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Thu, March 1, 2007 : Last updated 22:05 pm (Thai local time)

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Home > Politics > Departure not totally unexpected, given recent controversies

Departure not totally unexpected, given recent controversies

The departure of finance minister and deputy premier Pridiyathorn Devakula from the political scene may have seemed sudden and premature to some. But for others, it was not unexpected.

Pridiyathorn endured conflicts, criticism and opponents throughout his five months in office.

As soon as the former governor of the Bank of Thailand was named economic chief of the military-installed government, he was accused of trying to protect the legacy of deposed premier Thaksin Shinawatra.

Pridiyathorn appeared to protect Sirote Swasdipanich, the then director-general of the Revenue Department, who was condemned for "failing" to collect tax from the Bt73-billion takeover of Shin Corp shares by Temasek.

Yet Pridiyathorn finally fired Sirote for failing to collect tax from Thaksin's family in the sell-out.

Pridiyathorn had guaranteed the purchase of a plot of land on Ratchadaphisek Road by Thaksin's wife Khunying Pojaman was legal. His defence made trouble for the government because the Assets Examination Committee (AEC) had sharpened its knife to punish wrongdoers allegedly involved with Thaksin.

His comment upset AEC member Khunying Jaruvan Maintaka and led to a squabble between them.

She then went on the offensive by accusing Pridiyathorn and other officials of violating the law by sitting on the boards of more than three state enterprises.

Pridiyathorn suddenly countered Jaruvan and claimed there was a movement to destroy his reputation.

While the Council for National Security and the government tried to get rid of all of Thaksin's schemes, Pridiyathorn favoured keeping some which he thought still had benefits.

He became a political target over his plan to legalise the two- and-three-digit lotteries - which were initiated by Thaksin's government but without proper legal authorisation - while others in the administration wanted to revoke them.

Pridiyathorn and the government were pressured by influential members of the National Legislative Assembly such as Chamlong Srimuang and Prasong Soonsiri to withdraw the bill to legalise the lotteries, which Pridiyathorn finally did.

The biggest blow, perhaps, was his strong move to stem the rise in the baht. This put Pridiyathorn in the hot seat because, by introducing wholesale capital controls instead of selective controls on the money market to curb baht speculation, the government inflicted huge damage on the stock market.

More than Bt800 billion in wealth was wiped from the exchange on December 19 - dubbed Black Tuesday - amid a wave of panic selling. Much of this amount was recovered the following day, but the damage was done.

When the capital-control measure was criticised, Pridiyathorn insisted there was no political push for the Bank of Thailand to come up with such a draconian measure.

The finance minister's situation failed to improve. He was later blamed for a draft amendment to the Foreign Business Act, which went down very badly with foreign investors.

And the worst was not yet over.

Pridiyathorn was put in a difficult and embarrassing situation two weeks ago when Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont suddenly appointed Somkid Jatusripitak, an architect of Thai Rak Thai's populist policies, as the chairman of an economic coordination committee responsible for promoting the sufficiency theory to the international community.

A rumour spread that the Deputy PM and finance minister would resign after the surprising appointment of Somkid - a sworn political enemy - in what amounted as a snub to him. He sought and got reassurance from the PM.

A week later, Somkid decided to quit following criticism of his past association with Thaksin. Pridiyathorn said he did not need a spokesman for the sufficiency theory and pointed out that he was in charge of communicating with foreign investors.

The last straw came when his arch-foe Sondhi Limthongkul gained a prime-time segment on Channel 11 to air his "Yam Phao Phan Din" show, through support from PM's Office Minister Thirapat Serirangsan. In Pridiyathorn's mind, he was alone fighting an illegal situation while Surayud and other Cabinet members did not talk about the matter.

So, the curtain has come down on a man who was once seen as a strong candidate to become the next prime minister.

But it may not be the final end. Some say Pridiyathorn has lost a battle, but could live to fight another day.

Sucheera Pinijparakarn

The Nation

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