PM ready to show his hand
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PM ready to show his hand

First cabinet reshuffle under Pheu Thai-led coalition a delicate balancing act

Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin
Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin

An imminent cabinet reshuffle is expected this week to address conflict within the ruling Pheu Thai Party with the leader of the coalition also poised to assume total control over the handling of security and economic affairs, according to political pundits.

The cabinet shake-up is expected to involve ministerial posts held by Pheu Thai, the Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP) and the United Thai Nation (UTN) Party.

A source said Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin is likely to complete his line-up this week for the first cabinet reshuffle since the government took office.

If the ruling party has its way, it is expected to assume total control over the running of the Finance Ministry as the party gears up to roll out its flagship digital wallet policy before the end of this year.

Reports say Mr Srettha will relinquish 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 return, Pheu Thai would appoint Gen Natthapol Nakpanich, a former secretary-general of the National Security Council, a deputy defence minister under the UTN's quota.

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 is said to be bargaining with Pheu Thai so that one of its constituency MPs, Atthakorn Sirilatthayakorn, can take the deputy agriculture minister post in exchange for handing over a deputy commerce minister seat.

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

Another previously reported seat swap between Tourism and Sports Minister Sudawan Wangsuphakijkosol and Culture Minister Sermsak Pongpanit may also not materialise as Mr Srettha did not approve it, the source said.

The prime minister, according to the source, believed Mr Sermsak was unsuited to handling the tourism industry.

It is also widely speculated that Mr Sutin and Dr Cholnan will be removed from the cabinet and assigned to oversee the ruling party's parliamentary affairs and strategies.

Rumour mill in overdrive

Thanaporn Sriyakul, director of the Political and Public Policy Analysis Institute, told the Bangkok Post that although a cabinet reshuffle can be expected, it will not take place any time soon.

He said he believed the rumour that the reshuffle would take place sooner rather than later came from those who stand to lose their cabinet seats.

"The rumour was spread by some factions within Pheu Thai that have come under criticism for receiving more cabinet seats than they deserve.

"Moreover, the report that Mr Sutin and Dr Cholnan would be removed from the cabinet is irrational because there are no proper roles in parliament that the pair can fill unless the parliament president steps down,'' Mr Thanaporn said.

He also said he also did not buy the report that Mr Srettha would replace Mr Sutin as defence minister.

"When he visited and poured water on Thaksin Shinawatra's palms [during the Songkran festival], the prime minister said he was not interested in the post of defence minister.

"Some groups stand to lose cabinet seats while some groups have the chance to get ministerial posts. The rumour comes from those who are at risk of being removed from the cabinet,'' Mr Thanaporn said.

He also described a cabinet reshuffle as a political game of musical chairs used by Pheu Thai's de facto leader to share power with coalition partners and reward loyalists with cabinet posts.

He was referring to Thaksin, who has long been seen as the de facto leader of Pheu Thai, which cobbled together a coalition government and is now led by his youngest daughter, Paetongtarn Shinawatra.

Thanaporn: No changes any time soon

Control over finance

Wanwichit Boonprong, a political science lecturer at Rangsit University, told the Bangkok Post that while a cabinet reshuffle is imminent, it remains to be seen whether the make-up of the new cabinet will turn out to be the same as reported by the media.

"The post of finance minister is the main target of the shake-up," Mr Wanwichit said, adding that an expert in economic affairs is needed.

"The government insists on going ahead with the digital wallet scheme. An expert in economic affairs is needed to assess the economic situation. The prime minister [who concurrently serves as finance minister] cannot handle the matter alone,'' Mr Wanwichit said.

He echoed the view that a cabinet reshuffle is an act of returning favours and sharing power.

"Pheu Thai is a big party made up of several factions. Some have been totally devoted to working for the party and have yet to receive rewards,'' he said.

"It will also be a shame if Mr Sutin is removed from the cabinet and shifted to a role in parliament. As a civilian serving as defence minister, Mr Sutin has been praised for getting along well with the military,'' Mr Wanwichit said.

Wanwichit: Finance minister 'a key target'

Defence portfolio eyed

A Pheu Thai source said Mr Srettha still has a say on the cabinet reshuffle despite the ultimate decision still lying with Thaksin.

The source said the prime minister is tipped to replace Mr Sutin as defence minister to ensure efficiency in working with the military.

"A civilian serving as defence minister who is not also concurrently serving as the prime minister may not be enough.

"Therefore, A reshuffle may be needed for the sake of appropriateness [to allow Mr Srettha to take over the post of defence minister]," the source said.

The source added that Mr Sutin and Dr Cholnan are likely to be removed from the cabinet so they can help with Pheu Thai's work in parliament.

The pair are Pheu Thai's most senior figures and they can ensure the act of coordinating with other coalition parties goes smoothly, the source said.

"Overall, Pheu Thai has failed to measure up to the task in parliament. Many party MPs are young and have little experience in coordinating with other coalition parties.

"The help of Mr Sutin and Dr Cholnan should improve this area of work,'' the source said.

However, Pheu Thai will discuss which parliamentary roles the pair will be assigned as Wan Muhamad Noor Mathan remains parliament president, the source said.

Somkid Chueakong, deputy secretary-general to the prime minister for political affairs, said the prime minister is expected to reshuffle the cabinet to put the right man in the right job after the government took office about eight months ago.

Asked whether the prime minister will concurrently serve as defence minister, Mr Somkid said: "It will be much easier if the prime minister also serves as defence minister to handle security affairs himself."

He added that Pheu Thai is expected to assume full control of the Finance Ministry's digital wallets and handle the budget to support them.

Somkid: PM will want to control security

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