7 observations about Thailand’s new, junta-picked cabinet
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7 observations about Thailand’s new, junta-picked cabinet

One hundred days after Thailand’s military launched a coup and toppled the elected government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, the establishment of an interim constitution, a so-called “National Legislative Assembly” (NLA) and its appointment of army chief and Thai junta leader General Prayuth Chan-ocha as prime minister, Thailand now has an interim cabinet.

King Bhumibol Adulyadej endorsed the cabinet on Saturday and the names were published in the Royal Gazette on late Sunday afternoon (PDF), thus making the announcement official. This marks another step by the “National Council for Peace and Order” (NCPO), as the junta calls itself, in its proclaimed roadmap to substantially “reform” Thailand’s political system and to bring what they say is “true democracy” that will result in elections some time late 2015.

Here’s the list of the 33 members of the cabinet “Prayuth 1”:

  • Prime Minister: Gen. Prayuth Chanocha
  • Deputy Prime Ministers: Gen. Prawit Wongsuwan, MR Pridiyathorn Devakula, Yongyuth Yutthawong, Gen. Tanasak Patimapragorn, Wissanu Kruea-Ngam
  • Defense: Gen. Prawit Wongsuwan, Gen. Udomdej Sitabutr (deputy)
  • Interior: Gen. Anupong Paochinda, Suthi Makbun (deputy)
  • Foreign Affairs: Gen. Tanasak Patimapragorn, Don Pramudwinai (deptuy)
  • Justice: Gen. Paiboon Koomchaya
  • Finance: Sommai Phasi
  • Transport: ACM Prajin Juntong, Akom Termpitayapaisit (deputy)
  • Energy: Narongchai Akrasanee
  • Commerce: Gen. Chatchai Sarikalya, Apiradi Tantraporn (deputy)
  • Industry: Chakkamon Phasukvanich
  • Education: Adm. Narong Pipatanasai, Lt.-Gen. Surachet Chaiwong (deputy), Krissanapong Kiratikorn (deputy)
  • PM’s Office: ML Panadda Diskul, Suwaphan Tanyuvardhana
  • Social Development and Human Security: Pol.-Gen. Adul Saengsingkaew
  • Public Health: Rachata Rachatanavin, Somsak Chunharas (deputy)
  • Labor: Gen. Surasak Kanjanarat
  • Culture: Veera Rojpojanarat
  • Natural Resources and Environment: General Dapong Ratanasuwan
  • Science and Technology: Pichet Durongkaveroj
  • Tourism and Sports: Kobkarn Wattanavrangkul
  • Information and Communication Technology (MICT): Pornchai Rujiprapa
  • Agriculture: Peetipong Phuengbun na Ayutthaya

Here are some observations of the new Thai junta cabinet, in no particular order:

1. Timing of the not-so-subtle signs

As with many other announcements and decisions made by the military junta, it was really just a matter of time before the cabinet would be announced – albeit on a relatively short notice. This time however, the signs in the run-up to the announcement were quite obvious: the resignation of several National Legislative Assembly members such as Narongchai Akrasanee (now Energy Minister), Kobkarn Wattanavrangkul (Tourism) and Ratchata Rachtanavin (Public Health) within a week signaled that a finalized cabinet line-up was imminent, since according to the interim constitution one cannot be both. On top of that they’re joined by Pornchai Rujiprapa (MICT) and Gen. Surasak Kanjanarat (Labor), who resigned from the boards of the state-owned energy company PTT and the public broadcaster MCOT, respectively. Also, Pridiyathorn Devakula and Wissanu Kruea-Ngam have quit the board of Post Publishing (who brings out the Bangkok Post among others) to become the new deputy prime ministers.

While it may surprise some that the announcement was made on a Sunday afternoon, the crucial date of August 31 wasn’t such a surprise. Not only can the new cabinet get right onto work on Monday, September 1, but it also allows some crucial decisions to be made that are due this coming month: the 2015 budget draft is set to be rubber stamped by the NLA and, more importantly, the annual reshuffle of military officers is taking place this month. Not only can the military leadership further cement its position by demoting any potential dissenting officers and promoting loyalists, it also doesn’t have deal with any opposition in the Defense Council anymore, since all seven positions (defense minister, his deputy, permanent secretary for the defense, supreme commander and the chiefs of army, navy and the air force) are filled with military men.

