Thailand Picks Ex-Banker as Finance Chief to Fight Crisis

Edna B. Shearer

(Bloomberg) — Thailand named a new finance minister to help shape the government response to the pandemic-driven recession, one of a number of changes in a wider Cabinet reshuffle.

Predee Daochai, former co-president of Kasikornbank Pcl, will take on the Finance Ministry portfolio, according to a Royal Gazette statement Thursday. Supattanapong Punmeechaow, a former senior executive of PTT Pcl, was named a deputy prime minister and is in charge of the Energy Ministry. The reshuffle also saw Foreign Affairs Minister Don Pramudwinai elevated to a deputy prime minister role.

Predee and Supattanapong will join newly named central bank governor Sethaput Suthiwart-Narueput in shaping Thailand’s response to the virus outbreak as the tourism- and trade-reliant nation faces one of the worst outlooks in emerging Asia. The Finance Ministry predicts gross domestic product will shrink by 8.5% this year, its worst contraction ever.

“One key challenge ahead for Predee is building enough confidence to boost local investments,” said Amornthep Chawla, head of research at CIMB Thai Bank Pcl in Bangkok. “Businessmen are on the sidelines, waiting to see policies of newcomers. They want to see whether old policies will continue or new policies will be introduced.”

Analysts expect the reshuffle to strengthen the pro-military ruling coalition by resolving internal rifts. It remains to be seen if the new team will adjust key policies, such as an economic stimulus program worth about 15% of gross domestic product.

The World Bank has said Thailand’s stimulus program is among the largest in East Asia and the Pacific, but the country’s pro-democracy opposition charges Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-Ocha’s administration has done too little, too late.

The revamp comes after the coalition’s biggest party, Palang Pracharath, picked Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan as its new leader, replacing Uttama Savanayana, who was finance minister until he resigned along with three cabinet ministers.

Former army chief Prayuth led a military coup in 2014, ruled at the head of a junta for five years and returned as leader after a disputed election last year. His coalition steadily tightened its grip on power after forming the government.

Here’s a list of the new ministers and portfolios:

(Updates with economist comment in fourth paragraph.)

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