Thai top diplomat on resignation: Work would slow without deputy PM position

Parnpree Bahiddha-Nukara’s decision to quit raises concerns about continued diplomatic efforts in Myanmar crisis.
By Nontarat Phaicharoen for BenarNews
2024.04.29
Bangkok, Thailand
Thai top diplomat on resignation: Work would slow without deputy PM position Thai Foreign Minister Parnpree Bahiddha-Nukara speaks with Reuters during an interview in Tel Aviv, Israel, Nov. 29, 2023.
Nathan Frandino/Reuters

Parnpree Bahiddha-Nukara, Thailand’s erstwhile foreign minister, said Monday that he resigned because he could not have performed his diplomatic duties effectively after the prime minister dropped him as a deputy PM through a cabinet shuffle.

In the scant seven-plus months that Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin’s government has been in power, Parnpree, as Thailand’s top diplomat, was instrumental in ensuring the release of Thai workers taken hostage by Palestinian militant outfit Hamas after it attacked Israel on Oct. 7. 

He was also spearheading Thailand’s first humanitarian aid delivery effort to war-torn Myanmar since the February 2021 Burmese military coup, which led to a civil war on multiple fronts that has since displaced nearly 2.6 million people.

Being removed as deputy PM while being retained as foreign minister  was “a little unusual,” Parnpree told reporters on Monday, a day after the Srettha government’s first cabinet shuffle was announced in the Royal Gazette on Sunday.

“In the position of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, it is common to also have the role of deputy prime minister to lend dignity when we travel abroad, making foreign affairs operations smoother,” Parnpree said.

“Now that it’s reduced to just one position, I think that the work I will continue to do in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs may not be as quick and smooth as it should be. I believe that if they think there is someone more suitable, I am willing to let someone else take over.”

In Parnpree’s resignation letter, a copy of which BenarNews obtained, the 67-year-old said that he had dedicated himself to both roles and did not believe that performance was a reason for the change in his status.

Prime Minister Srettha said that Parnpree was being dropped as deputy prime minister so he could focus on his foreign ministerial work.

“I apologize if I made him uncomfortable about anything and thanked him for his work,” Srettha told reporters on Monday.

“I believe that if we need to work across ministries, we can still work as a team… holding both positions [deputy prime minister and foreign minister] is no longer necessary,” he said, adding that he had begun to reach out to potential candidates for the position. 

In the interim, Srettha said that Phumtham Wechaychai, a deputy prime minister and commerce minister, would assume responsibility for foreign affairs.

However, one academic, Olan Thinbangtieo of Burapha university, said he was concerned about the potential impact Parnpree’s resignation could have on the efforts to address the crisis in neighboring Myanmar.

“[S]ociety recognizes that he is a knowledgeable and capable person, and his work has been evident. I believe it will affect the resolution of the Myanmar problem,” Olan, an assistant professor at the Faculty of Political Science and Law, told BenarNews.

Parnpree played a key role in initiating the Humanitarian Assistance Corridor project in March and April to provide aid to Myanmar’s citizens affected by the internal conflict in Kayin state. He had also expressed Thailand’s willingness to enable Myanmar’s peace process.

“Thailand’s primary concern is to see peace restored in Myawaddy, not just for the sake of trade relations,” Parnpree told reporters on April 12, while on a visit to the border region.

“If the various groups in Myanmar can engage in talks among themselves, Thailand would be pleased and ready to act as a mediator and coordinate efforts.”

Around two months ago, the Myanmar government introduced new conscription regulations, prompting some citizens to flee to Thailand to avoid being drafted. 

The Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA), the Karen National Union (KNU), and the People’s Defense Force (PDF) launched a major offensive, declaring control over Myawaddy, a strategically important town near the Thai border. 

Meanwhile, in the weekend’s cabinet shuffle, Prime Minister Srettha removed himself as finance minister.

“Every period that we manage the country, there is a need, a demand for problem-solving which necessitates personnel changes,” he told reporters on Monday.

“It’s not just the executive branch … the legislative branch also needs adjustments to ensure that the most suitable or knowledgeable people are in charge. It does not mean that those who are moved lack the ability to manage.”

Jon Preechawong in Bangkok contributed to this report.

BenarNews is an RFA-affiliated online news organization.

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