2. Double duty for a very green cabinet

Among the 33 cabinet members, 13 of them hold military or police ranks – practically the entire upper echelon of the Thai military are at the table: besides army chief and PM Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha, there are his predecessors Gen. Prawit Wongsuwan (now dep.-PM and Defense) and Gen. Anupong Paochinda (Interior), his deputy army chief Gen. Udomdej Sitabuir (dep. Def.-Min.), assistant army chiefs Gen. Paiboon Koomchaya (Justice) and General Chatchai Sarikalya (Commerce), supreme commander Gen. Tanasak Patimapragorn (dep.-PM and Foreign Affairs), air force chief ACM Prajin Jaunting (Transport), navy chief Adm. Narong Pipatanasai (Education), permanent secretary for defense Gen. Surasak Kanjanarat (Labor) and deputy army chief of staff Lt.-Gen. Surachet Chaiwong (dep. Edu.-Min.).

The military is occupying the key ministries, especially concerning economics and national security – including the appointment of National Intelligence Agency director Suwaphan Tanyumvardhana (who reports directly to Gen. Prayuth, the junta chief and now also to Gen. Prayuth, the PM) as minister of the PM’s office. Also, with Prawit and Gen. Anupong are two key persons behind the prolonged anti-government protests that enabled the military coup back in powerful positions in addition to their advisor roles in the Thai junta.

Furthermore, a lot more familiar faces are on the list as nearly the entire military junta aka the NCPO, including its advisory board, forms the cabinet (with the notable exceptions of junta advisors ACM Itthaporn Subhawong and Somkid Jatusripak), since the junta is going to stay on alongside to the interim government with wide-raging powers guaranteed by its own constitution.

3. Retirement plans for life after the military

As mentioned above, the annual reshuffle of military officers is set to take place this month and five key personnel have reached the age of  60 years and thus mandatory retirement: army chief Gen. Prayuth (PM), supreme commander Gen. Tanasak (Foreign Affairs and dep.-PM), air force chief ACM Prajin (Transport), navy chief Adm. Narong (Education) and Pol.-Gen. Adul Saengsingkaew (Social Development). Whether or not they are actually going to retire from their military ranks and find new ’employment’ in the junta and the cabinet is unknown at this point.

4. The Foreign Ministry has some explaining to do

The Nation reported on August 20 that several officials at the Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) would find their work “difficult to explain to their foreign counterparts and the international community” if a military officer takes up that portfolio, since they “have plenty of capable diplomats,” for the example the new deputy foreign minister Don Pramudwinai, who previously was Thai envoy to the UN.  Now that supreme commander Gen. Tanasak is going to represent the Thai junta to the world, the diplomats will have their work cut out, since “two military coups in a decade is already hard enough to explain,” according to a MFA source quoted in The Nation.

5. Operation: education

As the sole cabinet portfolio, the Education Ministry has been assigned two deputy ministers to support Education Minister Adm. Narong Pipatanasai. That’s not a big surprise considering Gen. Prayuth’s much-touted “reform” plans for Thailand’s poor education system involve a 19.3 per cent cut of the total 2015 budget (498.16bn Baht or $15.66bn, to be precise), but also a big emphasis on “Thai values and morals” rather than an overhaul of the curriculum for the promotion of critical thinking and analysis. It also doesn’t help that an apparent follower of pseudoscience and a paranormal cult has been put in charge of reforming the public school curriculum.

6. The many more hats of Gen. Prayuth

Last week before his nomination and eventual confirmation as prime minister, we talked about the “many hats” Gen. Prayuth is already wearing as army chief and junta leader. In fact, we forgot to mention that ever since the military coup he’s now wearing a total of 15 different hats, meaning he’s the chairman or president of several government committees, TV channels and even sport clubs. There’s also news that he’s even going to take over command of the 4th army region, which Thailand’s troubled South. With his mandatory retirement as army chief anything but certain, it begs the question if he will be able to juggle everything?

7. Other observations

Continuing the trend of severe gender imbalance set by the NLA, there are only two women in the cabinet: Deputy Commerce Minister Apiradi Tantraporn and Tourism Minister Kobkarn Wattanavrangkul. The latter is also currently – quite puzzingly – CEO of Toshiba Thailand, but no apparent conflict of interest has been signalled here yet, despite two members stepping down from their board positions at Post Publishing (see above).

Two new cabinet members were also cabinet members in the last junta government 2006-07: Mr Pridiyathorn Devakula (then Finance, now dep.-PM) and Yongyuth Yutthawon (then Science, now dep.-PM)

And finally, the average of the “Prayuth 1” cabinet members is 62.4 years old. As of now, the abilities and knowledge of the new ministers who’ll lead the ministries’ policies are yet to be proven.

SaksithSV-262x262  About the author:
Saksith Saiyasombut blogs extensively about Thai politics and current affairs since 2010 and works as an international freelance broadcast journalist. Read his full bio on about.me/saksith.