BANGKOK (AP) — Thailand’s new government officially took office on Tuesday, almost four months after the country’s general election, as new Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin led the 34 members of his Cabinet to take their oaths of office in front of King Maha Vajiralongkorn.
Srettha, representing the Pheu Thai party, was named prime minister by Parliament on 22 August after weeks of delay because of disagreement over the formation of a coalition.
The 61-year-old Srettha, a prominent real estate developer who officially entered politics last year, also holds the finance minister’s post. He presided over the traditional group photograph in front of the Government House in Bangkok with his Cabinet members wearing their white civil servant uniforms. He later held a brief news conference, saying his government is determined to do its best to represent the Thai people and solve many pressing problems that the country is facing.
“I believe it is time that we should pull together and give this Cabinet a chance to start working on all issues, whether it is economics, social (or) political,” Srettha said.
The delay in forming a new government was caused by Parliament’s failure to endorse a coalition formed by the party that won the most seats in the May polls, the Move Forward party. It could not win a majority in a combined vote of the House of Representatives and the Senate because its progressive platform alienated members of the conservative Senate, who singled out its support for minor reforms to the monarchy as the reason for rejecting it.
The Pheu Thai party, which placed second in the election, then formed a broader coalition without Move Forward and was able to win Senate support. But it succeeded only by including pro-military parties from the last government, reneging on a campaign pledge not to do so.
Pheu Thai is backed by former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted by a military coup in 2006. Thaksin, a billionaire populist, fled Thailand in 2008 to avoid prison on charges he said were politically motivated, but returned to Thailand on 22 August to serve an eight-year prison term. It was announced Friday that the king has commuted his sentence to one year.
Srettha’s Cabinet is drawn from six parties belonging to Pheu Thai’s 11-party coalition. It includes a number of ministers who served in the previous government of Prayuth Chan-Ocha, including Anutin Charnvirakul, who takes over at the Interior Ministry after serving as public health minister and spearheading the decriminalization of cannabis. Another returnee is Thammanat Prompao, who had served as deputy agriculture minister despite being convicted and jailed in Australia in 1994 in connection with heroin smuggling. He is the new agriculture minister.
Pheu Thai has said the coalition members back the party’s platform of boosting the economy, including by increasing the minimum wage, among other measures. They will also support keeping medical marijuana legal and work to amend the constitution to help the country become more democratic. However, there are no plans to amend the law against royal defamation, a reform strongly rejected by the country’s conservative ruling elite.
BY JERRY HARMER Associated Press