11 July 2024

The government’s stumbles in tackling the economic problems that plagued the country due to the COVID-19 pandemic appears to have forced the ruling Palang Pracharath Party to reshuffle its economic team in preparation for a return to power after the next election.

Former Government Savings Bank (GSB) president Chatchai Payuhanaveechai was recently mentioned at the ruling party meeting as joining their new economic team.

Palang Pracharath leader General Prawit Wongsuwan, who is also a deputy prime minister, informed during the party meeting on February 7 that Chatchai would join the economic team of the party and would be responsible for formulating the party’s economic policy platform for the next general election.

It was reported that Chatchai would be appointed as a new economic minister, responsible for either the energy or finance portfolio in the next Cabinet reshuffle. Observers believe it was an attempt by Prawit to boost the morale of the party amid its declining popularity.

Palang Pracharath has been in the eye of a political storm after 21 MPs from the faction of the party’s former secretary-general, Thammanat Prompao – who was expelled from the party – moved on to join other parties. The ruling party also faced its third consecutive by-election defeat in January in Bangkok, following setbacks in Songkhla and Chumphon provinces.

The report of Chatchai joining the party has left many wondering why the 62-year-old former banker would come on board a potentially sinking ship.

Solid banking credentials

Chatchai was appointed president of the GSB, one of the specialized financial institutions owned by the state, in 2015. He was an outsider, vying with two inside candidates for the top job at the GSB.

Chatchai’s banking career took off when he became a senior executive vice president at Kasikornbank, one of Thailand’s leading commercial banks. His stint at Kasikornbank since 1983 gave him experience in commercial and construction sector lending, consumer loans, retail lending, credit card business, and personal loans.

The then GSB chairman, Somchai Sujjapongse, said the bank’s board chose Chatchai because he had shown leadership and had an outstanding vision, in line with the bank’s mission to help individuals and small and medium-sized enterprises get easier access to bank loans.

After he completed his four-year term, the bank’s board extended his tenure until he reached retirement age in 2020.

While helming the state-owned bank, Chatchai introduced credit card service, and launched mobile banking services, continuing the mobile banking development started by previous executives.

One area where his management style differed from that of his predecessors was that he also spent more money on marketing activities, buying ads from many media outlets, including newspapers, TV, and digital news websites. His marketing strategy was aimed at making people aware of the bank’s activities.

The COVID-19 pandemic hit Thailand in early 2020 and Chatchai left the bank in June of that year, handing over the reins to new president Vitai Ratanakorn, who had a different management style. Vitai substantially increased the bank’s reserves and focused on cost control in order to strengthen its financial base to cope with the impact of the pandemic.

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Strong background

Chatchai informed the National Anti-Corruption Commission that he and his wife had net assets worth Bt144. 24 million when he ended his first tenure in January 2019, which increased to Bt154.85 million when he left the GSB in June  2020 on reaching retirement age.

Chatchai currently serves on the board of directors of several private companies, including as chairman of the executive board of public-listed Origin Property Plc.

His educational background has also contributed to his outstanding success in his professional career. He got a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration from Thammasat University and a master’s degree in Business Administration from Chulalongkorn University.

Over the years, his name has often made the rounds as a candidate for one of the economic ministers during Cabinet reshuffles or when some ministers resigned.

As Chatchai ran the state-owned bank after the 2014 military coup, he had to work with many ministers, including Prawit.  The latest announcement by Prawit to appoint him to Palang Pracharath’s economic team suggests that Chatchai continues to be well-connected politically.

Many changes at the helm

Since the 2014 coup, from Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha’s first government to his current administration after the general election in March 2019, many economic ministers have come and gone.

After Prayut led the military coup in 2014, he appointed MR Pridiyathorn Devakula as deputy prime minister and head of the economic team to formulate economic policy.

But in 2015, Prayut appointed Somkid Jatusripitak, a former finance minister in the Thai Rak Thai Party-led government during the Thaksin Shinawatra years, to replace Pridiyathorn who fell out with Prayut.

After the March 2019 general election, Prayut reappointed Somkid, but Somkid later resigned along with other four economic ministers known as the “Four Boys” group in 2020 due to a power struggle in the ruling party.  The four former economic ministers, including former finance minister Uttama Savanayana, and former energy minister Sontirat Sontijirawong, recently formed a new political party to contest in the next general election.

Following their resignation, Prayut appointed Supattanapong Punmeechaow as the new deputy prime minister and energy minister, responsible for economic policy.

Prayut had appointed Predee Doachai as finance minister to replace Uttama, but Predee resigned in September 2020 after less than a month in office, reportedly due to a conflict with Santi Promphat, his deputy finance minister from Palang Pracharath. Following Predee’s quick exit, Prayut tapped Arkhom Termpittayapaisith as finance minister.

By Thai PBS World’s Business Desk