Srettha should beware

Srettha should beware

ABOUT POLITICS: The prime minister says he wants to see out his term in office, but a certain political dynasty could have other ideas | Observers believe the Alro and DNP row over Khao Yai land suggests all is not well among Palang Pracharath bigwigs

Srettha: Needs to deliver on pledges
Srettha: Needs to deliver on pledges

Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin has declared he intends to serve out his four-year term in office. However, observers were quick to remind him that what happens in life isn't always up to oneself.

The words of wisdom characterise the norm in Thai politics, where a party resembles a pool of factions controlled by various leaders, the extent of whose power correlates positively to the number of MPs they control.

Political experts agree some established political parties have lasted as long as they have on account of their skill in maintaining a balance of power between the factions and their ability to know when to bend rather than break.

The ruling Pheu Thai Party, according to observers, exemplifies such parties.

Regardless of how hard the party tries to distance itself from former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, there is no denying it traces its origin back to the now-defunct Thai Rak Thai Party co-founded by Thaksin.

Pheu Thai is also closely associated with other Shinawatras: former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra -- Thaksin's younger sister and now living in self-imposed exile after fleeing a criminal conviction for turning a blind eye to graft in the rice-pledging scheme -- and Paetongtarn Shinawatra, Thaksin's youngest daughter. She leads Pheu Thai and is the party's prime ministerial candidate.

There is a solid reason for Thaksin to disassociate himself from the party. He is well aware of the law that prohibits an outsider from meddling with or influencing a political party's affairs -- an offence punishable by party dissolution.

The observers said Thaksin remains an imposing figure in Pheu Thai despite being a non-member.

However, his critics have accused him of pulling strings through his daughter, although party supporters have jumped to Ms Paetongtarn's defence, saying she has risen through the ranks and became its leader on merit.

Mr Srettha and Ms Paetongtarn were both Pheu Thai's prime ministerial candidates in last year's general election. Speculation was rife at one point that Ms Paetongtarn was being groomed for the premiership.

However, Pheu Thai's aspirations to stage a landslide victory with 300-plus MPs were foiled when the Move Forward Party (MFP), an ally in the so-called pro-democracy bloc, outperformed it by bagging more MPs to become the biggest party.

Pheu Thai had pledged to stick with the MFP in forming a government together despite the chances of doing so becoming dimmer with each passing day.

When it was time to part company, with Pheu Thai opting to establish a government with parties from the Prayut Chan-o-cha administration, speculation about Ms Paetongtarn becoming the third Shinawatra to be prime minister after her father and aunt were suddenly revived.

However, this was soon eclipsed by talk within Pheu Thai that Mr Srettha, viewed by some as a prime ministerial nomination decoy, would be the real deal.

But it was rumoured, even after Mr Srettha was sworn in as premier, that he was merely "filling in" for Ms Paetongtarn until she had learned the ropes and acquired the political finesse needed to handle the top job.

The observers said that for Mr Srettha to realise his goal of completing his four-year term as prime minister, he will have to overcome what's thrown at him on the governmental and party fronts, which will not be a piece of cake.

He has to show he can deliver on Pheu Thai's flagship election promises, such as the digital wallet handout scheme.

A misstep could see him sent packing from Government House and isolated in Pheu Thai, with which he has little attachment and no substantial control over any faction within it.

So what's up in the PPRP?

Thamanat: Angered by Chaiwat

A row between the Agricultural Land Reform Office (Alro) and the Department of National Park, Wildlife and Plant Conservation (DNP) has political observers wondering what is going on in the Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP).

Many feel the row stems from tensions behind the scenes within the coalition party led by Gen Prawit Wongsuwon.

Both agencies are locking horns over a Sor Por Kor land policy after the recent discovery that almost 3,000 rai of land inside Khao Yai National Park -- a Unesco World Heritage Site -- was earmarked for farmers, with Sor Por Kor certificates for 42 land plots having already been granted.

Alro is under the supervision of Agriculture and Cooperatives Minister Capt Thamanat Prompow, while the DNP is overseen by Natural Resources and Environment Minister Pol Gen Patcharawat Wongsuwan.

Both are key figures in the PPRP, where Capt Thamanat serves as the party secretary-general and Pol Gen Patcharawat as its chief adviser.

Upon assuming office, Capt Thamanat introduced a policy to upgrade Sor Por Kor land-use documents to land ownership papers for agriculture.

The Sor Por Kor programme came about several years ago to help poor and landless farmers. They were given degraded forest plots so they could engage in small-scale farming on the condition that the land was not transferred to someone else and not misused for commercial reasons.

Capt Thamanat views the programme as obsolete and not in tune with societal changes and advocates for the conversion of Sor Por Kor certificates into full title deeds. In his view, if people no longer want to farm, they should still have the option to benefit from the land, including the right to sell it.

The Sor Por Kor land document upgrade programme has raised concerns among environmentalists who fear it will lead to land grabbing and the largest loss of forest land in years. The present row erupted when Chaiwat Limlikit-aksorn, director of the DNP's National Park Office, revealed signs of land reform abuses.

Mr Chaiwat said more than 150,000 rai of national park land had been encroached upon with the goal of transforming it into land for agricultural reform.

He lodged a complaint with the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC), asking it to look into Sor Por Kor plots, many of which allegedly sit in community forests and are no longer occupied by farmers.

The official insisted Sor Por Kor land designated by Alro sits in fertile forests, not degraded ones, and these areas serve as habitats for wild animals and are not utilised by anyone.

He urged the Agriculture Ministry and the Natural Resources Ministry to establish a clear policy and investigate if the issuance of Sor Por Kor land-use certificates in Khao Yai National Park constitutes malfeasance.

Mr Chaiwat's move reportedly angered Capt Thamanat, prompting the minister to approach Pol Gen Patcharawat to launch a probe against Mr Chaiwat to see if he had overstepped his authority.

According to a highly placed source in the Agriculture Ministry, the agriculture minister's request is unlikely to result in any action because Mr Chaiwat is seen as acting in the public's best interest.

"It is believed more than 70% of Sor Por Kor land distributed to farmers has fallen into the hands of developers. Mr Chaiwat's action has been widely praised," said the source.

Analysts suggest there is a power play underway within the PPRP, and Mr Chaiwat's actions more or less align with the interests of Gen Prawit and his brother, Pol Gen Patcharawat.

Thanaporn Sriyakul, director of the Political and Public Policy Analysis Institute, told the Bangkok Post that Capt Thamanat has a reputation for forming factions within the party to consolidate his political clout, much to the frustration of Gen Prawit, who wants party unity. It is widely rumoured that most of the party's MPs are now under Capt Thamanat's camp.

Gen Prawit and Pol Gen Patcharawat are likely to refrain from intervening in response to Mr Chaiwat's actions, as any interference could upset the public, according to the analyst.

Moreover, maintaining a hands-off approach may be more beneficial for the party and the Natural Resources and Environment Ministry in this situation. Any misstep in the land reform policy would primarily impact Capt Thamanat, not the party.

"The row puts Capt Thamanat in a position where he must figure out how to mitigate the potential fallout and regain control in the coalition party," said Mr Thanaporn.

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