Are the knives out for Sudarat?
Internal rumblings hound Pheu Thai Party chief strategist
Rifts have deepened within the Pheu Thai Party in the wake of false claims that its chief strategist had quit, and threaten to undermine the main opposition party's performance in the no-confidence debate against the government and the Bangkok governor election, according to political experts.
Khunying Sudarat Keyuraphan confirmed to the Bangkok Post that news reports of her having quit as the Pheu Thai chief strategist, a post deemed equal to party leader, were untrue.
She said the hoax had been engineered by her opponents in the party after her attempts to reform the party by introducing young professionals to important executive positions were met with heavy internal resistance.
"It's a power game within the party driven by a faction that opposes me," she said.
"I don't want the party made into anyone's personal belonging. But it's also hard handling people who don't like me in the party.
"I might throw in the towel one of these days," Khunying Sudarat said.
The rumours of her resignation were part of a campaign to discredit her which started early last year and gained traction around the time of the March 24 general election.
Khunying Sudarat said her opponents whispered behind her back about how she commanded no respect from core party members. However, she insisted would remain impervious to allegations that she suffers from a "respect deficit" for the sake of unity.
She was also chided for being unpopular with MPs in the northeastern constituencies, a traditional Pheu Thai stronghold.
"If there was any shred of truth in that, I would not have welcomed more 70 MPs to my house at my recent New Year party," Khunying Sudarat said.
She said she has learned that certain party elements had called the guests and advised them not to show up.
After several senior core members and MPs flew out to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates to meet former party leader Thaksin Shinawatra ahead of the New Year festivities, internal sources reported that one of the points of discussion had been Khunying Sudarat's lack of leadership quality and her suitability to direct the party's strategies.
The group claimed Khunying Sudarat had interfered in the selection of candidates contesting local polls.
Shortly after the group's trip, Khunying Sudarat also went to Dubai to give her side of the story.
According to those sources, Thaksin still believes Khunying Sudarat is best suited for the chief strategist post and should stay put.
Prayut Siripanich, chairman of Pheu Thai's branch in the Northeast, said the chief strategist has given the party a boost, and it would be in worse shape if it had not been for her contributions and hard work.
However, Stithorn Thananithichote, an academic from the King Prajadhipok's Institute, said the conflict within the party is likely to drag on.
He said Khunying Sudarat has not been accepted by several factions who don't believe she is "marketable" enough to supporters and members in the North and Northeast.
She is also perceived as undeserving of her nomination for the prime ministerial post. Compared to the other candidates, particularly the dynamic Future Forward Party (FFP) leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, she appeared to be playing second fiddle.
Mr Stithorn said Khunying Sudarat will struggle to run the party with "stealth resistance" hounding her, and it will certainly hinder her preparations ahead of the no-confidence debate.
The main opposition party is focusing its censure onslaught primarily on the economic slowdown, but that may not be the avenue of attack most likely to bring down the administration, according to Mr Stithorn.
In the past, it has been blatant corruption that has put social and political pressure on governments and eventually caused regime change, according to political analysts.
The academic said the opposition will be expected to put on a show of exposing graft and conflicts of interest within the corridors of power.
Its supporters will be counting on Pheu Thai to further open "wounds" within the government. However, if it fails, it may be upstaged by the FFP which has several star debaters lined up for the session.
Mr Stithorn added that the internal rifts could also complicate Pheu Thai's strategy to fight the Bangkok governor election later this year.
The party must decide whether to field its own candidate or support the independently standing Chadchart Sittipunt, who was transport minister under the Yingluck Shinawatra administration.
Mr Chadchart enjoys close ties with Pheu Thai. If no party candidate stands in the governor poll, Mr Chadchart is expected to inherit the votes of the party's supporters.
On the other hand, if the party decides to contest the poll, that could end up seeing opposition votes split between Pheu Thai and Mr Chadchart, resulting in neither winning the election, according to analysts.