Resignations a sign PM 'is losing power'

Resignations a sign PM 'is losing power'

Prayut struggling to get desired reshuffle

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha looks at an army of reporters as he is leaving Government House on Friday. (Photo by Chanat Katanyu)
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha looks at an army of reporters as he is leaving Government House on Friday. (Photo by Chanat Katanyu)

The sudden resignations of key economic ministers in the Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP) are a signal of the diminishing negotiating power of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha in the ruling coalition, which may keep him from getting his way in the upcoming cabinet reshuffle, says one observer.

Somjai Phagaphasvivat, a political scientist at Thammasat University, said the latest developments indicated the fight the PPRP has on its hands to control the government's handling of the economy and that Gen Prayut would have a hard time pushing for outsiders to be included in the new cabinet line-up.

Finance Minister Uttama Savanayana, Energy Minister Sontirat Sontijirawong, Higher Education, Science and Innovations Minister Suvit Maesincee, and Kobsak Pootrakul, deputy secretary-general of the prime minister, submitted their resignations on Thursday, a day after Somkid Jatusripitak resigned as deputy prime minister of the economic team.

The ministers' departures followed their formal resignation from the PPRP last week, a move that was widely anticipated following a party leadership change late last month when Mr Uttama was replaced by Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon as the PPRP leader.

Mr Somjai said the four men had stepped down under pressure from party factions who supported Gen Prawit as the new leader and demanded that they give up their cabinet posts so they could be filled by others after they left.

These cabinet seats are believed to have been the prime minister's quota, so the fact the trio relinquished them showed Gen Prayut was losing his bargaining power, according to Mr Somjai.

However, he said Gen Prayut might get his way in the upcoming cabinet reshuffle if the PPRP failed to produce candidates with strong economic expertise to compete with those candidates preferred by the premier.

Following the resignations, Gen Prayut admitted he had approached "outsiders" to join the economic team and fill his quota of cabinet seats.

Among them are Siam Cement Group (SCG) former president and chief executive Kan Trakulhoon, chairman of the Thai Bankers' Association Preedee Daochai and the former CEO and president of the PTT oil and gas company, Pailin Chuchottaworn.

Mr Kan is tipped to fill the seat left vacant by Mr Somkid and Mr Preedee for the finance portfolio. Mr Palin, who served as deputy transport minister in the military government, is said to be in contention to become energy minister, which has also been reportedly targeted by several party figures, including Industry Minister Suriya Jungrungreangkit.

Stitorn Thananithichote, of the Office of Innovation for Democracy at the King Prajadhipok Institute, said although those candidates were well known in their own circles, they are "nobodies" to the general public.

He said their successes were more due to the organisations they worked for and had nothing to do with personal achievement, so it might be difficult for the prime minister to push for their nominations.

Mr Stitorn also said that while Mr Uttama's group was down they might not be out and were likely to return and team up with Gen Prayut again when the time is right. "But they are not forming a new party anytime soon," he said.

Jade Donavanik, a legal expert and former adviser to the Constitution Drafting Committee, said it would take a while before Mr Uttama's group could make a political comeback because the group has no political clout.

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