Somkid defends ministers' party posts
Deputy premier coy about political future
Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak has defended four cabinet ministers who are facing mounting criticism over potential conflicts of interest after taking the helm of the Palang Pracharath Party.
He said they are still subject to scrutiny and there are no laws forcing them to step down from their ministerial positions.
In the party's first general assembly on Saturday, Industry Minister Uttama Savanayana was made party leader, Science and Technology Minister Suvit Maesincee was named deputy leader, Commerce Minister Sontirat Sontijirawong was appointed secretary-general and PM's Office Minister Kobsak Pootrakool was given the role of spokesman.
Mr Uttama, Mr Sontirat, Mr Suvit and Mr Kobsak are all members of the government's economic team led by Mr Somkid.
All four are well-qualified, determined to overhaul politics and deserving of support, he said.
They have worked hard for three years and are now ready to serve as politicians, the deputy premier said.
He brushed aside concerns they could enjoy an advantage over others as they hold government positions.
Mr Somkid said there is already a system in place to provide sufficient scrutiny. People can follow up on their work and examine them, he added.
He said several government projects cannot be stalled any longer.
"They [the four ministers] must speed up their efforts and follow through on those projects, which can serve as a key foundation for the future of the country," Mr Somkid said.
He was coy when asked if he would have a role in the party. "I have not placed myself anywhere. The future is unknown," he said.
Meanwhile, Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam suggested the four ministers should tread carefully and avoid any actions that could be perceived as a conflict of interest.
"They must adhere to the three 'don'ts' -- don't use official time, state property or state manpower for the benefit of the party," Mr Wissanu said, adding that any breach could be deemed an "abuse of authority".
"Based on the charter, they must act neutrally. But I believe the four ministers will be able to distinguish between their different roles," said Mr Wissanu.
Mr Sontirat has made it clear he will not step down.
He said he wants to follow through on his work at the Commerce Ministry as he does not have much time left there, adding a change in its leadership could disrupt the way the ministry is run.
"I don't think we should play a political game," said Mr Sontirat. "I can confirm that during my tenure, I will proceed with caution and ensure my work doesn't politically advantage or disadvantage anyone. I will outperform society's expectations."
Mr Uttama refused to comment on his interest or lack thereof in leading the party, saying he did not wish to discuss political issues.
Democrat Leader Abhisit Vejjajiva said Monday the charter indicates those in office need to quit within 90 days of the charter being promulgated if they want to contest the poll.Those who fail to resign are not expected to play a part in the election.
"What is happening with the Palang Pracharath Party today is they are trying to evade the spirit of the charter. In the past, there was a lack of morality among politicians and various crises occurred because people sought legal loopholes without considering this," Mr Abhisit said.
He said that while the political restrictions are in place the government can perform its tasks unhindered.
He questioned whether the party's executives were brave enough to declare they did not use their status to create political benefits, or were not involved in courting former MPs by offering to make deal on positions or budgets.
He drew attention to how Phalang Chon Party leader Sontaya Kunplome was appointed the mayor of Pattaya last week.
Critics saw this as an attempt to reward politicians for supporting Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha as he mulls contesting the poll on Feb 24 to return as premier.
An ex-MP for the Northeast told the Bangkok Post that former Pheu Thai MPs in the region who left to join the Palang Pracharath Party have become upset as they were not given executive roles in the new party.
In contrast, Sakoltee Phattiyakul, Nathapol Teepsuwan and Buddhipongse Punnakanta -- co-leaders of the now-dissolved People's Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) -- were appointed executive members and deputy party leader, the source said.