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Quiet PM seen as taking orders from Thaksin, overshadowed by Chalerm, while reds wait in the wings



A Thai newspaper article has described Thailand as a "Land of Three Prime Ministers", referring to Yingluck Shinawatra, her brother-in-exile Thaksin and Chalerm Yoobamrung. The trio form a unique political bunch - a woman who is never really in control, a man who has long been uncontrollable, and another man who's threatening to get out of control.


The "three prime ministers" jibe is not totally sarcastic. In fact, it captures perfectly the main trouble battering the fledgling government. Yingluck completed her first month as prime minister last week, but to her, August 8 must seem much longer ago than that. She has yet to lose her cool in public, but government and Pheu Thai insiders claimed they would be happier if she did bang the table occasionally and issue a few orders.


Yingluck is no Thaksin, and Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister Yongyuth Wichaidit is no "crisis politician". That is why the government's response to the flood disaster, which is far less severe than the one that hit during the Abhisit government, has been greeted with more criticism than praise. This awkward response to the flooding might also signal a deeper problem: The Yingluck Cabinet may not have the strong characters needed to push through contentious policies and to cope with fierce politics, whether it's out in the open or in the backrooms.


Yingluck has had to rely on Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm when it comes to sensitive issues like an amnesty for Thaksin. If Chalerm is a "strong" character, he is also a walking time bomb. The swift elimination of police chief Wichean Potephosree has turned the National Security Council (NSC) into a potential political volcano and pitted Chalerm against another deputy prime minister. Kowit Wattana, normally a patient man, has reportedly taken the trouble to call Thaksin to complain about the spill-over of the police affair affecting the NSC, which is under his supervision.


The police chief is being removed to make way for someone to whom the premier was once related by marriage - and the NSC chief, caught up in the shuffle, is taking legal action to defend his job. Any prime minister in such a situation would be expected to say something about it. But Yingluck has let Chalerm do all the talking, and he has accepted the authority with glee and wielded it without restraint. He cursed. He swore. He taunted. At one point, Chalerm, speaking in public, wished eternal hell on his enemies in regards to the police chief-NSC saga.


To let Chalerm try to install Priewpan Damapong as new police chief is dangerous. To put him in charge of the plan to bring Thaksin home borders on suicide. Yingluck's comments on the amnesty plan simply echo her brief pre-election statement on the subject: The government is not in a hurry, and if amnesty does materialise, it will benefit everyone, not just someone. Again, Chalerm was handed the microphone - and he's clutched it like a bad karaoke singer who couldn't care less about his dismayed audience.


Chalerm's appalled spectators included many Pheu Thai strategists, who have made their feelings known. When Chalerm was asked to comment on that on Friday, he predictably laughed it off and went on to explain that sincerity is often misinterpreted as aggression or provocation. He never let problems with critics interfere with his main job, though, as last week was spent primarily on arguing why Thaksin was entitled to an amnesty without serving a single day in jail.


The strategists themselves have turned from trouble-shooters to troublemakers. The senior ones reportedly gave Yingluck a headache last week by fighting over the chairmanship of what was intended to be a powerful advisory panel. The formation of the think tank was intended to help the inexperienced Yingluck, but Somchai Wongsawat, Noppadol Pattama and Chaturon Chaisaeng all wanted to head the panel, and the plan is said to have been put on the backburner.


Yingluck's first month was dominated by Chalerm, the police chief and Thaksin. The second month may see red-shirt leaders try to grab some of the limelight. Somehow, Jatuporn Promphan, allegedly with the help of fugitive Arseman Pongruangrong, has managed a soccer date with members of Cambodian leader Hun Sen's Cabinet. Such a friendly game was intended to help Yingluck secure the release of two yellow shirt activists, Veera Somkwamkid and Ratree Pipattanapaiboon, and Jatuporn claimed similar matches were being planned with Laos, Vietnam, Malaysia and Burma.


At the first glance, soccer diplomacy sounds like a great idea. But in an interview with The Nation, Jatuporn revealed something that Yingluck should be worried about: The soccer plan is the red shirts' initiative, carried out with little - if any - consultation with her government. It's getting more and more apparent that the red shirts are unlikely to settle for jobs as ministerial secretaries or assistants, and the current assertion of clout may be just the beginning. The red shirts want payback, and obviously it's not just the military and the Democrats who "owe" them.


Controversial election promises are yet to be fulfilled. The labour movement has warned against "selective" or superficial implementation of the Bt300 daily minimum wage. The Civil Service Commission wants a salary structure overhaul instead of merely giving new graduates a Bt15,000 starting salary. In a sign of frustration, Yingluck has reportedly questioned an idea put forward by the leader of her economic team that she should go on a road-show to sell Thai rice in order to supplement the controversial rice-pledging programme.


