Prawit tight-lipped on becoming PPRP leader

Prawit tight-lipped on becoming PPRP leader

Cabinet reshuffle believed to be on cards once Covid-19 situation improves

Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon gets out of a car after arriving at a dormitory of state-owned CAT Telecom Plc, where health personnel of the Chulabhorn Royal Academy stay, on April 14. (Photo by Pattarapong Chatpattarasill)
Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon gets out of a car after arriving at a dormitory of state-owned CAT Telecom Plc, where health personnel of the Chulabhorn Royal Academy stay, on April 14. (Photo by Pattarapong Chatpattarasill)

Gen Prawit Wongsuwon remains mum on whether he will replace Finance Minister Uttama Savanayana as leader of the core coalition Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP) as speculated by some Thai media.

The deputy prime minister neither confirmed nor denied the news, saying nothing had happened at this stage.

“No meeting has been held. We’ll have to wait,” he said.

Thai media reported a cabinet reshuffle involving at least 5-6 seats would come after the Covid-19 situation eases.

They cited as examples that Deputy Finance Minister Santi Prompat could step up as the minister, with government spokeswoman Narumon Pinyosinwat serving as his deputy.

Asked whether he would become the interior minister as rumoured, Gen Prawit laughed and said: “Nothing’s happened yet”.

Thai media reported on Monday a power struggle had been brewing in the core coalition party. Everybody in the party knows after the situation improves, a cabinet reshuffle is inevitable to buy time so the government can stay on.

The two main factions in the PPRP now are believed to be supporters of Gen Prawit, who is currently the party’s chief strategist, and the so-called Sam Mitr group.

Gen Prawit has reportedly been pressuring Mr Uttama to resign as party chief so that a new board of executives can be elected. If this happens, Gen Prawit will become the party leader himself and Mr Santi will be the secretary-general, replacing Sontirat Sontijirawong, who is currently the energy minister.

The goal is probably to consolidate and restructure the party. After the 2019 election, a major problem of PPRP was that it consisted of several factions — former technocrats and academics led by Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak; former MPs who defected from Pheu Thai party or its earlier incarnations; former members of People's Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC); and influential figures from big provinces.

The motley crew made it very difficult to allocate cabinet seats that appeased everyone after the poll, resulting in apparent discontent and occasional threats to pull out of the party by some factions. Gen Prawit, therefore, intends to stop this by taking full control of the party ahead of the reshuffle.

But the problem is Mr Uttama reportedly does not agree to bow out easily. This has forced Gen Prawit to persuade more than half of the party executives to resign, which will automatically unseat Mr Uttama as the party leader.

Mr Uttama admitted he knew about the plan but said he had no time to think about politics now.

“No phuyai has called to ask me to resign as party executive but I’m aware there have been such talks,” he told The Reporters online news outlet. 

The groups supporting Gen Prawit are said to be the former PDRC members, led by Education Minister Nataphol Teepsuwan; Deputy Agriculture Minister Thamanat Prompow, who holds sway among MPs in the North and Northeast; government whip Virat Rattanaset and Suchart Chomklin, chairman of the party’s MPs and Chon Buri MPs.

The Sam Mitr group, meanwhile, is rumoured to be teaming up with the Somkid-led group.

For himself, Gen Prawit might want to regain his power. He is now the deputy prime minister for security but has no direct control over any key units such as the Defence Ministry and the Royal Thai Police, which are now headed by Gen Prayut.

According to some reports, if everything goes according to plan, Gen Prawit will be the interior minister in the upcoming shuffle, Mr Santi will be finance minister, Mr Nataphol will be energy minister and Mr Suchart will be higher education minister.

The Sam Mitr group has reportedly agreed to a swap of the industry and energy seats so its key member, Industry Minister Suriya Jungrungreangkit, gets the portfolio he had bargained for when the government was formed.

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