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Two-horse race for central bank job

 

THE short-list of candidates to succeed beleaguered Bank of Thailand (BOT) Governor Rerngchai Marakanond has boiled down to an outsider and an insider: MR Pridiyathorn Devakula, the president of the Export and Import Bank of Thailand, and Chaiyawas Wibulswasdi, Rerngchai's deputy, financial sources said yesterday.

''I've learned that they have short-listed two candidates Mom Oui [Pridiyathorn's nickname] and Khun Chaiyawas. But I don't want to speculate on who will replace the governor," a source said.

The speculation that authorities are searching for a new governor comes amidst growing pressure for Rerngchai to step down. Earlier in the year, The Nation reported that Rerngchai had told the then finance minister Amnuay Viravan that he wanted to resign, but Amnuay told him: ''No, you cannot resign because I have to go first."

Amnuay did resign shortly after that conversation, plunging Thailand's macroeconomic management into complete disarray and climaxing with the BOT's decision to float the baht on July 2.

When Thanong Bidaya, the former president of Thai Military Bank, succeeded Amnuay as finance minister one of his top priorities was to search for a new governor. About a week before he left for Tokyo, Thanong held an informal meeting at a Bangkok hotel with former finance minister Suthee Singhasaneh, Chumpol Na Lamlieng, the president of Siam Cement Group, Narong Srisa-an, vice chairman of Thai Farmers Bank, and Pridiyathorn.

In addition to discussing ways to reverse the capital outflow, which was putting pressure on the foreign exchange and domestic interest rates, they discussed suitable candidates for the BOT governorship, another financial source said.

However, like Siam Commercial Bank president Olarn Chaipravat, who turned down the finance portfolio offer, outsider Pridiyathorn was reported to be reluctant to take up the post for fear of the burden of office and the lack of credible political backing.

Sources said that when Prime Minister Chavalit Yongchaiyudh visited Amnuay at his Sukhumvit residence on July 11, at which time Amnuay's full advisory team was also present, the premier indicated he wanted Ekamol Khiriwat to head the central bank.

''But Ekamol declined the offer, saying that Mom Oui was more suitable. Mom Oui also passed the ball back by saying that Ekamol was more suitable. So it ended up that no one was willing to take the job," one source said.

Pridiyathorn, who could not be reached yesterday, is consistently among the favourite candidates for the finance portfolio whenever there is a Cabinet reshuffle. With an MBA from the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Finance, Pridiyathorn is known for his banking and managerial skills, as well as his broad-based political connections.

If the administration plays it safe and picks an insider, it will certainly be Chaiyawas, known for his macroeconomic skills. Sources indicated that Chaiyawas can probably be pressured into accepting the job.

''But Thanong does not seem to prefer Chaiyawas, and considers him a man who lacks the fighting spirit," one source said. ''But in the end they might not have much choice but to go for him."

BY VATCHARA CHAROONSANTIKUL and THANONG KHANTHONG

 

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