Cabinet reshuffle looms
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Cabinet reshuffle looms

Pheu Thai 'has eyes on Finance Ministry'

Cabinet members led by Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin, seated, ninth from right, pose at Government House before taking their oaths of office in front of His Majesty the King at Dusit Palace on Sept 5, 2023. (Photo: Chanat Katayu)
Cabinet members led by Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin, seated, ninth from right, pose at Government House before taking their oaths of office in front of His Majesty the King at Dusit Palace on Sept 5, 2023. (Photo: Chanat Katayu)

A forthcoming cabinet reshuffle is likely to be finalised next week even though the changes, largely affecting the ruling Pheu Thai Party, are far from settled in some key posts, according to a source.

The so-called "Srettha II" cabinet -- a reference to recently installed Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin -- is fast taking shape and is expected to involve ministerial posts held by Pheu Thai, the Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP) and the United Thai Nation (UTN) Party.

If Pheu Thai has its way with the horse trading, it will assume total control over the running of the Finance Ministry as the party is in high gear to get its flagship digital wallet handout scheme off the drawing board and implemented before the year is out. The source said Mr Srettha is likely to complete his list for the new cabinet by next week.

Reports say Mr Srettha will let go of the finance minister's post, which he concurrently fills, and let Pichai Chunhavajira, his adviser, take over. The prime minister, meanwhile, has set his sights on a new dual role: he is reported to be replacing Sutin Klungsang as defence minister.

Back at the Finance Ministry, Pheu Thai is negotiating with the UTN to have Krisada Chinavicharana, a deputy finance minister under the latter's quota, succeeded by Paopoom Rojanasakul, secretary to the finance minister from Pheu Thai. In returning the favour, Pheu Thai has considered making Gen Natthapol Nakpanich, a former secretary-general of the National Security Council, a deputy defence minister under the UTN's quota.

Other key changes include the appointment of Pheu Thai deputy leader Chusak Sirinil as Prime Minister's Office Minister, a post that was reportedly initially reserved for Phichit Chuenban -- who failed to land the cabinet seat earlier on account of supposedly doubtful qualifications.

Mr Phichit is one of the trusted lawyers of former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, who commands immense respect within Pheu Thai. Visuth Chainaroon, a Pheu Thai list-MP and government chief whip, is poised to replace Chaiya Promma, a fellow Pheu Thai member, as deputy agriculture minister.

However, the PPRP may be bargaining with Pheu Thai so that one of its constituency MPs, Atthakorn Sirilatthayakorn, can occupy the deputy agriculture minister post in exchange for handing over a deputy commerce minister seat, which is under the PPRP's control, to Pheu Thai.

In addition, a seat swap is taking place between Tourism and Sports Minister Sudawan Wangsuphakijkosol and Culture Minister Sermsak Pongpanit. Both are Pheu Thai stalwarts.

Apart from Mr Sutin, who risks losing his defence portfolio and exiting the cabinet altogether, those who may find themselves in a similar "double whammy" include Mr Chaiya and Deputy Interior Minister Kriang Kantinan.

According to earlier reports, Cholnan Srikaew, the former Pheu Thai leader, was to be purged from the cabinet in the reshuffle and his cabinet post handed to Deputy Prime Minister Somsak Thepsutin. However, that reported shift was halted due to growing resistance from many quarters in Pheu Thai.

Some party insiders feared the faction controlled by Mr Somsak and Transport Minister Suriya Jungrungreangkit may gain too much dominance in the ruling party if it was given the Public Health Ministry, a budget-intensive, A-list ministry, to supervise. Disagreements over the cabinet posts also reigned in the UTN and the PPRP. UTN's Anucha Nakasai may be on the verge of losing the deputy agriculture minister post.

PPRP secretary-general Capt Thammanat Prompow, who is also the agriculture minister, has been pushing for Mr Atthakorn to be a new deputy agriculture minister but found himself at loggerheads with party leader Gen Prawit Wongsuwon in the process. Gen Prawit has backed Chaiwut Thanakamanusorn, the former digital economy and society minister, for the deputy agriculture portfolio.

Meanwhile, Interior Minister Anutin Charnvirakul, also leader of the coalition Bhumjaithai Party, said he has not been informed of the cabinet shake-up by the prime minister.

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