PM moves to patch up coalition rift
Bhumjaithai upset at party 'backstabbing'
published : 15 Nov 2019 at 04:01
newspaper section: News
writer: Aekarach Sattaburuth
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha will sit for talks with leaders of the coalition parties in what is seen as a bid to patch up their differences ahead of a no-confidence debate, following reports of frictions emerging among them.
Digital Economy and Society Minister Buddhipongse Punnakanta, an executive of the ruling Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP), said on Thursday the prime minister was choosing a date for the meeting.
Mr Buddhipongse denied talk the PPRP, the main coalition party, had "back-stabbed" Transport Minister Saksayam Chidchob, the Bhumjaithai Party's secretary-general. All coalition parties remain on good terms, Mr Buddhipongse insisted.
Cracks have emerged in the government after Bhumjaithai alleged some PPRP key figures were behind the move by a media outlet to attack Mr Saksayam over alleged irregularities. In response, Bhumjathai filed suit against three television hosts of the media outlet, prompting Supachai Jaisamut, a Bhumjaithai MP, to bring the issue up for discussion in parliament.
At a House meeting on Wednesday, observers noted Bhumjaithai MPs questioned Energy Minister Sontirat Sontijirawong, who is the PPRP's secretary-general, as to why he allowed private companies to increase the production of electricity, which hurt the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand's production. It was rare for coalition parties to question each other during a House meeting, observers noted.
Meanwhile, regarding the no-confidence debate against the government expected next month, Mr Buddhipongse said that no matter who is targeted in the censure debate, the PPRP and its coalition partners are ready.
They have worked together as a team and will make sure all MPs are present to ensure a quorum during the debate, given that the difference in the number of government and opposition MPs is not much, he said.
"This is the strength of the coalition parties which are willing to lend a helping hand to maintain government stability," he said.
Addressing plans for the meeting with coalition parties, former election commissioner and now an independent academic Somchai Srisutthiyakorn said it was natural for a government to be nervous about its fate in such a debate.
This time, what is interesting is that Bhumjaithai, the third-largest party in the coalition government, has come forward and cried foul over "back-stabbing", Mr Somchai said.
It comes as no surprise that the PPRP is upset when Bhumjaithai is in charge of the Transport Ministry which handles high-profile projects with massive budget allocations, Mr Somchai said.
The ministry oversees rail projects worth hundreds of billions of baht, including the project for a high-speed railway project to connect the country's three main airports -- Suvarnabhumi, Don Mueang and U-Tapao.
Bhumjaithai also commands the Public Health Ministry. Soon after the March 24 general election, Bhumjaithai also vowed to make good on its poll promise to broaden the use of marijuana for research as well as the heavily controlled manufacturing of medicinal drugs.
In light of this, efforts are now being made to wrest control of the Transport Ministry back from Bhumjaithai, Mr Somchai said, adding some media outlets are being used to cast Bhumjaithai in a bad light, prompting a move to clear the air between the PPRP and its coalition parties.
"Bhumjaithai is ready to go but it would also drag the government down with it. I think it is unwise for the coalition leader, the PPRP, to pursue this game plan because the government cannot survive without Bhumjaithai. For now, it has upset Bhumjaithai so much. It is wrong to declare war when it has to depend on Bhumjaithai," Mr Somchai said.
Regarding the meeting, Mr Somchai said if the parties can still agree upon common interests, the coalition will survive. Plotting against Bhumjaithai will only end in the the downfall of the coalition government, Mr Somchai said. He said the PPRP should back down if it wants to solve the conflict with Bhumjaithai.
Previously, Gen Prayut brushed aside reports of conflict among the parties which could pose a risk to the government's stability during the upcoming no-confidence debate.