Sam Mitr moves to protect seats
Lunch seen as 'show of force' to coalition
The latest gathering of the Sam Mitr (Three Allies) group -- a key faction within the ruling Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP) -- is seen as a show of force intended to warn against any attempts to cut its cabinet seat quota in the reshuffle expected after the no-confidence debate scheduled for this month.
A group of 40 MPs -- led by PPRP leader and Finance Minister Uttama Savanayana, Justice Minister Somsak Thepsutin and Industry Minister Suriya Jungrungreangkit -- met for lunch at a hotel in Bangkok on Wednesday. Also present was Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak.
A source within the PPRP said the gathering was intended as a warning by the Sam Mitr group to other party members, after speculation abounded that some key figures of the group may see their cabinet seats re-allocated to other PPRP members from a different faction in the next cabinet shake-up, following the censure debate.
After last year's election, Sam Mitr was involved in fierce wrangling to control some key cabinet posts, particularly the energy portfolio.
Before the lunch, Sam Mitr leaders had claimed the group had been dissolved. However, Mr Suriya played down the gathering's significance on Wednesday, saying it had nothing to do with an impending cabinet reshuffle. The meeting only discussed ways to help cabinet ministers targeted for the censure, he said, adding the Sam Mitr group will disband after the censure debate is complete.
Mr Somkid concurred with Mr Suriya, saying the meeting was to discuss preparations for the upcoming censure debate and it had nothing to do with a cabinet reshuffle and political pressures.
Yutthaporn Issarachai, a political scientist at Sukhothai Thammarat Open University, said the faction was instrumental in the government's victory in the general election last year. It also held the key to the survival of the PPRP as the ruling coalition party and in the wider government.
As a result, the group would most likely receive better cabinet posts in the next reshuffle, he said.
Meanwhile, the no-confidence debate will take place on Feb 24-26, with the vote on the motion scheduled for Feb 27, an adviser to Parliament president Chuan Leekpai said on Wednesday.
Sujit Atthopakorn said he had been told that both the government and opposition whips had agreed to hold a three-day debate.
However, the debate could be extended for one more day, in which case the no-confidence vote would be put back to Feb 28, the day before parliament goes on recess.
Dr Sujit said the much-anticipated debate is set to begin at 1.30pm.
The whips settled on the debate schedule at a meeting chaired by Mr Chuan on Wednesday.
The parliament president had warned that if both sides could not come to an agreement on the timing, he would fix the dates for them.
The whips then finally reached an agreement which ended the uncertainty.
Opposition leader Sompong Amornwiwat said the opposition would not accept the government's suggestion to hold the debate from Feb 25 to 27 and the vote on Feb 28, insisting three days would not be enough.
Mr Sompong said the government was trying to back the opposition into a corner because the suggested time period would leave little room for an extension.
Chief government whip, Virat Ratanasate, said it was not practical to go with the opposition's demand to start proceedings on Feb 19 because Foreign Affairs Minister Don Pramudwinai would be overseas then.