"It's rice we are talking about here, not stocks," she was quoted as saying in response to Deputy Prime Minister and Commerce Minister Kittiratt Na Ranong's idea.


Most, if not all, of this trouble can be traced back to the uncontrollable man in Dubai, who assigned to Yingluck advisers that she has rarely used. Although she is surrounded by big names like General Panlop Pinmanee, Olarn Chaipravat, Suchon Chaleekrua, General Chaisit Shinawatra and Suchon Charmpoonod, it is believed that they were not picked by the prime minister herself. Instead, they were given these posts as a political reward.


Yingluck still seems able to stand the heat, although she's standing right in the middle of the kitchen. Chalerm may be helping draw the fire away from her for now, but he's a mad cook. Thaksin is outside, so the big chef is not feeling the high temperature. Certainly, efforts are being made to keep Thailand's first female prime minister going, but Yingluck could be forgiven if she's feeling strangely isolated.



The Nation

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I mentioned the "Land of Three Prime Ministers" to SoonExMyWiMee

and she (of red shirt leanings) laughed and laughed,

then the " a woman who is never really in control, a man who has long been uncontrollable, and another man who's threatening to get out of control " bit - she laughed and laughed and laughed.


In a slightly maniacal manner...

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Pheu Thai builds on its power



The cabinet is expected to consider the Justice and Transport ministries' annual reshuffle lists today as the ruling Pheu Thai Party seeks to further consolidate its control of state power.


At the Justice Ministry, more than 10 department chiefs from the Abhisit Vejjajiva administration will be transferred to positions with less authority, said ministry sources.


Highlights of the reshuffle include Thawee Sodsong, the deputy permanent secretary for justice who is expected to be promoted to secretary-general of the Southern Border Provinces Administration Centre (SBPAC), in charge of the restive South.


Pol Col Thawee is expected to replace Panu Uthairat, who will be transferred to the Interior Ministry.


Pol Col Thawee's job at the Justice Ministry is expected to be filled by Pol Col Narat Sawettanan, deputy director-general of the Department of Special Investigation.


The sources said the government believed Pol Col Thawee is qualified for the SBPAC post as he has vast experience in tackling southern unrest.


The government wanted Pol Col Thawee to supervise the SBPAC's spending, which takes up billions of baht worth of budget, said the sources.


The Justice Ministry has also asked the Royal Thai Police to loan deputy national police chief Pol Gen Adul Saengsingkaew to the ministry for a year to be Office of Narcotics Control Board (ONCB) secretary-general. The current ONCB chief, Sureeprapa Traiwes, is expected to be made deputy permanent secretary for justice.


Tharit Pengdit, director-general of the DSI, is expected to stay put. Ministry sources said the justice minister and decision-makers in the Yingluck Shinawatra government still want to give Mr Tharit a chance to prove his worth.


Pol Col Suchart Wonganantachai, inspector-general at the Information and Communication Technology and a former deputy DSI director-general, is expected to be appointed director-general of the Corrections Department. The present department head, Chatchai Suthiklom, will likely be made deputy permanent secretary for justice.


The sources said Pol Col Suchart is expected to be given a mission to prepare a recommendation on the petition for a royal pardon for former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, who has been in self-exile from Thailand since a 2008 conviction for corruption offences.


The sources said that Thanit Sriyaphan, currently deputy director-general of the Corrections Department, will be made an inspector-general to enable Pol Col Suchart to fill the vacancy with one of his own aides.


The cabinet will also consider the reshuffle of top officials at the Transport Ministry proposed by new transport minister ACM Sukampol Suwannathat.


Under his proposal, Somchai Chanrod, director-general of the Civil Aviation Department, is expected to swap positions with Woradet Hanprasoet, now a transport inspector-general.


Somchai Siriwattanachok, another transport inspector-general, is proposed to be made the new director-general of the Land Transport Department, replacing Thianchot Chongphiphian, who will retire at the end of this month, said a source at the Transport Ministry.


Weera Ruangsukseewong and Wichan Khunakoonsawat, directors-general of the Highways Department and Rural Roads Department, are also due to retire at the end of the month.


The source said three senior officials - Somchai Detphirattanamongkhon, Wanchai Phaklak and Chatchawan Buncharoenkit - have emerged as strong candidates for the top jobs at the Highways Department. The three are now deputy directors-general.


Mr Wanchai is tipped to win the race, as he is closely connected to Pongsak Raktapongpaisan, a former transport minister in the Thaksin administration.


For the director-general of the Rural Roads Department, Chatchai Thipsunaree, a deputy director-general, is tipped as the leading contender for the post.



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