September 24, 2008 / 10:28 AM / 11 years ago

New Thai cabinet unveiled, seen as short-lived

BANGKOK (Reuters) - Thailand unveiled a new cabinet on Wednesday, bringing in a brewer as foreign minister and an ex-police captain as health minister, prompting critics to dismiss it as second-rate and unlikely to last long.

Suchart Thadathamrongvej, once a junior World Bank economist, was promoted to finance minister from the deputy position in the previous government, a post from which he launched a series of attacks on the central bank’s interest rate policy.

Sompong Amornwiwat, a veteran politician who used to run his wife’s family brewery, became foreign minister, a key role ahead of a regional summit hosted by Thailand in December to discuss economic and security issues.

Another surprising name in the list published on Wednesday was Chalerm Yubamrung, a former interior minister whose son was controversially acquitted of killing a policeman in a bar brawl in 2001. Chalerm has returned in charge of health.

Chavalit Yongchaiyudh, a former army chief better known as the prime minister who presided over the disastrous 1997 devaluation of the baht, made a curious return as a deputy prime minister without portfolio.

Analysts said Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat’s new cabinet was a result of the “political mathematics” emanating from the six parties in the ruling coalition vying for ministerial posts.

“How many MPs you have is more important than how qualified you are for the job,” political scientist Boonyakiat Karavekphan of Bangkok’s Ramkhamhaeng University said.

Somchai, a brother-in-law of ousted leader Thaksin Shinawatra, became Thailand’s 26th prime minister last week after his predecessor, Samak Sundaravej, was sacked by the courts for hosting a cooking show on commercial television while in office.

In a bid to counter cries that Thaksin was pulling the strings from Britain, where he is in exile after skipping bail on corruption charges, Somchai said he personally oversaw the selection of most of the ministers.

However, most analysts believe the cabinet will last only a few months before internecine rows, lawsuits, stuttering economic growth and the continued occupation of Government House by street protesters bring it to its knees.

“I would call it a new interim government,” Chulalongkorn University analyst Sompop Manarangsan said.

The biggest threat to Somchai’s People Power Party (PPP) is a case before the Constitutional Court alleging it bought votes in the 2007 general election. A verdict is expected before the end of the year.

If found guilty, as is widely expected, the PPP will be disbanded and its top brass barred from politics for five years.

Bracing for a guilty verdict, the PPP has already lined up a “shell” party into which all non-banned politicians can move in order to contest the general election that is almost certain to ensue.

Additional reporting by Pracha Hariraksapitak

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