Is the cure worse than the cause?
Government in a quandary over how long to maintain strict and unpopular national lockdown measures - Uttama insists he will remain at the helm of the Palang Pracharath Party with an old hand rumoured to be waiting in the wings to replace him
published : 2 May 2020 at 04:00
newspaper section: News
Call it disinformation or misinformation, but the government has found itself an idle target because of it, and comments by critics based on these statements have been responsible for putting the government's reputation on the line.
Sudarat: Healthcare cash concerns
The Covid-19 pandemic has provided critics and the opposition more than enough ammunition to fire salvos at the government.
The curfew and the universal health insurance scheme are just a few of the bones the critics have picked with the government forcing it on the public relations defensive with rebuttals, which often come many hours later.
As new coronavirus infections show signs of decreasing, calls have sounded to relax or even rescind the tough measures that have been in place to fight the virus outbreak for many weeks.
Political experts have agreed with the government's proposal to progressively lift measures on a province by province basis, beginning with those where there have been no infections at all.
However, they have also voiced caution, saying the easing of restrictions on people's movements and other measures must be done carefully within the borders of these provinces and under close supervision by authorities.
In other words, there should be no nationwide lifting of measures at once. Having said that, the experts said Bangkok could be pushed to the back of the queue.
While Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha is reportedly inclined to maintain the emergency decree to contain the virus for a while longer, some observers have sounded alarm bells, saying many poor people are at the end of their tether after having been put out of work for months.
The observers said that not everyone can remain under lockdown and have the means to cope with being out of work. They likened the situation to some people being able to hold their breath longer than others.
Several anti-government media personalities and academics have attacked the government for cementing its hold on power more tightly with the imposition of the emergency decree and the curfew, while many of the poor have had no access to the government's cash handout scheme or other help.
The critics demanded the government stop controlling people's lives, revoke the decree immediately and restart the economy.
As these demands were reverberating, Khunying Sudarat Keyuraphan, chief strategist of the main opposition Pheu Thai Party, seized the chance to attack the government by zeroing in on an issue close to her heart.
On her Facebook, Khunying Sudarat cried foul over an alleged plan to funnel money from the universal health insurance scheme, more commonly known as the gold-card programme, and divert it to help cushion the enormous relief costs incurred by the Covid-19 pandemic.
The former public health minister during the Thaksin Shinawatra administration from February 2001 to March 2005 implored the government not to dismantle the insurance scheme, initiated by Thaksin, which has become the cornerstone of the country's healthcare system.
Khunying Sudarat's remarks, however, put the government's PR team on the defensive.
Government spokeswoman Narumon Pinyosinwat said the claim about the gold-card fund collapsing was absolutely baseless and that the scheme would continue functioning as usual.
The fund is made up of portions, one of which is for paying the salaries of healthcare staff involved with the scheme. However, staff with temporary employment contracts, who number over 40,000, will see their status upgraded to civil servants in recognition of their invaluable contributions to battling the Covid-19 crisis, said Ms Narumon.
They will receive their pay as civil servants from the central budget and so the portion of their salaries in the gold-card fund will be redundant and must be scrapped.
At the same time, the portion of the fund which deals specifically with delivering treatment to a vast number of members remains intact, according to the government.
The PR team insisted the government was not only keeping the gold-card scheme alive but had injected more money into it over the past few years.
Prawit: Tipped for leading role
Power moves in the PPRP
Media reports early this week about political moves in the Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP) spoke volumes about the unfinished business involving the allocation of cabinet seats within the ruling party, according to political observers.
At the centre of the latest internal tussles was Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon, who joined the party as its chief strategist after the general election in March last year.
According to the media reports, the chief strategist has made a move that could pave the way for him to become a new leader of the main coalition party.
He allegedly asked current party leader and Finance Minister Uttama Savanayana to step down after being urged to quit by a faction led by Chon Buri MP Suchart Chomklin and two list-MPs -- Virat Ratanasate and Santi Prompat.
According to a PPRP source, the faction behind the move wants changes in the party leadership to pave away for a cabinet reshuffle which has been anticipated since the government marked the first anniversary of last year's election on March 24.
The shake-up is said to be part of a deal made when Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha formed his cabinet. The Virat-led faction is prepared to push for its members to be included in the new line-up.
The move raised several eyebrows and some political observers expressed disbelief at reports about political wranglings within the main coalition party. They thought now was hardly the time for anyone to be jockeying for cabinet posts when the battle against the Covid-19 pandemic was far from won.
However, Mr Uttama publicly admitted there was internal pressure for him to give up his post, but he hinted that he would not bow out that easily. The finance minister said he had no time to think about politics and his priority was to address economic fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic.
Mr Virat, who is also chief government whip, reportedly approached more than half of the party executives and persuaded them to resign, which would automatically unseat Mr Uttama as party leader and force a fresh election of party executives.
If things had gone according to plan, Gen Prawit would have become party leader and Mr Santi party secretary-general, replacing Sontirat Sontijirawong, who currently serves as the energy minister.
Some media reports went as far as suggesting that Gen Prawit was eyeing the interior portfolio and Mr Santi, the deputy finance minister, was aiming for the finance post in a cabinet rejig.
Several political observers believe Gen Prawit has set his sights on taking full control of the party and running it on his own terms.
Basically the PPRP, formed to contest the general election last year, is made up of several factions including former technocrats and academics led by Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak who served in the junta government; former MPs who defected from the main opposition Pheu Thai Party; former members of the now-defunct People's Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) protest movement; and influential figures from major provinces.
The factions were known to have vied for cabinet seats after last year's poll and none got what they wanted. With him taking the helm as chief strategist, Gen Prawit may be able to address discontent among factions to consolidate the party ahead of the next cabinet reshuffle.
However, several party executives disagreed with the move as they believe it has come at the wrong time, according to the party source. It is deemed to serve self-interest, not public interest, and will cast the party in a negative light. What's more, a "Prawit-Santi" combination is definitely not a sellable option for an already under-fire government.
If changes are to be made to the party leadership, the party deserves people with a respectable image, according to the source.