There's no reward for loyalty
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There's no reward for loyalty

About Politics: Seri Ruam Thai leader stuck by Pheu Thai only to be denied a place in the new cabinet | The ruling party is putting its faith in risky policies to win back popular support after turning its back on pro-democracy ally

Sereepisuth: Swallows the pain
Sereepisuth: Swallows the pain

Pol Gen Sereepisuth Teemeeyaves, leader of the Seri Ruam Thai Party, and a Pheu Thai loyalist, is thought to have swallowed the pain inflicted when Pheu Thai repaid his loyalty by omitting him from the cabinet line-up.

The former police chief has been a staunch supporter of Pheu Thai and his affinity for it was particularly evident during the government formation period.

The general election saw Seri Ruam Thai shrink in size to a tenth of what it was. Thanks to the re-introduced single-ballot method, Seri Ruam Thai emerged from the election with Pol Gen Sereepisuth as its lone MP.

Seri Ruam Thai is loosely translated as "Seri Consolidating Nation" with Seri intended as a pun on Pol Gen Sereepisuth's former name, Seri.

The party stuck to the so-called pro-democracy alliance led by Pheu Thai during the previous Prayut Chan-o-cha administration.

Pol Gen Sereepisuth, long-known for his no-nonsense and forthright character, had been a vocal critic of the previous government.

When Move Forward and Pheu Thai, the two tight "buddies" in the pro-democracy alliance camp, emerged from the election as the biggest and second biggest parties respectively, Pol Gen Sereepisuth hailed what many thought would be the restoration of full democratic rule.

He welcomed what appeared to be the Move Forward Party's (MFP) imminent rise to government leadership.

However, in a spectacular turn of events, the MFP handed its right to lead the government's formation to Pheu Thai after party leader Pita Limjaroenrat's bid for prime minister was rejected by the Senate.

The handover rubbed MFP supporters up the wrong way. Soon, Pheu Thai and MFP supporters were at each other's throats, with the MFP faithful calling Pheu Thai a backstabber. Pheu Thai diehards returned fire by branding the MFP as sore losers.

Despite key figures insisting the two parties were still on speaking terms, they were drifting apart and the crack in the relationship was too glaring to hide.

Amid all this, Pol Gen Sereepisuth turned his guns on the MFP.

After an interview on a popular television talk show, he claimed that a certain MFP MP was an ex-con and should not have been allowed to run for a House seat.

The MP was Nakhon­chai Khunnarong, the Constituency 3 MP for Rayong. Nakhonchai admitted he had served jail time but said he believed the offence did not bar him from standing in the election.

Nakhonchai later resigned as an MP, prompting a by-election on Sept 10, in which MFP candidate Pongsathorn Sornpetnarin won the seat.

During the government's formation, Pol Gen Sereepisuth also said the MFP gave Pheu Thai a free hand to assemble a new government.

Having been reminded by the Senate that a coalition with the MFP in it would never gain sufficient support from the upper House for a prime ministerial candidate, Pheu Thai proceeded to dump the MFP and switch to suitors from the bloc of parties from the previous administration.

As the new coalition took shape, it dawned on Pol Gen Sereepisuth that he would miss out on a cabinet appointment. He was also experiencing first-hand how it felt to be "dropped".

Some critics thought it had not taken long for karma to catch up with Pol Gen Sereepisuth, who was now experiencing the same treatment the MFP received from Pheu Thai.

Pol Gen Sereepisuth's absence was noted as the coalition was allocating cabinet seats.

He finally broke his silence on Aug 30 to confirm a news report that he had stepped down as a list MP, although remained as party leader.

Although he flatly denied feeling let down after missing out on a cabinet post, he was openly critical of one likely cabinet appointee.

In a remark interpreted as the first sign of enmity towards the Pheu Thai-led government, he declared his work to help build a new coalition was done and that his priority now would be keeping political office-holders in check.

A political observer said that by not being a coalition partner, Seri Ruam Thai is free to be an opposition party.

However, it would mean reconciling with the MFP, which is not likely to happen any time soon, given the "wound" Pol Gen Sereepisuth inflicted on the MFP was still fresh.

"My mission to support Pheu Thai [to be the ruling party] was over and done with on Aug 22 when I voted for Srettha Thavisin to be prime minister. Aug 22 marks Mr Srettha's endorsement by parliament to secure the premiership.

"I tendered my resignation letter as a list MP the next day," he said.

Wirat Worasasirin, a former party list MP and Pol Gen Sereepisuth's close aide, said Pol Gen Sereepisuth will be replaced in parliament by Mangkorn Yontrakul, the party secretary-general.

Pol Gen Sereepisuth said it was he who helped pave the way for Pheu Thai to join its former political rival, Gen Prawit Wongsuwon, leader of the former ruling Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP), in assembling the new government.

