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Thai ruling party picks new leader
Publication Date : 31-10-2012
Thailand's ruling Pheu Thai Party chose a new leader yesterday, shortly after a major Cabinet reshuffle that strengthened the position of exiled former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra in a government headed by his sister.
Former transport minister and newly minted Interior Minister Jarupong Ruangsuwan was picked for the post, which was vacated by then Deputy Prime Minister Yongyuth Wichaidit earlier this month, now an adviser to Pheu Thai, when he was implicated in a graft scandal.
Like his predecessor, Jarupong, 66, is trusted by Thaksin, an important requirement for a party where the billionaire businessman is widely known to call the shots.
A former civil servant, Jarupong has deep ties with Bangkok's bureaucracy. Thammasat University political science lecturer Mano Laohavanich calls him a moderate who is skilful at negotiating compromises.
"He's a 'compromiser' and an administrator. And the politics of Pheu Thai is to compromise with every party," he said.
Pheu Thai swept into power in elections in July last year, five years after a military coup ousted Thaksin from power. He has been living overseas since 2008 to avoid a jail term for violating a conflict-of-interest law while in office.
A sweeping Cabinet change over the weekend bore his imprint: Out of 23 new members, six once belonged to his Thai Rak Thai party, which was disbanded for electoral fraud in 2006. They had just finished serving five-year political bans.
Still, analysts observed that Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra showed greater confidence, retaining Finance Minister Kittiratt Na-Ranong as well as Commerce Minister Boonsong Teriyapirom.
Chulalongkorn University political science professor Thitinan Pongsudhirak said: "This reshuffle shows that she's more in charge but Thaksin is ultimately in control."
The new leadership will face increasing pressure from political foes over the next few months. The administration's one-year-old rice pledging scheme has come under increasing fire for paying farmers 50 per cent above the market price for their rice.
The scheme has raised incomes of farmers but filled government warehouses with about 10 million tonnes of rice it cannot sell. Economists at the Thailand Development Research Institute have warned that the scheme, which they estimate costs the government 120 billion baht (US$3.91 billion) a year to run, will cause the country's public debt to balloon.
Meanwhile, a new movement called Pitak Siam attracted about 20,000 people on Sunday when it organised a rally in Bangkok to call for the Yingluck government to step down. It is gathering signatures to support its effort, and has so far collected 50,000, it told The Straits Times.