Thailand Picks Ex-Transport Head Arkhom as New Finance Chief

(Bloomberg) — Thailand picked Arkhom Termpittayapaisith as finance minister to steer an economy facing its worst performance ever this year, following the abrupt resignation of his predecessor.

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Arkhom Termpittayapaisith, Thailand’s transport minister, listens during an interview in Bangkok, Thailand, on Thursday, June 21, 2018. Thailand will seek bids in the fourth-quarter for a 180 billion baht ($5.5 billion) high-speed rail project that’s part of a wider plan for a train network to China. The bidder will build the first half of the network in Thailand, Termpittayapaisith said.

The appointment, effective immediately, was announced in the Royal Gazette on Monday. Arkhom’s appointment comes after former banker Predee Daochai resigned less than a month into the job, citing ill health.

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Arkhom, a former transport minister under Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-Ocha’s military government from 2015-2019, will need to shape Thailand’s response to tackling the coronavirus outbreak that’s delivered an unprecedented blow to the nation’s trade- and tourism-reliant economy. He will also need to assure investors who have been dumping local stocks and bonds, while accelerating stimulus spending to revive growth and save millions of jobs at risk from the fallout of the pandemic.

Southeast Asia’s second-largest economy is on track this year for its worst contraction on record, with the Finance Ministry predicting gross domestic product will shrink 8.5%. Arkhom will need to work with Bank of Thailand Governor Sethaput Suthiwart-Narueput, who assumed the post only last week.

While the country has been comparatively successful in containing the pandemic and most business activities have resumed, the Prayuth administration also has had to contend with anti-government protests by student groups demanding greater democracy and curbs on the monarchy’s power.

The government has announced an economic stimulus program worth $60 billion and the central bank has cut interest rates to a record low amid the crisis. Still, it may take the economy at least two years to return to its pre-pandemic level, according to the Bank of Thailand.

(Updates with growth forecast in fourth paragraph.)

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