The Thai post-coup government: The junta's shadowy cabinet

Originally published at Siam Voices on July 7, 2014 This is part two in a three-part series looking at how the Thai junta government after the military coup will be structured, governed and by whom this will be led. Part one details the mass purge among government officials. Today we look who could be in the interim cabinet.

Since the military coup of May 22, the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) spent its first weeks seizing and establishing full control over the branches of government power. The sole executive and legislative powers at the moment lie in the hands of the generals and their advisors. The notable exception is the judiciary (i.e. Constitutional Court) and the supposedly "independent" government agencies like the Election Commission and National Anti-Corruption Commission, which all played a role in at least exacerbating Thailand's political deadlock that ended with the coup d'etat.

But the junta is now quickly moving ahead to work on the implementation of the next interim constitution, the government (both of which we will be discussing in a future article in the series), and with it the next cabinet. As repeatedly stated by the junta and its leader, army chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha, all these should be coming around very soon, "at the latest in September," as Prayuth said in one of the weekly televised NCPO announcements. 

While no official announcements have been made about the make-up of the future cabinet, it didn’t stop Thai media from speculating who is likely to be appointed as a minister in the next Thai government, as Matichon Weekly magazine and the Thai Rath daily newspaper did last month.

This is what Matichon predicts the administration of "Prayuth 1" could look like:

  • Prime Minister: Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha
  • Deputy-PM (Security): Gen. Prawit Wongsuwan
  • Deputy-PM (Economy): Pridiyathorn Devakula
  • Deputy-PM (Commerce) Somkid Jatusripitak
  • Deputy-PM (Law): Visanu Krue-ngam
  • Foreign Minister: Surakiat Sathirathai
  • Defense Minister: Gen. Anupong Paochinda
  • Interior Minister: Gen. Daopong Rattanasuwan
  • Transport Minister: Air Chief Marshall Prajin Jantong
  • ICT Minister: Gen. Thanasak Pratimapagorn
  • Energy Minister: Piyasvasti Amranand or Prasert Boonsampan
  • Justice Minister: Borownsak Uwanno
  • Finance Minister: Prasarn Trairatvorakul
- Source: "คอลัมน์: ลึกแต่ไม่ลับ", Matichon Weekly, Vol. 34, Issue 1766, June 20, 2014

Thai Rath’s cabinet prediction is the same concerning the Defense, Interior and Transport portfolio, with the latter two ministers also potentially becoming deputy-PMs. It also sees Police-General Adul Saengsing-Kaew and Navy commander-in-chief Admiral Narong Pipthanasai being appointed deputy prime ministers as well as Assistant Army Commander-in-Chief Lieutenant-General Paibul Kumchaya and deputy army chief Gen. Udomdej Sitabutr getting cabinet positions.

Both lists include numerous familiar names from the military and former administrations, not least because almost all of them are working in the current junta administration (see our infographic here), either overseeing the ministries they may or may not be heading in the near future, or serving on the advisory board to the junta. Case in point: its chief advisors, former defense minister Gen. Prawit Wongsuwan and former army chief Gen. Anupong Paochinda. Both men have reportedly supported the prolonged anti-government protests of the ousted prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra.

Among the non-military members of the speculated interim cabinet are Surakiat Sathirathai (Foreign) and Somkid Jatusripitak (Commerce) - both former ministers under Thaksin Shinawatra a decade ago - current Bank of Thailand governor Prasarn Trairatvorakul (Finance), Prasert Boonsampan (former CEO of the state-owned oil and gas company PTT) and Piyasvasti Amranand (former Thai Airways CEO and recently appointed PTT chairman), both tipped to become the next energy minister under the junta. 

Somkid is particularly interesting since during the Thaksin years, he was credited for the economic and social (often called populist) policies that won over the rural population and ensured a solid large voter base for the following elections. That seemingly clashes with the persistent anti-populism stance of anti-Thaksin groups including the military junta, so much so that the junta wants to have populism outlawed in the next charter. However, unlike his fellow cabinet and party members he was not arrested after the last military coup of 2006 and he has apparently broken his ties with Thaksin, which partially explains why he’s now one of the advisors to the junta.

But the biggest question that also has the largest consensus among political observers is the position of the prime minister, which will be most likely filled by none other than army chief and junta leader Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha himself.

Gen Prayuth could remain as NCPO chief so he could continue to supervise the new government to be set up in early September. The difference is whether he would retire as army chief or extend his term while serving as NCPO chief.

The other scenario is that Gen Prayuth could become prime minister himself in line with the NCPO's increasing popularity. He could then appoint new heads of the armed forces so the rank and file could be promoted.

-"Prayuth at a crossroads as retirement nears", Bangkok Post, June 21, 2014

Gen. Prayuth is scheduled to retire as army chief on September 30 during the annual reshuffle of military officers. Same goes for Gen. Thanasak Patimapakorn, Adm. Narong Pipattanasai and ACM Prajin Juntong, the commander-in-chief of the supreme command, the navy and the air force respectively.

Not only would the timing fit here, since Prayuth could be at the helm of the interim government beginning in September when the aforementioned military reshuffling takes place or a new budget is seeking approval. But it also is in line with the general impression that Thailand’s junta, with the new interim cabinet, constitution and parliamentary bodies, is making sure to put down the new roots in order to wield considerable influence for the next government(s) to come.

However, the rumored self-appointment would also unwittingly turn General Prayuth into something he would deny wanting to become: a politician.