To make room for Kittirat as top government technocrat, Yingluck booted out Thirachai Phuvanatnaranubala, who became Finance Minister just five months ago after serving as head of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and before that as a central bank deputy governor.
The Government’s pro-growth economic policies, already driven largely by Kittirat and backed by exiled former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, elder brother of Prime Minister Yingluck, are not expected be affected by the ministerial change.
Kittirat, 53, a former broker and President of the Stock Exchange of Thailand (SET) – and also a former manager of the Thai national soccer team – had no political experience when he was appointed to the Cabinet last August.
The holder of an MBA in finance and international business from Chulalongkorn University’s Sasin Graduate Institute of Business Administration, he had led the Stock Exchange of Thailand for five years and was also chairman of Cathay Asset Management and the First Asia Securities brokerage firms.
Kittirat is credited with having played a big role in restoring investor confidence after the devastating floods last year.
But he has also stirred controversy in the past, criticising the central bank’s monetary policy, and advocating cuts in interest rates at a time when the Bank of Thailand was worried about inflation and looking at pushing up rates.
The central bank did cut rates in November, but that was in reaction to severe floods that had hit industry hard.
Kittirat also directs the Government’s controversial rice intervention policy which guarantees high prices for farmers, and which critics say is aggravating the huge fall in rice exports caused by the floods.
Despite criticism from economists, the new minister has promised to implement other populist policies, such as the B300 minimum daily wage, that were crucial to the Pheu Thai Party’s landslide election victory last July.
Other Cabinet changes saw former university dean Pongsvas Svasti replacing Industry Minister Wannarat Channukul and Energy Minister Pichai Naripthaphan being replaced by Arak Chonlatanon, a former CEO of satellite company Thaicom, which was founded by Mr Thaksin.
Deputy Finance Minister Boonsong Teriyaphirom stepped up to take Kittirat’s cast-off job as Commerce Minister.