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Censure debate, internal rivalries shape new Cabinet

Publication Date : 26-10-2012


Three pressure points prodded Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra into prepping her third Cabinet squad.

First, the Democrat Party is bearing down on her government and she needs it to outshine the opposition.

In the same week that the main opposition party plans to file a no-confidence motion, the government chose to upstage the censure debate by making a progressive move to refresh the Cabinet.

Many see Yingluck as astute in deciding to draw public attention away from flaws that the Democrats aim to attack, giving people some hope that the government remains on top of the situation.

If the Cabinet reshuffle waited until after the grilling, Yingluck would face an uphill battle in dispelling the impression that the opposition has gained the upper hand in pushing for change.

Second, the Pheu Thai Party needs to complete its consolidation of power to scrap the system of regional quotas, and rotating some 20 of 35 Cabinet seats sends a clear message that has done just that.

The Pheu Thai's strategic steering committee has emerged as a new command centre. Its members are cronies of the Shinawatra clan. And key decisions would be finalised in a collective manner under the scrutiny of the Shinawatras, comprising Yingluck, her sister Yaowapha Wongsawat, their brother Thaksin and his ex-wife Khunying Pojaman Na Pombejra.

The Pheu Thai's party convention on Tuesday is expected to formalise the new decision-making mechanism by installing a new leader and executive board.

Third, the government needs to get a handle on the energy issue, which it sees as a most crucial factor to make or break the economy as well as Pheu Thai's mandate as the ruling party.

In the previous Cabinet reshuffle, Yingluck picked Arak Chonlatanon as energy minister. Arak served Thaksin well in building his corporate empire for more than two decades, but his job performance as minister fell short of expectations. Thai Rak Thai Party veteran Prommin Lertsuridej had to work behind the scenes to steer the energy sector.

Pongsak Ruktapongpisal is slated to replace Arak. He is another Thai Rak Thai veteran and has brokered several deals for Thaksin since his downfall.

Thaksin's blessing to put his right-hand man in the post is indicative of how the government perceives the gravity of the energy issue.

Since it came to power last year, the government has heavily subsidised LPG, diesel and petrol consumption. Although the subsidies are justified in order to spur the domestic economy, they cannot be continued due to the soaring public debt that they run up.

Pongsak is obligated to quickly come up with an alternate plan to manage the energy sector in a sustainable way before the economy as well as the government plunge into the unknown.

The arrival of a Thaksin ally and the absence of a red-shirt leader in the Cabinet provides some colourful clues.

General Prin Suvanadat, who retired from the military last month, is slated to become deputy transport minister.

Prin was a classmate of Thaksin at the pre-cadet academy. His loyalty as a personal friend and political ally has never wavered. Furthermore, his daughter is close to joining the Shinawatra family through marriage.

Red-shirt leader Jatuporn Promphan has again missed the Cabinet bandwagon. This is because Thaksin seems to want to downplay his link to the red-shirt movement at a crucial time when he expects to work out a compromise with the country's elite in regard to his legal wrangling.


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