BANGKOK, Thailand (eTN) – Thailand’s new incoming Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra could herald in an era of changes in Thai politics. The younger sister of ex-Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra is above all the first female to occupy the function of Prime Minister. Compared to a bunch of Thai dinosaurs in politics, she brings her freshness to the post along with a lot of charisma -e specially a bewitching smile.
Yingluck Shinawatra has been blessed with a very comfortable majority at the Parliament, following Thailand’s elections of July 3. Her party, Pheu Thai, gained 53% of the seats with 265 representatives. But Thailand politics remain very Thai – and mostly incomprehensible for outsiders. As soon as her victory was confirmed, Mrs. Yingluck entered into talks to form a coalition with some smaller parties. Five parties finally joined the government, complicating any negotiation to fill ministerial positions. The new Prime Minister had to obviously deal not only with the wishes of her own party, but also with the ones from the Shinawatra family – even if she denied any involvement – and from other parties.
Then, instead of having full professionals at key posts with solid knowledge on their portfolio, some of them have only their political connections as credentials. This is in complete contradiction with the Prime Minister’s promise of taking professionals who want to work for the sake of Thailand.
At least, the new Minister of Transport, Sukampol Suwannathat, used to be the ex-Deputy Commander in Chief of the Royal Thai Air Force. According to the Bangkok Post, Mr. Suwannathat was tipped in the past by ex-Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra to supervise the operations of Suvarnabhumi airport, Thai Airways International, and Airports of Thailand Plc. He should then have more knowledge than the disastrous Sophon Zarum from the preceding government.
More disappointing is the reinstatement of Chart Thai Pattana Party faded glory, Chumpol Silpa-Archa. The 70-year old man – previously a teacher and with knowledge close to zero in both tourism and the English language – was already Minister of Tourism in the outgoing government of Abhisit Vejjajiva. He was brilliant at doing absolutely nothing to boost Thailand’s image abroad or improve the efficiency of its sector, especially after the kingdom faced political turmoil. Most professionals in tourism judge his previous record as pathetic.
However, his party strongly insisted that Mr. Silpa-Archa kept his portfolio. According to a Thailand tourism insider, the budget of the ministry is one of the largest dotations within the Thai government, due to the importance of this activity on the economy. And parties are keen to “manage it” as it is easy to “dive in.”
Recently, it was reported by local trade publications that Sombat Kuruphan, Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Tourism, had already begged the new government for a substantial increase in the ministry’s budget. The outgoing Abhisit administration had provided a budget of US$554 million to the ministry (THB 16.6 billion) for the current financial year. The new demand now looks like US$907 million is needed to “achieve the new government’s target of 30 million travelers by 2015” according to the Permanent Secretary.
In 2010, Thailand welcomed 15.9 million foreign tourist arrivals, up by 12.6%. Up to July of this year, foreign arrivals are up by 26.5%, totaling 11.8 million travelers. It would have been enjoyable to have seen the same kind of youthful charming face -similar to the one of Yingluck Shinawatra- welcoming travelers to Thailand.