No Red Shirts need apply
The cabinet that Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra unveiled Wednesday appears to be a mixture of outsiders, people with intimate ties to her brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, and old hands in Thai politics – and no members of the Red Shirt faction that played a key role in bringing her Pheu Thai Party to power.
The Red Shirts – formally known as the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship, or UDD, have been deemed too controversial because of their role in violent confrontations that ended in a military crackdown in May of 2010 that took the lives of more than 90 people, almost all of them protesters. The Red Shirts, outraged at the violence perpetrated on them, allegedly set fire to major stores and office buildings in downtown Bangkok before they were driven out of the city. Hundreds were arrested and as many as 200 remain in jail.
The ailing King Bhumibol Adulyadej endorsed the new cabinet. Yingluck responded with a plea for six months before the cabinet was to be judged by the public, an apparent acknowledgement that Thai society remains severely polarized after the five years of turmoil that began when her brother, Thaksin, was deposed by the military in a bloodless coup. She vowed to use her “knowledge, ability and wisdom” to work for peace and national reconciliation.
The markets appear to have been encouraged by the appointment of Thirachai Phuvanatnaranubala, previously the secretary-general of the Securities & Exchange Commission of Thailand. As an example of those with ties to Thaksin, the new Foreign Minister, Surapong Tovichakchaikul, is Thaksin’s cousin. Surapong’s aunt, Sumalee Tovichakchaikul, was married to Thaksin’s uncle, Sathien Shinawatra.
The cabinet picks appear to reflect the Pheu Thai Party’s twin strategy of rewarding key patrons in the coalition and building a credible profile for the new government. Kittiratt Na Ranong, the former president of the Stock Exchange, who we earlier tipped to be Foreign Minister, was named Deputy Prime Minister and Commerce Minister. Both Kittirat and Thirichai are well-known in the business community at home and on the global stage.
Pheu Thai believes that the selection of such high-profile outsiders will enable the government to meet the demands of public sentiment, deemed fundamental for its endurance. Because of the polarized nature of Thai society, Yingkuck is required to appoint people who can tolerate different views and work with all parties as ministers in security-related posts.
These include Yongyuth Wichaidit, the deputy prime minister and minister of the interior, and Yuthasak Sasiprapha, the minister of defense. A Pheu Thai source said, “Thaksin [not Yingluck] wants those who can put up with criticism, who are certainly not ‘hard core’, as ministers who will not incite violence and destroy the atmosphere of reconciliation.”
A key patron in the coalition, and one who has changed sides many times since he joined politics in 1986, is Chalerm Yoobamrung, selected as deputy prime minister, a long-serving and powerful politician who aligned himself not only with Thaksin but with both the People’s Power Party, a Thaksin surrogate headed by Samak Sundaravej, and with Somchai Wongsawat, who succeeded Samak after he was disqualified from politics. Chalerm has had had continuing confrontations with the military and was forced to flee the country in 1991 when a military coup deposed the government. He was accused of having "unusual wealth", and Bt32 million baht in assets were seized.
Arranging the cabinet line-up has proven to be a challenging mission. Yingluck has faced immense pressure from factions in her own party and from other coalition partners. Some Pheu Thai MPs were infuriated by the appointment of outsiders, as this reduced their chance of attaining ministerial posts and the patronage that goes with it.
Until the last minute, horse-trading for cabinet posts continued. There are altogether 35 ministers for 38 cabinet posts. They are:
Chalerm Yoobamrung: Deputy Prime Minister
Kowit Wattana: Deputy Prime Minister
Yongyuth Wichaidit: Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Interior
Chuchart Hansawat: Deputy Interior Minister
Thanis Thienthong: Deputy Interior Minister
(Kittiratt Na Ranong: Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Commerce
Bhumi Saraphol: Deputy Commerce Minister
Siriwat Kachornprasart: Deputy Commerce Minister
Chumphol Silpa-archa: Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Tourism and Sports
Surawit Khonsomboon: Minister of Prime Minister’s Office
Niwatthamrong Boonsongpaisan: Minister of Prime Minister’s Office
Thirachai Bhuwanatnaranuban: Minister of Finance
Boonsong Theriyapirom: Deputy Finance Minister
Wirun Techapaiboon: Deputy Finance Minister
Yuthasak Sasiprapha: Minister of Defence
Sukhamphol Suwannathat: Minister of Transport
Chaj Kuladilok: Deputy Transport Minister
Kittisak Hathasongkroh: Deputy Transport Minister
Surapong Tovichakchaikul: Minister of Foreign Affairs
Wannarat Charnnukul: Minister of Industry
Pichai Naripthaphan: Minister of Energy
Vorawat Uea-apinyakul: Minister of Education
Boonruen Srithares: Deputy Education Minister
Surapong Ungampornvilai: Deputy Education Minister
Witthaya Buranasiri: Minister of Public Health
Torpong Chaiyasarn: Deputy Public Health Minister
Anudit Nakorntap: Minister of Information and Communication Technology
Preecha Rengsomboonsuk: Minister of Natural Resources and Environment
Sukumol Khunpleum: Minister of Culture
Sannti Prompong: Minister of Social Development and Human Security
Theera Wongsamut: Minister of Agriculture and Cooperatives
Pornsak Charoenprasert: Deputy Agriculture and Cooperatives Minister
Pracha Promnok: Minister of Justice
Padeumchai Sasomsap: Minister of Labor
Prodprasop Surasawadee: Minister of Science and Technology