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Thai king endorses cabinet reshuffle


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August 3, 2008

Thai king endorses cabinet reshuffle
Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej on Saturday endorsed a Cabinet reshuffle proposed to him by Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej as the ruling government tries to boost its support rating and cling to power, reported Kyodo news agency.

The coalition government has suffered several blows in recent weeks, and some Cabinet members have drawn stinging criticism from the opposition Democrat Party.

Highlights of the reshuffle include the appointment of retired police chief Kowit Wattana as interior minister while Mingkwan Sangsuwan was named to head the Industry Ministry.

Mingkwan is regarded as the economic team leader of Samak's People Power Party but his performance as commerce minister in the last six months was widely regarded as below public expectations.

Chaiya Sasomsap, who was forced to quit as health minister in by a court earlier this month, took over the commerce portfolio. Last month, the Constitutional Court disqualified Chaiya from the health portfolio for failing to declare assets held by his wife.

Chavarat Charnvirakul, a founder of a major construction company, was named the new public health minister.

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Information and Communication Technology Minister Mun Patanotai was appointed deputy prime minister as his Puea Pandin Party leader Suwit Khunkitti left the government.

Suwit this week announced he would no longer support the government. But prominent lawmakers of the party disregarded Suwit's decision, saying the party leader did not consult with them.

Other new ministers in the Saturday reshuffle are Anusorn Wongwan, who is the new Social Development and Human Security minister, and Somsak Kiatsuranon, who was named culture minister.

Samak's government has suffered a series of legal defeats in recent weeks, forcing three ministers and another top government official from office and leaving three other ministers’ jobs in jeopardy, reported AFP.

Street protests have dogged Samak's administration since May, while an unresolved military standoff with Cambodia over a disputed piece of border land has enraged nationalists in Thailand.

But the changes are unlikely to stave off Samak's critics, Bangkok-based analyst Thitinan Pongsudhirak told AFP.

"The reshuffle's a time-buying exercise. The question is how much time does it buy, and it doesn't buy much," Thitinan said, adding, "They needed to better the credibility and image of government."

He said the most controversial appointments would be Interior Minister Kowit Wattana, a close loyalist of deposed former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, and Chiya Sasomsub, who could find himself facing repeated allegations of impropriety from anti-government protesters.

High inflation and slowing economic growth would continue to hurt Samak's government, Thitinan said, adding Finance Minister Surapong Suebwonglee remaining in his post would not help the government improve its image.

Surapong is being investigated alongside Thaksin, Labour Minister Uraiwan Thienthong and a deputy transport minister, Anurak Jureemas, for allegedly illegally legalising a lottery scheme, denying the government billions of baht in revenue.

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