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Turbulent Thailand

Thailand's finance chief leads exit of reformers from ruling party

Resignation by ex-party head Uttama ramps up pressure for cabinet reshuffle

Finance Minister Uttama Savanayana is an economic reformer locked in an intraparty feud with military hardliners.   © Reuters

BANGKOK -- Thailand's finance minister resigned Thursday from the ruling party he once headed, forming an exodus with three other technocratic officials sidelined by the party that is increasingly dominated by members with military ties.

Uttama Savanayana said he will stay on as Thailand's finance chief. But his exit from the Palang Pracharath Party, the largest in the 19-party governing coalition, puts additional pressure on Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha to reshuffle his cabinet.

"It's up to Prayuth to decide to reorganize the cabinet," Uttama told reporters Thursday.

Uttama had been tapped to lead the party as an academic, which party elites hoped would downplay its military connections. His resignation was another turn in the tug-of-war between economic reformers and hard-liners and comes at a time when the country looks to pull its economy out of the doldrums brought about the coronavirus.

Energy Minister Sontirat Sontijirawong and Suvit Maesincee, the minister of higher education, also resigned from Palang along with Uttama. They were joined by Kobsak Pootrakool, the deputy secretary-general at the prime minister's office.

All four men are close to the economic reformer, Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak. Factional fighting with Palang's military contingent led to the replacement of Uttama at the head of the party by former army chief Prawit Wongsuwan.

Sontirat, Suvit and Kobsak were also removed from their positions as senior Palang officers.

Somkid has pushed for opening up the market to foreign investment and for Thailand to participate in the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement. Unhappy with the Somkid faction's hold on economic policy posts, 18 senior officials resigned from Palang, triggering the intraparty election late last month to oust Uttama.

These developments raise the potential of Prayuth forming a new cabinet packed with protectionists, putting the economic reformers in the back seat.

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