Prayut slams talk of cracks in cabinet

Prayut slams talk of cracks in cabinet

Teerakiat admits he 'crossed the line'

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha (left) and Education Minister Teerakiat Jareonsettasin emerge separately from the meeting Tuesday where Mr Teerakiat says he 'explained' his remarks criticising Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon over his wristwatch scandal. (Photos by Chanat Katanyu)
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha (left) and Education Minister Teerakiat Jareonsettasin emerge separately from the meeting Tuesday where Mr Teerakiat says he 'explained' his remarks criticising Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon over his wristwatch scandal. (Photos by Chanat Katanyu)

There are no "cracks" in the government despite Education Minister Teerakiat Jareonsettasin's criticism of Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon over a scandal involving luxury watches, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha said Tuesday.

Gen Prayut made the remark after meeting Dr Teerakiat and Gen Prawit to clear the air in the wake of Dr Teerakiat's return from the United Kingdom, where he spoke to a group of Thai students at a reception at the Thai embassy in London on Feb 9.

Dr Teerakiat found himself in hot water earlier this week when an audiotape surfaced featuring a slew of controversial comments indicating the regime may be experiencing some internal divisions.

While critics say his comments have dented the government's credibility, Gen Prayut was unfazed after Tuesday's meeting.

"There are no cracks in the cabinet. We are still fond of and understand one another," he said.

Gen Prayut said that after listening to Dr Teerakiat's explanation he was confident it was more of a misunderstanding; the minister did not mean to criticise Gen Prawit or undermine the regime, he was just having a conversation, the premier said.

Dr Teerakiat said in a separate press conference that he had admitted to both men he had overstepped the mark and breached etiquette, and had apologised.

While a still photograph that accompanied the audiotape made it look as though the minister was giving a formal interview to BBC Thai, he said there was some confusion because he had been interviewed by the same reporter twice.

Only when the journalist approached him a second time with pointed questions about the wristwatch scandal did he discuss the matter, he said, adding the tape had not been doctored. The interview and accompanying story are at the BBC's Thai-language site.

Dr Teerakiat said he did not realise his comments were being recorded. The BBC responded by saying the journalist had told him the tape was rolling. The minister insisted he would not leave the cabinet.

"I signed on for the cabinet post because I have faith in the prime minister. I will continue to work until he finds my services are no longer needed," he said.

Dr Teerakiat said Gen Prawit nodded his head in a gesture of acceptance when he offered the personal apology.

The minister said he holds no grudges against the deputy premier. "We still see eye to eye," he said.

When asked Tuesday if he had forgiven the education minister, Gen Prawit claimed to have a sore throat.

The minister landed in the media limelight after his voice could clearly be heard on the audio clip, which was uploaded to the BBC Thai website, answering questions about Gen Prawit's designer watch scandal.

"This watch saga, if it was I who had been exposed, I would have resigned [from the cabinet] when the first wristwatch came to light," he said.

Gen Prawit has been spotted wearing at least 25 luxury wristwatches at public functions and other events.

None were declared among his assets to the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC).

"In Thailand, nothing happens to a person with 25 watches to wear," Dr Teerakiat added.

This last remark apparently caught some accidental eavedroppers, who were attending the function to recruit Thai graduates from British universities, off-guard.

"Many people are afraid to speak up," Dr Teerakiat said at the reception.

"What do they have to fear? Why? Would they fire me [from the cabinet]?"

His address lasted for about 15 minutes.

Dr Teerakiat referred to a minister in Britain's House of Lords who recently offered to resign after being late to answer questions.

He said there was no way Thai politicians would quit their ministerial posts for such a minor thing as arriving late.

"No way. It's a matter of conscience which runs deep in the veins. That's to know what one should or should not do or what is right or wrong. Being late may break no law or ethics," he said.

He suggested that in Thailand a deficient moral conscience is typically tolerated.

The education minister won the praise of many social media users for having the courage to speak his mind.

Some took to Twitter to express their disappointment after he announced he was staying put in the government.

Meanwhile, the NACC has granted Gen Prawit's request to extend until tomorrow the deadline by which he must give a statement in response to the panel's latest findings.

NACC secretary-general Worawit Sukboon said the deadline fell on Feb 8 but the deputy premier asked that it be postponed for a week. Gen Prawit maintains the watches were borrowed from friends and returned.

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