'Cabinet of Old Men' to take it slow and steady
The initial celebratory mood quickly changed to disappointment following the announcement of the Cabinet line-up, most of whose members look as if they belong to a lost generation.
"Yes, it really is a disappointment," said a retired lawyer, who asked not to be named. "I would call it a Ban Bangkhae Cabinet."
Ban Bangkhae, located in Bangkhae, Thon Buri, is a well-known home for the elderly.
The average age of the Surayud Cabinet is 63 years, with Wijit Srisa-an, the education minister, the eldest member at 72, and Thirapat Serirangsan the youngest at 51. General Surayud, the prime minister, is 63.
Surayud is well aware of his ageing Cabinet. He joked with his colleagues during their trip to the swearing-in ceremony at Suan Chitrlada Palace that the combined age of the members of the Cabinet was 1,600 years. Thirapat responded immediately by saying that the first task of the Cabinet was to clear up its image as a Cabinet of Old Men as characterised by the local media.
Some local media commentaries, such as in Matichon and Manager, have already called the Surayud Cabinet the Cabinet of Ministerial Permanent-Secretaries because it is mostly made up of retired bureaucrats.
This implies that the Cabinet is not likely to make any quick decisions but is more likely to play it safe when it comes to hard choices, as it will have only a one-year term to see through the political transition period.
General Prem Tinsulanonda, president of the Privy Council, has played a significant role in picking the members of the Surayud Cabinet. Surayud's appointment as prime minister also has the blessing of Prem.
Broadly speaking, the Surayud Cabinet members can be divided into three groups - friends of Surayud, confidants of Prem, and some with former links to Thai Rak Thai.
The friends who went to St Gabriel's School and Pre-Cadet Military School like Surayud, are MR Pridiyathorn, Krirkkrai, Thiraphat, General Boonrawd Somtas, the defence minister, Admiral Theera Haocharoen, the transport minister and Suvit Yodmani, the tourism and sports minister.
The confidants of Gen Prem include Kosit, Aree Wongsearaya, the interior minister, Nitya Pibulsonggram, the foreign minister, Banyat Jansena, the deputy interior minister, Piyabutr Cholvijarn, deputy industry minister, Khunying Khaisri Sri-aroon, the culture minister, and Dr Mongkol Na Songkhla, the health minister.
Ministers who have close ties to Thai Rak Thai are Thira Sutabutra, the agriculture minister, Aree and Piyabutr. Thira served as rector of Kasetsart University when Pinthongta Shinawatra, one of the children of the deposed Thaksin Shinawatra, went to college there. Aree served as deputy education minister in the Thaksin government. Piyabutr served as vice minister in the Education Ministry of the Thaksin government.
Bangkok Bank and Kasikornbank look like they are having a big say in this interim government. Kosit has resigned as executive chairman of Bangkok Bank, but as Chatri Sophonpanich, the bank's chairman has promised, Kosit will return to the bank after finishing his political assignment.
Kasikornbank has also sent Dr Piyasavasti Amaranand, the energy minister, to serve in the interim government. Piyasavasti was chairman of Kasikorn Asset Management Co Ltd.
Only a handful of the Surayud Cabinet members really stand out, namely MR Pridiyathorn, Kosit, Krirkkrai, and Piyasvasti, who will help the government through the difficult economic times ahead.
Sitthichai Pookaiyaudom, the information and communication technology minister, and Prof Dr Yongyuth Yuthavong, the science and technology minister, are technocrats, who may be well-versed in their fields.
But the rest are definitely not a collection of impressive choices.
The Surayud government will face a touch challenge in dealing with the Thai economy, tackling security problems in the Deep South, preventing the return of the Thaksin regime, improving Thailand's image in the international community, and undertaking political reform.
MR Pridiyathorn and Kosit will be a good team to handle the economic issues, while Aree, a Muslim, will rely on his long-standing experience in the Interior Ministry to help solve the southern unrest. Nitya will be Thailand's face in the international community, although he cracked at the height of the local protest against the Thai-US free trade agreement talks.
The Political Desk