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News Analysis: Who lines up Thailand's new Cabinet
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13:29, February 05, 2008

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Thailand's new Cabinet lineup has been submitted for royal approval by the Cabinet Secretariat on Monday while the King will grant a royal audience on Wednesday afternoon for the prime minister. And then, the new 36-member Cabinet will swear in before the King, starting the life of the first elected government since the military coup in 2006.

However, during the past months from the general election to the Cabinet lineup, the new premier Samak Sundaravej was never seen as the real power leader, no matter in the control of People Power Party (PPP) or the new government. Since he has publicized that he is a proxy of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra who was ousted during the coup, Thaksin is always considered as a "premier behind."

But some figures in the PPP never admitted. PPP's Secretary-general Surapong Suebwonglee reiterated on Tuesday that Thaksin will not have a role in the new government as some had speculated.

"Thaksin said so himself that he will only give advice but he has washed his hands of politics and will never take on a full-time political position," Surapong said.

Tipped to become the next finance minister, Surapong insisted the new government's economic team will not be headed by one individual.

"There will only be one economic chief executive officer (CEO) handling all financial matters, and that's the prime minister Samak. The prime minister will assign various tasks to certain individuals deemed as capable enough to achieve desired results." he said.

"Unlike in past administrations, there will no longer be one person overseeing everything on the economic front," he added.

Nevertheless, on the issue of Cabinet lineup, local media saw the estrangement between Samak and Thaksin, both wanted a strong impact on selecting ministers.

The Nation newspaper said on its Tuesday edition that cracks have begun to appear in the relationship between Samak and Thaksin, as Samak wants to have a bigger say in forming the Cabinet and hang on to his premiership over the next two to three years.

According to sources familiar with the development, Samak is now causing trouble for Thaksin because he wants to have his own way in running the government.

Shortly after his appointment as prime minister, Samak decided to reshuffle the list of Cabinet members presented to him by all six coalition partners. He found several of the candidates to be unacceptable.

His interference in the formation of the Cabinet resulted in the removal of Chai Chidchob and Srimuang Charoensiri from the list of candidates for portfolios in the Office of the Prime Minister and Energy Ministry respectively. Chai is the father of Newin Chidchob while Newin is the closest aide of Thaksin.

"Samak is now causing a lot of headaches for Thaksin and Newin," a political observer was quoted by the Nation as saying.

Political sources said Samak had reshuffled up to 12 positions in the Cabinet list presented to him.

Samak led the PPP, a reincarnation of Thaksin's Thai Rak Thai Party, to election victory. Thaksin is believed to have a great deal of influence in the PPP. The members of Samak's Cabinet, including Samak himself, had earlier been looked upon as simply Thaksin's nominees.

But Samak now wants to have his own way in forming the Cabinet and running the government. He gave an interview last week complaining that his Cabinet looked like "ugly ducklings."

Later he explained that he would likely bring in Sahas Banditkul, his long-time aide, to help him run the administration. Sahas is earmarked to serve as deputy prime minister but he is unacquainted by Thaksin.

Samak showed a strong signal that he want to stay in office as long as possible. However, sources said the ousted prime minister thinks the new government should last only for the short term -- focusing on reforming the constitution or introducing amnesty legislation for the 111 former executives of the defunct Thai Rak Thai Party.

Political sources said Samak was willing to work on constitutional reform or amnesty legislation but only after he has been premier for the next two to three years -- not six months.

The Nation said Thaksin was so upset with Samak that he flew from Hong Kong back to London over the weekend.

Surapong, former government spokesman of Thaksin and now is expected to be finance minister for Samak, tried to play down the conflict in the Cabinet formation, saying there won't be any rift among Cabinet members, particularly among the deputy prime ministers.

He said nobody had any objection to the arrival of Sahas as deputy prime minister, since Sahas will help Samak in the transport sector, which is one of Samak's fortes.

Source: Xinhua



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