Saturday, October 27, 2012

Shinawatras cement hold over government


 
The much-anticipated new cabinet line-up shows signs of power being consolidated among the "Big Four" of the Shinawatra family.The reshuffle list reflects the broad power wielded by ousted prime minister Thaksin, his ex-wife Khunying Potjaman na Pombejra and his two sisters Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and Yaowapa Wongsawat.

Thaksin and Khunying Potjaman are set to maintain his political interests mostly through the appointments of members of the so-called House No.111, including Pongsak Raktapongpaisal who is tipped for the post of energy minister, Phongthep Thepkanchana who is expected to become the education minister and Varathep Rattanakorn who is likely to appointed a PM's Office minister.
Mr Pongsak reportedly knew in advance about his position and sent a team to study the work at the ministry.


The former transport minister's main task will be to prepare for talks with Cambodia on both countries' overlapping claims in the Gulf of Thailand and possible collaboration and exploration in oil and natural gas.
He is also expected to bring foreign and Thai investors to invest in Cambodia's special economic zone.
Mr Pongsak has close connections with Pat Supapa, a prominent businessman in Cambodia and chief economic adviser to Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen.
Mr Varathep, expected to oversee the Budget Bureau, will aid Finance Minister Kittiratt Na-Ranong.
The cabinet rejig also reflects Ms Yingluck's growing leadership clout and confidence. She retained Mr Kittiratt in his post despite strong criticism of the minister by several heavyweight politicians in her party.
Ms Yingluck also successfully pushed for Pradit Sintawanarong to replace Witthaya Buranasiri as public health minister even though Mr Witthaya has performed well and is part of a strong Pheu Thai faction led by Mr Pongsak.
Dr Pradit is a businessman in the property sector and was a shareholder in a subsidiary of Sansiri Group, which has good relations with Ms Yingluck.
Dr Pradit is expected to be tasked with pushing for the merger of the three national healthcare schemes.
Ms Yingluck reportedly picked government spokesman Sansanee Nakpong, who is tipped to be a PM's Office Minister and help promote the Thai Women Empowerment Fund.
Meanwhile, Ms Yaowapa continues to wield strong influence in this reshuffle, manifested in the retention of Commerce Minister Boonsong Teriyapirom in his portfolio. Mr Boonsong has come under a barrage of criticism over the rice pledging scheme.
Ms Yaowapa has also kept Woravat Au-apinyakul in the cabinet and landed him the position of science minister.
Red-shirt leader Jatuporn Prompan, who lost his ministerial seat in the reshuffle yesterday, denied rumours he received money from Thaksin for not getting a cabinet post.
"I never sell my soul. I swear to the spirit of the red shirts," he said.
Pheu Thai insiders said that after consolidating its power and distributing rewards to some old hands from the formerly banned House No.111 clique, it is now time for the Yingluck administration to show its political prowess.
The shake-up was not made to curb the impact of the upcoming censure debate or anti-government protests either, according to the sources.
The reshuffle is more of an attempt to get rid of some weak links that have stymied the government's performance, the sources said.
Observers from the red-shirt movement, however, said that if that is the case, then the continued presence in the cabinet of supposedly weak ministers such as Commerce Minister Boonsong and speculated PM's office minister Woravat only serves to underline the strong influence of the faction within the party led by Ms Yaowapa.
The party members viewed the upward move of red-shirt leader Nattawut Saikuar from deputy minister at the agriculture ministry to deputy commerce minister as more of a windfall for him than being a boon for the country or the Pheu Thai Party.
Sources in diplomatic circles said the cabinet changes will not affect the profile of Ms Yingluck who continues to be regarded highly by foreign envoys.
"We hope there won't be, and so far have not seen any negative signs of violence that will scarily shake up the Yingluck government," said a European ambassador who asked not to be named.