Too big of a bite to chew on?

Too big of a bite to chew on?

Prayut's decision to oversee the economy puts the survival of the governing coalition at risk - Khunying Sudarat alleges latest party defection motivated by pending court case - Democrats unhappy as PPRP paves way for key figure to run for PAO chief

Pornsak: 'No deal' to switch sides
Pornsak: 'No deal' to switch sides

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha may have bitten off more than he can chew after pledging to oversee the economic ministries.

The promise has effectively yanked the responsibility, which some have called a burden, from the hands of Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak, who controlled these ministries under the previous government.

Observers have noted that Gen Prayut may be better at managing these ministries because when he speaks, the coalition partners listen and he has their undivided attention.

On Tuesday, Gen Prayut disclosed that the cabinet had given the green light to the formation of an economic cabinet. However, it was what was said next that raised many people's eyebrows.

The premier announced that he will head the economic cabinet himself to achieve consistency in policy direction.

However, the term and working structure of the economic cabinet did not formally exist in the previous government. In fact, the economy was only handled by the economic team led by Mr Somkid who wielded immense power steering economic policies and calibrating them.

Mr Somkid is now back as deputy prime minister in the current government, minus the supervision of the economic ministries. In the previous government, the economic team had an extraordinary make-up of mainly military top brass and members of the now-defunct National Council for Peace and Order.

Observers agreed that since coalition parties are bound by poll pledges to ensure their policies materialise, Gen Prayut will need to assert full control over policy direction.

Gen Prayut did not hesitate to try to convince doubters that he is not a mere economic figurehead. He said the Finance Ministry is considering short-term measures which focus on domestic consumption, tourism and expediting the spending of state agencies and state enterprises to stimulate the economy.

Gen Prayut has been seen as a magnet who has helped solidify the support of regime supporters, which partly explains the success of the ruling Palang Pracharath Party at the polls and how it has managed to put together the current government.

When internal conflicts arose after the March 24 election regarding the allocation of cabinet posts among the coalition parties, Gen Prayut is believed to have stepped in to settle the differences.

According to the observers, Gen Prayut has come a long way since he engineered the coup that toppled the Pheu Thai Party-led administration more than five years ago. From an army chief who rarely left his comfort zone in the barracks, he was thrust into life in the highest public office and has gradually morphed into a full-time politician.

However, wearing the hat of a politician does not guarantee he will have any luck in overseeing the economy.

Coalition parties have the option of either paying lip service to the economic pledges they proposed during the election campaign and watching their popularity plummet or seeing to it that their poll promises are honoured at all costs in anticipation of victory in the next poll.

If the coalition parties set out to push for the implementation of their campaign policies over those put forward by other parties, Gen Prayut will have a hard time juggling priorities and this risks undermining coalition unity, said the observers.

Prayut: Wants policy consistency

Another loss for Pheu Thai

The Pheu Thai Party is no stranger to political defections. The former ruling party "bled" many former MPs ahead of its general election defeat to the Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP), although it emerged as the biggest House MP winner with 136.

Former deputy agriculture minister Pornsak Charoenprasert is the latest to bid farewell to Pheu Thai and join the PPRP. The former MP for the northeastern province of Si Sa Ket is said to have been recruited by PPRP Chon Buri MP Suchart Chomklin, who is also the party's chief MP.

His departure has made political observers curious and key Pheu Thai figure Khunying Sudarat Keyuraphan's comments on his defection have helped stir that curiosity.

According to Khunying Sudarat, Mr Pornsak's resignation does not stem from an internal dispute and was more likely to have something to do with a pending legal case against him. The Pheu Thai veteran has also suggested the possibility that lawsuits were being used to pressure politicians into switching allegiance in exchange for having their charges "wiped away".

"We saw certain 'miracles' popping up, like a statute of limitations suddenly expiring or charges being dropped.

"This is irregular but it's normal for those in power to use cases to gain political leverage. We empathise with those who face lawsuits and those lawsuits may be used to negotiate. We just have to understand," Khunying Sudarat was quoted as saying.

Her remarks have been rejected by Mr Pornsak who insisted that he was under no pressure to join the PPRP. He said he has pondered over his political career and made the switch based on his own decision.

"I joined the PPRP without any deal on the table. If I had any conditions, I would have quit and defected before the general election. And there is no lawsuit against me," he was quoted as saying.

