Rumours swirl of Pheu Thai rift

Rumours swirl of Pheu Thai rift

Thaksin's New Year message to party comes as chief strategist accused of meddling | 'Help' from father may prove under-fire PPRP MP Pareena's undoing in land scandal | Section 44 panel shot down after opposition turncoats side with coalition

Sudarat: Focusing on Khon Kaen fight
Sudarat: Focusing on Khon Kaen fight

Ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra has been keeping a low profile, so his latest social media post has drawn the attention of political observers even though the message is plain and simple.

He tweeted a thank-you note to three "brothers and sisters" -- senior Pheu Thai Party figures -- following their trip to Dubai to express their good wishes ahead of the New Year festivities.

In the tweet, Thaksin mentioned three individuals, "chief Sompong", "Khunying Noi" and "Thaan Prayuth". They are believed to be Pheu Thai Party leader Sompong Amornvivat, the party's chief strategist Sudarat Keyuraphan and Prayuth Siripanich, a senior figure who commands respect from party members in the Northeast.

"It warms and delights our hearts to see friends coming over from Thailand. We hope to see you again," read his message, posted on ThaksinShinawatra@ThaksinLive on Dec 2.

Political observers reckon there was nothing remarkable in Thaksin's message. However, it comes amid reports that the core opposition party is deeply split and that dozens of Pheu Thai MPs and members recently travelled to Dubai to voice their concerns and complaints to Thaksin, who is known to wield influence over the party.

Media reports indicate that these visitors, most of them from the northeastern region, are not happy with Khunying Sudarat's role in the party. Some accuse her of meddling in party affairs and are said to be calling for to be replaced or the scrapping of her position.

Khunying Sudarat has reportedly cut the quota of northeastern MPs serving on House committees and of overstepping boundaries with Mr Sompong, the opposition leader.

The falling out is believed to be related to her announcement last month that the opposition is ready to censure the government for its mishandling of the economy and will target, among others, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, who heads the ministerial team in charge of economic affairs.

Her move was criticised by some Pheu Thai members as premature because the seven-party opposition bloc had yet to hold talks on the planned no-confidence debate.

If Khunying Sudarat is disturbed by this development, she is not showing it, say political observers. But it has prompted dozens of Pheu Thai MPs and members in the Northeast to step up and deny they hold grudges against the veteran politician.

"We can guarantee this is a rumour initiated by ill-intended people and we know who is behind this. Stop it or further action will be taken," warned Pongsakorn Annopporn, election director of the Pheu Thai Party in Khon Kaen.

According to political sources, Khunying Sudarat's position in the party is believed to be as strong as ever and the public can expect to see more from her as she helps Pheu Thai candidate Thanik Maseepitak with his by-election campaign in the northeastern province of Khon Kaen.

The Pheu Thai Party is pinning its hopes on Mr Thanik to defend its seat in Constituency 7 in the Dec 22 by-election to succeed Nawat Tohcharoensuk, who was stripped of his MP status after being found guilty of masterminding the murder of a local administrative official six years ago.

When too much help is dangerous

Just as the forest encroachment saga looked like it was getting out of hand for Ratchaburi MP Pareena Kraikupt, her father jumped to her defence.

The embattled Palang Pracharath MP can obviously count on her dad for support, but what will happen now that former Royal Forest Department (RFD) chief Damrong Pidech has declared that whoever helps Ms Pareena will end up "drowning" with her?

Tawee: Puts foot in it

As the law stands, critics say Ms Pareena may end up losing most, if not all, of the land she holds in the Khao Son 1 and 2 zones in her native province. Along with the land, she may even lose her freedom as many people, including holders of public office, have been jailed for encroaching on national forests.

The Khao Son 2 zone is allegedly part of a vast forest, while Ms Pareena's chicken farm sits on a 682-rai plot in the Khao Son 1 area belonging to the Agricultural Land Reform Office (Alro).

Yet, despite being backed into a corner, Ms Pareena refuses to be resigned to her fate. Instead, she threatened to slap officials from the RFD and Alro with trespassing charges when they showed up to re-survey the Khao Son 1 zone.

