July 10, 2019 / 10:48 AM / in 6 days

Thai king endorses new cabinet weeks after disputed election

BANGKOK (Reuters) - Thailand’s King Maha Vajiralongkorn endorsed a new civilian cabinet of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha on Wednesday, 108 days after a disputed election and following heated wrangling between parties in the one-time coup leader’s coalition.

FILE PHOTO - Thailand's King Maha Vajiralongkorn attends the annual Royal Ploughing Ceremony in central Bangkok, Thailand, May 9, 2019. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha

The endorsement was announced in the Royal Gazette.

Prayuth, the former army chief and junta leader who first seized power in 2014, was chosen as prime minister by military-appointed senators and legislators after the election, under a system his opponents said was unfair.

The most important jobs all went to members of the former junta, but some key economic portfolios went to the 19 parties Prayuth had to bring on board to give him a slim majority in the lower house of parliament.

“This is a government for all Thais,” Prayuth’s office said in a statement.

He urged ministers to work for “the benefit of the people and the country to propel Thailand forward in all dimensions despite many obstacles”, his office said.

But critics said the lineup, announced after horsetrading for potentially lucrative ministerial portfolios, showed the military had failed to keep its promise to clean up politics.

“We are back to the same politics driven by money and interests after five years of military rule,” said Titipol Phakdeewanich, dean of the faculty of political science at Ubon Ratchathani University.

Opponents of military rule complained that the election system was set up to ensure that Thailand’s generals kept their hands on power and that multiple obstacles hampered them in the March 24 general election.

The main opposition party said the cabinet was weak and there were signs of conflicts of interest in the way portfolios had been shared.

“We are not confident that they can solve people’s problems,” Laddawan Wongsriwong, spokeswoman of the Pheu Thai Party, told Reuters. “We believe that this cabinet will not make it far.”

Prayuth was also named as defense minister.

The new finance minister is Uttama Savanayana, leader of the Palang Pracharat Party that backed Prayuth. Uttama held the industry portfolio in the military government and before that held various positions in the private sector.

Prayuth’s loyalists from the military government including Prawit Wongsuwan, Somkid Jatusripitak and Wissanu Krea-ngam remain deputy prime ministers. Anupong Paochinda stayed as interior minister and Don Pramudwinai as foreign minister.

But Prayuth shared out some important economic portfolios with other parties in his coalition.

The traditionally conservative Democrat Party, Thailand’s oldest, took the agriculture and commerce ministries. The Bhumjaithai Party - which put the legalization of marijuana at the center of its agenda - took the health, transport and tourism portfolios.

“This is more about matching parties’ interests rather than naming appropriate people for the right job,” said Wanwichit Boonprong, a political analyst at Rangit University.

Writing by Panu Wongcha-um; Editing by Matthew Tostevin, Robert Birsel

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