Economic czar and ministers resign, new cabinet line-up expected

A long speculated cabinet reshuffle may soon come to pass as 3 ministers, a deputy PM and a deputy secretary-general submitted their resignations on 16 July. Many touted replacements for the government economic team are from business or technocratic backgrounds. 

Left to right: Suvit Maesincee, Sontirat Sontijirawong, Uttama Savanayana, Kobsak Pootrakool. (Source: Thai News Agency)

Somkid Jatusripitak, the Deputy PM for economic affairs, who served under Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha since the 2014 coup d’état, Finance Minister Uttama Savanayana, Energy Minister Sontirat Sontijirawong, Minister of Higher Education, Science, Research and Innovation Suvit Maesincee and Kobsak Pootrakool, Deputy Secretary-General of the Prime Minister’s Office, all submitted their resignations.

After resigning, Uttama said the decisions to resign by the four, known as the 4 Kuman (4 children) were made at the right time. They intended to keep the country progressing forward by removing uncertainty and hoped that their decisions will reduce the political pressure on the PM.

The outgoing Finance Minister said that they were not pressured to resign. They consulted each other on the decision and Somkid also agreed with them. They also mentioned their health and said that resignation would give them time to rest.

The 4 Kuman move came after they resigned last week as PPRP executives .

The reshuffle has been expected as the political pressure on them has increased as a result of the economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and the harsh measures to control it.

Government parties signal cabinet reshuffle

Pressure also came from coalition partners of the Palang Pracharat Party (PPRP) who have repeatedly demanded ministerial seats. The 4 Kuman are unelected technocrats without popular support and so became a soft target of criticism for their poor handling of the economic impact of Covid-19.

The signal for their resignation was the resignation of 18 PPRP executive members on 1 June, which according to the Party’s rules forced Uttama to step down as Party chairperson . He was replaced by Deputy PM Gen Prawit Wongsuwan, who is senior to Gen Prayut.

Technocrats replacement speculated

Matichon reported that the new economic team may come from the business and financial sector. Predee Daochai, Chair of the Thai Bankers' Association, is in the running as he has been giving the government advice on many issues, including the 1.3 trillion baht stimulus package which was announced in the Royal Gazette on 19 April.  He also led a group of bankers to donate 50 million to the PM on 14 April.

Pailin Chuchottaworn, thought to become Energy Minister and Deputy PM, was Deputy Transport Minister under Prayut from November 2017 to December 2019 and is the former Chief Executive Officer of PTT Plc, the Thai state-owned petroleum enterprise.

Supattanapong Punmeechaow, former President and Chief Executive Officer at PTTGC, a PTT subsidiary, Kan Trakulhoon, former Siam Cement Group (SCG) board member, and Boontuck Wungcharoen, Thai Airways board member, have been mentioned as candidates for economics-related ministerial posts.

Although these technocrats are expected to be nominated on the basis of their contribution during the Covid-19 pandemic, Thairath reports that many have rejected the invitations as the impact of the outbreak is challenging. The most likely choice for Finance Minister is currently Pailin.

Foreign Affairs Minister Don Pramudwinai is reportedly being ousted from the cabinet.

It is also reported that Deputy PM Gen Prawit and Interior Minister Gen Anupong Paojinda, will swap positions to reposition the party for a future election and keep the allocation of cabinet seats in line.