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September 1, 2020

Asia

THAILAND: Finance Minister’s resignation is another blow for Prayuth

BY Bob Herrera-Lim

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Finance Minister Predee Daochai resigned after 26 days in office. He cited health reasons, but the dominant speculation in Bangkok is that he found the ministry’s politics to be unmanageable. As reported by the Bangkok Post, Predee had earlier disagreed with his deputy, Santi Prompat, a politician from the leading People’s State Power Party (PPRP), over a ministerial reshuffle, and this was likely one of his many internal battles.

A career banker for 38 years with Kasikorn Bank, Predee did not have a political base before joining the cabinet; his main connection to the government was as an adviser to Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha after the 2014 coup, which led to his selection to the junta’s handpicked National Legislative Assembly in 2016. But even his ties to Prayuth may not have been enough to insulate him from the demands of factional politics in both personnel and policy decisions.

Predee’s resignation will be seen as confirmation of how the fragmented nature of the ruling coalition has made it difficult to coordinate policy within the government after the 2019 elections – a reason also cited by former deputy prime minister Somkid Jatusripitak as early as last year, well ahead of his departure this July. His replacement will therefore be watched closely. Choosing another technocrat could lead to more skepticism as to whether the next nominee will be able to cope with the political demands in the coalition, and whether there will be any personnel stability in the economic team. On the other hand, having a politician as the next finance minister to satisfy coalition partners could compromise perceptions of economic policy competence.

The risk for Prayuth is that the persistent difficulties in having coherent and cohesive policymaking could weaken Thailand’s response to the economic slowdown. This could range from mixed signals regarding the opening of tourism to the implementation of the big-ticket infrastructure projects. Prayuth had gained some goodwill from the government’s response to the pandemic but as the student-led protests have shown, this has not been enough to offset the discontent that has built up over the past six years. Should the economic recovery falter, this could add to the public grievances now on display in the country’s streets and maybe even raise questions about the prime minister’s ability to stay in office.