January 18, 2012 / 12:27 PM / 9 years ago

Thai cabinet reshuffle approved, Kittirat becomes Fin Min

BANGKOK, Jan 18 (Reuters) - Thailand’s cabinet shake-up was endorsed on Wednesday by King Bhumibol Adulyadej, with Kittirat Na Ranong, the deputy prime minister in charge of economic affairs, officially becoming finance minister, as expected.

Kittirat, 53, a former broker and president of the Stock Exchange of Thailand (SET), takes over from Thirachai Phuvanatnaranubala, who joined the cabinet on Aug. 10 last year after serving as head of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and before that as a deputy central bank governor.

The changes are unlikely to lead to any real shift in the government’s pro-growth economic policies, which have been driven largely by Kittirat and backed by self-exiled former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, the influential elder brother of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.

Among the moves, Industry Minister Wannarat Channukul is replaced by former university dean Pongsvas Svasti, with Energy Minister Pichai Naripthaphan replaced by Arak Chonlatanon, a former CEO of Thaicom founded by Thaksin.

Deputy Finance Minister Boonsong Teriyaphirom now becomes commerce minister, taking over Kittirat’s other position.

Kittirat was a former businessman and Thai national team soccer manager with no political experience until his appointment last August. He served as head of the Stock Exchange of Thailand for five years. He has also been chairman of Cathay Asset Management and brokerage First Asia Securities.

Kittirat, who played a big role in attempts to restore investor confidence after devastating floods last year, has an MBA in Finance and International Business from the Sasin Graduate Institute of Business Administration at Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University.

He is in charge of the government’s controversial rice intervention policy, which guarantees high prices for farmers, and has in the past criticised the central bank’s monetary policy, advocating cuts in rates at a time when the Bank of Thailand was worried about inflation.

The central bank cut rates in November but that was in reaction to severe floods that devastated industry.

Despite criticism from economists, Kittirat has promised to implement other populist policies, such as a big increase in the minimum wage, that were crucial to the Puea Thai Party’s landslide election victory last July. (Reporting by Orathai Sriring and Pracha Hariraksapitak; Editing by Jason Szep)

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