Reshuffle may not be enough to stop rot

Reshuffle may not be enough to stop rot

A recent poll shows the public wants Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha to reshuffle his cabinet. Chanat Katanyu
A recent poll shows the public wants Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha to reshuffle his cabinet. Chanat Katanyu

What kind of leader would ask: "What would the country be like without me?"

And how would that leader feel when social media users replied in unison: "The country would be more developed"?

Although the Prayut government has found success in curbing the coronavirus outbreak, its efforts have taken a heavy toll on the economy.

GDP is shrinking. Shops have been shuttered and people are too afraid of the future to spend. Millions are at risk of becoming jobless and even more are losing hope.

Given the situation, it is just a matter of time before hardship turns to anger and acrimony against the government.

Old hands say a cabinet reshuffle is needed to freshen up the government's tired image and to shore up its sagging popularity.

Where possible, the change should bring in new, more capable people to help the country navigate the unknown, post-Covid-19 global landscape and to reboot the badly deflated economy.

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, however, has insisted that a cabinet reshuffle is not on the cards.

But how long can the PM continue to withstand the pressure, not only from wannabes around him but also of public expectation, that is mounting by the day?

An opinion survey by the National Institute of Development Administration or Nida Poll released on Sunday found a majority of respondents -- 82.98% -- think it is now time for a cabinet reshuffle.

It is not just that. Of them, about 43% said the shakeup should involve the entire cabinet, not just some ministerial posts.

That is a rather overwhelming vote of disappointment.

Super Poll, meanwhile, on the same day released the result of its own opinion survey asking "Who would win if an election were held today?".

While a majority of respondents, or 56.9%, still support PM Gen Prayut in his efforts to tackle the country's crisis, a higher percentage, or 67.3%, said the newly unveiled economic team of the coalition leader Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP) appears worse than the current team in the government.

What is more interesting is that if there were an election today, it's the opposition Move Forward Party that received the highest vote from 16.7% of respondents.

The PPRP received approval from only 8.3% of respondents, according to the poll.

From the looks of it, a cabinet reshuffle will be sorely needed. But will it help the Prayut government as anticipated? That may not be as certain.

A former coup maker, PM Gen Prayut has made many promises.

Chief among them was a vow to rid the country of old-style politics where politicians were mired in vested interests ignoring what would be best for the country.

The PM and his ultra-conservative network have been in charge for the best part of a decade. That should be enough time to clean up the rotten politics and establish a "new normal" as promised.

So what does Gen Prayut's new politics look like, if there is any at all?

Can it be gleaned from the rise to power of Capt Thamanat Prompow who was appointed deputy minister for agriculture and cooperatives even though Australian court documents showed he had been imprisoned for four years there for heroin trafficking?

Does it take shape after the disruptive role of government MP Pareena Kraikupt?

As a member of the House's anti-corruption committee, Ms Pareena chose to disrupt meetings and upset the chairman, who comes from the opposition party, rather than contribute to advance any public agenda.

As a representative, Ms Pareena often called people names instead of engaging with them intellectually. This is especially true with fellow female politicians from the opposition party. She incites hate. She also relies more on vulgarity than reason.

Some people observed that Ms Pareena might just be a diversion. Her public stunts could have been designed to draw the public's attention away from issues that are not beneficial to the government such as the cabinet's controversial plan to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP).

If so, could such diversionary tactics be the new political deal that PM Gen Prayut promised?

Does Gen Prayut's new politics include power wrangling at the PPRP where the former leadership was pushed away by a new gang led by Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon?

There was no talk about qualifications, visions or missions during the changing of the guard. The power grab appeared as greedy, old-style and repugnant as ever, if not more so.

With this old-style, new-normal politics still in the background, a cabinet reshuffle will not lift the government far above the rot.

Besides, what smart, capable people can the government attract when its popularity is on the wane and greedy infighting remains the name of the game?

What would the country be like without him? The answer may come sooner rather than later.

Atiya Achakulwisut is a Bangkok Post columnist.

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