Chalerm unleashes his fury at cabinet snub

It came as no great surprise when news of an imminent cabinet shakeup broke last week that some ministers, among them Commerce Minister Boonsong Teriyapirom, Science and Technology Minister Woravat Au-apinyakul and Defence Minister Sukumpol Suwannatat, would be axed from the line-up. The verdict was that they had failed the test.

But many eyebrows were raised when it was speculated that Chalerm Yubamrung would lose his job as deputy prime minister and would be appointed the new labour minister.

Many wondered how a man who has unashamedly declared himself a servant of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra and who publicly vowed to bring the fugitive home from exile this year could be treated in such an insulting manner. What went wrong with the master-servant relationship of Thaksin and Chalerm?

From a deputy prime minister in charge of security affairs overseeing the deep South and the National Police Office, which commands more than 100,000 police officers, to a labour minister looking after labourers and migrant workers is indeed a demotion and a big loss of face.

Mr Chalerm at first appeared philosophical and maintained his composure when asked by reporters about his demotion. He said he did not feel demoralised because "in politics, there is no true love, but only vested interests that count".

But last Friday at a meeting with more than 300 senior police at the National Police Office, the deputy prime minister went ballistic and vented his fury against a few individuals, notably Pol Col Thawee Sodsong, secretary-general of Southern the Border Provinces Administration Centre, and Noppadon Pattama, Thaksin's lawyer.

He also challenged Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra to boot him from the cabinet if she was not satisfied with him.

Thaksin's lap dog, as he was mockingly called by his critics, appears to have turned into a "mad" dog.

Mr Chalerm accused Pol Col Thawee of stabbing him in the back by reporting to Thaksin and Ms Yingluck about his involvement in illegal casinos _ an accusation which he denies vehemently.

"I have no excuses, but you go and ask the national police chief and the metropolitan police commissioner whether I was involved in illegal casinos or not," Mr Chalerm said. "I curse everybody who made malicious accusations against me, that they face disaster for the next seven generations.

"I am not afraid to be axed [from the cabinet] and I am willing to become an ordinary MP.

"I advanced in my career on my own. I am not a pimp. It was all about my capabilities. I would say Ai Thawee is a problem in the deep South.

"Ai Thawee might not have any respect for me but he should respect the working committee. If you were not happy with me, you could lobby for my transfer. In the end, Ai Hia Thawee did it.

"He told lies about me with Pol Lt-Col Thaksin and Yingluck. And that was why I was booted out."

Besides Pol Col Thawee, he also accused Noppadon Pattama of telling lies to the prime minister about him.

"I wonder what else he [Noppadon] can do because he can barely hail a taxi with his eye problem," he said.

He even turned his vehemence on Prime Minister Yingluck, saying that for the past two years she had remained aloof of all pressing problems, resulting in the political situation reaching a critical point.

The embattled deputy prime minister then repeated his conspiracy theory of a plot to overthrow the government by the white-mask group, some hard-core yellow shirts, the Pitak Siam group, the multi-coloured group of Dr Tul Sitthisomwong and the Democrats.

He cited the green groups' move against the 350 billion baht water management megaproject as part of the anti-government conspiracy.

By blaming others for his political reversal, Mr Chalerm appears to have forgotten to look at himself in the mirror and ask himself what he has achieved as deputy prime minister in charge of security affairs, especially his role in overseeing the southern conflict.

Whether Pol Col Thawee bad-mouthed him to Thaksin and Ms Yingluck or not, Mr Chalerm has to realise he has failed in his southern assignment. Not to mention the fact that he made only one visit to the restive region throughout his entire tenure as the overseer of the southern unrest problem.

Mr Chalerm fired a warning shot, apparently at Thaksin and Ms Yingluck. "In politics, no one wants to find fault with Samak [late prime minister Samak Sundaravej] and myself because they will make a mistake and take the wrong medicine," he said.

The maverick politician might be overestimating his importance.

But it should not be forgotten that his most potent weapon is his sharp tongue and his unmatched crowd-pulling oratory skill both inside and outside the parliament, although he was seen as lacking credibility with his political fairy tales such as the plot to topple the government by beverage, agro-business and banking tycoons.

Quite a few people, including the opposition, may rejoice over Mr Chalerm's demotion.

But letting loose a lap dog which may turn into a mad dog can pose a real problem for the government unless he is tamed.

Veera Prateepchaikul is former editor, Bangkok Post

About the author

Writer: Veera Prateepchaikul
Position: Former Editor