Prayut puts brakes on reshuffle

Prayut puts brakes on reshuffle

Takes aim at media for reporting 'drama'

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has put the brakes on a cabinet reshuffle push by factions within the ruling Palang Pracharath Party. (Bangkok Post file photo)
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has put the brakes on a cabinet reshuffle push by factions within the ruling Palang Pracharath Party. (Bangkok Post file photo)

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has put the brakes on a cabinet reshuffle push by factions within the ruling Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP), saying the government still has other more pressing concerns to tackle, particularly the coronavirus crisis.

The recent resignations of executive members of the main coalition party sparked speculation of an imminent shake-up of incumbent ministerial positions, with the Finance and Energy ministries in the spotlight.

Eighteen of the 34 members of the main coalition party's executive committee quit on June 1 to force a leadership contest and the selection of a new executive committee within 45 days.

The mass resignation is widely believed to pave the way for Deputy Prime Minister and PPRP chief strategist Prawit Wongsuwon to become the party's new leader, replacing Uttama Savanayana who is also finance minister, and push for a "rotation" of cabinet seats among PPRP executives from various factions.

Addressing the issue, Gen Prayut said on Tuesday that a leadership change in the PPRP has nothing to do with the government, and that he has the final say on a cabinet shake-up.

"Right now, there will be no cabinet reshuffle. Therefore, stop offering yourselves. Everyone is still busy solving the problem. All ministers can still work and help solve the problem, the prime minister said, referring to the government's ongoing efforts to tackle the coronavirus pandemic.

"I want the media to stop presenting this news. It's like a drama... A cabinet reshuffle decision rests solely with the prime minister. Coalition parties also have their share of work [cabinet seats]," Gen Prayut said.

Commenting on the likelihood of Gen Prawit leading the PPRP, Gen Prayut said: "I have no objection if party members vote for him to become the new leader. It's the party's affair. His new role as party leader should not affect his work in the government. Gen Prawit must be able to carry out the two jobs."

"It's me who will reshuffle the cabinet, not the leader of Palang Pracharath. The party should have its people ready. I will consider when the reshuffle will take place,'' Gen Prayut said.

However, a highly placed source at the PPRP told the Bangkok Post that a cabinet reshuffle will take place after Gen Prawit is named as the PPRP's new leader.

Such a move has been approved by "the three brothers" from the Burapha Phayak (Tigers of the East) clique -- namely Gen Prayut, Gen Prawit, and Interior Minister Gen Anupong Paojinda.

The trio wield most power in the government, the source said.

As for Gen Anupong who has been at the helm of the Interior Ministry for six consecutive years, he has succeeded in controlling mechanisms of local organisations, resulting in the PPRP winning all the by-elections after last year's election, the source said.

Even though Gen Prayut has repeatedly said that the PPRP's leadership change has nothing to do with the cabinet reshuffle, the prime minister signalled on Tuesday that he would reshuffle the cabinet when Gen Prawit is in charge of the PPRP, the source said.

One of the important ministerial positions targeted for the reshuffle is the finance portfolio and Mr Uttama has served as finance minister for one year now, the source said.

"Right now, Mr Uttama, and his two colleagues -- Energy Minister and PPRP secretary-general Sontirat Sontijirawong, and Suvit Maesincee, deputy PPRP leader and Minister of Higher Education Science Research and Innovation -- should relinquish their seats. They have already been rewarded for resigning from cabinet seats in the previous government to lead the PPRP," the source said.

If a cabinet reshuffle eventually takes place, Mr Uttama will likely lose his finance ministry post, and Gen Prayut is expected to choose one of his advisers on economic affairs to replace Mr Uttama, the source said.

Also, among those tipped for the post of finance minister are TMB Bank's former chief executive Boontuck Wangcharoen, and former Bank of Thailand governor Prasarn Trairatvorakul, the source said.

"The prime minister has shut the door on the chance of the PPRP or coalition lawmakers taking the post of finance minister because he doesn't want this to have any impact on investors' confidence in the economy which is now suffering from Covid-19," the source said.

However, in the cabinet shake-up, the prime minister may allocate ministerial positions to members of the PPRP factions which support Gen Prawit, though those positions have nothing to do with major economic development, the source added.

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