Listen to this story
The political landscape in Thailand remains mired in complexities and contradictions, as the recently-formed government represents both a reiteration and a perpetuation of existing political realities.
Despite the majority of voters casting their ballots for significant political change, the composition of the new cabinet belies these aspirations.
Largely, the government retains key players from the previous junta-led administration, due in part to a constitutional framework drafted by the junta itself, as well as the involvement of junta-appointed senators.
The caveat being this list is not yet final and things could still change for Pheu Thai.
The Bhumjaithai Party has reemerged with its leader, Anutin Charnvirakul, securing the role of Interior Minister, thereby wielding considerable power over local administrations. This shift is deeply concerning when one examines the potential impact on corruption and decentralization—goals which appear increasingly elusive.
Similarly, the repositioning of figures like Saksayam Chidchob, ousted for corruption allegations, only to be replaced by another family member, Pol Gen Permpoon Chidchob, raises questions about the government’s commitment to ethical governance.
Permpoon’s anticipated role as Education Minister—despite having no apparent qualifications for the position—raises concerns, given that the ministry commands the highest budget allocation. The implications for Thailand’s education system under such stewardship remain to be seen.
Furthermore, figures like Deputy Party Leader Chada Thaiseth, arrested under suspicion of orchestrating a murder and implicated in organized crime, now sit in positions of influence, potentially including the role of the Deputy Interior Minister. These appointments highlight the dissonance between the electorate’s desire for clean governance and the ongoing political reality.
The Palang Pracharath Party continues to exert significant influence. Pol Gen Patcharawat Wongsuwan, brother of Gen Prawit Wongsuwan, is slated to become Deputy Prime Minister and Deputy Minister of Natural Resources and Environment.. His influence on environmental and natural resources policies, despite the shadow his family name casts, will be closely watched.
Capt Thammanat Prompao, poised to become Agriculture Minister, brings with him a troubling past, including a conviction in Australia for heroin smuggling. His influence over a ministry with a substantial budget allocation and direct impact on the farming community could have long-lasting ramifications.
The participation of the Ruam Thai Sang Chart Party, under the leadership of Pirapan Salirathavibhaga, is equally puzzling. Entrusted with the energy ministry, despite lacking relevant expertise, the appointment appears to be based solely on the ministry’s influence and budget.
Though Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha may assert his retirement from politics, his influence appears far from waning, especially given the appointment of his protégé as the new army chief and his sway over the choice of the upcoming Defense Minister.
One of the most critical challenges looming for the Pheu Thai Party will be the promised constitutional rewrite, aimed at accountability for the 2014 coup and the Red Shirts massacre. However, given the numerical disadvantage in Parliament, fulfilling this pledge seems increasingly improbable without external support.
While the new cabinet might present a façade of change, the underlying structures remain largely unchanged. The continuity of power dynamics suggests a government not poised for long-term stability, casting doubts on its ability to bring about the changes that the electorate has long demanded. The Pheu Thai Party, therefore, faces an uphill battle in navigating this complex political environment while attempting to maintain internal unity.