LIKE IT OR NOT, Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan is largely expected to take the helm of the ruling Palang Pracharath Party once and for all. His end goal – the premiership.
Despite his poor health and negative image involving his ”borrowed” luxury watches, the deputy premier is already looking far beyond the rise to the leadership of the core party of the multiple-party coalition government, noted political observers closely associated with Palang Pracharath MPs.
Prawit, who currently acts as head of the party’s strategic campaign committee, has always been seen as a close associate of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha though he could be very susceptible to criticisms pertaining to issues of transparency. More importantly, mutual trusts and brotherly relationships between the both of them could probably falter, given hearsay on mainstream media that Prawit is not only looking to lead the Palang Pracharath Party installed by the ex-ruling military over the last few years but to rise to premiership. To him and his partisan proteges, it is only a matter of time.
In the meantime, conflict of interest among the rank and file of the party is apparently intensifying following the resignation of 18 members of its executive board, thus automatically forcing all 16 others, including Finance Minister Uttama Savanayana as party leader and Energy Minister Sontirat Sontijirawong as party secretary general, to lose their executive status and warranting the setting up of a new executive board within 45 days.
Justice Minister Somsak Thepsuthin, head of the so-called Sam Mit faction inside the Palang Pracharath Party, quickly lent solid support for Prawit to take its helm, saying the deputy premier could practically put the ruling party’s policies to work as far as his brotherly ties with the premier are concerned. But many people would doubt Prawit could gradually expand his clout or consolidate varied factions among the rank and file of the party where conflict of interest might emerge at any given time, especially regarding the portfolios of cabinet.
Industry Minister Suriya Juangroongruangkit, Palang Pracharath MP Anucha Nakhasai and Somsak who were denied the portfolios which they had desperately preferred to take in last year’s cabinet line-up were said to rekindle their desire for those ministerial seats they have missed. Somsak was said to have anticipated the post of transport minister or that of agriculture and cooperatives minister but was eventually given the unlikely post of justice minister whereas Suriya was said to have preferred the post of energy minister but was given the post of industry minister instead.
An extraordinary party caucus which is expected early next month will pick a new executive board with some of its members likely to be given ministerial posts as replacements for others who will be reshuffled out of the Prayut cabinet. No matter what results of the party caucus might come out, there would be no such thing as partisan unity among the different groups of politicians who would merely manipulate behind-the-scenes shenanigans and invariably tend to factional or individual interests, noted the political observers closely connected with the ruling party’s members.
Only few MPs would expect financial support from the Si Kumarn faction headed by Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak, Higher Education, Science, Research and Innovation Minister Suvit Maesincee, Uttama and Sontirat while those accustomed to pork barrel politics would undoubtedly press for a generous, deep-pocketed party leadership.
The Si Kumarn faction, the name of which literally means ”four infants” as if they were virtually cuddled by the powers that be, would likely see its influences over the Palang Pracharath rank and file taper off since it has run the divided party in monotonous fashion for over a year now.
”The headline event in which the 18 executive party members resigned en masse underscored a sustained power play among varied factions with a future cabinet reshuffle lying at stake,” one of the political observers commented.
Other factions within the Palang Pracharath Party include the one led by chief government whip Virat Ratanaset, the one headed by Deputy Agriculture and Cooperatives Minister Thammanat Prompao, the so-called People’s Democratic Reform Committee group headed by Education Minister Natthaphol Teepasuwan and Digital Economy and Society Minister Puttipong Punnakanta, the group led by Deputy Finance Minister Santi Prompat, the group led by ex-cabinet member Warathep Ratanakorn and the relatively little-known group of a dozen MPs representing southern constituencies.
Each faction is known to have certain Palang Pracharath MPs, ranging from a few to a dozen, at its command. Last but not least, one other faction which used to be considered the most powerful among all the others is a junta of ex-military commanders who joined the then-army chief Prayut in staging the coup of 2014.
On the part of Prayut as head of the multiple-party coalition government, he would almost certainly find himself in dilemma with unsolicited, painstaking tasks of keeping all factions satisfied as long as those seasoned power brokers are concerned. Prawit could readily give him a helping hand by running the Palang Pracharath Party and allocating cabinet seats among heads of factions in the divided party.
”Undoubtedly, Prawit as the new party leader would press Prayut to reshuffle his cabinet sooner or later with Somsak, Suriya and his other proteges getting in and some partisan rivals getting out,” another observer remarked.
Prayut and Prawit might probably no longer see eye to eye when it comes to the future cabinet reshuffle to which the former will certainly have a final say. And if Prayut who was successfully named head of government without contesting last year’s race to parliament intended to prolong his rule, the premier might unavoidably see to it that the deputy premier will not stand in his way.
Top: Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha (left) and Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan. Photo: Korea and Thailand Information and Community Web Magazine
First insert: A Phalang Pracharath party meeting at Wang Nam Kheow district of Nakhon Ratchasima province. Photo: NNT
Second insert: Justice Minister Somsak Thepsuthin quickly backed Deputy Prime Minister Prawit. Photo: NNT
Third insert: Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak who is the head of Si Kumarn faction. Photo: NNT