Bangkok, Thailand – In a significant development for Thailand’s political landscape, His Majesty King Maha Vajiralongkorn has officially endorsed a new cabinet, marking a crucial step in the country’s post-election transition. The new cabinet, as revealed in a Royal Gazette published on Saturday, includes notable figures such as real estate tycoon Srettha Thavisin, who assumes the dual roles of prime minister and finance minister.
This move comes several months after the May elections, during which Srettha’s Pheu Thai party, with the backing of the billionaire Shinawatra family, secured a prominent position in the government. In the newly formed cabinet, Pheu Thai will oversee key portfolios, including defense, transport, commerce, health, and foreign affairs.
A Prolonged Caretaker Government
Since March, Thailand had been operating under a caretaker government, with the winners of the May elections, the Move Forward party, facing challenges in forming a government due to a lack of support from conservative lawmakers, who held reservations about their progressive agenda.
Political Alliances and Rivalries
Notably, the Pheu Thai party broke off its alliance with the Move Forward party, instead forming coalitions with rival parties aligned with army generals who had previously ousted Shinawatra-linked parties in coups in 2006 and 2014.
Rapid Changes in Leadership
Srettha’s rapid ascent to power coincided with the dramatic return of Thaksin Shinawatra, a figurehead of the Pheu Thai party, to Thailand after 15 years in self-exile. On the day of the parliamentary vote that saw Srettha become prime minister, Thaksin returned and was subsequently admitted to a police hospital due to chest pains and high blood pressure. Later, he presented a petition asking for a royal pardon.
Royal Pardon and Speculation
In a surprising turn of events, the king commuted Thaksin’s sentence to one year, citing loyalty to the monarchy and Thaksin’s deteriorating health. These developments, combined with the coalition between Pheu Thai and former rivals, fueled speculation about potential agreements between Thaksin and his conservative and royalist opponents within the military establishment. However, none of these agreements have been acknowledged by either Thaksin or the Pheu Thai party.
Cabinet Portfolios and Responsibilities
The new cabinet configuration sees Pheu Thai taking control of crucial economic ministries, positioning them to implement their policies, which include a 10,000 baht ($285.63) handout in the form of digital currency. Their largest coalition partner, Bhumjaithai, known for advocating medical cannabis use, will oversee the education, interior, and labor ministries, while conservative and pro-military parties will lead the energy and environment ministries.
Swearing-In and Policy Statement
Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin and his cabinet of 33 ministers are expected to swear an oath before an audience with the king. Subsequently, they will deliver a policy statement in parliament before commencing their official duties later this month.
Srettha has outlined several immediate priorities, including addressing the cost of living by reducing electricity and gas prices and relaxing visa entry rules for Chinese arrivals to boost tourism.