PM denies Pattaya shenanigans

PM denies Pattaya shenanigans

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has dismissed claims Phalang Chon Party leader Sontaya Kunplome's appointment as mayor of Pattaya is a political ploy to ensure his return as premier.

"Let us not politicise everything, shall we?" he said, reiterating that Mr Sontaya is well-suited as mayor to help push the government's Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC) project forward.

The appointment, announced on Tuesday, came via Gen Prayut's invocation of the powerful Section 44 order.

Mr Sontaya, a former tourism and sports minister whose family wields considerable political power in Chon Buri, replaces Pol Maj Gen Anan Chaloenchasi as mayor of the resort city.

The order stated that Pattaya needs a mayor with "high potential, as well as experience and capabilities" to carry out jobs in line with the state's EEC project.

The 55-year-old politician will initially serve as an "interim mayor" while authorities amend the municipality law for a local election in Pattaya.

On Wednesday, Gen Prayut dismissed accusations that Mr Sontaya was being "rewarded" for supporting Gen Prayut's return as prime minister after next year's general election.

He explained the government was pressing ahead with its EEC project and needed people familiar with areas earmarked for the project's development.

Chon Buri is a major economic powerhouse in the eastern region, he said.

Mr Sontaya will join other people equally qualified to assist in developing the EEC, according to the prime minister.

Gen Prayut said if he were to reward people who support backing his return as PM, he would have to give everyone in the Phalang Chon Party a job in public office.

"These are totally separate issues. I have known many people in Chon Buri long before [becoming prime minister]," Gen Prayut said.

A political source said Phalang Chon forms part of a political force being amassed which will come in handy in the event Gen Prayut seek to return as prime minister post-election.

The source said the Kunplome family's solid political base in Chon Buri is rooted in its extensive ownership of businesses in real estate, construction and hotels in the popular tourist cities of Pattaya and Bang Saen in Chon Buri.

The Kunplome brothers, Mr Sontaya, Witthaya and Itthipol, have all stood in general elections in the province in the past and won each time, according to the source.

The brothers later "re-engaged" with the Chon Buri electorate to reinforce their links to local politics.

Mr Witthaya entered the Chon Buri provincial administrative organisation (PAO) race and won the PAO chairmanship while Mr Itthipol was elected mayor of Pattaya twice before the regime toppled the Pheu Thai Party-led government in May 2014 and dissolved local administrative organisations.

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