Thai PM Srettha discusses overcoming divisions with former coup leader

By Napat Wesshasartar

BANGKOK (Reuters) – Thai Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin discussed overcoming political divisions with predecessor Prayuth Chan-ocha on Thursday, in his first meeting as premier as he prepares to form a cabinet from a crowded 11-party alliance that includes fierce rivals.

Srettha sailed through a parliamentary vote to become premier on Tuesday and will head a tricky coalition that includes parties backed by the military, which has repeatedly manoeuvred to topple governments led by his Pheu Thai Party.

Thursday’s meeting underscores a fragile detente in Thai politics, with Prayuth the architect of a 2014 coup against the last Pheu Thai government as chief of the ultra-royalist army. Prayuth stayed in charge for the next nine years.

“Existing divisions will be difficult to overcome. One conversation will not finish it off. It will take time,” Srettha said of their meeting.

“I understand his intentions, that he wants to overcome divisions and he cares about the country.”

Asked by reporters what advice Prayuth gave, he said “for me to be calm, be patient and protect the nation and monarchy.”

Real estate tycoon Srettha was thrust into politics just a few months ago and has no experience in government. He sought to temper expectations on Thursday of a cabinet line-up soon.

Speculation has been rife that Srettha’s surprisingly smooth ascent to the top job is part of a secret deal between warring elites in Thailand that included Tuesday’s dramatic homecoming of Pheu Thai’s billionaire figurehead, Thaksin Shinawatra, after 15 years in self-exile.

Thaksin, 74, was hospitalised with high blood pressure on his first night in prison, where he serving an eight-year sentence for abuse of power and conflicts of interest.

He and Pheu Thai have denied the existence of a deal with their rivals in the military and conservative establishment.

Media has also been speculating about who will get the key cabinet posts, some suggesting Srettha himself would take on the additional role of finance minister.

The new government will then have to deliver their policy objectives to a joint session of parliament before they can start work in late September.

The new administration faces the crucial task of reviving Southeast Asia’s second-largest economy, which the central bank forecast will grow at just under 3.6% this year.

(Reporting by Chayut Setboonsarng and Panarat Thepgumpanat; Editing by Martin Petty)

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