Uttama rebuts PPRP conflict claim

Uttama rebuts PPRP conflict claim

Party says rumours aimed to hurt image

Palang Pracharath (PPRP) leader Uttama Savanayana
Palang Pracharath (PPRP) leader Uttama Savanayana

Palang Pracharath (PPRP) leader Uttama Savanayana has dismissed talk of him and several key figures resigning from their positions in the ruling party due to an internal conflict.

According to local media, Mr Uttama met Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak, PPRP secretary-general Sontirat Sontijirawong, PPRP MP Wathanya Wong-opasee and Samart Corp president Watchai Wilailuck to discuss a breakaway from the party at a Bangkok hotel on Tuesday. Mr Watchai said on Wednesday he had nothing to do with the PPRP's internal affairs.

Local media said the five held the meeting to discuss the creation of a new party.

Mr Uttama is Finance Minister in Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha's cabinet and Mr Sontirat is Energy Minister. Both men reportedly were pressured by a faction in the PPRP to vacate their positions in the party and the cabinet.

The faction reportedly wanted to replace Mr Uttama with Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon, who is chief party strategist, while Mr Sontirat would be replaced by Anucha Nakasai, party MP for Chai Nat and core member of the Sam Mitr group within the PPRP.

The reports fuelled speculation of an impending cabinet reshuffle, which was later downplayed by Gen Prayut and Gen Prawit.

Mr Uttama on Wednesday called the reports "baseless", adding they were rumours spread to discredit the PPRP amid praise for Gen Prayut and the government's response in containing the Covid-19 pandemic.

"Everyone is giving their all to the party and steadfast in their support of Gen Prayut remaining as prime minister," the PPRP leader said.

PPRP spokesman Thanakorn Wangboonkongchana also dismissed the reports as rumours intended to discourage people from supporting the government and hurt the party's image.

"This is hardly the time for politics. We need to rally our efforts against the Covid-19 pandemic," Mr Thanakorn said.

A PPRP source on Wednesday said Mr Somkid did meet Mr Uttama on Tuesday but denied they spoke about forming another party.

The source said they may have discussed what to do if the majority of PPRP executives left their posts and called for a fresh board election.

The source said if the internal election was to be conducted, Mr Uttama and Mr Somkid might be worried they could lose their seats in cabinet.

The reports of a possible defection were published in Thai newspapers and broadcast on local TV news channels. They said if key PPRP figures were forced to turn their backs on the party, they could defect to the San Thai Party, which is registered with the Election Commission. The reports said the future of the ruling PPRP did not look promising. They speculated the handling of Thai Airways International's (THAI) financial problems could be a catalyst for the internal conflict.

Mr Somkid was absent from a cabinet meeting on Tuesday when Gen Prayut announced the government's decision to let THAI file for bankruptcy in court to rehabilitate the national carrier. Mr Somkid is believed not to favour a court-ordered rehab for THAI.

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