Thai king endorses new cabinet weeks after disputed election

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Thailand's King Maha Vajiralongkorn attends the annual Royal Ploughing Ceremony in central Bangkok, Thailand, May 9, 2019. (Reuters)
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Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha thanks coalition party members after the royal endorsement ceremony appointing him to his post in Bangkok, Thailand, June 11, 2019. (Reuters)
Updated 10 July 2019

Thai king endorses new cabinet weeks after disputed election

  • Prayuth was chosen as prime minister by military-appointed senators and legislators after the election
  • 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

BANGKOK: 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.
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.


Britain’s Johnson plays down Brexit breakthrough hopes

Updated 13 October 2019

Britain’s Johnson plays down Brexit breakthrough hopes

  • EU leaders will meet on Thursday and Friday for a summit held under the pressures of the October 31 Brexit deadline

LONDON: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson played down hopes Sunday of a breakthrough in his last-ditch bid to strike an amicable divorce deal with the European Union.
Negotiators went behind closed doors for intensive talks in Brussels after Johnson outlined a new set of proposals to Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar on Thursday.
They have very little time left to succeed.
EU leaders will meet on Thursday and Friday for a summit held under the pressures of the October 31 Brexit deadline just two weeks away.
The 27 would ideally like to have a full proposal to vote on by then.
But the sides are trying to achieve in a few days what they had failed to in the more than three years since Britons first voted to leave the European Union after nearly 50 years.
Chief EU negotiator Michel Barnier called the weekend negotiations “constructive” enough to keep going for another day.
“A lot of work remains to be done,” Barnier stressed in a statement to EU ambassadors.
“Discussions at technical level will continue (Monday).”
Downing Street said Johnson also told his cabinet to brace for a cliff-hanger finish.
He reiterated “that a pathway to a deal could be seen but that there is still a significant amount of work to get there and we must remain prepared to leave on October 31,” a Downing Street spokesman said.
Johnson rose to power in July on a promise not to extend Brexit for a third time this year — even for a few weeks.
Breaking that pledge could come back to haunt him in an early general election that most predict for the coming months.
Johnson is under parliamentary orders to seek a extension until January 31 of next year if no deal emerges by Saturday.
He has promised to both follow the law and get Britain out by October 31 — a contradiction that might end up being settled in court.
Outgoing EU chief Jean-Claude Juncker said British politics were getting more difficult to decipher than the riddle of an “Egyptian sphinx.”
“If the British ask for more time, which they probably will not, it would in my view be a historical nonsense to refuse them,” Juncker told Austria’s Kurier newspaper.
Ireland’s Varadkar hinted on Thursday that he could support the talks running on up to the October 31 deadline if a deal seemed within reach.
The few details that have leaked out suggest a compromise around the contentious Irish border issue Britain’s Northern Ireland partially aligned with EU customs rules.
Whether such a fudge suits both Brussels and the more ardent Brexit backers in parliament who must still approve a deal should become clearer by the end of the week.
Britain will only avoid a chaotic breakup with its closest trading partners if the agreement is also passed by the UK parliament — something it has failed to do three times.
Johnson heads a minority government and must rely on the full backing of not only his own fractured Conservatives but also Northern Ireland’s small Democratic Unionist Party.
DUP’s parliamentary leader Nigel Dodds warned Johnson that “Northern Ireland must remain entirely in the customs union of the United Kingdom” and not the EU.
“And Boris Johnson knows it very well,” Dodds told Italy’s La Repubblica newspaper.
The comments do not necessarily rule out DUP support.
UK media are presenting Johnson’s mooted compromise as a “double customs” plan that could be interpreted to mean that Northern Ireland is leaving EU rules.
Yet details are still under discussion and the prime minister’s allies are urging lawmakers to give the British leader a chance.
Main opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn signalled Sunday that he would wait for the outcome of the EU summit before trying to force an early election.
But he added that there was “a strong possibility” that those polls would come before the Christmas break.