Who could be Thailand’s finance chief? Thaksin’s daughter among hopefuls for top job


Paetongtarn Shinawatra - A high profile ministry like finance might just match her stature as the political heir apparent to Thaksin. - Photo from AFP

BANGKOK (Bloomberg): A member of Thailand’s influential Shinawatra clan and two leading banking executives are among contenders for the finance minister’s job as Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin picks his team to run Southeast Asia’s second-largest economy.

Paetongtarn Shinawatra, the youngest daughter of former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, former finance chief Kittiratt Ra-Ranong, Arthid Nanthawithaya, chief executive of SCB X Pcl, and Payong Srivanich, who heads state-run Krung Thai Bank Pcl, are probable candidates, according to analysts and local media.

There’s also a possibility that none of them might get the job, with Thai-language newspaper Krungthep Turakit speculating Srettha, a former property tycoon, will keep the ministry under his charge as he plans to urgently rollout policies to fire up the $500 billion economy.

On Friday, the prime minister was non-committal about doubling up as a finance minister, but said his Pheu Thai, which is leading an 11-member coalition, will keep the key economic ministries. The cabinet line-up may be announced in three to four days, and lawmakers set to be appointed as ministers will have their qualifications assessed from Monday, the party said in a statement, citing Srettha.

The nation is at a critical juncture, Srettha said this week, adding his government will push policies that will foster economic development and usher in changes at the macro as well as household levels.

The choice of the finance chief and measures to accelerate growth will be keenly watched by investors, who have fled Thailand since the May election. The finance chief’s first challenge will be to finalize the state budget for the fiscal year starting Oct. 1 in the backdrop of a slowdown in China, Thailand’s top trading partner, a looming drought and near-record household debt. Data this week showed the economy grew at 1.8% in the second quarter, among the lowest rate of expansion in Southeast Asia.

"Against the backdrop of a sharp slowdown, a finance minister with credibility and solid background will be critical for Thailand to boost its economy.”said Burin Adulwattana, chief economist at Bangkok-based Kasikorn Research Center. "The financial markets will watch closely who will become the finance chief.”

Here are the potential finance minister candidates:

Srettha Thavisin

While there’s no immediate precedence of a prime minister doubling up as the finance head, Srettha may be tempted to keep the ministry under his watch given his more than three-decade experience in the private sector.

Srettha is an economics graduate from the University of Massachusetts and holds an MBA from Claremont Graduate School in the US. He worked at luxury builder Sansiri Pcl for more than three decades before resigning as its president and chief executive in April.

He has been a strong advocate of fueling economic growth with fiscal stimulus including Pheu Thai Party’s flagship digital wallet program that promises 10,000 baht ($284) each to all Thais 16 years old that may cost an estimated 560 billion baht. Srettha will also have to follow through his party’s pledges such as a 70% hike in minimum wage, household income guarantee of 20,000 baht per month and tripling of farm profits to lift economic growth to 5%.

Kittiratt Na-Ranong

A former deputy prime minister and finance chief under Yingluck Shinawatra’s government, Kittiratt is seen as the most seasoned politician in the running for the job. Before becoming a minister, he was the chief executive of the Stock Exchange of Thailand.

While a minister, his reputation was sullied by constant clashes with the central bank governor, stemming from their opposing economic views. In 2013, Kittiratt told reporters that he had contemplated firing Prasarn Trairatvorakul, the central bank governor at the time.

Paetongtarn Shinawatra

After having been passed over for the prime minister’s job, 37-year-old Paetongtarn, may be looking to gain some experience as a minister. A high profile ministry like finance might just match her stature as the political heir apparent to Thaksin.

But her lack of experience in government and limited role in running the family businesses may go against her, according to Thai media reports. Paetongtarn is the largest shareholder in her family controlled real estate firm SC Asset Corp.

Top Bankers

Krung Thai Bank president Payong, 54, is the president and CEO of the large state bank and also leads the Thai Bankers’ Association. He holds an MBA from the University of Pittsburgh and often articulates the banking industry’s views on various economic and financial issues.

Arthid, leads SCB X, the most-valuable Thai lender in which King Maha Vajiralongkorn is the largest shareholder. The banking veteran has been an advocate of modern technology and blockchain in banking. Under his watch SCB X has been actively developing fintech business and investing in startup companies outside Thailand.

"If the new finance minister can provide a clear view as well as timeline for the new economic policies, especially the stimulus measures that would be quite positive for the market,” said Poon Panichpibool, a strategist at Krung Thai Bank. "The lack of clear policy direction seems to be keeping investors, especially foreign investors in a wait and see mode.” - Bloomberg

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