Tue, Oct 10, 2006 - Page 5 News List

Thailand's new line-up revealed

LITTLE WORRIES Few in Thailand were bothered by the large presence of ex-military officers in the new Cabinet, as long as they were corruption-free

AP , BANGKOK

Thailand's military rulers unveiled a post-coup Cabinet yesterday, with top jobs given to economists, high-profile civil servants and two retired military officers who are expected to govern until elections in October 2007.

The interim government, which was announced in an overnight televised broadcast while most Thais slept, was due to be sworn in by King Bhumibol Adulyadej later yesterday, government spokesman Yongyuth Maiyalarb said.

Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont, who was appointed by the military after the Sept. 19 coup that ousted former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, will lead his Cabinet at the ceremony, and then the team can begin its official work "right away," Yongyuth said.

The Cabinet includes 28 portfolios, with two ministers holding two posts.

Surayud, a former army commander, selected Thailand's central bank chief, Pridiyathorn Devakula, to serve as finance minister and hold the portfolio of deputy prime minister for economic matters.

Pridiyathorn -- a highly regarded economist with an MBA from the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania -- helped steer Thailand's economy out of the devastating Asian financial crisis.

His selection was an apparent effort to ease investors rattled by the coup and won praise from politicians and political analysts.

"He is the right man for the current situation," said Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva, whose party was in opposition during Thaksin's five years in power. "In the economic area, [Pridiyathorn] has experience and expertise," he added.

Western nations and human rights groups have called the coup a setback for democracy, and have urged the current government to quickly lift restrictions imposed by the military, including curbs on press freedoms and limits on public gatherings and political assembly.

Surayud's choice for foreign minister, Nitya Pibulsongkram, will be particularly familiar to the US among the most vocal critics of the coup.

Nitya served as an ambassador to the US and the UN and was Thailand's chief negotiator for a Thai-US free trade agreement that stalled during the country's political turmoil.

Retired army general Bunrod Somtad, a longtime friend of Surayud, was named defense minister. The two went to military school together and Bunrod rose to become chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Both served in the special warfare unit of the army.

In Thailand, few observers seemed bothered by the presence of ex-military officers in the interim Cabinet, saying what mattered in the post-Thaksin era was that ministers be trustworthy, honest and corruption-free.

Thaksin was widely accused of corruption and abuse of power, and the military council that ousted his government is investigating the allegations.

Abhisit of the Democrat Party called Bunrod "a trusted man."

Another retired officer, Thira Haocharoen, a former navy admiral, was given the transport minister's portfolio.

Other key positions went to the executive chairman of Bangkok Bank, Kosit Panpiemras, who was named industry minister and one of two deputy prime ministers. The portfolio of commerce minister was given to Krirkkrai Jirapaet, a former permanent secretary at the ministry.

Also see story:
Thai central banker picked to head ministry of finance

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