However, Mr Pornsak admitted that back in 2011 when the Yingluck Shinawatra government was in power, cabinet members including himself, acknowledged the transfer of the then-National Security Council secretary-general Thawil Pliensri.

Mr Thawil filed a petition with the Administrative Court over the illegitimate transfer order. The case reached the Supreme Administrative Court, which subsequently ruled in Mr Thawil's favour and ordered his reinstatement.

Mr Pornsak said the only legal case he is facing has to do with the investigation by a sub-committee of the National Anti Corruption Commission over the Yingluck cabinet minister's acknowledgement of Mr Thawil's transfer order. But he is confident he would have been cleared of any wrongdoing because he and other ministers merely acknowledged the order and should face no legal consequences for having done so.

"The alleged wrongdoing involves Yingluck's role [in the transfer]. I was just a member of the cabinet and didn't do anything wrong," he said.

Mr Pornsak did not stand in the March 24 poll and it remains a mystery as to why the veteran politician was overlooked, according to political observers. In Si Sa Ket, the province which Mr Pornsak previously represented as an MP, and where there were eight seats up for grabs, Pheu Thai won six seats and the remaining two were captured by the Bhumjaithai Party.

Mr Suchart, who approached Mr Pornsak to join the PPRP, said he asked the former Pheu Thai MP to switch sides because he believes the PPRP can make use of Mr Pornsak's expertise as a veteran politician and former deputy agriculture minister.

Mr Pornsak applied to become a PPRP member on Wednesday, the day after he reportedly quit Pheu Thai.

Niphon: Out to protect southern turf

Suchart lined up for Songkhla

The ruling Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP) recently unveiled its co-founder Col Suchart Chantarachotikul as a candidate to contest the election for Songkhla provincial administration organisation (PAO) chief, expected to take place in November.

The post was left vacant by Niphon Bunyamanee, deputy leader of the Democrat Party, who resigned to become deputy interior minister in the new coalition government.

After establishing its foothold in the South by winning 13 out of a total of 46 constituency seats up for grabs, the PPRP looks set to consolidate its dominance over local politics, with the Songkhla election its first target, a source said.

A former classmate of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha from Class 12 of the Armed Forces Academies Preparatory School, Col Suchart is also a former MP for Songkhla's constituency 1.

Col Suchart recently told Mr Niphon and Deputy Transport Minister Thaworn Senneam, also a Democrat Songkhla political veteran, that the Democrats already have two cabinet ministers from Songkhla, so the post of Songkhla PAO chief should be "freed up" for the other parties, specifically the PPRP, according to the source.

The source said that the two veteran Songkhla politicians were surprised by Col Suchart's bold remark.

Since Mr Niphon resigned as Songkhla PAO chief, he has been grooming Pol Lt Gen Sakhon Thongmunee, who formerly served as the head of the Tourist Police Bureau, to compete against Col Suchart in the election, the source said.

Mr Niphon has vowed to protect the Democrats' southern turf and help Pol Lt Gen Sakhon become PAO chief, the source said.

As a veteran well-versed in local politics, Mr Niphon recently asked Interior Minister Anupong Paojinda to give him the role of overseeing local administrative organisations.

However, the PPRP will not let the Democrats have their own way and want Col Suchart to get the post as a consolation prize after a group of 13 southern MPs led by Col Suchart failed to receive any cabinet seats.

In light of this, the Songkhla election will be a major test of strength between Mr Niphon and the PPRP, the source said.

Election Commission chairman Ittiporn Boonpracong earlier said the poll agency is stepping up efforts to draw up a set of regulations to prepare for the local polls, which are expected to begin in September.

The regulations are in line with six laws related to local elections which were enacted on April 17.

The regulations must be drawn up by August, said Mr Ittiporn, adding that the cabinet will set the dates for the elections and determine the venues where they will be held. He said the poll agency will then decide when candidates will be allowed to begin campaigning.

Previously, the now-defunct National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) issued orders to suspend elections for local bodies which had completed their tenures. The NCPO claimed the suspension was aimed at preventing political unrest.

The six laws related to local elections are the law on the election of members and executives of local councils; the law on PAOs; the law governing City Hall; the law on tambon councils and tambon administrative organisations; the law on municipalities; and the law on Pattaya City's administration.

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