Somsak, Suriya deal blow to PPRP
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Somsak, Suriya deal blow to PPRP

Industry Minister Suriya Juangroongruangkit, left, and Justice Minister Somsak Thepsutin, right, from the Palang Pracharath Party. The pair are leaving the Palang Pracharath Party to join the Pheu Thai Party to run in the election. Wichan Charoenkiatpakul
Industry Minister Suriya Juangroongruangkit, left, and Justice Minister Somsak Thepsutin, right, from the Palang Pracharath Party. The pair are leaving the Palang Pracharath Party to join the Pheu Thai Party to run in the election. Wichan Charoenkiatpakul

The defection of two key figures of the Sam Mitr faction, Suriya Juangroongruangkit and Somsak Thepsutin, from the Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP) to the Pheu Thai Party has dealt a blow to the ruling party.

While switching alliances is nothing new in Thai politics and not a big surprise considering the track record of the Sam Mitr camp they represent, one cannot help but think Gen Prawit Wongsuwon must have felt betrayed.

PPRP immediately turned to damage control, announcing the recruitment of former finance minister Thirachai Phuvanatnaranubala and energy activist ML Kornkasiwat Kasemsri, hoping the news will attract young voters.

When asked about the two men's departure, Gen Prawit curtly responded: "If they want to go, they can just go as they wish."

Mr Suriya and Mr Somsak's defection to Pheu Thai is basically a return to their old home, as the duo used to be members of the defunct Thai Rak Thai Party, the predecessor of the Palang Prachachon and Pheu Thai.

But their decision to join Pheu Thai might not be a boon to the party because they do not enjoy popular support in their home provinces.

The Sam Mitr faction thrives because of its ability to mobilise MPs for bargaining.

A good example was the mobilisation of 31 PPRP MPs by Mr Suriya and Mr Somsak to demand the ouster of Sontirat Sonthijirawong, the party's secretary-general, in 2019.

Defending his decision to quit PPRP, Mr Suriya blamed the coalition government led by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, for allowing the PPRP take full control of all the economic ministries.

Otherwise, he said, the party would have been able to deliver its policies to the satisfaction of the people.

Mr Suriya can say whatever he wants now. But a wise man won't take his words seriously.

The truth is that he was not happy with his position as Industry Minister, as what he really wanted instead is the energy portfolio which was given to Supattanapong Punmeechaow by the prime minister.

Joining Pheu Thai might not be a winning move for Sam Mitr. As a matter of fact, Pheu Thai does not need Mr Suriya and Mr Somsak as much as those men need the party because of its potential to win by a large margin the upcoming election.

As veteran politicians, both appear to have sensed the political winds are changing like white ants sense the arrival of a storm. They decided to jump ship for their own survival.

Mr Somsak was more candid about his departure from the party, saying he preferred to stay in the government than with the opposition. He made it plain that he was not comfortable sitting on the opposition bench.

"Since I have become a legislator, I have always been with coalition parties," he told the media last week.

That is a fact of life for almost every politician because they will not be starved if they are in the government.

After eight years out of power, Pheu Thai MPs can testify to the bitter experience of playing the role of the opposition.

Pheu Thai announced its candidates for all 400 constituencies across the nation at a meeting held on Friday at Thammasat University's Rangsit campus. But it has yet to name its party-list candidates, which needs to be finalised by You-Know-Who. Will the Suriya-and-Somsak duo make it to the first 20?

Internal bleeding has sapped the strength of several major parties, including Pheu Thai, the Democrats and PPRP.

Following the split of the three brothers-in-arms, with Gen Prayut and Gen Anupong Paochinda on one side and Gen Prawit on the other, several MPs have quit the party to join the United Thai Nation Party (UTN) led by Pirapan Salirathavibhaga, which is wooing Gen Prayut to be the party's PM candidate in the next election.

Others, including Mr Suriya and Mr Somsak, have sought greener pastures in Pheu Thai.

In recent weeks, Gen Prawit has released several letters on social media, offering himself as a "middle chain" to mediate the decades-old political divide in Thailand.

The message in the letters was interpreted as an "olive branch" from the PPRP, that it is ready to bury the hatchet and work together with Pheu Thai in a coalition government.

But getting the two parties working together is easier said than done as Gen Prawit aspires to be the prime minister at least once in his lifetime, after playing second fiddle to Gen Prayut for almost eight years.

Meanwhile, Pheu Thai also wants someone from its ranks for the key post.

It has yet to name its three candidates for the prime minister's job.

Gen Prawit's message can also be viewed as an admission that the party may not win as many House seats as Pheu Thai, hence the offer to mediate the conflict and work together.

Gen Prayut, meanwhile, yearns for another comeback as prime minister even though he is limited to two terms by the constitution.

Will he succeed, or will it be the other wannabe PMs, like Gen Prawit, Pheu Thai Family chief Paetongtarn Shinawatra, or her chief adviser, real estate tycoon Srettha Thavisin?

As for Mr Somsak and Mr Suriya, will their political acrobatics guarantee themselves a list-MP berth with Pheu Thai, as both must hope?

The stakes in the upcoming election are high. More unexpected reports and events are sure to unfold.

Veera Prateepchaikul is former editor, Bangkok Post.

Veera Prateepchaikul

Former Editor

Former Bangkok Post Editor, political commentator and a regular columnist at Post Publishing.

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