BANGKOK, Thailand – Thailand's respected central bank chief said Monday he has agreed to join the interim Cabinet of newly appointed Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont, a move that appeared likely to reassure the business community that the post-coup government can capably handle the economy.
Bank of Thailand Governor Pridiyathorn Devakula is the first confirmed member of the new provisional government after Surayud. He told reporters his exact position has not been discussed but he is expected to get a key portfolio in the finance-economic sector.
Meanwhile, U.S. Ambassador Ralph L. Boyce became the first foreign diplomat to meet Surayud, 63, on his first day in office.
The international community has voiced concern over the new military-appointed prime minister, urging a swift restoration of democracy and civil rights in Thailand, which had been widely regarded as a democratic role model for the region.
"We had a very good discussion," Boyce said. "I think it's very well known that the United States urges a speedy return to a democratically elected government and protection of civil liberties during the interim, and the prime minister assured me this would be the case."
The military ousted elected Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra in a bloodless coup Sept. 19 while he was abroad and chose former army commander Surayud to serve as prime minister until elections promised for October 2007.
Surayud, sworn in Sunday as the country's 24th premier, said during the ceremony that he wanted to heal a country divided by the policies of his predecessor and settle a bloody Muslim insurgency festering in Thailand's south.
Surayud told reporters Monday that he would travel to the restive region after the formation of the 35-member Cabinet, expected in about a week.
Lt. Gen. Palangoon Klaharn, a spokesman for the military council that deposed Thaksin, said Monday that tanks and troops used in the coup have now been withdrawn from the streets of the Thai capital.
Pridiyathorn, 59, who helped steer Thailand's economy out of the devastating 1997 Asian financial crisis, took over the helm of the Bank of Thailand in 2001. He has been praised for policies that promoted financial stability.
The coup leaders had earlier assured investors that the interim government will support local and foreign investment and give the private sector a leading economic role.
William Heinecke, chairman of the Minor Group which has several food and hotel businesses in Thailand, said Monday that the country should be able to move forward after political divisions left it with only a caretaker government for months.
Surayud "can help to reconcile the very divergent views that exist in Thailand and bring us forward," said Heinecke, who has been doing business in Thailand since the 1970s.
Once foreign investors "fully digest the changes, it should not interrupt any long-term investments in Thailand. If anything, it should make them more attractive," he said.
An official of Thaksin's Thai Rak Thai party, meanwhile, said at least 15 prominent party members have resigned since the coup.
They include former members of Parliament and Cabinet ministers, said Samarn Lertwongrat, the party's registrar. The most prominent among them is former Foreign Minister Surakiart Sathirathai, who was named by the former government as Thailand's candidate to become the next U.N. secretary-general, and also has the backing of the military council that ousted Thaksin.
Thaksin, accused by the coup makers of corruption and divisive policies, is currently in London.
Asian governments denounced the coup leaders' apparent intention of maintaining a role in Thai politics until elections promised for October 2007, while newspaper opinion pages suggested Surayud was a puppet for the military.
While Surayud reaffirmed the government's commitment to elections in one year, a temporary constitution approved by revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej reserves considerable powers for Thailand's coup makers, unnerving rights activists. The military scrapped a 1997 constitution when it seized power.
The military council gave itself the power to remove Surayud and his Cabinet, approve the selection of a National Assembly speaker, and have final say on a 100-member committee that will write the next constitution.
Surayud, a career soldier who fought homegrown communist rebels, is seen as someone who can help stabilize Thailand's political situation. He has a reputation for incorruptibility, quiet diplomacy and modest demeanor.