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New Cabinet shines light on the dark side of Thai politics

Written by World Events

Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin’s Cabinet is poised to take up its duties after being sworn in before His Majesty the King on Tuesday. The new government is due to deliver its policy statement in Parliament on Monday (August 11). However, controversy has erupted over the appointment of certain ministers, given their questionable backgrounds and tainted records.

Wanwichit Boonprong, a political science lecturer at Rangsit University, said Srettha’s Cabinet lineup looks like the result of a “sharing of benefits” among coalition partners.

He went as far as to describe some appointees with the euphemism “influential figures”. “I don’t want to call it a ‘mafia Cabinet’, but these people are considered influential figures with political connections. The legitimacy of their appointments is being questioned,” the academic said.

 Controversial ministers

Names drawing the most scrutiny are Thamanat Prompow, newly appointed Agriculture and Cooperatives Minister; Chada Thaised, Deputy Interior Minister; and Police General Patcharawat Wongsuwan, Deputy Premier and Natural Resource and Environment Minister. Pol-Gen Patcharawat also happens to be the younger brother of Palang Pracharath Party leader General Prawit Wongsuwan.

Avoiding the spotlight is Phichit Chuenban, a controversial former lawyer for the Shinawatra family who had been tipped to become Prime Minister’s Office minister. However, his name was dropped from the lineup at the last minute when he announced his decision not to take the seat.

 Thamanat’s headline-grabbing past

Australian newspapers report that Thamanat was arrested in Sydney and convicted of smuggling heroin into the country as a junior Army officer in 1993. He served time in jail, before returning to Thailand, only to be arrested again and jailed for three years over the murder of a gay academic.

After being appointed deputy agriculture minister in 2019, Thamanat dismissed the Australian drug case as a “misunderstanding”, claiming he was just an innocent bystander.

He said Australian police had merely charged him with failing to report knowledge of drug dealing. However, the Sydney Morning Herald reported that Thamanat had pleaded guilty and accepted a four-year minimum jail term before eventually being deported back to Thailand.

As for the murder case back home, Thamanat said the Criminal Court acquitted him after finding two other men guilty. He said he was accused in the case because the murder had taken place in a building that he owns.

Critics have also expressed suspicion that his doctoral degrees are bogus. Thamanat insists his educational credentials are legitimate but has voiced doubts over whether the university involved meets required standards. He has also been accused of plagiarizing his PhD dissertation.

 Chada linked to murder

Chada, who lost both of his parents to murder when he was still young, was arrested on suspicion of masterminding the 2003 killing of a Thai Rak Thai MP’s secretary. He insisted on his innocence and was eventually acquitted in court in 2005.

He is now a key figure in the Bhumjaithai Party, the second-largest partner in the government coalition after Pheu Thai.

In 2017, Chada and his entourage were targeted in a police crackdown on organized crime in his home province of Uthai Thani. A police search of their vehicles turned up six guns and one pill of MDMA (ecstasy).

However, Chada walked free after police failed to prove the items belonged to him.

 Patcharawat found guilty of malfeasance

Former National Police chief Patcharawat was found guilty of malfeasance by the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) in September 2009 for overseeing a deadly crackdown on yellow-shirt protesters outside Parliament. The October 2008 crackdown led to several deaths and many injuries.

Then-prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva signed an order in October 2009 firing Patcharawat from his post as National Police chief.

But the Police Commission later ruled that Patcharawat was innocent of severe disciplinary wrongdoing and proposed that he be reinstated.

In February 2014, the Administrative Court ruled that Patcharawat be restored to his post as police chief.

 By Thai PBS World’s Political Desk


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