Thailand hunts for new finance minister to tackle economy in crisis

FILE PHOTO: Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha reacts while taking questions from journalists after the group photo session with new government cabinet in Bangkok, Thailand July 16, 2019. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun/File Photo

BANGKOK (Reuters) – After its finance minister’s surprise exit, Thailand is looking for a new chief to steer its economy through the coronavirus crisis, with the outgoing central bank boss being linked to the job and a deputy minister throwing his hat into the ring.

Banker Preedee Daochai quit as finance minister on Tuesday after only a few weeks, as the government struggles to pull Southeast Asia’s second-biggest economy out of an outbreak-induced slump.

Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha wants to fill the post at an appropriate time, but investors want a quick and suitable appointment for policy continuity and to build confidence.

Deputy Finance Minister Santi Promphat, a former transport minister who has worked in three different administrations, said he is “ready to work for the country” and can hit the ground running.

“I have the expertise and ability to handle the pressure of the current economic situation,” he told reporters soon after Predee quit.

“In such a crisis, I can start work immediately”.

Santi is director of the ruling Palang Pracharat Party and served in the Yingluck Shinawatra administration, which was overthrown in a 2014 coup led by Prayuth.

Candidates for the next finance minister include Pailin Chuchottaworn, a former CEO of top energy firm PTT, and outgoing central bank governor Veerathai Santiprabhob, according to media reports.

Pailin is responsible for implementing stimulus plans as the head of one of two committees under a special government task force for reviving the economy, which is seen shrinking a record 8.5% this year.

Veerathai is also a committee member under that task force and his term as central bank chief ends on Sept. 30.

However, on Aug. 28, Veerathai told Reuters he planned to do academic work, help charities and serve on some companies’ boards.

“I’m not looking for any full-time job… but I will continue to be a macro economist for sure,” he said in the interview.

Asked about politics, Veerathai said: “Definitely not”.

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