PM poised to double as defence minister

Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra is strongly tipped to take control of the military, with several sources confirming she will take over the Defence Ministry portfolio in the cabinet reshuffle now under way.

  • Published: 28/06/2013 at 03:25 PM
  • Newspaper section: news

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Sources said Defence Minister ACM Sukumpol Suwanatat is on the way out to clear the seat for the prime minister to take over his position.

That would not only make her the first female defence minister, but also the holder of a portfolio often reserved for retired former military leaders.

Chuan Leekpai, a Democrat, became the first civilian prime minister to hold the defence portfolio, during his first term as premier from 1992 to 1995. Samak Sundaravej, in 2007, and Somchai Wongsawat, a year later, were civilian defence ministers in their own governments.

Ms Yingluck refused to confirm the reported changes in the cabinet lineup on Friday, including her possibly concurrently holding the defence portfolio, saying only that changes were needed after almost two years in office. It would be the fifth cabinet reshuffle under the YIngluck government.

The changes were intended to put the right people in the right jobs, she told reporters at Government House when refusing to give more details. The same comment she made ahead of the previous reshuffles.

ACM Sukumpol appeared to accept  his fate, saying in Rangae district of Narathiwat province that the prime minister had the right to take over the defence portfolio if she so wished.

The prime minister would have thoroughly considered all issues before making her decision, he added.

ACM Sukumpol, who was in the far South for an inspection and briefing, said he would leave the position with no grudge if the speculation was correct.

Top military leaders did not comment on the issue, but army chief Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha previously told the Bangkok Post that he was impressed with the prime minister's performance.

"She is improving and has showed dedication to the work. We should support her, to show that she is a real prime minister,'' he said, referring to criticism that her string was pulled by her brother, Thaksin.

Ms Yingluck is already familiar to all the armed forces leaders. She lunches with them regularly, and as prime minister she chairs the Internal Security Operations Command.

She has regular contacts with Gen Prayuth and other military leaders, a source in the armed forces said.

Gen Yutthasak Sasiprapa is tipped to be her deputy at the Defence Ministry, according to the source, adding that he would be of great assistance because of his experience and recognition in the armed forces.

Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Yubamrung seemed to confirm that he will be shunted to the Labour Ministry. He said goodbye to reporters at Government House amid reports that he will be the new labour minister, replacing Padermchai Sasomsap.

Other key changes tipped include Pongthep Thepkanchana, who will surrender the education portfolio to Chaturon Chaisaeng. Mr Chaturon served formerly as education minister before being banned from politics for five years.

Niwatthamrong Bunsongphaisan will be moved from PM's Office minister to the job of commerce minister, and he will have former permanent commerce secretary Yangyong Phuangrach as his deputy.

Peeraphan Palusuk will be the new science and technology minister, Paveena Hongsakul will be given the  social development and human security ministry, Pol Gen Pracha Promnok will be a deputy prime minister and Santi Prompat will enter the lineup as a PM's office minister.

Benja Louicharoen will resign as Customs Department chief to join the government as a deputy finance minister, Pong Chewananth will be deputy transport minister, Wisarn Techathirawat deputy interior minister, Sorawong Thienthong will take over as deputy public health minister and Wichet Kasemthongsri will be the new natural resources and environment minister.

The reshuffle needs His Majesty's endorsement. The list is believed to have already been forwarded to the King for formal approval.

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