Sukhumbhand lands with thud

MR Sukhumbhand's selection to stand for Bangkok governor has perplexed Democrat Party factions - Pol Lt Gen Khamronwit, Bangkok's police chief, is keeping quiet over the nasty assault on a Democrat lawyer - Army chief Prayuth puts out a kinder, gentler image

The Democrat Party's announcement that Bangkok governor MR Sukhumbhand Paribatra will seek a second term in office has landed with a thud.

Sukhumbhand: Seen as a safer bet

Many supporters waiting to hear the main opposition party's choice of candidate for the gubernatorial contest fell silent when the announcement came.

Some said they could not believe the party was taking a chance on the same governor.

The selection of the Democrat's candidate for the coveted governorship has exposed a party that is factional, according to a political observer.

The selection process involved multiple candidates and set the stage for a power play between party titans.

When Apichai Techa-ubon, a successful businessman and former vice-minister, signed on to become the party's candidate, he was confident he would be able to win over the party executive board which approves the candidacy.

The party source said Mr Apichai's confidence shot up after a meeting with party secretary-general Chalermchai Sri-on brokered by Alongkorn Polabutr, a Democrat deputy leader.

The source said, however, that during his preparations to showcase his governorship vision to the board, Mr Apichai learned the former secretary-general Suthep Thaugsuban and Thaworn Senniam, another deputy party leader, were moving to support MR Sukhumbhand for the candidacy.

The Suthep side argued there was no time for the party to be enlisting a new face to contest the governor poll on Feb 17. If the party was to settle for a new face, it should have picked him or her six months ago and done a lot more planning.

At this stage, the Suthep side reckoned MR Sukhumbhand was the safe bet.

The source said Mr Apichai had credible information to believe several members of the board were leaning toward Mr Suthep and hence, MR Sukhumbhand.

On the day he was to deliver his vision, Mr Apichai entered the board room armed with a slide-show on how he plans to woo Bangkok voters.

But before he unpacked his slide kit, Mr Apichai informed the board of his decision to withdraw from the race, leaving the board members visibly stunned.

His reason for dropping out was to avoid causing an undercurrent in the party, seeing that potential candidates might be viewed as having their own backers.

Mr Apichai, however, pledged to continue his support for the party.

Korbsak Sabhavasu, the former deputy prime minister, also spoke of his wish to bow out of the competition if Korn Chatikavanij, another party deputy leader, vied for the candidacy.

Mr Korn later set himself up for nomination almost at the eleventh hour. Eventually, the board voted 9:4 to select MR Sukhumbhand as party governor candidate over Mr Korn.

City's top cop silent on Ramet

The city police chief has gone quiet about any link between the disciplinary case against him and the assault on a Democrat Party lawyer who initiated the case.

Democrat Party legal expert Ramet Ratanachaweng requires daily physical therapy in hospital and medical treatment after he was bashed on the night of Dec 17 outside his condominium in Bang Na district.

He was knocked unconscious and received broken ribs and bruises.

Khamronwit: Won’t be drawn

The lawyer's profile was lifted after he filed a disciplinary complaint against Bangkok police chief Khamronwit Thoopkrachang in September on behalf of the Democrats.

Mr Ramet petitioned national police chief Adul Saengsingkaew to investigate Pol Lt Gen Khamronwit after the officer was seen in a picture with fugitive former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra earlier this year.

In the picture, published in the local media, Thaksin is decorating Pol Lt Gen Khamronwit with a police insignia after the officer was promoted to city police chief.

Mr Ramet has not drawn a connection between the attack and the complaint. Meanwhile, he insists his spirits are high and he still has the will to push on with the disciplinary case and other issues.

There has been no response from Pol Lt Gen Khamronwit to the disciplinary petition or about any connection the case might have with Mr Ramet's assault.

However, a source in the police force said the attackers were rogue former policemen who now make a living as underground casino guards.

The source said the two former officers were passed a ''veiled instruction to act'' by their boss, who is a senior policeman.

Pol Lt Gen Khamronwit, also known casually within close circles as Big Jazz, earlier said his police career would be at a dead-end if the Democrats took the helm of government.

Observers said the Bangkok police chief has chosen to serve those in the corridors of power because climbing to the top of the career ladder _ to national police chief _ needs political backing.

Now, Pol Lt Gen Khamronwit has chosen to advance his career by siding with the powers-that-be.

He is also ready for the consequences if and when power changes hands, according to the source.

If Pol Lt Gen Khamronwit could choose, he would obviously take the side of Pheu Thai which is looking for a potential candidate for the post of deputy governor on its Bangkok governor candidate team.

The source said the city police chief's support for a candidate could prove crucial for the poll as the number of police officers and their families in Bangkok is extensive.

Prayuth controls his temper

Army chief Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha is not exactly known for being calm and placid, but that is about to change.

The army strongman has made a New Year resolution to turn a new leaf by controlling his temper more and getting ticked off less.

Every so often the stoic Gen Prayuth loses his cool when speaking to reporters, on and off camera, and that has taken its toll on his image.

Prayuth: Calmer under pressure

In the past year, some reporters have observed how the army commander-in-chief has tried to compose himself, with some success.

It does not go unnoticed that Gen Prayuth sounds stern when reporters ask questions he would rather not answer or when he is confronted with issues that put a negative spin on the army's reputation, such as the prolonged violence in the deep South.

But as interviews carry on, the general gradually becomes less frustrated.

''A bad temper is a normal thing for me,'' he said.

''I'm not [habitually] angry. If I were, I would have killed you [reporters] long ago,'' Gen Prayuth told a group of reporters.

The army chief acknowledges that a bad temper does get to him and said he is working to address it.

''This year, I will be a brand-new me. I will keep my temper in check,'' he told reporters at an army meeting.

The change is already noticeable.

Gen Prayuth is flashing smiles at reporters and appears in a pleasant mood. He is dramatically calmer than before when prompted by questions about serious issues.

As the separatist violence, which has been one of the sore points in the army chief's conversations with reporters, continues unabated in the far South, security agencies including the military have worn the blame for being unable to restore peace in the region.

Gen Prayuth insists the army is doing its best to straighten out the situation there.

But the efforts to stamp out the unrest have been frustrated by various limitations such as a budget shortfall and inadequate personnel.

Gen Prayuth admits unfair criticism has left him and army personnel feeling despondent at times.

Soldiers are also state officials whose duty is to serve the people and obey the government, regardless of what political party is in charge of national administration, he said.

The army chief said that whenever he despairs of the situation, he always looks at a picture of His Majesty the King for spiritual vigour.

Gen Prayuth, who has two more years left of his service before mandatory retirement, has vowed not to meddle in politics.