussion."

Thaksin was overthrown in a coup in September 2006 and now lives in self-imposed exile in Britain.

His allies in the PPP comfortably won elections in December last year, angering the old powers cliques in the palace, military and bureaucracy.

Finance Minister Suchart will have to try and buoy the flagging economy. The Thai stock market has fallen more than 25 percent since the protesters began their campaign in late May, sinking even lower after the siege of Government House.

New Foreign Minister Sompong, meanwhile, will be tasked with trying to solve an ongoing border dispute with neighbouring Cambodia.



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