Central bank governor accepts post in Thailand's interim Cabinet

Monday, October 2nd 2006, 8:35 am
By: News On 6

BANGKOK, Thailand (AP) _ Thailand's respected central bank chief said Monday he has agreed to join the interim Cabinet, a move that appeared likely to reassure the business community that the new government can capably handle the economy after last month's military coup.

Bank of Thailand Gov. Pridiyathorn Devakula is the first confirmed member of the provisional government aside from Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont. He said his exact position has not been discussed but he is expected to get a key portfolio in the financial-economic sector.

Meanwhile, U.S. Ambassador Ralph L. Boyce became the first foreign diplomat to meet Surayud, 63, on his first day in office.

The international community has voiced concern over the new military-appointed prime minister, urging a swift restoration of democracy and civil rights in Thailand, which had been widely regarded as a democratic role model for the region.

``We had a very good discussion,'' Boyce said. ``I think it's very well known that the United States urges a speedy return to a democratically elected government and protection of civil liberties during the interim, and the prime minister assured me this would be the case.''

The military ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra in a bloodless coup Sept. 19 while he was abroad and chose Surayud, a former army commander, as premier until elections promised for October 2007.

Surayud, sworn in Sunday, said during the ceremony that he wanted to heal a country divided by his predecessor and settle a Muslim insurgency in Thailand's south.

He said Monday that he would travel to the restive region after the formation of a 35-member Cabinet, expected in about a week.

The military began withdrawing tanks and troops from the streets Sunday and they appeared to be completely gone Monday.

Pridiyathorn, 59, who helped steer Thailand's economy out of the devastating 1997 Asian financial crisis, took the helm of the Bank of Thailand in 2001. He has been praised for policies that promoted financial stability.

The coup leaders had earlier assured investors the interim government will support local and foreign investment and give the private sector a leading economic role.

Political divisions had left the country with only a caretaker government for months. William Heinecke, chairman of the Minor Group, which includes major hotels and restaurants among its businesses, said the country should be able to move forward now.

He said Surayud ``can help to reconcile the very divergent views that exist in Thailand and bring us forward.''

Once foreign investors ``fully digest the changes, it should not interrupt any long-term investments in Thailand. If anything, it should make them more attractive,'' he said.

Samarn Lertwongrat, the registrar of Thaksin's Thai Rak Thai party, said at least 15 prominent party members have resigned since the coup.

Thaksin, accused by the coup-makers of corruption and divisive policies, is currently in London.

Asian governments denounced the coup leaders' apparent intention of maintaining a role in Thai politics until elections promised for October 2007, while newspaper opinion pages suggested Surayud was a puppet for the military.

While Surayud reaffirmed the government's commitment to elections in one year, a temporary constitution approved by revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej reserves considerable powers for the coup leaders, unnerving human rights activists. The military scrapped a 1997 constitution when it seized power.

The military council gave itself the power to remove Surayud and his Cabinet, approve the selection of a National Assembly speaker, and have final say on a 100-member committee that will write a new constitution.

Surayud, a career soldier who fought homegrown communist rebels, is seen as someone who can help stabilize Thailand's political situation. He has a reputation for incorruptibility, quiet diplomacy and modest demeanor.

His appointment was generally well-received by academics and politicians.

However, some critics raised concerns about Surayud being too close to the palace since he has served on the king's Privy Council, a hand-picked body of advisers to the constitutional monarch. Others said the choice of a former general reaffirmed that the government was illegitimate.