The ruling Pheu Thai Party's plan to revamp its structure is a move to deal with the return to politics of the 111 former Thai Rak Thai executives after their political ban expires on May 30.
The restructuring, in which the country's five regions will be divided into 19 zones, comes two weeks before veteran politicians who worked with Thaksin Shinawatra in the now disbanded Thai Rak Thai Party return to politics after serving bans for electoral fraud.
Pheu Thai leader and Deputy Prime Minister Yongyuth Wichaidit said yesterday the changes will help party MPs to serve the people and develop closer relations with them.
Mr Yongyuth said zone meetings will replace regional meetings and the positions of regional chiefs will be cancelled.
But a Pheu Thai source said the real aim of the revamp was to prepare for the return of the 111 former TRT executives and to strengthen the current members of Pheu Thai.
There have been fears that some of the 111 politicians will create their own factions inside the party.
Under the restructuring plan, each minister will be assigned to oversee the zones to prevent major financiers buying their way to control the party or to bargain for quotas of ministerial posts. Cabinet members from Pheu Thai will work closely with party MPs in the zones to ensure consistency in work between the party and the government.
The source said that under the new zoning system, cabinet seats will be allotted according to the number of House seats won in each zone.
Additional cabinet seats will also be given to any zones winning House seats exceeding their target.
The end of the ban has led to the possibility of another cabinet reshuffle by Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra to clear the way for some returning politicians to become ministers.
Pheu Thai members who hold key national administrative positions now are seen as substitutes after other top members working with Thaksin were banned. Another group of Thaksin loyalists are serving a ban after the disbandment of the People Power Party for election fraud. Pheu Thai sources expect that up to five returnees will take cabinet seats in the coalition government.
The next cabinet reshuffle will not take place immediately after May 30, to avoid criticism it was being done only to please members of the so-called House No.111, sources said. It should be delayed to either July or August.
The expected reshuffle means current cabinet members will have to sacrifice their seats or will be forced to go.
"The politicians to be freed from their ban did not plan a hostile takeover of cabinet positions but would like to join the government smoothly," said Wichit Plangsrisakul, secretary-general of the 111 Thai Rak Thai Foundation.
According to sources, those with potential to return to the cabinet include Pongthep Thepkanchana, who used to be Thaksin's spokesman and legal adviser. He could be a deputy prime minister or work at the Justice Ministry.
Another is Pongsak Raktapongpaisan, who is close to Thaksin and is always trusted to prepare substitute parties to cope with disbandment. He can handle economic issues and was the minister of industry and transport. Dr Prommin Lertsuridej also has potential to be in the cabinet as a strategist. Phumtham Wechayachai, a strategist for TRT, should suit the interior portfolio.
Others could hold the positions of advisers to the prime minister.
Politicians in House No.111 are divided into four groups.
The first group comprises loyal members including the four who continue to work closely with Thaksin.
The second group, who have helped Thaksin and Pheu Thai in recent years, includes Varathep Ratanakorn, Khunying Sudarat Keyuraphan and Suranand Vejjajiva.
The third group, who have played reconciliation roles, include Jaturon Chaisaeng and Surakiart Sathirathai.
The fourth group comprises red shirt leaders such as Veera Musikapong, Suporn Atthawong and Adisorn Piangket.
Some House No.111 members likely to back Pheu Thai this time include Somsak Thepsuthin and Sora-at Klinprathum, who are key figures of the Bhumjaithai Party.