Thai king endorses PM's new Cabinet

BANGKOK • Thailand's King Bhumibol Adulyadej formally endorsed a Cabinet reshuffle by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha yesterday. General Prayut appointed a new finance minister and a new deputy premier to oversee the economy as the military government seeks to spur growth.

South-east Asia's second-largest economy has consistently missed government targets since Gen Prayut, then army chief, led a coup in May last year to end months of protests, with exports and domestic demand stubbornly sluggish.

A weak economy could undermine support for the junta as frustration with restrictions on political activity simmers, particularly among younger voters and supporters of former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra, whose government was ousted last year.

Mr Apisak Tantivorawong, former president of state-owned Krung Thai Bank, has become finance minister, replacing Mr Sommai Phasee, according to a proclamation yesterday.

Mr Apisak, 61, has a master's degree in business administration from the University of Tennessee in the United States.

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With the significant lag in growth already seen in the first half, it is nothing short of a miracle perhaps for Thailand to see a sizeable pick-up in economic momentum.

MR BARNABAS GAN, OCBC Bank economist, noting the new team might not bring quick change

A government adviser, Mr Somkid Jatusripitak, also a former finance minister, has been appointed deputy prime minister in charge of reviving economic growth. Mr Somkid, 62, was a deputy prime minister and commerce minister in a government of deposed prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, Yingluck's brother, and was a key proponent of populist, big-spending policies known as "Thaksinomics". The former marketing executive has a doctorate in marketing from Kellogg Graduate School of Management at Northwestern University.

"Investors will welcome the new appointments. Somkid has the experience in reviving an ailing economy," said senior analyst of SCB Securities Vikas Kawatra.

Mr Barnabas Gan, an economist with OCBC Bank, said the new team might not bring quick change. "With the significant lag in growth already seen in the first half, it is nothing short of a miracle perhaps for Thailand to see a sizeable pick-up in economic momentum."

Among the adjustments, Ms Apiradi Tantraporn, previously deputy commerce minister, has been appointed minister, replacing General Chatchai Sarikulya, who becomes agriculture minister.

Mr Don Pramudwinai, previously deputy foreign minister, has become minister, and former Board of Investment secretary-general Atchaka Sibunruang becomes industry minister.

The junta says speedy government spending will drive growth but disbursement of funds has been slow and big infrastructure projects have stalled.

State planners on Monday cut the 2015 economic growth forecast to 2.7-3.2 per cent from 3-4 per cent. Many economists believe that is too optimistic. Growth last year was 0.9 per cent. The economy grew 0.4 per cent in April-June from the previous quarter, with tourism the key driver.

A bomb in Bangkok on Monday, which killed 20 people, has struck a further blow to the economy.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 21, 2015, with the headline 'Thai king endorses PM's new Cabinet'. Print Edition | Subscribe