Comparing the jockeying for cabinet posts to dogs fighting for food, he insisted he was not referring to the new cabinet appointees.

Pol Gen Sereepisuth added that he and Pheu Thai never discussed offering him a cabinet seat in exchange for his support during government formation.

He also maintained he quit as an MP out of disappointment that he did not land a cabinet job.

However, Pol Gen Sereepisuth did not hold back on his criticism of Pol Gen Patcharawat Wongsuwon, who was named a deputy prime minister and the minister for natural resources and the environment.

Pol Gen Sereepisuth said it baffled him that someone with no experience in ministerial work could be included in the cabinet.

Pol Gen Patcharawat was earlier dismissed as national police chief. However, former deputy prime minister, Wissanu Krea-ngam, said that since he was reinstated by the now-disbanded National Council for Peace and Order, this negated the dismissal.

Pol Gen Patcharawat is the PPRP's chief adviser and Gen Prawit's younger brother.

Pol Gen Sereepisuth has indicated he will keep an eye on Pol Gen Patcharawat himself, now that a qualification check by the cabinet secretary-general office failed to keep the former police chief out of the cabinet.

Time to sink or swim

Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin announced the coalition government's policies to parliament early this week, marking the official start of the administration.

During the two-day debate, the premier, who also doubles as the finance minister, faced a barrage of questions from MPs and senators, many of whom zeroed in on the Pheu Thai Party's flagship 10,000-baht digital handout scheme.

Srettha: Seeks confidence boost

Under the policy, which is estimated to require a budget of 560 billion baht to fund, every Thai aged 16 and older is eligible to receive a one-time handout to purchase essential goods at local shops within four kilometres of their registered address to stimulate local economies.

The digital money cannot be exchanged for cash and must be used within six months.

Using blockchain technology, the digital wallet scheme would be transparent and traceable, according to the government.

The lawmakers' primary concerns about the ruling party's digital wallet policy have to do with where the government will find the money to fund the scheme expected to be rolled out early next year.

As a matter of fact, the digital wallet scheme, which was Pheu Thai's main election promise, is being questioned everywhere with economic gurus, tech experts and political analysts weighing in with their own perspective.

Several economic experts are not happy with the scheme. They suggest the government adjust this policy to target only those in need because it would reduce the size of the budget to finance the scheme and leave the government with the resources to implement other schemes if needed. The government also has plans to suspend debt payments for farmers and SMEs and to cut energy prices.

Tech specialists argue that blockchain technology may not be practical in this case unless the government is serious about developing a new digital payment infrastructure.

A better option would be to disburse the payment via the "Pao Tang" e-wallet app, which is already widely used by millions of users.

In the eyes of analysts, the digital wallet scheme is a must-do for the Pheu Thai Party despite criticism because it is deemed the only way to restore the party's eroding popularity.

Although the scheme is budget-intensive, it does not create job opportunities or reduce income inequality. There is also the question whether it will cause problems during implementation, said Yutthaporn Issarachai, a political science lecturer at Sukhothai Thammathirat Open University.

But the programme has the potential to revive the economy in a very short period, which can boost the ruling party's image after forming a coalition with the so-called conservative camp.

The party faces a crisis of public confidence after ditching the Move Forward Party (MFP), which came first in the May 14 general election, as many voters have slammed Pheu Thai's move as an act of betrayal.

"Pheu Thai needs this policy to regain people's confidence and justify its decision to abandon the MFP. The ruling party also has a number of populist schemes with which it hopes to win back support," Mr Yutthaporn said.

Chief among them is the policy to upgrade services under the universal healthcare scheme to make it more convenient for people to receive healthcare services and the plan to dust off the "CEO governors" as part of a decentralisation policy.

These two schemes are signature policies that helped the now-dissolved Thai Rak Thai Party under Thaksin Shinawatra's leadership to score landslide victories. But according to Mr Yutthaporn, what worked magic two decades ago may not do so today because the political situation has changed.

"Pheu Thai fails to read the room. It doesn't realise it lost the general election to the MFP because people strive for not only 'edible' democracy but also for democracy that builds a better society," he said.

The analyst is sceptical that the Srettha administration can fully restore confidence and succeed, especially when it is not in charge of the agriculture and energy ministries that are supposed to deal with farmers' problems and the pressing issue of high energy prices.

The allocation of cabinet seats reflects the party's limitations, he said. The agriculture minister portfolio was given to Capt Thamanat Prompow, who is the secretary-general of the Palang Pracharath Party, while the energy post was handed to Pirapan Salirathavibhaga, leader of the United Thai Nation Party.

"Pheu Thai's other hope [of reliving former glory] is tourism, which is the country's major cash cow, and the party is in charge of the Tourism Ministry. Still, its benefits are short-term, and the party's policy lacks a clear direction," he said.

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