The officials were forced to clarify that they had a court warrant for the survey, which had been requested by the MP herself in a move to settle what she claimed is an area overlapping the Alro land and forests.

On Monday, the RFD pressed charges against Ms Pareena for encroaching on 46 rai of public forest land in Khao Son 2 zone in Ratchaburi.

Meanwhile, Tawee Kraikupt decided that he will not let his daughter take the blame, has insisted that the land in question belongs to him and is making sure this message is heard loud and clear.

Mr Tawee, a former deputy transport minister in the Chuan Leekpai administration, also turned up at Monday's RFD-led press conference armed with a bundle of documents, including copies of aerial maps, which he claimed added to the confusion about the land's designation.

The situation became even tenser when Mr Tawee was seen grabbing the microphone from the RFD chief to make his point. Critics say Mr Tawee may end up hurting his daughter with his so-called help.

Clearly the odds are not in Ms Pareena's favour. If Mr Tawee's claim that the disputed land is owned by him turns out to be true, then Ms Pareena may end up getting into even deeper trouble for filing a false asset declaration with the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC).

Ms Pareena had specifically listed Khao Son 1 and 2 zones as part of her vast assets.

The NACC said an investigation into Ms Pareena's suspected false declaration will take six months.

The probe has already prompted the whistleblowing Isara News Centre to start digging deep into the landholdings of lawmakers. So far, it has obtained information suggesting that more than a dozen MPs, from both the government and opposition parties as well as some senators, may be in possession of either forest land or land-reform plots or both.

'Cobras' let govt off the hook

Ten opposition MPs were a real boon for the coalition camp during Wednesday's House meeting which saw the opposition motion to set up a panel to scrutinise Section 44 shot down.

The 10 MPs stayed behind after most other opposition MPs staged a walk-out in order to prevent the meeting from proceeding.

Sutin: Claims bribes were offered

However, the government still managed to secure the quorum it needed, with a total of 261 MPs in attendance. A quorum of at least 249 MPs was required for the meeting to proceed.

Of the 10 MPs from the opposition block who remained in the chamber, three were from the main opposition Pheu Thai Party, two from the Future Forward Party (FFP), four from the New Economics Party, and one from the Prachachart Party.

The government needed to be sure the meeting proceeded after the previous two sessions collapsed due to the lack of a quorum. In light of this, it had to seek the support of "cobras'' or renegades from some opposition parties who the government believed it could talk with, a government source said.

The source added that two heavyweights from the ruling Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP) -- a deputy prime minister and a minister in economic affairs -- had telephoned those opposition MPs.

Chief opposition whip Sutin Klungsang said that he was not surprised about the 10 cobra MPs because he knew in advance that the government would try to draw support from those on its benches.

Mr Sutin alleged that 20 opposition MPs were each offered "eight-figure-bribes'' by government lobbyists to achieve a quorum for the House to meet on Wednesday. The 10 that accepted played an important role in the House meeting proceeding, he said.

The motion on setting up the panel to study the impacts of orders issued under Section 44 of the interim charter was rejected. A total of 244 MPs voted against the panel being established while five voted in favour, with another five abstentions.

Of the five who voted in favour, four were from the Democrat Party which is part of the coalition government, and one from the Future Forward Party, the source said.

Some critics noted that the vote lacked legitimacy because the opposition MPs did not take part.

"The issue must be taken to the Constitutional Court for a ruling," Mr Sutin said.

The motion in question was proposed by FFP secretary-general Piyabutr Saengkanokkul on Nov 27 and the opposition edged the coalition camp by four votes -- 234-230 -- with two abstentions and one absentee. Six Democrat MPs voted for the motion.

Following the defeat, the government whip invoked parliament regulation No.85 to call for a new vote. The opposition staged a walk-out in protest, forcing the session to be adjourned due to a lack of a quorum.

On Nov 28, a second attempt at another vote collapsed after the House session failed again to draw the required number of MPs. However, the government was victorious when the House met once again on Wednesday.

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