Thai press: New government a disappointment

BANGKOK (AFP): Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s new cabinet was poorly received today by the Thai press who saw only a few promising figures among the discredited veterans and inexperienced newcomers filling its ranks. Thaksin won the January 6 elections after campaigning on a platform of new and unorthodox ideas as well as promises of an administration free from the corruption and divisive party politics which have dogged the country in the past. But after the cabinet was unveiled over the weekend, it was clear Thaksin was still beholden to the the political old guard which controls more than half the seats in parliament, said The Nation daily. “Thaksin has only been able to put together a C-plus cabinet, a potpourri of economists, technocrats and cronies,” it said in an editorial. The line-up was designed more to mollify his coalition partners and faction leaders than to ensure good governance, it said. The newspaper also took a swipe at the greenhorns appointed to the important portfolios of finance, commerce and agriculture, saying Thaksin had ensured he would be the sole captain of his administration. “These key ministers are not intended to have independent minds,” it said. Finance Minister Somkid Jatusripitak, one of Thaksin’s closest advisers, “cannot be his own man as he has claimed; otherwise he would not be there in the first place,” it said. Academics and activists also reacted to the cabinet with disdain, saying many of the ministers were “undesirable politicians and businessmen with vested interests.” Commentators said that while appointees for the interior, foreign and justice ministries have won praise, some ministers appeared to have obvious allegiances to uphold, especially to big business. Underscoring the lack of change is the fact that Chavalit Yongchaiyudh, the prime minister who presided over Thailand’s 1997 descent into the economic abyss, is back in the game as defense minister. The former chief of the army has caused alarm with comments that indicate he may try to roll back the military reforms brought in under Prime Minister Chuan Leekpai’s outgoing administration. “Chuan laid a new foundation to make the Thai military leaner and meaner, including drastically reducing the number of generals. All this will change in the coming months,” The Nation said. There were also concerns over the future of Thailand’s foreign policy, after the incoming government botched its reaction to clashes on the border with Burma a week ago. Thaksin has been forced to back away from his stated plan to visit Yangon to discuss the tensions, after his comments were criticized as hasty and ill-advised. “Diplomacy needs delicate negotiations and patience, things which Thaksin is not familiar with,” The Nation said. While the Stock Exchange of Thailand (SET) had been expected to rally following the cabinet announcement, the SET index was down about 2 percent at mid-session today.

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