New calls for cabinet rejig
PPRP wants Prawit in interior post
A cabinet reshuffle is expected to take place soon and may involve the ruling Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP) after some party members lobbied for their leader Gen Prawit Wongsuwon to take over the interior portfolio ahead of the general election.
The Democrat Party is seeking a reshuffle to fill a seat left vacant by Niphon Bunyamanee who resigned as deputy interior minister to fight a court case for alleged malfeasance while he was president of the Songkhla provincial administration organisation (PAO) in 2013.
Before the cabinet meeting on Wednesday, Democrat leader Jurin Laksanawisit said he would raise the matter with Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha now that he is back at Government House.
The Democrats' move is believed likely to trigger a cabinet shake-up that is long overdue for the ruling PPRP and the Bhumjaithai Party.
The PPRP has yet to fill a deputy agriculture minister seat vacated by Capt Thamanat Prompow and a deputy labour minister post left vacant by Narumon Pinyosinwat.
The Bhumjaithai Party, meanwhile, has a deputy education minister berth vacated by Kanokwan Vilawan to fill.
Political observers believe that Gen Prayut may not be able to ignore calls for a cabinet reshuffle if the coalition parties insist as they start the countdown to the general election.
The ruling PPRP is thought likely to seize the opportunity to have Interior Minister Anupong Paojinda, who is not popular among party members, replaced by its leader.
The ministry holds power over local administrative organisations, which are useful for giving candidates an edge in general elections, and PPRP members prefer Gen Prawit as the interior minister.
It is not the first time they have asked for Gen Anupong to be removed from the interior minister post, but Gen Prayut has so far managed to fend off the calls for change.
Six PPRP MPs even cast a no-confidence vote against Gen Anupong in the last censure debate.
Gen Anupong said on Wednesday it is up to Gen Prayut to decide on a cabinet reshuffle. Some PPRP members loyal to Gen Prawit suggested Gen Anupong assume the defence minister's role, a post concurrently held by Gen Prayut.
A source in the PPRP said on Wednesday Gen Prayut is unlikely to make changes to the cabinet line-up because the House's term will end soon and any changes, big or small, will cause a stir.
"Unless it's absolutely necessary, a shake-up is not coming. The changes won't make things better and in fact may cause a stir. I understand the Democrats want a new deputy interior minister to help campaign for votes in the South," he said.
The source said he did not think Gen Prayut would bow to the PPRP's demand for change to the interior portfolio. They criticised Gen Anupong for failing to listen to the party's suggestions and letting the chance to expand the party's support base pass by.
"In politics, this post is important and can help shore up party popularity, but Gen Anupong hasn't done anything. He works like a state official, and that is no use," said the PPRP source.
Gen Prayut did not rule out the possibility of a cabinet shake-up, saying on Wednesday the Democrat leader raised the issue. However, he said more discussions are needed.
Bhumjaithai leader Anutin Charnvirakul said on Wednesday Gen Prayut did not signal any cabinet reshuffle while noting the party would decide later if it would make any changes to the party's cabinet line-up.
He said the deputy education minister post held by Bhumjaithai is in fact not vacant and Ms Kanokwan was suspended by a court order.
On Aug 26, the Supreme Court suspended Ms Kanokwan after accepting a petition accusing her of serious ethical misconduct in a land encroachment case.