Opposition sharpens knives

Opposition sharpens knives

Pheu Thai stalwart tasked with exposing government 'lesions' in censure debate -  Sereepisuth worries that ousted MPs will cross the floor to join coalition - Palang Pracharath Party supports Democrat turncoat to chair constitution amendment committee

Some soothsayers say next year will be rough for the government and are warning that Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha will likely be in for the toughest test of his leadership.

Chalerm: Calls govt 'most corrupt'

In fact, they say political hurdles are already starting to manifest with the opposition Future Forward and Pheu Thai parties piling on the pressure.

The Future Forward Party (FFP) managed to drum up sizeable support for its "flash mob" gathering in central Bangkok last weekend, and political analysts say this could transform into a bigger, sustained street rally campaign.

The two opposition parties may be mounting coordinated campaigns to fight the government on two fronts at the same time -- the FFP on the streets and Pheu Thai in parliament.

As soon as the FFP announced that more "flash mobs" were in the pipeline, Pheu Thai was quick to outline its plan to launch a no-confidence motion against the government between Jan 6 and 10.

Pheu Thai stalwart Chalerm Ubumrung has been chosen by the party to chair its newly formed "special affairs" committee to prepare for what the opposition promises will be a debate that delivers the government's "death warrant".

Mr Chalerm, however, will be notable by his absence. Instead, he will be directing the debate from behind the scenes as he is not an MP and thus cannot take to the floor to grill the targeted ministers in person.

However, his son, Wan, a Pheu Thai MP, will step up and do his father justice during the debate, political insiders predict.

Mr Chalerm has said that initially four ministers will be targeted in the no-confidence motion. They are: Gen Prayut, who also holds the Defence portfolio, his deputies Wissanu Krea-ngam and Somkid Jatusripitak, and Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai.

The former MP is insisting the government be brought to account for mismanaging the country and worsening people's plight. He has described this government as being the "most corrupt", though he fell short of going into detail.

Mr Chalerm has also accused the administration of using parliament as a political tool to achieve its own political ends, especially with many members of the National Legislative Assembly (NLA) now occupying Senate seats. The NLA was appointed by the now-dissolved National Council for Peace and Order.

Mr Chalerm has also accused some cabinet members of breaking the law, including government legal expert Mr Wissanu, who Mr Chalerm insists has been instrumental in buying time for Palang Pracharath MP Pareena Kraikupt.

Ms Pareena stands accused of illegally acquiring 682 rai of state land in Ratchaburi province. Mr Wissanu had earlier said that Ms Pareena will be let off the hook if she agrees to return the sor por kor land in her possession.

The opposition can only censure the government in parliament once every 12 months. If it fails to nail the government this time, the powers that be will have a free hand to run things unchecked for a whole year, according to political analysts.

Mr Chalerm has admitted the chances of the censure motion being defeated are high given the ruling coalition's majority. However, the censure will expose the government's political "lesions" and erode public trust in it.

Pannika: Happier without 'renegades'

Expulsions widen the gap

Just a few months ago Srinuan Boonlue was one of the most popular MPs among Future Forward Party (FFP) supporters after her landslide victory in a poll rerun in Chiang Mai's Constituency 8.

This week the Chiang Mai MP was purged from the FFP along with three fellow MPs -- Chanthaburi MPs Charuek Sri-on and Pol Lt Col Thanapat Kittiwongsa, and Chon Buri MP Kawinnart Takee -- for defying the opposition line.

Branded as rebels, they were accused of voting at least twice against the party line despite receiving warnings not to do so.

Their expulsion was swift; FFP members voted 250-5 to dismiss them from the party and a day later at a joint meeting, FFP executives and MPs affirmed the decision to show them the door.

With parliament ruled by a razor-thin majority, some political observers see the FFP's move as playing into the hands of the government which stands to gain from the FFP's loss of the four MPs.

Pol Gen Sereepisuth Temeeyaves, leader of the Seri Ruam Thai, one of the seven opposition parties, shared this opinion, saying the expulsion will weaken the opposition. He believes these renegade MPs are highly likely to defect to the government.

With four extra MPs, the government would have 12 more House seats than the opposition.

The Seri Ruam Thai leader has also urged the main opposition Pheu Thai Party, which is looking into the conduct of three of its own MPs who also failed to toe the party line, not to take harsh action against them yet.

The Pheu Thai has launched a probe against Bangkok MP Phonlaphum Wiphatphumprathes, Pathum Thani MP Pornpimol Thammasan, and Chaiyaphum MP Khajit Chainiyom.

However, Pol Gen Sereepisuth's concern is not shared by other opposition figures.

FFP spokesperson Pannika Wanich believes her party did the government no favours at all by dismissing the four MPs. Based on her remarks, it is believed the party can no longer count on them and there is no point in keeping them.

"I don't think we're serving them [to the government]. They're not with us anymore. The government won't be any stronger with these four votes," she was quoted as saying.

Pheu Thai MP for Nan Cholnan Srikaew has also voiced support for the FFP's move as the coalition majority remains slim.

As long as the difference is below 25, the opposition can still call for a quorum check before any crucial House vote, according to Dr Cholnan.

"There is still room for us to manoeuvre. The government has gained no political stability but it may have saved itself some 'bananas'," he said, referring to a phrase coined by Deputy Agriculture Minister Thamanat Prompow, who compared himself to a monkey keeper feeding "bananas" to small parties to keep them loyal to the government.

Pirapan: Tipped to head charter panel

Defector gets first reward

Pirapan Salirathavibhaga, an adviser to Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, is getting a foretaste of what is to come in his political future after being nominated as a candidate to chair the House committee to study charter amendments.

He is among the 12 people under the cabinet's quota to sit on the 49-member charter amendment study committee. This shows that Mr Pirapan has the trust of the government, which expects him to carry out his duties without letting it down, political observers noted.

Mr Pirapan, touted as a favourite for the chairmanship, was named an adviser to the PM only a week after he quit as a Democrat Party member.

Mr Pirapan said earlier that he only wanted to help the government fight corruption, and had no plans to join another political party for the time being.

The House of Representatives on Wednesday agreed in a vote of 445, with three abstentions, to set up a House committee to study constitutional amendments.

The study committee will comprise 49 members and the names have been forwarded to the government whips for approval. The committee will be made up of 12 cabinet ministers, 19 opposition MPs and 18 government coalition lawmakers.

After the committee is formally established, it is expected to convene on Dec 24 to vote on the chairman and deputies. The committee will be given 120 days to finish its job.

Following the House vote, a government whip meeting resolved to put forth Mr Pirapan's name as a candidate to chair the committee.

A source with the opposition led by the Pheu Thai Party said it is easy to see through the government's intention to push Mr Pirapan to become the committee's chairman because he is politically impartial, and acceptable to all sides, and he can accept and gather various ideas for the benefit of the study committee.

"Even though someone else may be more suited to the role, such as Banyat Bantadtan, the former Democrat leader, or Woothisarn Tanchai, secretary-general of King Prajadhipok's Institute, we believe the ruling Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP) will not have any second thoughts about supporting Mr Pirapan," the source said.

As for the Pheu Thai Party, it will nominate its party strategist and former parliament president Pokin Polakul to head the committee.

"Although we are unlikely to win the chairmanship, we still have to enter the competition according to the rules," the source said.

A source from the PPRP said that the committee chairmanship is Mr Pirapan's first reward from the government for his decision to part ways with the Democrats.

The chairmanship is only a prelude to a more important political role in the near future when a cabinet reshuffle is expected, the source said.

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